As part of a recent business trip, I had to make a trip to the Azores. There are a limited number of options for getting out to the island chain in the central Atlantic. As I was coming from Lisbon, I had the option of either taking the low-cost route of Ryanair/easyJet, or full-service options of TAP or SATA (Sociedade Açoriana de Transportes Aéreos).
What sealed the deal to take SATA over TAP was the fact that my desired flight was to be operated by an Airbus A310 aircraft, (affectionally known as “the football”), a classic airliner that is disappearing from active commercial service. I had never flown on an A310, nor on SATA, so I was looking forward to this trip.
Departure in Lisbon was from Terminal 1. Online check-in is possible with SATA, however as I had a bag to drop off and I wanted a “souvenir” paper boarding pass (something harder to come by these days), I used the classic counter check-in. As my flight was was continuing on to Boston, from Ponta Delgada, the departure was from the non-schengen area of the terminal. This necessitated passing through passport control, and was hassle-free as my boarding pass clearly stated I was disembarking in the Azores and I only needed my ID card.
When ready to board, we boarded a bus and headed out on the ramp. No complaints from me, since I enjoyed the experience of the A310 up-close-and-personal.
Once on-board it was like a blast from the past. The cabin had the typical older aircraft smell and the yellow lighting, as well as the old-style overhead monitors. Once seated, I was very surprised at how tight the legroom was. I guess the new slim-line seats in more modern aircraft make sense for an increase in legroom; but what the seat lacked in legroom it made up for in padding. That is something that is greatly lacking in the new slim-line generation of seats.
As these were really the older-generation seats, my legroom was further encroached upon when the person in from decided to deeply recline their seat; I would not want to be on this aircraft all the way to Boston!
In-flight service consisted of a sandwich as well as a bottle of juice. Standard non-alcoholic hot and cold beverages were on offer, as well as some local Azorean soft drinks. One of my favorite things to do when I am traveling on an new airline is to try the local beverages on offer. In this case, the local beverage offered was Kima – this is a soft drink made from passionfruit juice; I am a huge fan of passionfruit so I was very happy with this choice.
IFE on the two-hour over-water flight consisted of my iPhone. The overhead screens did run some loop video promoting tourism in the Azores but as there were no headphones provided it was not possible to listen in (I am not sure if the next flight to Boston has headphones or a greater selection of movies on offer).
The crew on the flight were very genuine and service-focused. I felt that they delivered the spirit of the Azores; in fact, everyone that I came across on this trip was very warm and welcoming toward foreigners — something that is at times hard to come by in Europe.
Disembarking in Ponta Delgada was again via stairs, but not before I got a chance to visit the flight deck of the lovely aircraft. It was nice to see an Airbus cockpit with the classic yoke in place of the side-stick, as well as numerous analog instruments.
Overall, SATA was on-par with other European airlines, albeit that the cabin of the aircraft was definitely showing its age. Despite the aging cabin, I was still happy to get to fly on one of the last few remaining classic Airbus A310s in passenger service today.
The A310’s service life in SATA is slowly coming to an end. In 2017, SATA will begin replacing the A310 with more modern A330 aircraft. Whilst this fleet upgrade will be welcomed for passengers and the airline alike, with increased capacity, fuel efficiency, and on-board comfort, it will be one less classic aircraft in the skies which AvGeeks will be able to enjoy.