An All Airbus Adventure (and not a great one)
"beware of the unknown" would a befitting description of this trip. "Do
not fly TAP Air Portugal" a more specific one. While I truly and
thoroughly enjoyed my trip in Portugal, the journey itself- the
part I usually most look forward to- was the biggest disappointment this
time. The last few times I have flown it has been with the likes of
British Airways, American Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, each of which,
for all their problems here and there, are generally efficient and
reliable. So I wasn't expecting quite so helter-scelter a journey this time.
TAP Air Portugal
New York (JFK) to Lisbon
Arrived at JFK; check in was prompt and courteous (no wonder- it is
handled by Swiss). The flight was not very full (most traffic at this
time is in the other direction) and by sitting at the back I got lots of
empty seats to my self. The flight was delayed about 1 1/2 hours. This
was not a problem itself, especially since we made up most of the time
enroute, but what was funny was that not a single announcment was
made during the entire time explaining anything. Funnier still,
passengers didn't seem to care either. As I was told later, that's
The aircraft was the newest of four Airbus 340s in TAP's fleet. The cabin
was unappealing, with a single drab grey color dominating all seats,
curtain, paneling etc. Leg-room was actually good (I think the same as
American's more room throughout coach), but the seats themselves were so
uncomfortable (no headrest or lumbar support) that the legroom did not
help. There were no PTVs, and the limited
entertainment on the overhead screens was slipshod and boring.
The meal service was standard, not great but not bad either. The "chicken"
or "fish" option was eliminated well before they reached my row, so I had
to have the fish, which was tasty, but miniscule. to their credit, when I
did ask for a second meal, they graciously obliged,
Despite the delay, we landed in Lisbon almost on time. Lisbon
airport is situated only 7 km from the city which means (1)
beautiful views of the city as you land, and (2) only 7 euros to
my hotel downtown! Although there are some jetways, these are only
used for short haul flights, so we had to disembark via buses. Climbing
down the plane really gives you an impression of the sheer size of the
A340, esp the wingspan! Immigation was a nightmare, as
a number of flights from all over landing at the same time had to be
serviced by a very small number of agents.
Lisbon to London Heathrow
Tap Air Portugal
Got to the airport well on time, bu thad to endure the whole
rigmarole all over again: check in lines were astronimcally long, being
serviced by only a few agents.
Then the agent thought it was not possible to check my
bags through to New York until I convinced her that was the norm.
2:00, boarding time, and 2:40, departure time, came and went, but no
announcment was made. Finally at 3:00 we started boarding. Again we had to board in a bus ( a single bus for the whole plane that had to take
turns), and the procedure was impossibly long and unacceptably
inefficient. To make matters worse, the bus reached the aircraft only to
be told that the plane was not ready. So we had to sit in the bus
another 20 minutes.
We were finally airborne after a surprisingly long take-off roll (London
is only 2 hours away), and got spectacular views of downtown Lisbon.
As on the A340, Leg room was again generous, entertainment was
again poor, and the food (chicken ala rubber) was this time absolutely
attrocious. But I didn't really care as by this time a bigger problem was
brewing. My connecting flight to New York was scheduled to depart at 6:30.
We were originally scheduled to arrive at 5:15 but with almost a full hour
delay things were getting dicey.
I wasn't deseparately worried as I knew that Virgin had later flights that
day to New York, but the problem was that I had specifically wanted to be
on the 6:30 pm flight as it was operated by their single new Airbus
340-600. Oh well. The crew allowed me to sit in the First row of First
Class for the latter portion of the flight so that when we reached
the gate I could disembark first. As it turned out by the time we landed
at Heathrow (on 9L), meandered our way to our gate in Terminal 2,
disembarked, and my running all the way to Terminal 3, my connecting
flight had long left.
They offered me the later flight (which goes to Newark). When I said I
wanted to fly the 340-600 they said I could if I want fly the next day
instead on the 830pm flight which would be operated by that aircraft, but
they would not provide accomodation or transport in London. Still, that
was nice of them. I had a cousin in London who I thought I may stay with,
but after mulling over it for about 15 minutes I thought the inconvenience
of shlepping myself and my bags into town and then all teh way back the
next day was just too much, and decided to continue on the
same day. (of course today as I write this, I am regretting my decision).
What I have noticed about Virgin staff in general is they ARE helpful, as
in this case, but their manner and tone often suggest they are being rude
when they really are not.
o, on to New York:
Virgin Atlantic VS 17
London to Newark
G-VFAR (Princess Diana)
I had flown the very same aircraft two years ago, also to New York, when
she was in the old configuration. Now having been refurbished, the new
cabin looked very sleek and elegant (the outside of the aircraft was still
in the old livery, though). Upper Class was with the
new purple red and silver seats, and the bar. Premium Economy and Economy
had the new seats too. The dividers between the classes are unusual and
very elegant too. My biggest complaint is when refurbishing the aircraft,
they should have increased the seat pitch in Economy, which is one of the
worst in the entire airline industry. Thank goodness I had an aisle seat
into which I could push out my legs otherwise I would have been miserable.
to make matters worse, the electronic systems that control the inflight
tvs are located under the seat which restrict legroom further.
But from what I was told by a friend who is very tall is that because
he is extremely tall, whenever the flight is not full, they are very good
about moving him up to premium economy. still, never happened to me.
Anyway, the service I must sadly admit has dwindled significantly.
Although most of the cuts are relatively minor, they did show, especially
because Virgin is one of those airlines on whcih you expect all these
Here are some examples:
1. no menu
2. limited food supplies (one less meal service, and on the existing
meals, no appetizer, just a main course).
3. no full alcohol bottles for passenges, and no post dinner liqueur as
4. less items in amenity kits.
the inflight entertainment system (because Virgin acquired different
aircraft from different sources at different times, they have three
entertaimnent systems, odyssey, arcadia and nova; we had the arcadia.
Pretty good selection, although there was no audio-video on demand).
Another thing I did really love was the "mood" lighting that changes in
the cabin through the flight- especially the blueish hues.
The flight took off (9R) and landed (22L) on time, and, here is the nice
part, they allowed me to take a limousine home that is usually reserved
for Upper Class passengers since I had been rerouted from the Kennedy to
the Newark flight.
so in summary
TAP: plusses: friendly and nice staff, very good legroom
minuses: everything else: uncomfortable seats, poor service,
no PTVs, unreliable, delayed perpetually.....
as hyacinth bucket from my favorite tv show would say,
"a very lower middle class airline"
Would I fly with them again? Most likely not
Virgin: plusses: still a fun airline, nice planes, excellent inflight
entertainment, offered me free limo service
minuses: leg room horrible, service while still good is not as
good as before.
Would I fly with them again? Yes, but increase legroom!