11 September 2016

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 September 11, 2016
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TAP Portugal Business Class Review

Each year when the time comes for our annual visit to Montreux, Switzerland I begin looking for flights to Geneva.  Due to the time of year we typically travel, the outbound segments still fall under the promotional business class fares that are on offer but the return usually falls outside of that window.  Years past have yielded some interesting routings (via IST one year) but this year was more traditional with a routing of EWR-LIS-GVA-OPO-EWR.  I always enjoy trying new airlines and had not flown TAP Portugal before and since I could earn miles on United it seemed like a good option – particularly since the business fare for the routing was a bit more cost-effective than some of the other options.

TP 204
EWR-LIS
A330-200
Business Class
Seats 2A and 2B

TAP Portugal Business Class Review

Seat Map Credit: SeatGuru.com

TAP flies out of Terminal B at Newark with check-in located at the far end of the terminal in a relatively quiet area.  There was a dedicated business class area and the staff were extremely efficient – quickly handling all of the formalities, tagging the bags through to GVA and providing boarding passes for the onward connection.  Also, for the first time I can remember they confirmed my special meal request for a gluten-free meal for the flights.  As a traveler with celiac disease this was most welcome and in all my miles flown I have never had this happen at check-in.

There is a dedicated security line for business passengers though at our departure time the regular security line was just beginning to get busy but we were quickly through and on our way to the SAS Lounge which is TAP’s partner lounge at EWR.  The lounge was quite busy when we arrived as there were a couple of SAS flights getting ready for departure but we were able to find a couple of seats.  The lounge did thin out eventually.  The lounge itself was relatively small but well-laid out.  Food and beverage offerings were decent with a selection of hot and cold items.

The gate was not that far from the lounge and by the time we arrived general boarding had already begun but there was a dedicated line for Business/Star Alliance Gold so we were quickly though and made our way on-board.

The one thing that would become consistent across all of our flights was the fact that the crews were not particularly warm and never cracked a smile.  They were professional at all times but seemed a bit indifferent when it came to the passengers.  It is also interesting to note that on both trans-Atlantic portions the entire business cabin was basically serviced by just two attendants who would serve one side front to back before moving over to the other side.  This was fine if you were on the left-side of the aircraft but made for a particularly drawn out service when seated, as we were on the return, on the right-side.  Pre-departure drinks (orange juice, water or sparkling wine) were offered prior to departure as were newspapers/magazines.

The cabin itself feels a bit dated and the seats are angled lie-flat but comfortable enough for a relatively short flight.  I know that the new JFK and Boston flights offer a full lie-flat seat and I am guessing a more refreshed cabin than the EWR flights.

Amenity kits, menus, and headsets were handed out once in the air and following tables were set and beverages offered with an amuse bouche.  Now here is where it gets a bit strange – TAP made an announcement that due to Portuguese laws there is a limited amount of alcohol on-board.  I didn’t pay much attention at first but when I ordered a vodka there was only one miniature on the entire plane and it went to my travel partner.  To their credit, TAP does offer a good selection of wines on-board so it really was not a major issue but just something for fellow vodka drinkers to be aware of (the same would be true on the return flight though they were able to find a second bottle).  There was Wi-Fi available on both trans-Atlantic legs but it is pay-only even for business class passengers which is a bit strange as most airlines offer this complimentary in premium cabins.

The regular menu was:
 
AFTER TAKE-OFF

CANAPÉS
Blinis with Olive Tapenade Spread
Mixed Nuts

TO START
Serrano Ham with Heirloom Tomato Salad

SOUP
Harissa Soup

MAIN COURSE CHOICES
Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Shallot Butter and Porcini Risotto
Chicken Breast with Tarragon Sauce, Fondant Potato and Roasted Vegetables
Shrimp with Bourbon Crayfish Gratin
Spinach and Ricotta Cheese Cannelloni with Italian Sausage Ragout Sauce

FOR DESSERT
Plate of Cheese
Chocolate Ice Cream
Fresh Fruit

Coffee – Tea
Espresso Coffee
Chocolate

BEFORE LANDING
Here is what we have selected for your breakfast:
Jam
Butter
Fresh Fruit
Yogurt
Bread and Pastry Selection
Coffee, Tea Selection, Fruit Juices

WINE LIST
Sparkling: Cabriz Espumante – Special Edition 2013
Port Wine: Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port
White Wines: Poças Reserva Branco 2014, Paulo Laureano Reserve Branco 2015
Red Wines: Callabriga Casa Ferreirinha Tinto 2014, Colinas Tinto 2009
Featured White on Offer: Alvarinho Deu la Deu

I had the gluten-free meal option which consisted of a mozzarella and tomato on a small rice cake amuse bouche with a side of raisins.  The harissa soup was gluten-free though my bowl contained sour cream before being filled (whereas the normal meal had croutons) and the soup was accompanied by a mesclun salad with grilled chicken breast with a side of rice cakes.  The main course was grilled chicken breast over rice with carrots and broccolini.  Dessert was a bowl of fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries – of course served with the obligatory Port.  Breakfast was rice cakes with fresh fruit salad, raisins, and yogurt.


 
The gluten-free meal was not bad and pretty much what I have come to expect from most airlines – particularly when they are being catered at outstations.  The gluten-free meal on the return flight and intra-European legs would be more memorable.

Arrival into Lisbon was on-time and uneventful though we did park at a remote stand so had to be bussed to the terminal.  There was a separate bus for business class passengers.  Once inside the terminal the transfer was relatively painless though not particularly well-marked and once through immigration we were in the terminal we made our way to the ANA Lounge.

The lounge itself is rather large with ample seating, well-appointed with a good selection of food and beverages.  After a brief visit it was time to make our way to the gate for the next leg.  Boarding was again via a remote stand though the aircraft was actually very close and seemed like it would have been quicker to walk (though clearly not an option).

TP 952
LIS-GVA
A319
Business Class
Seats 2A and 2C

TAP Business Class Review

Seat Map Credit: SeatGuru.com

This is a standard European business class with a slight bit more legroom and the middle seat blocked.  There was a movable curtain and only three rows of business class on this flight.  Once on-board there was a delay with no announcements made or any beverages offered.  It ended up being more than an hour delay as we later found out they were waiting for a large connecting group most of whom made it eventually but twelve bags still needed to be removed for those who did not.  The plane interior could have used a deep cleaning but was fine for the short-hop to GVA.

TAP Portugal Business Class Gluten Free Meal

Gluten-Free Meal LIS-GVA

Once in the air the flight was uneventful and service was fine.  The gluten-free meal option was an interesting fruit and vegetable salad combination, yogurt, a whole stewed apple, and an amazingly soft gluten-free roll which was a most welcome treat.  The regular meal was a meat and cheese platter served with a selection of bread.

Arrival into GVA was fine though because of the luggage reshuffling in LIS the priority bags were among the last out – not a big deal (and on all other legs they would come out first so guessing this was an anomaly).

TP 939
GVA-OPO
E190
Business Class
Seats 2A and 2C
TAP Express Operated by Portugalia

TAP Business Class Review

Seat Map Credit: SeatGuru.com

Check-in is handled by SWISS so was efficient and we were soon on our way to the SWISS Business Lounge.  Business class passengers have access to the priority security gates with a scan of the boarding pass and was super quick – save the gentleman who was at the x-ray machine and could not get his boarding pass to come up on his phone again so was eventually moved to the side and still trying to figure it out after we were through.

Having frequented the SWISS Lounge in the past it is what it is with a decent selection of food and beverages.  We made a quick stop in Duty-Free for the obligatory Swiss chocolate purchase and were soon at the gate.  Boarding was on-time and business class invited to board first.

The E190 is a newer addition to the fleet and had 2-2 seating throughout.  The only difference between business and economy was a different colored head rest cover.  There were two rows of business (one and a half really since there was only one row on the A/C side where we were seated).  The benefit of this was that 2AC had a very large space between the seats and the bulkhead.

TAP Portugal Business Class Gluten-Free Meal

Gluten-Free Meal GVA-OPO

The gluten-free meal was an open-faced arugula, tomato, and cheese sandwich on a split gluten-free baguette served with a fresh fruit salad.  A selection of wines was available and the red was particularly good.  Service was efficient and the short two-hour flight had an on-time arrival in Porto.

Transit in Porto was a bit confusing as the only signs pointed to baggage claim and the exit so after doubling-back to make sure we did not miss the transfer point, we proceeded and finally found the transfer area which was only marked after making your way through the entire length of the terminal.  There was a quick security check and we were the only passengers in line.

Once back in the terminal we made our way to the ANA Lounge.  The lounge itself is rather small and offered a limited selection of food and beverages but actually had a very nice seating area that was open to the terminal below.  This proved to be quite a nice feature as there were musicians playing in the area below the lounge making for a nice distraction.  The terminal itself is modern and has a range of shopping and dining options.  While the terminal building is rather large with a lot of flights arriving and departing, it actually felt extremely relaxed and never crowded.

Once boarding was announced in the lounge we made our way to the gate.  You clear immigration enroute to the gate and once at the gate must queue-up for secondary screening to actually reach the gate.  It didn’t take a huge amount of time but the line was building after we arrived.  The boarding area was a bit chaotic but soon a dedicated lane for priority boarding appeared and we were able to queue for boarding.  There must have been conservatively more than twenty wheelchairs delivering passengers to the plane for pre-boarding – I have never seen so many in my travels and when we reached the mid-portion of the jetway saw the empty chairs being organized for return to the terminal.  I have to give the handlers credit because they were each handling at least five or six stacked at a time.  Traveling often with my senior citizen mother, it was nice to see that age was not limiting any of these passengers travels and I give them 100%.  On the flip-side, when we arrived in Newark, there was a line of wheelchairs from the aircraft door, all the way up the entire jetway awaiting the arriving passengers – I was actually wondering in Porto whether EWR would have enough – they clearly did.  So kudos to TAP for looking after passengers with special requests throughout their journey.

TP 213
OPO-EWR
A330-200
Business Class
Seats 2H and 2J

TAP Business Class Review

Seat Map Credit: SeatGuru.com

Once on-board we made our way to our seats and settled-in.  Business was completely full on this flight and it looked like there was a lot of TAP staff traveling on the flight as everyone seemed to know each other.  Some were moved into empty seats in business but there was at least three people that disappeared beyond the front galley before departure and must have been traveling in a jump seat or in the rest area that was located just behind the cockpit.  It was strange to see them emerge during the flight to chat with colleagues seated in business, only to disappear once again, re-surfacing from the front when we landed in EWR.  The interior was definitely showing a bit of wear and was not quite as clean as the outbound.

Pre-departure beverages were offered on the ground as was a selection of newspapers and magazines.  After take-off it took a while for the crew to swing into action to distribute the menus, amenity kits, and headphones.  Drinks would take even longer and because we were on the H/J side service took a long-time to reach us.  I found it strange that only two crew served the entire cabin and only occasionally would a third help out.  A minor issue but the services were so drawn out it just seemed to drag on forever.  The crew were efficient but once again not particularly friendly even with the Portuguese-speaking guests so definitely not a question of language (which incidentally was not an issue as the crew’s English was good on all flights).

The vodka issue appeared again and after my first cocktail the purser had to find a second and was not sure they even had one – but she found it.  It just seems strange that they have a selection of other liquors available but not vodka.

The gluten-free meal was actually rather impressive on this flight.  The amuse bouche was turkey and roast beef rolls with a grape and gooseberry skewer served with a small salad with grilled asparagus.  The next course was a chickpea soup with mixed vegetables and a cold roast beef salad served with grilled vegetables.  Best of all the meal was served with warm gluten-free bread (a lovely sliced farmer’s loaf) that is among the best I have had in the skies.  It was kept in its own sealed bag throughout the flight to prevent cross-contamination and always offered when a course was presented.  The main course looked lovely – a piece of white fish with baby potatoes, grilled zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes.  Alas, I not only have celiac disease but a severe shellfish allergy – because of this I do not eat any type of fish because of cross-contamination and preparation worries.  They typical gluten-free main course is usually chicken or sometimes red meat and in all my travels this is the second-time I have been served a fish main.  I appreciate the airline trying to offer something different but it just didn’t work for me.  It was definitely not an issue because between all the other course and the non-stop supply of bread – I was full for the entire flight.  I also typically travel with some gluten-free items in my carry-on just in case.  I was never a Boy Scout but I am always prepared.


 
There was a cheese course offered with a sliced gluten-free baguette paired with a delicious quince paste and of course the obligatory Port once again.  I enjoyed a very nice espresso after dinner and then was able to catch a bit of sleep prior to arrival.  The final meal was a snack prior to arrival and consisted of the fabulous gluten-free bread (though the flight attendant was about to dump it into the non-GF bread basket to get it out of the bag) but happily just handed me the bag itself.  The snack was grilled vegetables and mushrooms with sliced turkey and fresh fruit on the side.

The regular menu was:
 
AFTER TAKE-OFF
 
AMUSE BOUCHE
Skewer of Smoked Salmon Cubes
Black Grape Skewer
Toasted Seeds with Sweet Pepper

TO START
Smoked Chicken with Ilha Cheese and Green Salad

SOUP
Cream of Chickpea Soup, Orange Segments and Salmon Caviar

MAIN COURSE CHOICES
Veal in Puff Pastry and Sautéed Green Vegetables
Poached Grouper with Dry Port Wine and Steamed Vegetables
Guinea Fowl with Spices, Oven-Roasted Baby Potatoes and Parsley
Conchiglie with Roast Duck Sauce

FOR DESSERT
Monte da Vinha Cheese
Chocolate Ice Cream
Fresh Fruit
Coffee – Tea
Espresso Coffee
Chocolate

BEFORE LANDING
You will be served a cold meal, composed of:
Cold Plate: Selection of Cold Cuts
Fresh Fruit
Bread and Pastry Selection

WINE LIST
Sparkling: Luís Pato Espumante Blanc de Blancs 2015
Port Wine: Ferreira – Quina do Porto 10 Year Old Tawny Port
White Wines: Quinta da Alorna Reserva Arinto/Chardonnay Branco 2015, Esporão Verdelho Branco 2015
Red Wines: Dona Maria Tinto 2013, Churchill’s Estates Grande Reserva Tinto 2012
Featured White on Offer: Alvarinho Deu la Deu


 
All in all the TAP flights were very enjoyable.  Transiting at their hubs was painless and their gluten-free offerings ex-Europe were really very good.  I would definitely not hesitate to fly them in the future since if they are anything, it is consistent.  Their business class airfares make them a competitive option to and from the U.S. and while not as cheap as some other options you definitely get a solid product on the ground and in the air. They are also offering complimentary stopovers in Portugal which I might take advantage of if I fly them again.

Next up is my review of my SWISS Business flights from GVA-PRG-GVA and some fabulous new gluten-free finds in both the Czech Republic and Switzerland including re-visiting some of my favorite local haunts in Montreux — so stay-tuned.


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