TAP Portugal & the aircraft surprise!

The first leg of our trip got us to Lisbon, Portugal on Emirates. The next stop was Madrid and the multiple daily flights between the two airports comprised of Iberia, Air Europa, Easyjet and TAP Air Portugal. With the leg from Madrid to Nice being planned on Air Nostrum – operated by Iberia and Easyjet done a couple of years ago, the choice narrowed down to TAP Air Portugal. Madrid is the topmost destination by passenger numbers from Lisbon.

TAP Air Portugal is the flag carrier of Portugal with its hub at Lisbon airport. The airline is a Star Alliance member and operates a fleet of over 90 aircraft comprising the Airbus A320 family, A330, Embraer and ATR.

Aviation is an addiction and one is always looking out for newer experiences, airlines and aircraft types and who doesn’t love surprises!

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Booking

I decided to book directly on the airline website. The website is easy to navigate. On the day we intended to fly, there were six flights to Madrid. There were multiple fare options on offer. A hand baggage only fare, Basic fare (1 checked-in baggage, limited miles, 1 change allowed), Classic (Higher miles, free seat selection) and Plus (Higher miles, free changes, refundable fare, fast track, economy extra seats).

Selection of flight and fare class was hassle free. I opted for the Basic fare which had 1 bag each and proceeded for payment, which again was a hassle-free experience with the Indian credit card. Ticket in inbox as soon as the payment went through and on the web page as well. Full marks for hassle free booking experience. I found the website very colorful and lively.

Day of departure

One of the rare occasions when the public transport ticket for two was more expensive than the Uber to the airport, so we choose the later and were at the airport much quicker than anticipated, being dropped outside Terminal 1 – from where TAP Portugal operates. We entered the terminal at 0750 hours, 1h25mins to departure. The airport has two terminals. T1 which is home to TAP and other FSCs and T2 which is much smaller and a LCC terminal.

There were many self check-in machines and helpful staff from the airline. Our boarding passes were printed with the luggage tags and we headed to the automated baggage drop machines. We had not paid for the seats and the system auto allotted us an aisle and middle seat next to each other. Seamless process. The complexities start only after the baggage is dropped!

The terminal is not one of the best in terms of upkeep. A complete labyrinth from check-in to security with signboards contradicting each other. Nonetheless, we joined the security queue which were unorganized long lines and took about 20 minutes to get on the other side. The time now was 0820 hours and boarding were to commence at 0835 hours as per the boarding pass. The FIDS was yet to display the boarding gate! At 0825 hours, boarding gate was updated, and it seemed like a bus gate. We were very close to the boarding gate and we joined the rush going towards the gate. The ground staff was doing a fantastic job – checking luggage, looking for zones on boarding cards and forming lines accordingly. I took this time to click a picture or two. The small area had a couple of bus boarding gates, a small toilet complex and some long chairs. The waiting area has some good views of the apron and runway. But the advertising on the glass is a dampener for photography.

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Boarding was announced. We were in the last zone and one of the last to get through the passport check and boarding card scan before heading a floor down to the waiting busses. The 10 minutes plus ride took us to the remote apron which had a handful of A320 family aircraft and stood next to A321neo! That’s an upgrade, I said to myself! The aircraft was going to be CS-TXB, a brand new A321neoLR (A321-251NX)

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Elated, I tried clicking some pictures but couldn’t get a good one without passengers. The ground staff was asking people to deposit their luggage before climbing the stairs. We had two small backpacks and started climbing the stairs. On all my flights within EU, I noticed that passengers with luggage within permissible limits were asked to not take it to cabin and instead hand it over for check-in. While this may speed up the turnaround, I couldn’t really understand the reason completely.

The aircraft was factory fresh and smelling so! The cabin was well lit, perfect blend of colors and the crew welcoming. We settled in our seats – the recaro slim line ones with the IFE home screen active but nothing else working on the screen.

Flight

Some of the nice things I noticed about the aircraft was that there was an additional lavatory between the economy and business section. Considering the range of the A321neoLR and the plans of the airline, this is a good decision.

We pushed back a few minutes behind schedule after the crew completed their safety demo. The crew quickly went around checking for seat belts, window shades and seat position. The remote apron is very close to the active runway and that meant a very short taxi. We lined up and made a powerful take-off from runway 03, turned right and set course for the Spanish capital.

The pilot made detailed announcements in local language, followed by the same in English – where he said we would fly at FL320 i.e. 32000 feet and expect a before time arrival into Madrid – subject to congestion. Within minutes, the service started. The crew was on their toes distributing a pre-packed croissant to passengers. This was followed by a water run. That was it, there was no tea or coffee service.

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By the time the crew finished the snack run, it was time to collect the trash. The short time that was available, I checked the in-flight magazine and safety card. As flight range keeps increasing, I kept wondering how comfortable these seats for a six or a seven-hour hop.

The crew came again to check window shades, seat belts and asking passengers to get their seats upright as we started our descend into Madrid landing smoothly on runway 32L at 1123 hours, 07 minutes ahead of scheduled time. Madrid was hot and sunny! We taxied to Terminal 2 and docked at one of the aerobridges. The walk was long – very long to get to one end of the terminal building and get to first floor at the baggage belt where bags took a very long while to come on belt. (About 20 minutes).

I absolutely enjoyed the flight. Clean and fresh aircraft, bright colors, warm service, smiling crew and an on-time flight. Probably the shortest I will ever be on the A321neoLR.

TAP again?

Why not?! I liked the airline. However, in my quest of adding new airports and experiencing new airlines, if I am flying a route which has an airline / aircraft type I have never flown before, I will opt for the later but if I would like to fly TAP again!

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