Dodging the travel chaos (sort of): TAP’s Business Class from Madrid to Florence

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After returning following three days in Luanda with TAAG Angola Airlines, I had everything set to get back home, apart from the most important… the flights from Madrid back to Italy.

Yeah, I should have guessed that should have been planned way in advance, because it’s Summer season and apparently things are back to normal here in Europe, which means huge crowds, full flights and high fares. But we like to do things with emotion here at Aviacionline, so we must be creative.

Which is why, at the last minute, I remembered to take a peek at an old friend of mine, Decolar.com; back in Brazil, in the days before Google Flights, this was the tool I used to check fares.

And boy I found something; the lowest fare, for about BRL1000 (EUR181.43 as of today), was with TAP Air Portugal, an airline I always wanted to try. Not only that, for BRL200 (EUR36.29) more, I could buy a ticket in Business Class — it was still cheaper than any other airline, so I booked it.

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Considering I bought it two days before, I think that was a great deal; moreover, I would arrive in Florence, which is the easiest airport to get to my home from.

TP1015 MAD-LIS (not quite)

My flight from Luanda arrived after 5AM and the flight I’d booked with left Madrid at around 10PM, so my plan was to get the lounge access and spend the day there chilling and perhaps getting some rest.

It happens that my boarding pass didn’t allow me to get into the airside so early, so I went to TAP’s office (ran by a third-party) to try and see if I could get into one of the earlier flights. A very nice employee said she’d do it for me, as soon as TAP’s check-in opened, which should happen in about two hours.

Two hours before TAP’s first flight of the day, the check-in agents showed up, and I was quickly greeted by a very nice employee, although I think he was quite inexperient — never a problem.

He first told me to wait before all passengers of the first flight were checked-in, and I argued with him, so he reshuffled me to the first flight of the morning.

Then apparently he waited for a supervisor to arrive before he gave me the boarding pass. She arrived, and first of all she gave a lecture in quite a confrontational tone to her employees, in front of all customers, about the situation of the flights of the day and what they should do to reaccomodate passengers.

She then went to my counter and said what the check-in agent did was wrong and that she would report him. She then issued me the boarding pass for

I get that these days the airport gig is tougher than ever, but that was quite an appaling behaviour from her towards her subordinates. She had a TAP ID badge (and her Spanish accent didn’t sound native), so that’s quite a sad thing to see from someone that, apparently, reports directly to the airline that would fly me home. Quite cringeworthy too.

But well, at least I had my boarding pass for the 16h20 flight, which would make for an eight-hour wait in Madrid.

TAP operates from Barajas’ Terminal 2, which is not the wonderful Terminal 4/4S that is home to Iberia. It’s practically the same structure as Air Europa’s — they officially fly from Terminal 1, but it’s the same building –, and when you consider this is Air Europa’s home base, you can say its does its job with a minimum of dignity. The low-cost carriers operate from here too.

In Madrid, TAP uses, as most of the airlines there, two lounges, each in one of the two terminal areas; Puerta de Alcalá, which apparently is in Terminal 2, and Puerta del Sol, apparently in T3 (I’m lost too by the way).

My favorite one was Puerta de Alcalá, which looked more spacious, although the food offer was generally the same in the both of them.

Overall, the best one for planespotting was also Puerta de Alcalá, so I think that counts too. There were also showers in both lounges, so I made myself ready for the journey.

About an hour before my flight’s originally scheduled time, I started to make my way to the gate. It’s great to see airports full again, and for AvGeeks like us, it’s always fascinating to see all that movement.

The screens showed my flight was at least an hour late.

The gate was still empty when I arrived, and it remained closed for an hour until boarding started, even if the airplane was stopped at the gate (perhaps for a lack of slots?).

As the crowd gathered at the gate, the check-in agents started to go, one by one, to check if the passengers’ hand luggage fitted their sizer. Surprisingly, sixteen had to be dispatched, and honestly, none of them looked actually oversized.

That’s not on the gate agents’, that on the airline’s policy, which makes the travel experience more miserable for everyone, the employees included, putting them in direct conflict with the customers for negligible details. One of the passengers, in fact, even had a brief shouting match with an agent.

It was only at 16h50, thirty minutes after scheduled departured, that boarding was cleared. They respected the priorities so that was a good thing.

Our aircraft for the day would be Airbus A321neo registered CS-TXG. According to Planespotters.net, it was delivered brand new to TAP on March 2021, being named «Almada Negreiros» as a tribute to the Portuguese writer, a tradition at TAP’s fleet.

The first impression of the cabin couldn’t have been better. Because TAP uses these aircraft in their transatlantic services, they have a Business class with seats that can go full-flat. If you’re lucky, you can get it in shorter, intra-Europe flights, kinda like the flight I took with Aer Lingus last year.

And well, considering this was an hour-long flight, that was way more than anyone would need.

TAP uses the same cabin configuration in Business Class as Aer Lingus in their transatlantic A321neos, with the first row having a 2-2 setup, the second having a 1-1 and so on. That’s great because it maximises the space usage in the limited cabin area of a narrowbody, while providing an option for solo travellers who want more privacy.

Screens were large but for a flight of this length, I’d rather keep it in the flight map later on.

The flight was not particularly full (despite the previous flight from Madrid to Lisbon having been canceled) and at 17h16, doors were closed.

It was only at 17h30 that we were pushed back, and the safety video was one of the greatest I’d ever seen, showing the beauties of Portugal from the perspective of foreigners.

That was quite the day for flying, despite the delays; by the way, the crew made no mention of the reasons of our delay, which is quite needed when you remember TAP is a hub-and-spoke carrier — and many passengers would therefore lose their connections.

Finally at 17h45, we took-off from Madrid/Barajas Airport.

The airshow was all I needed for the next hour.

Onto the seat now, there were only predefined positions you could set.

There was also this fancy reading light, an USB entry and, in one of the storage spaces, a power port.

The screen could be controlled via this remote control too.

The tray table could be opened from the space between both seats.

Soon the onboard service was started; a small fruit plate, half a sandwich (the only option) served with beverages. I couldn’t travel to Portugal without trying their wine, so I ordered their red wine, which was Periquita Reserva.

The sandwich was meh (definitely could’ve been a little more rich in filling), but the wine was great — Portugal never disappoints on this regard.

The dishware by the way was beautiful, and it had TAP’s retro logo, always a fine detail.

A cup of coffee finished the service, which overall left a very fine impression for an hour-long flight.

We were crusing at 31,000 feet. By the way I must add that the flight attendant’s service was very professional and cool, always showing effort to provide a pleasant experience despite the delay. I spoke to the purser afterwards, and she told me she had 30 years of TAP, having flown everything the airline operated since.

Just 31 minutes after take-off, we started our descent into Lisbon.

As we got closer to Lisbon, we leveled at 20,000 feet and made a left turn. The Captain then spoke into the PA system that an aircraft had a blown tyre, closing Lisbon Airport’s single runway, which meant we would divert to Faro, in the Algarve region.

At 17h57 we landed in Faro. The views of the Ria Formosa Natural Park during finals were beautiful.

Everyone was required to stay in their seats and the flight attendants passed offering water to everyone. The glasses were SATA-branded by the way, hope to fly them soon.

There was plenty of time to enjoy the seats as time went on. At 18h13 the Captain gave us an update saying that there were no news.

It was only at 19h18 that the Captain informed us that the airport had reopened, but there were no landing slots.

At this time of the year Faro is full of different traffic, as tourists flock to visit the beauties of the Algarve.

At 19h40 doors were closed and at 19h58 the Captain said that they expected to have available slots in an hour only.

Finally at 20h11 we started our pushback.

TP1015 FAO-LIS

The views from the window were quite stunning.

I even managed to see EI-DCL, Ryanair’s special 737 celebrating their partnership with Boeing, for the first time. DCL is based in Brussels Charleroi Airport lately.

At 20h21 we took off from Faro. X-Ray Golf lifted off with ease, as the aircraft wasn’t particularly full and, after all, it was really short.

We cruised at a mere 14,000 feet, starting our descent into Lisbon at 20h34. The views from my side of the window made that quite an impression of my first visit to Lisbon. A shame I wouldn’t leave the airport.

At 20h49, with a four hour and nine minutes delay, we did a firm landing in Lisbon’s single runway.

I managed to snap a pic of some aircraft that are quite common there, for instance, this A330neo. Behind it, a HiFly A330-300 that has been operating on behalf of TAAG.

And this not-so-common sight, the bizjet guilty of closing down the airport for a number of hours.

Even though we parked at a boarding bridge, deboarding was made with buses, since TXG would proceed to New York/Newark, which boards in a different part of the airport.

Lisbon Airport was really full; if it was already difficult because of the peak season (my flight would have arrived late to Lisbon anyway), the runway closure made it even worse.

It looked like a decent structure, but it was the dirtiest airport I had ever seen. Definitely if the airport management took care of removing the trash from the trash bins and from the floor, the experience would have been at least a little bit better.

My layover would be overnight and TAP’s lounge would close in about 90 minutes, so I tried entering it to take a shower. Unfortunately the agent say that was a «departures, not arrivals» lounge, so I could only enter the room the following day.

As you can see, the airport was a mess.

The line to get a voucher/accommodation from TAP extended to the central atrium of the terminal.

A good night of sleep having my backpack as a pillow followed (we’re to cheap to pay for hotels), and at 6AM sharp I was at the lounge’s door to have breakfast. The flight left at 7, so I wouldn’t have time for a shower, but at least I could recharge partially.

The lounge actually looked good, although it was quite small. Lisbon really needs an airport that is worth of a city of its size, and it shows. I wouldn’t say it’s the airline’s fault the airport’s like this, so in my opinion TAP did a good job with the space it was given.

After a lightning breakfast, it was time to go; the screen says it was already boarding.

TP878 LIS-FLR

When I got there, it turns out it was not yet boarding. At 06h30, half an hour before departure, they started it.

There could be no rush anyway since everyone was packed in a bus, for the aircraft was in a remote position.

And there was our aircraft for today: Embraer 190 CS-TPW.

This was quite a special flight for me, because for the first time I would be flying an aircraft that had previously flown for a Brazilian airline. According to Planespotters.net, Papa Whisky was originally delivered to TRIP in June 2012 as PP-PJV, becoming a part of Azul’s fleet as they merged in 2013. The airframe was named «Daniela Mercury é Azul» as a tribute to the popular axé singer.

With the downturn in Brazilian economy, Azul retired the aircraft in early 2016, transfering it to Portugália Airlines, the TAP-owned airline that currently operates TAP Express’ Embraer fleet, which named it «Coimbra».

It was only at 07h52 that the crew cleared us to enter the jet.

The first impression was good. Leather seats (not those that were used on Azul/TRIP) which looked relatively comfortable for a regional jet.

Today, I would be in the first row, which meant enough legroom. Apparently Business Class wouldn’t be full anyway.

Doors were closed ar 07h02 and at 07h13 pushback was started.

During our taxi, again some nice sights of Lisbon Airport. For instance, this A321neo of Azores Airlines.

Also, this line-up of three TAP Express E-Jets, one of which in a hybrid Bulgaria Air-TAP livery.

After waiting for some take-offs, we took off from Lisbon at 07h31.

Immediately we made a right turn. From my window, I could see Lisbon Airport, which is much smaller than what I imagined. Definitely the capital of Portugal deserves better than this.

We leveled off at 38,000 feet, flying near Madrid — you can clearly see Barajas Airport in the photo below.

A short while after this, the flight attendants for our flight started their service. As in the previous flight, they brought the tray (a single option) and asked us about our drinks.

As this flight was a little bit longer, the selection was noticeably richer, albeit still cold, the «main» course was good.

To drink, another very good Portuguese wine: Pacheca Douro 2020, again really good. It’s quite important, if you sell yourself as the flag carrier, that your product incorporates such local elements, and for me TAP did this very well.

And again the flight attendants’ did a very good, professional job. They offered more rounds of wine and even offered to open the other bottle just so I tried a different label. Really nice of them.

The cabin really looked private with the curtain. Only five passengers spread over the ten available seats.

Just before we started our descent, a visit to the lavatory; pretty much unchanged since the Azul days.

We were still over the Mediterranean when we started a slow descent into Florence, at 10h08.

At 10h56, four minutes ahead of schedule, we made a smooth landing in the short runway of Peretola Airport, finishing a remarkable experience with TAP.

Deboarding to the terminal was made by foot under a great Summer light.

It was a fun week full of flights and memorable experiences, but how I was glad to be back home.

Final remarks

Over the years I heard many people talk about flying TAP. These people could usually be divided into two groups: those that say «not perfect, but I liked it» and those that liken the Portuguese flag carrier to a flying form of the Antichrist.

Well, despite the delays I faced, I think I fall on that first group, despite the delay.

The next-best alternative on Business Class between Madrid and Florence — booking in advance — goes for around EUR300, so I definitely scored a good deal here, especially when you remember it was last-minute.

Considering this, I think TAP delivered an awesome cost-benefit proposition, all things considered. The catering was good, aircraft were clean and comfortable (especially the A321neo), crews were excellent.

TAP’s largest vulnerability essentially lies at the huge limitations infrastructure pose over its future. In 2019, Lisbon Airport registered over 30 million passengers with a single runway. As the saying goes, «who has one has none», and if there’s the slightest of problems in Lisbon, their operation becomes a mess, as was the case.

At least we were well treated during our diversion and the Captain kept us informed about it, but we wouldn’t have diverted if we had left Madrid on schedule, to start off.

Over the last 500 years Portuguese authorities have been scrambling to decide what solutions to take to give Lisbon Airport some breathing space. Every day that passes is a day lost for TAP, especially if you consider now they are again depending on taxpayer money to stay afloat.

But from my experience, I believe TAP has very professional, hard-working people behind the scenes and all the tools to get through this messy Summer season. May the next one only be better — and I really mean it.

For now, if you’re planning to fly with them (or with any European airline) this Summer… keep your calm, relax and enjoy your trip. At least, as far as their product goes, «not perfect, but I liked it».

João Machado
João Machado
Brasileño de Porto Alegre. Desde 2020 estudio Economics & Management en la Universidad de Siena, Italia, donde vivo. Apasionado de siempre por la aviación comercial. Beatle favorito: George. Twitter: @joaointhesky Para consultas o pedidos editoriales por favor escribir a redaccion@aviacionline.com // For editorial inquiries or requests please write to redaccion@aviacionline.com

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