I kickstarted my luxury hotel round-the-world trip with TAP Air Portugal business class on their A330-200, which would bring me over to Lisbon before connecting onto Paris Orly.
TAP Air Portugal has rapidly expanded their North American route network in recent years, while simultaneously raising their game with a more competitive business class product on their A330s as well as their new A330-900neo aircraft. Moreover, in late 2018 they dropped fuel surcharges on Aeroplan bookings, which made them a cost-effective option for booking a transatlantic flight on miles.
I was therefore looking forward to sampling their business class on the Toronto route and seeing how it compares to some of the other Star Alliance transatlantic products I’ve enjoyed, like Brussels Airlines, SAS, or Swiss.
This flight began with a rather rude encounter at the TAP Air Portugal check-in desks at Toronto Pearson. I made my way to the Premium counter and mentioned that I had already checked in online, but I wanted a printed boarding pass (I like to collect those stubs, you know).
To my surprise, the agent snapped at me, insisting that I must use the automatic check-in kiosks (which would dispense those flimsy paper boarding passes – who wants those?) and that there was no way she could print out a boarding pass on the proper ticket stock for me.
It was only later, when I returned to the desk to drop off my checked bags, that the agent said, “You should have told me you were in business class. We can only print the boarding passes for business class passengers.”
Well, you are sitting at the business class check-in counter, aren’t you?
Anyway, the TAP flight is among the last flights of the night to depart from Toronto Pearson, so Jessica and I spent a fair bit of time in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge prior to boarding. In the hopes of taking some nice cabin pictures, I made my way to the boarding gate relatively early, only to find an absolute zoo of people already swarming in front of the gate.
The boarding process turned out to be one of the most inefficient ones I’ve ever experienced, with confusion reigning among the business class and elite passengers in terms of where exactly the line started.
By the time the passengers with families and special needs had completed their pre-boarding, the priority boarding group had swelled to a considerable size, and we all squeezed our way through the boarding pass check and onto the jet bridge in a state of total chaos.
TAP Air Portugal | TP262
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Cabin: Business class
Route: Toronto (YYZ) to Lisbon (LIS)
Date: Thursday, December 27, 2018
Time: Departing 10:55pm and arriving 10:50am the next day
Duration: 6 hours 55 minutes
Things calmed down a little by the time I boarded the Airbus A330 that would be taking us to Lisbon, and turned left into the business class cabin.
TAP Air Portugal is in the process of revamping their A330s with new business class seats, and I was fortunate to receive an aircraft with the newer seat type on this trip. There are 25 business class seats in total, spread out across six rows in a staggered configuration.
Row 1, at the very front, simply consists of two seats in the central aisle. Meanwhile, Rows 2 to 6 consist of either four or five seats, with a staggered single seat by the left-side windows (alternating between being closer to the aisle and closer to the window), two seats in the central aisle, and then either one seat or two seats along the right-side windows.
Rows 3 and 5, in particular, have only one seat by the right-side window, and these are the extremely private and spacious “throne” seats that I had selected for Jessica and myself.
The highly variable nature of TAP’s new A330 business class seats means that you might have a different onboard experience depending on which seat you’re assigned. If you’re travelling alone, you can’t go wrong with the throne seats (Seats 3J and 5J); if those aren’t available, and they do tend to get snatched up quickly, then you can pick one of the single seats by the left-side windows.
Meanwhile, couples travelling together would ordinarily pick one of the many side-by-side seats, but on this flight I had decided to split ourselves up and take both throne seats instead. We’d be flying on standard “2-2-2” business class products for the rest of the trip anyway, so I figured this flight the only chance to get away from Jessica for a while 😉
Speaking of 2-2-2 seating, it’s worth noting that TAP also runs their much older A330s with angled-flat business class seats on the Toronto route as well, although thankfully that’s in the process of being phased out.
Anyway, I took up residence in Seat 5J, with Jessica heading to Seat 3J in front of me. In terms of the seat finishes, I recognize what TAP Air Portugal was going for in melding the Portuguese colours of red and green into a more understated palette, but I can’t say I was the biggest fan of the olive-on-beige look.
It’s worth noting that the blanket, amenity kit, and business class menu were already placed at my seat before boarding, rather than being handed out by the crew afterwards. Perhaps that’s because they want to get the aircraft going as soon as possible on a late-night departure – I know some other airlines cut down on the pre-departure rituals in these types of situations.
I sat down to explore the features and functions built into the seat, which this throne seat had in abundance. First off, the entertainment monitor is positioned directly in front of you, with a small pouch for holding loose items located directly underneath.
Beneath that is the footwell, which becomes part of the bed when the seat is adjusted into lie-flat mode. Now, while these throne seats have plenty of space for you to spread out your upper body, they also tend to have very tight footwells, since you’re restricted to the space between the two full-sized seats in the row in front of you.
The TAP throne seat’s footwell was spacious enough when sitting upright, but only later in the flight would I be able to determine how comfortable it feels when sleeping.
Most of the seat features are concentrated in or around the left-side console. Along the panel that faces you, there’s a reading light, the USB and headphone jacks, the entertainment controller, a bottled water holder, and a small strap that you can use as a hook.
The console itself houses a huge storage compartment, which is large enough to fit a small laptop, a purse, or simply the many loose items that end up at your seat throughout the flight.
The tray table also slides out from here. You unlatch it with a small switch at the base of the console, and then it flips outwards and rotates into place in front of you.
Moving forwards along the left-side console, you’ll find a simplified set of seat controls, which only serves to put the seat into one of four preset modes, instead of allowing you to fine-tune the position of individual cushions like many other airlines do.
The power port and literature pocket are positioned along the front of the left-side console, down by your legs.
Meanwhile, the right side of your seat simply consists of a large surface, which I found so incredibly useful throughout the flight, since it allowed me to continue working on my laptop while eating dinner, for example. Now, most of the other business class seats on TAP’s A330 are not throne seats, so you’d be missing out on this large chunk of surface area if you were sitting in the one of those other seats.
There’s also an additional storage pouch on the back panel.
In terms of the seat belt, TAP is one of the airlines that offers a three-point seat belt. Passengers are recommended to use the three-point belt during take-off and landing, whereas simply keeping the lap belt buckled is sufficient during the flight itself.
For me, flying in a throne seat is just about as awesome as any business class experience gets. You have so much space on either side of you that it almost feels unfair to the other passengers.
As I set my arms on both armrests and settled into my throne, the crew came by to offer a welcome beverage, and I asked for an orange juice. The crew member also asked if I had a chance to look at the menu yet, which I didn’t, so she said she’d come back in a little while.
Interestingly, TAP Air Portugal plays a series of videos on the entertainment monitors during the boarding process. The videos are all designed to promote Portugal as a destination, focusing on the national airline itself, the many attractions and activities in Portugal for tourists, doing business in Portugal, etc. Most of it was in Portuguese, so I understood very little of it, but the videos were well-produced and fun to watch.
Boarding was complete relatively quickly, and to pass the time before we began our pushback, I inspected the knick-knacks that had been left at my seat. There were noise-cancelling headphones by Phitek, which I didn’t end up using throughout the flight.
There was the business class menu and wine list, which rather curiously came in four languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French. I browsed through and placed my order with the crew member when she came around again.
The menu read as follows:
For the amenity kit, TAP has gone with a quirkier look, incorporating the Porto skyline into the design of the Castelbel-branded kit. It’s one for the collection, that’s for sure.
The amenity kit consisted of a dental kit, a comb, an eye mask, nail clippers, ear plugs, lip balm, body lotion, and a pair of snazzy tube socks in the Portuguese colours.
As we began our takeoff roll, the worst fears of any business class passenger began to materialize: a baby started crying in Row 6 immediately behind me. The mother was obviously doing her best to soothe the child, but the baby wasn’t having any of it, screaming louder and louder, as if trying to drown out the roar of the plane’s engines.
I couldn’t help but feel annoyed at the situation, but I also soon realized that I’d probably find myself in a similar situation one day when I have children, so it’s probably best for me to have some empathy for the parent in that situation.
I occupied myself instead by browsing through the entertainment system. The welcome screen features a beautiful shot of Lisbon.
The range of in-flight entertainment was incredibly varied, with over 100 movies and dozens of TV shows to choose from. As you’d imagine, both the movie and TV selection featured a healthy dose of Portuguese titles in addition to the usual Hollywood releases.
Meanwhile, the airshow provider that TAP uses is one of the more basic varieties out there.
I took out my laptop to get some work done as we climbed to cruising altitude. It’s worth noting that TAP offers wifi on their A330s, although the prices are rather outrageous, so I didn’t make use of it.
Soon after the seat belt sign was turned off, the crew began preparing the cabin for the meal service. Since we were flying to the very westernmost part of Europe, the flight time was blocked at just under seven hours, meaning that ideally the meal service would be completed as soon as possible, allowing guests to turn in for the night quickly and get whatever rest they can possibly get.
The crew member taking care of me, who was well-intentioned and friendly throughout the meal service, came by to set my table.
A few minutes later, the entire meal – soup, main course, and fruit – were delivered together all on one tray. I was a little surprised that there was no salad or other appetizer course, although I imagine this was very much a reduced meal service compared to their usual offering, owing to the late departure from Toronto.
I had also ordered some white wine to drink, which was proactively delivered with a glass of water.
The presentation of the soup course was a nice touch. The bowl originally came with only a dollop of crème fraîche inside, and then the sweet pea soup was poured in from a jug. I generally like soups quite a lot, and enjoyed the mix of flavours in this one.
For the main course, I had selected the garlic shrimp with red pepper and tomato sauce on top of saffron rice. While the taste was good, the dish was rather dry in texture, which took away from my overall impression of it.
I was also offered my choice of pastry from the breadbasket, and I had a simple roll. It’s always funny when there’s no space on the tray for the bread, so the crew member just places it on top of all the cutlery – I’ve seen this happen on far too many airlines by now.
Whereas with another type of business class seat, I’d often have to put my laptop away during the meal service or risk spilling stuff on it, here in TAP’s throne seat I was able to eat and work simultaneously.
Overall, besides the decent soup course, the meal on TAP business class didn’t leave much of an impression in either quantity nor quality. It’s worth noting that TAP allows business class customers to pre-select their meals online when departing from Lisbon, so that’s something I hope to try on my next flight with TAP in order to get a more complete sense of their in-flight catering.
It was well past midnight in Toronto by now, and I was looking to catch some sleep for the four and a half hours of the flight that remained, so I ordered some green tea to help me wind down. It came delivered with a bar of dark chocolate.
The cabin lights were dimmed soon after the meal service was complete, and the crew came around to hand out some bottled water for passengers to stay hydrated throughout their sleep.
I briefly went up to Seat 3J to disturb Jessica for a bit. After that, I visited the restrooms, which was decently clean, but didn’t feel like it was maintained or refreshed very regularly, as some of the items were a bit of a mess.
Then it was time to put my seat into lie-flat mode and rest my head for the night. Thankfully, the crying baby in Row 6 had fallen into its own stupor by this point.
The positive thing about the TAP business class bed is that the seat cushions are plush and comfortable, and the blanket is just the right size and thickness.
But the downside, as I suspected, is that the footwell in these throne seats tends to be rather restrictive, and while it wasn’t as tight as the throne seats on Swiss business class (which are really tight), it was still very challenging to bend my legs to a comfortable degree.
I still managed to doze off pretty quickly though, and remained fast asleep until the commotion of the pre-arrival meal service woke me up with about an hour of the flight left to go.
I propped the seat up into a steep recline so that I could munch on the pre-arrival meal while half-asleep. Jessica had declined the breakfast and continued sleeping until the end of the flight, which was probably the wiser decision, but hey – I had to take one for the team and get the picture for the review, right?
Alas, similar to the dinner, the breakfast wasn’t really anything special – a few croissants with some yogurt and a fruit plate. Very bare-bones.
I drank the orange juice, nibbled away at the croissants, and then I’m pretty sure I fell back asleep. By the time I awoke once more, my breakfast tray had been withdrawn and we were being told to put our seats in the upright position for our descent into Lisbon.
I came away from TAP Air Portugal business class with mixed feelings. The Portuguese flag carrier is undergoing something of a revolution at the moment, vastly expanding their route network and adding brand-new Airbus A330-900neos to their fleet. And while their new business class seats (in particular the throne seats that Jessica and I got to try) are very competitive and worthy of praise, I did feel a little let down by the onboard catering, which was quite mediocre.
Nevertheless, perhaps a late-night flight from Toronto doesn’t paint the whole picture. I had a pleasant enough time on this journey to be willing to fly with them again sometime – ideally departing from Lisbon to take advantage of the pre-ordered meals and ideally on the new A330-900neos to try out a different type of seating configuration – to hopefully get a more complete sense of the TAP business class experience.