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Following a recent trip to Barcelona and Lisbon, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had a chance to fly TAP Portugal’s new lie-flat business class from Lisbon to Boston. Here’s his review.
Last October, British Airways was offering phenomenal business-class fares to Europe, as the airline tends to do from time to time. I quickly booked flights for my family, but I didn’t grab anything for myself, as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to travel on those dates. Fortunately, the timing worked out, but with the BA fares gone, I decided to redeem some of my United miles for the trip instead. With TAP Portugal’s brand new lie-flat service to Boston launching just a few days before my return, this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to try out the airline’s latest A330.
While these two A330-200s once flew for Brazilian airline Azul, they’re now officially part of the TAP fleet. The livery matches TAP’s existing A330s exactly, though things look entirely different once you step inside, which you’ll see below.
Booking TAP Portugal Business Class
As I mentioned, I redeemed United MileagePlus miles for this flight. I’ve generally ruled out TAP for anything other than trips to Portugal, since until now, the airline only offered angle-flat seats in business class. In the past, it made much more sense to fly some of United’s other partners to Europe instead, as carriers like Lufthansa and Swiss offer lie-flat seats throughout their fleets.
With TAP now offering lie-flat biz seats to Boston (and New York-JFK as of July), the airline is now absolutely worth considering for award flights to Europe — and as you can see below, award availability (in both classes) is pretty decent.
Up until the day before departure, I was planning to spend an extra two days in Lisbon — there were award seats available on the LIS-BOS flight on both Saturday and Sunday, but I could only find availability from Boston to Newark (even in coach) on Monday.
Rather than extend my stay in Lisbon, I decided to give the United 1K desk a call to see if they could help out. I booked a separate award online for Lisbon to Boston on Saturday, then called to explain that I wasn’t able to find any award seats on the domestic flight. I lucked out with an incredibly helpful agent, who booked me on the exact flight I needed, even though award seats didn’t appear to be available. I then direct messaged United on Twitter to request a waitlist for first class, which was processed within a few minutes.
The one-way award required 70,000 miles plus $53 in taxes, including the connecting flight to Newark. If you have Aeroplan miles available, you can book this flight for 55,000 miles each way.
With my ticket booked and issued, I pulled up my TAP confirmation number (available at the top of my United reservation) and headed over to TAP’s site to check in.
My waitlist never cleared, but when I arrived in Boston I asked a United check-in agent if it was possible to book me in first class, as I was traveling on a business-class award ticket. After a few clicks, she had me booked in the “ZN” (full) award class, but I wasn’t charged any additional miles. It never hurts to ask!
If you don’t have the miles to redeem, you might want to take advantage of TAP’s “Plusgrade” program, which lets you bid to upgrade a paid economy booking to business class. I ran into TPG reader Sid U. and his fiancé Shay T. on the flight, who were sitting in 3E and 3F, two center seats close together. They scored a phenomenal deal, paying $189 each for a one-way flight from Ponta Delgada in the Azores to Boston with a stopover in Lisbon. Then, Sid bid €285 (about $325) per person for a business-class upgrade, which cleared three days before the flight.
While that may sound like a steal, TAP is currently offering round-trip business-class fares from Boston to Lisbon for just $1,699, though you’d need to begin your travel this month to take advantage. You can score round-trip biz tickets for $1,992 through September, though.
I’ve “experienced” LIS before, so I knew that it didn’t make sense to arrive too long before my 2:25pm flight. I left the Sheraton a bit after noon, and after a 15-minute Uber drive that cost just €7 (about $8), I was at the terminal.
I was able to check in online and had a boarding pass in the Wallet app on my iPhone, but I usually prefer to have a printed pass as well, so I stopped by one of the many kiosks.
My business-class ticket included “fast track” access (also available to Star Alliance Gold members traveling in coach), which offers speedier security screening. I was through in just a couple of minutes, though the economy line seemed to be just as short.
After security, I passed through what seemed like the world’s longest duty free store. The store weaves in and out, and you’ll need to pass by pretty much every section before making your way into the terminal.
Lisbon’s airport was much more pleasant than I remembered, with an open feel, a large food court and plenty of stores.
I didn’t see any signs for the TAP Portugal lounge, so I went over to the map. Interestingly, I didn’t see a lounge listed there either. As it turns out, TAP doesn’t have a lounge at its main hub airport, opting to partner with a contract lounge, instead. Ouch!
TAP Portugal Lounge
You can’t really tell from the sign, but TAP’s contract lounge is called the “ANA Lounge” — don’t get excited, this lounge has nothing to do with All Nippon Airways.
You can access the lounge when flying business or first class on a variety of carriers, or you can enter using a Priority Pass membership from cards like the The Platinum Card from American Express and Citi Prestige.
The lounge isn’t very exciting, though there are a few food and beverage options on hand.
There are two beverage areas, with one focusing on juices, sodas, beer and wine.
The other beverage area primarily offered coffee and tea.
Snacks are limited to cold sandwiches and Portugal’s famous egg custard tarts, called Pastel de nata. I had a bunch of these on this trip, and while they’re usually buttery, hot and delicious, the one I tried at the lounge wasn’t even worth finishing.
There are also a few different types of seating, in addition to tables and chairs in the kitchen.
You can also score some (obstructed) tarmac views.
Honestly, the lounge isn’t really worth visiting unless your flight is delayed or you don’t feel comfortable arriving at the airport just an hour or so before departure.
After a few minutes there, I headed to immigration (which took about five minutes to pass through) and then to the gate. Oddly, after a few minutes at the gate, all of the passengers were asked to leave the area and queue up for a secondary security screening. The gate agents had a list of names (including mine) and anyone selected went through a very thorough luggage screening before being allowed to return to their seats. Fortunately, premium passengers were accommodated first.
About 40 minutes after that, it was time to board the flight.
TAP’s New A330-200
TAP already operates a fleet of four A340s and 14 A330s on its existing long-haul routes, which include service to Miami and Newark in the US, several flights to Africa and a handful of destinations in South America, including 10 in Brazil. The airline recently acquired two new A330-200s from Azul Brazilian Airlines, which it’s using exclusively for its new service to Boston and New York-JFK. Only these two A330s offer lie-flat seats in business class — the other planes have angle-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, which you’ll probably want to avoid.
While even these routes are subject to substitutions (in which case you could end up with the old 2-2-2 biz), most of the time you’ll get the new configuration. If you see the seat map below for your flight, you should be good to go.
While these new A330s have been flying for Azul, they still feel very fresh inside, with modern seats and on-demand entertainment in both cabins.
This particular A330 includes 251 economy seats, consisting of 100 seats with 34 inches of pitch and 151 seats with 31 inches of pitch. The cream seats below are TAP’s extra legroom seats, while those in blue are the standard seats.
All economy seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, with the exception of five rows in the back, which have only three seats in the center. Each seat has a touchscreen on-demand entertainment system.
The overhead bins are fairly large, though not nearly as big as what you’ll find on newer planes, such as the 787 Dreamliner.
All economy seats have movable headrests, and passengers receive a pillow, blanket and headphones.
Seats in row 7 (pictured below) offer considerable legroom.
Meanwhile, seats in row 24 offer even more legroom, as they’re located just behind an exit door.
Even though this A330 isn’t brand new, it feels fairly modern thanks to the new seats, clean carpet and LED lighting, among other features.
Just be aware of the curvature of the plane when selecting your seats — you can get a feel for this layout by visiting the seat map for Azul’s A330-200 on Seatguru.
TAP’s business-class cabin consists of just 20 lie-flat seats arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration — they’re a bit like what you’re going to find with United’s new Polaris product. Because seat position varies from one row to the next, it’s very important to choose wisely. Fortunately for you, it seems that current TAP customers aren’t familiar with this new layout, and may be more likely to leave the best seats unoccupied — for now.
If you’re traveling by yourself, you’ll want to choose an A or K seat, followed by C or H and finally D or G. E and F seats (located in rows 1, 3 and 5) are great if you’re traveling with a friend, but they’re very close together so you’ll want to avoid those if you’re flying alone.
Just like with the center seats, all window seats are not created equal. There are only four “ideal” seats in the cabin — 2A, 2K, 4A and 4K. These particular seats are positioned right up against the window and offer much more privacy.
Window-side seats in rows 1, 3 and 5 are much less private, as you’re right up against the aisle — don’t pick a C or H seat if you want to avoid one of these.
Similarly, D and G seats in the center section are located next to the aisle, but they’re better than E and F (seen in the row behind) if you’re sitting next to a stranger.
There isn’t much storage at the seat itself, but there should be plenty of room in the overhead bins.
Seat 5H is reserved as a crew rest, so you probably won’t be able to select that — though it’s hardly the best option since it’s located near the galley and lavs.
I already knew what to expect from TAP’s new seat before setting foot on the plane as I flew a nearly identical product on Garuda Indonesia’s 777-300ER late last year. I opted for seat 2K, one of the four most private seats in the cabin.
Each seat has a 16-inch TV, a fold-out tray table, a fixed ottoman and a side table.
I really like the ottoman design — it’s fixed in place, so you can put your feet up the moment you sit down.
There isn’t much storage beneath, though there is enough room to tuck in your shoes.
The tray table is well-designed as well — you can swing it forward without knocking off any contents or flip it up and out of the way between meals.
There’s a storage compartment above the side table, and a dedicated reading lamp just to the side.
There’s also an overhead light and an adjustable air vent.
And a universal power outlet (that even accepts UK plugs).
Then, to the side of the seat, you’ll find recline controls, a wired entertainment controller, a USB charging port and a headphone connector.
The seat controls light up so you can see what you’re doing even when the cabin is dark.
Of course, the biggest advantage over TAP’s other A330s is that these seats extend to the full-flat position, which makes a huge difference, especially on short red-eye flights to Europe. The bed was comfortable, as was the provided comforter and pillow.
There was a sealed pillow and comforter waiting at my seat when I arrived.
Then, after takeoff, flight attendants came by with menus, noise-canceling headphones and amenity kits.
The amenity kit was a metal tin — a unique design overall, with excellent attention to detail (check out that ribbon!).
It includes the usual items — earplugs, an eye mask, socks, a toothbrush seat, lip balm, a pen and lotion.
There are two lavatories at the back of the cabin — so one for each customer. The lavatories don’t have many additional amenities, though there were plenty of wipes on hand.
Both lavs were kept very clean throughout the flight.
TAP offers a 16-inch on-demand entertainment system on this particular aircraft, and the quality is exceptional.
While the provided noise-canceling headphones weren’t fantastic, I had no problem using my own Bose QuietComfort 25s.
The content didn’t become available until just before takeoff, but I had plenty of pictures to take, which kept me busy.
Once the system became active, I was very pleased to see that it was Android-based, which meant a smooth interface with zero lag.
There was plenty of TV and movie content to choose from, plus a handful of games and children’s programming.
I found a familiar selection of new releases, including Deadpool, Self/less and The Revenant.
There was also a large selection of older films to choose from.
After exploring the video content, I decided to check out the in-flight map — except that I couldn’t figure out how to access it. I went digging through the settings menu — nope, nothing there.
Then I clicked through the various games looking for the flight map.
I even headed to the music section, just in case the flight map was hiding in there (nope).
It wasn’t in the kids’ section, either. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that TAP has the flight map feature active on this system, which is a huge bummer (I tried accessing it from other seats as well). And the indicator at the bottom right (below) simply shows the time at the origin and destination airports.
Luckily, my iPhone was able to pick up a GPS signal, so I managed to keep track on our progress via Google Maps.
And there were plenty of other things to help me pass the time, such as…
Food and Beverage
There was more than enough food, given our flight time of less than seven hours. In addition to the selection below, there were a handful of wines, including a Luis Pato Brut Blanc De Blancs 2014 (about $15 on the ground), a Ferreira Quinta do Porto 10 Anos port (about $30 per bottle) and a Esporão Verdelho Branco 2015 (about $9), among others. TAP also offers a variety of liquors, including cognac and a Portuguese brandy.
I chose the sparkling wine for my pre-departure beverage, which tasted fine.
Then, after takeoff, the main service began with a warm towel.
Followed by an amuse bouche consisting of a cod patty and roasted sunflower seeds, which I had with a white wine and sparkling water.
Then, I was served a mushroom soup (which a flight attendant poured from a thermos — nice touch!), along with smoked salmon, a bit of lettuce and a warm roll. I didn’t love the soup (I tend to avoid mushrooms), but the salmon was fresh and moist.
Then, for my entree, I had the beef tenderloin, which was served with potatoes and BBQ sauce. It was hardly the best steak I’ve ever head, but it was passable for an airline meal.
For dessert, I couldn’t decide between the ice cream and the cheese, so I opted for ice cream, plus a glass of the Portuguese brandy.
The ice cream was hard as a rock — literally!
Since there was some cheese left and I wouldn’t be eating that ice cream anytime soon, the flight attendant brought that over. It was a Portuguese cheese called Monte da Vinha, and it smelled absolutely terrible. I poked a hole in the top with my finger and regretted that immediately — the stink traveled with me all the way back to New York.
The cheese had an incredibly strong taste as well — the flight attendant insisted that I eat it with the apricot jam, and I’m very glad I did. I wasn’t able to finish it, but I did my best. This was by far the strongest (and smelliest) cheese I’ve ever encountered — WOW!
I finished the meal with some much-needed green tea and chocolate.
Then, halfway through the flight I ordered a Diet Coke — and received a Pepsi Light.
Finally, about 90 minutes before landing, the flight attendants came by with a cold meal consisting of sliced meats, coleslaw and some fruit that seemed far past its prime. I ate the meat and bread but didn’t touch anything else.
Shortly after that, we passed Boston’s Logan Airport, before making a 180-degree turn and coming in to land.
The late arrival (just before 5pm) meant the sun was low on the horizon, which made for some pretty exciting “shadow” shots.
Overall, I really enjoyed this flight, thanks in no small part to TAP’s fantastic new business-class seats. If you manage to get one of the private window seats, this is easily one of the most comfortable options for crossing the Atlantic.
The flight attendants weren’t the most outgoing, but they were friendly enough and were willing to answer questions about the food. They didn’t pass through the aisles looking to help, but don’t be afraid to press the call button if you need anything — someone will show up right away.
I also absolutely love Portugal — Lisbon is a very underrated destination, and thanks to United’s generous award routing rules, you can easily add a free stopover when booking a round-trip award to Europe (or beyond).
I haven’t flown TAP’s older A330 business class yet, though I haven’t heard great things. That said, if you can work the new A330 into your schedule (and you’re fairly confident there won’t be a swap), I wouldn’t hesitate to fly TAP to Portugal or anywhere else in Europe.
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