Since I frequently visit a part of my family in Portugal I also have flown many times with TAP Portugal (TP) but never actually reviewed them. This time for New Year I had an other trip here and managed to get a very good deal for a multi city ticket from Frankfurt (FRA) to Lisbon (LIS) and back to Munich (MUC) where FRA to LIS was in J, my first time business class with TP so I thought it is worth writing a review.
Intra Europe business class is really nothing to write home about on almost all carriers, so I had very low expectations on this flight. Since it started with an invitation to a rather average Lufthansa business class lounge in Frankfurt I was looking forward to an uneventful and rather underwhelming experience.
Unfortunately most gates in Europe will start with priority boarding (unless the gate agents decide to not care about it as for my recent flight with airBaltic to Riga) but don’t have an actual premium boarding queue, meaning you have to be at the gate before boarding starts if you want to be first. I am not a big fan of being early at gates, since I rather spend more time in the lounge and it is always a gamble if boarding really starts on time or if you will have to sit around at the gate first. Given that I also don’t care to be first on the plane most of the times I just show up a few minutes before the gate closes which isn’t a big problem, by that time you don’t cause any delay and most other passengers are boarded already so you can just walk through. When I arrived at the gate for this flight I saw the last pax in the queue going through as I approached and when I had my boarding pass scanned the system crashed and I had to wait until they could board me, sometimes I really have bad luck.
Once I was able to board there were only a handful of passengers left in the jet bridge so the rest of the boarding process was quick and smooth. I was very surprised to see that every single seat in business class (well besides the – ‘for your comfort’ – empty middle seats) was taken. I can’t recall having seen anyone in those seats on my previous flights but I had flown TP only from Berlin before, which is a market thats has very little premium passengers anyway.
TAP Portugal is the national carrier of Portugal and claims to be a full service carrier – something I personally find questionable. TP has one of the oldest fleets in Europe (their A319 are over 17 years in service on average) and shows very little interest in investing into their hard product, seats are all pretty worn out and give a distinct vintage feeling since they literally are all from the last century – it somewhat feels like the plane version of Vietnam Airlines lounge in Da Nang.
While TAP Portugal is charging like Lufthansa and other big airlines they have sadly not only outdated aircraft but also a very basic soft product and tariffs. TP was one of the first airlines to offer basic tickets without luggage allowance and in general, while they do have a meal service in economy, the whole operation feels more like an LCC. It is almost impossible to talk to them via their hotlines, since they are always ‘experiencing a higher call volume than usual’ and there are countless smaller errors with their website as well like:
- you can’t check-in online with some frequent flyer cards because their system claims the membership numbers are invalid, so you have to present the card at the check-in counter
- online check-in also doesn’t recognise mobile numbers from several countries
- payment with credit cards often fails and you have to try over and over again, as well their system can’t really get the length of CVV for certain card types straight
Having experienced all this countless times over the years with multiple flights in economy TAP Portugal has become my least favourite carrier in Europe but they are sadly most times the only viable option for flights to Lisbon.
With that introduction it should be clear that I approached this flight expecting a journey that I will be glad to have finished once I arrive. As mentioned TAP Portugal has – similar to most European carriers – no real business class seats but rather just leaves the middle seat empty and uses the same type of chair for both business and economy class. Seats are in a 3-3 configuration on the Airbus A319.
While the seats are reasonably big and have some decent reclining space they do however have a big flaw, besides being super old and mostly not so clean, which is the fact that you can’t fully raise the armrests due to the seat layout.
What I have to admit is that the service on TP is almost always friendly and quite warm, despite all the problems I see with their operation besides that. This flight was no exception and even before push-back the flight attendant was giving me some Panadol since I had a bad cold.
There was no pre-departure service and only shortly after we took-off the 2 business class flight attendants distributed packed refreshing towels and the menu for this flight.
The menu seemed to be the same for the flight from Lisbon to Frankfurt and the one back which I was on since it stated ‘Lunch/Dinner’ with the same options. Meal service started some 40 minutes into the flight and was done from a cart, rather than bringing out the meals individually. There was only one of the two options available which was kind of a bummer, but gladly the option available was the one I intended to take anyway so I had some stuffed pasta with pesto, a tuna salad with bread and chocolate mouse for dessert.
The food tasted surprisingly good, in fact it was really great. I also think it is worth noting that I was proactively offered bread twice and the crew also offered drink refills throughout the service.
After the dinner I asked for a peppermint tea which was promptly served in a quite tiny cup.
There was no service for the rest of the flight, also no pre-landing drink which I found disappointing given our flight was 3h and there were no drinks offered for 2h of the total flying time.
Given that TAP Portugal airbus A319 aircraft do not feature any personal inflight entertainment or any overhead screens I spent most of the flight with watching downloaded Netflix series on my iPhone.
While I was very surprised by the quality and taste of the food and I definitely appreciate business class perks like lounge access and priority luggage I still do not think that TAP Portugal business class provides a good value. They fly with some of the oldest planes in Europe that are simply outdated and have none of the comfort passengers are rightfully expecting nowadays and only one meal, no pre-departure or any pre-arrival service is not enough on a 3h flight. In my specific multi city ticket it was cheaper to fly business class on one leg than both flights in economy, so obviously I opted for that but since this was a very specific setting I do not see myself flying TAP Portugal in business class again so soon. Given my previous experience with them and my incredibly low expectations I do feel though that this flight somewhat surpassed those expectations in a way.