TAP Air Portugal offers inexpensive fares from the U.S., Brazil, and Canada to Europe and Northern Africa, and also heavily markets the “Portugal Stopover” with the option to stay in Porto or Lisbon for a few days at no additional fee.
I was traveling to Marrakech, Morocco (RAK), and I have an obsession with trying out new airlines and aircraft. I found an excellent fare on TAP’s website from New York JFK to RAK via Lisbon that would allow me to take one carry-on, one checked bag, and have a layover in Lisbon that seemed long enough to allow for a swift connection. I was also able to find a cheap positioning fare on Delta from DFW to JFK. Sadly, I still take “risks” by self-connecting, in spite of being burned by this in the past.
The TAP flights from JFK leave out of Terminal five, co-locating the airline with JetBlue, one of its codeshare partners. I had done online check-in, but I had to check my roll-a-board as I would have otherwise exceeded the carry-on limitations and size requirements.
JFK’s beautiful Terminal 5 was relatively deserted at that hour. This flight left late (23:25) and arrives into Lisboa at 11:15 AM the following day, thereby serving as a short 6-hour ride across the Atlantic. There were a few other flights departing at this hour on B6 to the Caribbean islands and elsewhere in the Northeast.
At check-in, we were the only ones at the counter, and at first, I thought we were too late for bag drop, even though it was over 90 minutes prior to departure. That said, we were luckily saved by a different agent after one of her colleagues protested that we were arriving too late. I was glad that she was there. TAP uses Amadeus’ check-in and departure control system.
For the first time ever, all of my flights were issued on one boarding pass. This was something that I had never seen before and would be the first of several flights I would be taking in a series that would offer this cool feature.
At this late hour, TSA precheck was closed, so even though the terminal was a ghost town, we still had to proceed through formalities the old-fashioned way. It is incredible how the regular lines move very slowly with only 1 checkpoint open at this late hour. Furthermore, as people traveling to the Caribbean are known to either 1) be using wheelchair assists, or 2) carry-on everything but the kitchen sink, this added additional delays.
We, unfortunately, did not get to depart from one of the prettier piers of Terminal 5, as we were leaving from gate 30. It is cool, however, that the marketing partnerships of B6 with Aer Lingus, Hawaiian, and TAP are promoted in the terminal.
Queues had already started to form as we approached the gate. Though TAP is a well-regarded airline, it retains some of the chaotic procedures that are attributable to airlines of Southern Europe. There didn’t seem to be any organization to the process, but I wasn’t really in a mood to protest. This would be a pretty uneventful flight for me.
Boarding and First Impressions
I did see that the aircraft assigned to us today was a retro Airbus A330-300! The retro livery is on its CS-TOV aircraft. This was a relief, as I would soon later come to find out that TAP sometimes rotates in a Hi-Fly Airbus A340 on its JFK route that features a dated product.
Onboard, I made my way to 12C. The A330 in use today offers a 2-3-2 seating configuration, which is a comfy ride on an Airbus widebody. The TAP interior is vivid with different colors of red and green. Each seat comes with a blanket, pillow, and screen, along with power outlets and USB plugs. Ordinarily, I would opt for a window seat, but I would have had to pay extra. The flight was completely full, mostly with backpacker-types who were taking advantage of TAP’s cheap fares to Europe that includes the stopover, or ethnic Portuguese/Portuguese Americans on summer holidays.
The late hour, combined with an early morning wake up that I had, was enough of a combination to cause me to doze for takeoff. I woke up when the beverage and meal cart was coming around. The flight had complimentary beer and wine for all passengers, and possibly liquors (although I didn’t inquire). There were no meal choices – only one – which consisted of a grilled chicken dish, mashed potatoes, bread, salad, turkey and cheese, and a strawberry mousse cake.
The chicken was a bit bland and the mashed potatoes were powdery. The spinach was pretty uninspiring, but to be frank, I was impressed merely by the fact that we were being fed at all on this flight. It wasn’t a horrid meal, but I wouldn’t give it more than a 6 out of 10. I was extremely pleased with the pleasantness of TAP employees, something that would be consistent during my interactions with them throughout my following flights with them. They are very friendly and hospitable, just like the Portuguese.
There was a kid seated behind me who had just graduated from college and was trying to impress his German seatmate by being obnoxious, talking loudly, and ordering copious quantities of alcohol. The combination of them was extremely annoying (and others confirmed this later upon disembarkation at LIS) so I decided to pop an Ambien (aggressive, I know) after dinner.
During the meal service, I played around with TAP’s in-flight entertainment console, which was very impressive. It has a nice interface with the usual film, TV, music, and moving map features.
By about 1:25, when everything had been wrapped up, I was out like a light. I slept for a solid three hours, which was just fine for me. When I woke up, it was daylight, and breakfast was being distributed to passengers. It was merely a sandwich with salami and cheese and ingredients for a coffee. In my daze, I just wanted to sleep, even if that meant doing so prior to landing and missing out on the approach into Lisbon.
We landed in an overcast Lisbon and had about three hours to kill before our connecting flight to RAK. Like virtually every flight that arrives at the jam-packed Lisbon airport, ours required a stairwell and bus transfer, which, again, would become a theme over the next few flights during summer travel. I managed to get some photos of TAP’s business class cabin on my way out.
The immigration lines at LIS airport are horrendous. Be prepared to wait at least an hour if you are not an EU citizen. For those making transfers from non-Schengen flights to Schengen flights, be sure to have at least 2 hours to clear immigration. However, if you’re going from non-Schengen to non-Schengen, which we were, we simply had to clear security, which wasn’t too bad at that hour.
The one downside of the international (non-Schengen) departures pier at Lisbon is that there are no priority pass lounges available for customers. Subsequently, we simply had to wait in the terminal area and eat overpriced food. The Ambien that I had taken was still keeping me out like a light, so my friend watched guard over me as we waited for our next flight.
Segment Two: TAP Express/Portugalia to Marrakesh
Our next flight would be on TAP’s regional subsidiary carrier, TAP Express, formerly known as Portugalia, which would fly us to Marrakech. This flight was on an Embraer E-195, which would be relatively empty today. TAP Express is wholly owned by parent company, TAP, which is also co-owned by David Neeleman.
The Portugalia interiors reminded me a lot of JetBlue, with an individual screen. This would be my first ever ride on an Embraer E-195. TAP Express has a total of 21 aircraft in its fleet including the E-190LR, E-195, and the ATR-72.
I continued to “rest my eyes” through the journey to RAK, occasionally snapping a photo here and there as I woke up from my slumber. The crew deposited a snack on my tray table during the journey, which was kind of them.
The flight proceeded uneventfully. It is a short, one-hour ride from LIS to RAK, and we did not encounter any turbulence or bad weather on today’s ride.
Deplaning at RAK
Marrakech Menara airport is a very clean, modern, and spacious airport, with beautiful designs that reflect the stunning Islamic and Moor-inspired art trends in Northern Africa. We once again deplaned via the stairwell, which seemed a bit unnecessary given the number of free jetways that were open, but I digress.
The walk into the terminal was a bit long, but it felt good to stretch my legs. Immigration took less than 10 minutes and our bags were out in another 10. We pondered whether to buy alcohol at duty-free (as it is more challenging to find places that sell alcohol in Marrakech, whether in the Medina or outside of it) but decided that we would hold off. We then went outside to meet our driver, which we had pre-arranged as part of a pick-up service. It is recommended that you pre-arrange transportation when traveling to Morocco to avoid scams.
TAP Air Portugal Economy Class: Bottom Line
TAP functions perfectly well as an airline to get you from point A to B. The service one can expect on TAP is perhaps a hair ahead of what you would get on Icelandair in economy class, and maybe just slightly behind what you would get on SWISS, Lufthansa, or Air France. The fares are extremely reasonable and the Lisbon/Porto stopovers are great as far as incentives go. You’ll get all the bells and whistles in terms of entertainment and comfort, and maybe a little less variety when it comes to food and beverage. However, the nonstop flying time from New York and Boston to Lisbon are so short, the flight will be over in no time.
I did not earn any frequent flier miles on this flight, even though TAP partners with United. The earning rates on United are very restrictive for TAP-operated flights. Be sure to tailor your expectations accordingly.
Finally, the one real downside of flying TAP is Lisbon Airport: it is simply too crowded and overworked to process flights effectively. As such, it is important to make sure you do not self-connect at LIS nor book a tight connection for your onward journey. Otherwise, TAP is a pleasant airline that I wouldn’t hesitate to fly again for the right price.