In short - that didn't last.
Looking & Booking
Sometime in July, I decided I wanted to get away for a week in September - and after looking around a bit, looking for fares & accommodation, I decided on Madeira.
So, on 21 July, I booked my flights, requested an authorisation from TAP (for the agent's fare) and, finally, issued my ticket - the resulting PNR looked like this:
The Day of Departure
My alarm clocks went off at 3:45, 3:47, 3:50 and 3:52 respectively - I usually either wake up right away, or it takes every one of those alarm to even get me into a state that even remotely resembles being awake. Fortunately, I was fully awake with the first alarm, so I deactivated the others.
I now started some last-minute packing, switched on my coffee machine and had my first cup of coffee within moments... especially on mornings like this, I love those Senseo coffee machines...
After taking a shower, eating a yoghurt, getting dressed and packing the last few things, I left for the train station at 4:45 and, after a short walk, arrived at the station at 4:55, just in time for my train at 4:57; this took me into town, giving me the usual nice view of Frankfurt's skyline, as well as taking me past Frankfurt Fair, where the IAA (Internationale Automobil Ausstellung) begins today.
When I arrived at the main train station, there was a bit of annoyance: none of the escalators had been switched on, so I had to carry my suitcase up and back down the next set of non-working escalators...
The train to the airport arrived a few moments later and, within roughly 10 minutes, I was at the airport.
I found the check-in desk rather quickly and, fortunately, the line was extremely short: there was one person ahead of me. When it was my turn, my bag was checked in quickly, I received my boarding pass for the flight to Lisbon but, unfortunately, not the one for the connection to Funchal... hello? TAP? It's 2005! Airlines have been giving out boarding passes even for connections on other airlines for years now - could you at least try to manage getting boarding passes for your own flights issued at the first point of checkin???
Nonetheless, check in was fast, the lady doing the check in was very friendly (check in for TAP is done by Lufthansa employees here at FRA).
I then proceeded to the gate - security was quick, and I was at my gate within moments: gate B10 is located right behind the security checkpoint. Other than that, it's a typical Lufthansa gate; there's a TV in the corner, tuned to N24 (a German News station) which, for the 6:00 news, showed several pictures of the 9/11 attacks (it was a report about yesterday's 4 year anniversary).
After the news, they started a program about plane crashes, showing pictures of the Helios crash as well as the Tuninter flight... at this point, some of the passengers started looking distinctly uncomfortable...
Fortunately, the segment didn't last too long and those looking uncomfortable for a few moments soon resumed their conversations.
Flight Number: TP571
Boarding Time: 06:30 (06:30 planned)
Departure Time: 07:09 (07:00 planned), left ground at 07:18
Departure Gate: B10
Arrival Time: 08:41 (09:00 planned)
Arrival Gate: 16
Net flying time: 2 hours 23 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A319-100
Name: Almeida Garrett
Seat: 21A, Window, Second-to-last row
Photo © Oliver Brunke
Photo © Marco M.
Boarding started on time, almost to the second, and went rather smooth, even if it did seem to take ages. Once down the gate, two crewmembers greeted the arriving passengers, with both smiling and, after taking a look at the boarding card, wishing a nice flight.
I settled into my seat and watched as the plane slowly filled up. Fortunately, both seats next to me stayed empty, so I had lots of space to myself.
The seats are blue leather seats, quite comfortable actually - but they do look somewhat worn... the leather had started disintegrating on the seat next to me, which really didn't make much of a good impression. Everything else (tables, seat recline, lights, air vents) was in perfect working order.
Our planned departure time came and, just under 10 minutes later, we were moving. We took the normal taxi route from Terminal 1 to runway 18, where we lined up right after an Adria Airways CRJ departed for Vienna. The engines revved up, and after a seemingly short takeoff run, we were airborne.
After takeoff, we went into clouds almost instantly, and that didn't change for quite a while, but at 07:26 I got the view that still, even after seeing it so often, somehow takes my breath away: breaking through the clouds and seeing nothing but a clear blue sky above you.
From Frankfurt, the flight headed towards Paris and on to the Atlantic coast, where we skipped over the Bay of Biscay and made landfall around Santander.
In the meantime, service had started, with all three flight attendants beginning serivce at the front of the cabin. It took quite a while for them to come to my row - and what came next was somewhat annoying: I was given a snack box, looked inside and saw meat; now, back when I had booked the flight for myself, I had immediately ordered a vegetarian meal - so I asked the flight attendant if I could have that, to which she replied that I hadn't ordered one...
I replied that I, in fact, had ordered one and that it had also been confirmed... weeks ago, actually. So she tried another tactic and asked if I had reconfirmed that at check-in...
I said no, since - honestly - I've never heard of an airline requiring that, and this certainly wasn't the first time I had ordered a vegetarian meal for myself... so I told her that I was not aware that TAP required that and that none of the other airlines I've flown with this year had such a requirement...
At that point I asked whether she couldn't check if there's, just perhaps, not another veggie meal left over - she said she only had as many as she had passengers with special meals on her list; with those words, she practically held the list in my face - and, to my not so very big surprise, my name was the last one on that list...
So I asked her why, despite my name being on that list (next to the number of the seat I was sitting in), she did not want to give me the meal I had ordered - she looked a bit surprised, asked to see my boarding pass or something else with my name on it, gave me my meal and told me that this whole problem hadn't come up if I'd only reconfirmed the special meal request at check-in...
Well, so what - I opened the box and took out the small bowl of fruit (apples & pineapples), and took out the sandwich, which tasted ok. I got a glass, actually a plastic cup, of orange juice with that and, later, I got a cup of coffee...
Now, I don't know what they did to that coffee water, but it tasted awful - as if they had used water that had, previously, been used to boil sausages... horrible!
After eating and drinking (and trying to get the taste of the coffee out of my mouth by means of mints), I started reading a bit - and, soon enough, we started our descent into Lisbon. We flew over the city towards the Atlantic first, passed the airport on our way, and after being quite a bit offshore again turned around; we passed some of the famous sights of Lisbon and, at 08:41, almost 20 minutes before our planned arrival time, touched down on runway 03.
We arrived at our gate after taxiing past, amongst others, the République du Zaïre B707. Deplaning went rather slowly, but once the passengers standing in the aisle had realised that the front door, and only the front door, would be used for exiting, things actually started moving a bit faster. How they had gotten the idea that the rear door would also be used, I still haven't figured out...
Connecting at Lisbon
Once I was out of the plane, I followed the signs for transfers - after all, I still had to get the boarding pass for my onward flight. After going through a set of sliding glass doors, down a flight of stairs, turning around the corner and walking about 10 meters, I was in the queue at the transfer desk and, some minutes later, got my boarding card.
Now I went back up the flight of stairs and turned right, walked by dozens of shops and some restaurants/bars, and ended up in front of an immigration checkpoint, which somewhat confused me, after all, I'd be going on a domestic flight. But, after taking a look at the next display, I found out that my flight would be continuing from Funchal to Caracas - maybe it has something to do with that.
Nonetheless, the gate I was heading to was behind that checkpoint, so I went through it - and found myself in front of an X-ray machine... my baggage went through that, I went through the metal detector (for which, for the second time this day, I had to get the belt out of my jeans), and then I was in the waiting area for gate 18.
From here, I had a nice view of some planes outside, amongst them a few TAP planes in their new livery, as well as a White (the airline, not the color!) A310. Behind this, a strangely beige/silver B767-300 was parked, which had no markings at all besides its registration CS-TLO.
I took the time to take some pictures - the spot is quite nice for that, but unfortunately the windows are quite dirty, and there are some metal pipes in the way, so it is a bit tricky, getting a good view.
A short while later, my flight to Funchal was called.
When I got to the gate a few moments later, a line had already formed, with about 40-50 people standing there; fortunately, the whole thing moved quickly, so it didn't take all that long for me to arrive at the desk: my boarding card and my passport were taken from me, my seat assignment crossed out, I was told that there'd be free seating from Lisbon to Funchal, and, finally, I got my passport back.
Free seating? My first thought was "Oh, please, not that again", because all my encounters with this seating policy so far were terrible, with me constantly getting either middle seats or seats directly next to the engines of B717s... and, yes, I know a middle seat also sucks if you get it through assigned seating, it's just that my 'success'-rate with free seating, unfortunately so far, was 100%.
I went down the stairs, dreading the seat-fight I was about to face... but, in this case, Lady Luck was with me: I was the second person on board, and while the flight attendant at first told me where my assigned seat was (only when the other passengers and I said that we'd been told that there was free seating on board this flight did she say "Ok, sit wherever you'd like"), I nonetheless made my way forward to what would have been my seat: once there, I saw that 6J was one of those window seats without a really usable window, so I took 7J.
And on top of all that, I was sitting in one of the few planes that TAP has already painted in their new livery.
Flight Number: TP131
Departure Time: 10:35 (10:15 planned), left ground at 10:43
Departure Gate: 18
Arrival Time: approx. 12:10 (11:50 planned)
Net flying time: approx. 1 hours 27 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A310-200
Name: Joao XXI
Seat: 7J, Window, third row in Economy Class
Photo © Jorge Abreu - Madeira Spotters
Photo © Tim Feise - APO Photos
Once I was seated, this time in seats made of fabric, I started taking some pictures through the window - unfortunately, the window of the A310 seemed to distort the pictures quite heavily, and almost every picture turned out to be somewhat fuzzy.
Once again, our planned departure time came and went, and once again, there was no comment whatsoever from the crew... but at 10:35, about 20 minutes too late, we were pushed back.
The safety video was shown, but the loudspeakers were set in some strange mode that made it completely impossible to understand even a single word - about 3/4 through the video, a crew member threw a switch and the sound became crystal clear.
As we were taxiing towards the runway, a flight attendant noted the camera on the seat next to me - and informed me, in not very friendly words, that I was not allowed to take pictures during the entire flight; I asked why, since I could - somewhat - understand takeoff and landings but not the whole flight... she just repeated that photographing was not permitted.
Well... so what. I took out my book and started reading again - I was thinking about taking out my CD player and listening to some music, but after her lecture about not taking pictures, I didn't want to be responsible for her having a heart attack or a seizure when she saw a CD player next to me...
After we had reached an altitude of something above 10000 meters (I think it was 10700 meters, but I'm not sure) service started - I ordered another orange juice and, once again, received a snack box. And, once again, it contained a sandwich with meat on it...
So I asked if they had something vegetarian and, again, got the question if I'd ordered something - I said yes, but I hadn't confirmed that at checkin... the flight attendant looked at me and asked why I would want to confirm something like that at check-in - several answers came to my mind at that point, but I just replied that someone had told me that that was necessary with TAP. He apologised, told me that that it was not necessary to (re-)confirm special meals at check-in, but looking at his list of special meals, told me that the only thing he had was a childrens meal... smiling, I declined and started taking the meat off my sandwich.
This time, the desert in the box was a muffin - it was ok, but didn't really taste like... well... anything. But the coffee on this flight was much, much better than on the flight from Frankfurt: it was actually drinkable without having to resort to mints afterwards.
Once everything was cleared away, I resumed reading until I noticed that we had commenced our descent into Funchal; looking out the window, the only thing I saw at that moment was a SATA flight slightly above us, probably heading towards either Lisbon or Oporto, and the Atlantic below us.
After a while, I could see the outlines of Madeira in front of us and, as we came closer, the plane went into a right hand turn... and continued turning... and turning... and turning... until we had made a complete 360 degree turn and were, once again, heading in the same direction as before. A bit behind us, flying the same turn, was an Air Luxor A320.
We continued flying in a southwesterly direction and, within minutes, Funchal's runway with it's somewhat famous architecture came into view; we then went into a wide turn, heading towards the island, then continuing the turn towards the runway - this approach really gives you a bit of that Kai Tak feeling...
Once we were out of the turn, it took only a few more seconds before the runway appeared below us and, with a noticeable thump, we were on the ground; the spoilers went up, the engines went into backthrust and we still used up so much runway that we had to continue all the way to the end to the turning plate there... as we were turning around to backtrack towards the exit for the apron, I could see a TUI/Britannia B757-200 taxiing into position at the far end, also just going through the 180 degree turn to face the runway. Once we had vacated the runway, it took a short time before this plane came thundering by us.
While the B757 was making it's way back towards home, we were almost at our parking position; once there, the doors were opened quickly, but we lowly Economy Class passengers had to wait until all Business Class passengers had disembarked - only then were the curtains opened to allow us the passage to the door...
At the bottom of the stairs, everyone was asked whether they were in transit to Caracas or ending their journey at Funchal - depending on the answer, we were put on separate busses, taking us to the terminal. Once inside, I - again - found myself heading for a passport control counter... and I, once again, had no idea why... after all, Portugal is a member of the Schengen area - so why the passport checks? Not to mention, again, of course the fact that I had actually arrived on a domestic flight...
Fortunately the check was quite quick, so I was in the baggage claims area within another minute or two. My suitcase arrived, I went outside (and upstairs to the terrace to take some pictures) and, later, went back down to collect my rental car.
For the next 6 full days, I'd enjoy a life completely devoid of phonecalls (well, almost - it was my mothers 63rd birthday on Wednesday, so I made a couple of phonecalls then) and Internet... it's almost scary to see how enjoyable life can be without these things that I so much enjoy when I'm at home or at work...
And that's also the reason why I'll now bore you with some of the pictures I've taken - hope it gives some impression of why I enjoyed my stay so much...
The "Rest" of the Island Madeira
As all good things come to an end sooner or later, this trip has now also reached it's final day. After getting up at 7:30 and eating a small breakfast, I checked out of my hotel and decided to head to the airport. I still had loads of time until my departure of 13:40, but since I didn't have enough time to do anything else - at least without constantly looking at the clock - this seemed to be the best idea.
So I got my car, headed to the motorway and, some 20 minutes later, exited at the airport. I found the rental car return parking lot, parked the car and proceeded to the terminal; next, I went to the check in area and found it filled up to bursting - and my flight wasn't even listed on any displays yet.
Nonetheless, I decided on one of the queues (for another TAP flight to Lisbon - incidentally, this was the flight that continues on to Frankfurt) and waited about 10 minutes until I was first in line. When I handed over my eTicket receipt, the lady doing the checkin asked me for my boarding card... as you might be able to understand, she had, by doing so, managed to fully confuse me within a matter of seconds: so I told her that I didn't have a boarding card and that I actually wanted to check in to get said card; it took her a short moment, then she apologised saying that she had actually wanted to ask for the ticket - I just pointed to the receipt I had handed her. This time, she looked at it and started checking me in, though she was a bit confused as to why I was checking in for a flight that wasn't leaving for another 3 hours.
Having learnt my lesson regarding TAP and special meals on my way to Funchal, I decided to ask - and got the response that, no, there was no vegetarian meal ordered for me and, no, it was now too late to do so.
So much for asking at check in...
Nonetheless, I got my boarding card - this time, I even got the one for my onward flight, got my baggage tagged all the way to Frankfurt and, when I looked at the boarding card, found a seat number printed on it: back when I had made the booking, this was the one flight for which I had immediately received the information that it would be free seating.
With my boarding cards in my carry on case, and lots of time available, I once again headed up to the terrace to take some pictures of the arrivals and departures.
Flight Number: TP756
Boarding Time: 13:30 (13:10 planned)
Departure Time: approx. 13:55 (13:40 planned)
Departure Gate: 14
Arrival Time: 15:19 (15:15 planned)
Arrival Gate: 14
Net flying time: approx. 1 hours 20 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
Name: Luisa Todi
Seat: 15A, Window
Photo © Marco M.
Photo © Miguel Nobrega - Madeira Spotters
The planned boarding time, once again, came and went without anything happening; then again, trying to understand anything of what was being announced was futile: the announcements were made at a too low volume and through seemingly bad loudspeakers, and it seemed as if they were only made in Portugese... but since I wasn't able to understand a single word, it might have been English as well.
The flight was called, this time through other loudspeakers - but still only in Portugese - and everyone jumped up, forming a huge line. Everything proceeded very slowly, with the line not moving at all for 2 to 3 minutes. Nonetheless, at some point I had reached the gate, got my ID and boarding card checked, and boarded the bus, which made the (straight line) distance of about 50 meters into a trip of about 2 minutes, by circling around two aircraft.
Once up the stairs and inside the aircraft, I was greeted by... nobody. There were other passengers already aboard, but the crew were nowhere to be seen. I proceeded down the aisle where, about halfway through, I met the first crewmember... moments later, two further crewmembers came through the cabin, walking from the rear galley to the front door: not a single one of them, along the way, doing the slightest bit of helping the passengers while stowing their bags, with one female flight attendant actually pushing a passenger aside somewhat roughly to pass through the cabin.
I found my seat, with the two next to it already occupied, and settled in... only to find the seat completely worn out: it was the same type of blue/grey leather seat that I had sat on aboard the A319 from Frankfurt to Lisbon, but this one didn't just look worn out (as on the other aircraft), it felt worn out - I felt parts of the seat frame in my back during the whole flight.
Once boarding had been completed, and the doors had closed, we only had to wait for a MyTravel A321 and a Thomas Cook B757 to pass before we were pushed back; the engines spooled up and we started our short taxi towards the runway, which we entered almost immediately, heading towards the end for the 180 degree turn. During all this, te safety video was shown on the drop-down LCD screens - unfortunately, it was the one for an A319 instead of the A320 I was actually on...
While we were in the last 45 degrees of the turn at the end of the runway, the engines already revved up a bit and, once we were lined up, they went up to takeoff power. After a fairly long takeoff run, the plane was quite full (145 passengers spread out over 152 seats) we were in the air. Soon after, we went through a small layer of clouds and into the blue sky.
A short time later, we passed Madeira's "neighbour" island Porto Santo - by this time, were well on our way towards our cruising altitude of 9500 meters.
The meal service started and, to my big surprise, I was (after being asked if I had ordered one) handed a snack box containing a vegetarian meal...
Next came drinks, with me ordering the usual orange juice and, afterwards, a coffee: the coffee, by the way, was very good this time - not even close to that dreadful stuff that was served between Frankfurt and Lisbon.
The rest of the flight was, no surprise there, completely uneventful - some very mild turbulence, but otherwise "smooth sailing" until our descent into Lisbon began at around 15:00. During the flight, the LCD screens were used to show an episode of Wallace & Gromit, though without sound, but with Portugese subtitles.
Our approach into Lisbon was the same scenic route that my flight a week ago had taken and, with a very heavy thud, we touched down on the runway - calling that a "touch" down, by the way, doesn't even come close to describing it...
After taxiing for about 5 minutes, we arrived at our gate. This time, deplaning went rather quickly, and - after entering the airport - I did not have to pass through any immigration controls on my way to the gate from where my flight to Frankfurt will leave (in about two hours from now).
Flight Number: TP578
Boarding Time: 18:21 (18:05 planned)
Departure Time: 19:09 (18:45 planned)
Departure Gate: 11
Arrival Time: 22:41 (22:45 planned)
Arrival Gate: B10
Net flying time: 2 hours 24 minutes (planned 3 hours 0 minutes)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
Name: Efilio Braga
Seat: 7A, Window
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
Photo © Francisco Leitão - Lisbon Spotters
Just as with most other flights on this trip, boarding time came and went without any kind of announcement and no visible activity at the gate. Suddenly, though, a TAP employee walked up to the gate and, there's really no other way to say it, shouted "Frankfurt" into the waiting area... a somewhat unusual way of announcing the boarding process of a flight, but it worked, and in the end, that's what matters.
Anyhow, getting to and through the gate was quick, then it was down the stairs again and into a bus; when that had filled up, we were driven to the plane: to my personal pleasure, this was, again, a plane in TAP's new livery.
Once inside, I was greeted by two crew members, one of which checked my boarding pass. I then made my way down the aisle towards row 7, where I'd be spending the next couple of hours. I took my seat, which, again, was one of those blue/grey leather seats - but, fortunately, this one wasn't worn out. Not that it looked new - but it was reasonably comfortable.
When boarding was finished, I breathed a sigh of relief: the seat next to me was, once again, empty.
A few minutes later the doors were closed and we were pushed back: with a delay of roughly 25 minutes, we were on our way. We taxied towards runway 03, which we entered at 19:14 - and at 19:15, we left the ground.
During our climb we hit a few small patches of turbulence, but nothing serious - once the seatbelt signs were off, the crew started preparing for the meal service: a flight attendant stopped by my row and asked if I had ordered a vegetarian meal...
Now I really have to admit that I just don't get it: on my flight to Lisbon and on to Funchal the whole thing seemed either problematic or impossible - now, on my return flight, after being told that there was no special meal for me, I got said meal on both flights without problems... why does TAP seem so intent on annoying me? If, from the beginning, they had said "no special meals" (which, incidentally, they do in their onboard magazine - they specifically state that, on medium haul flights in Economy Class, the only special meals are Kosher or Children's Meal), I'd have accepted that and, perhaps, packed something for myself: but confirming it in my PNR only to then, at first, act as if that meant nothing without reconfirming it at check in, then not having anything at all only to, in reality, have the meals there... a bit confusing, really, and simply not necessary.
But, all that aside, the sandwiches I got were ok, the one on this last flight was even very tasty.
After dinner, and coffee, I settled into my seat and watched the same, silent, Wallace & Gromit episode that I had seen on the flight from Funchal - it was funny, once again, though, again, a bit strange without sound and with those subtitles.
Once that was over, I took out my CD player and listened to some music - and started thinking about the ride from the airport home: with the planned arrival at 22:45, taking the train at 23:17 would have been a bit of a rush already, but we took off half an hour late, so I guessed that the next train, the one at 23:47, would now be it... that is, if I could catch it!
So, while the moving map was still displaying something around 40 minutes remaining flying time, I was surprised to notice that we had started our descent; a few minutes later, the cabin was being prepared for landing, which surprised me a bit - after all, we still had more than half an hour of time, and this started looking like we’d be on the ground within less than 15 minutes...
... and that’s just what happened: slowly, the area ahead of us got brighter as we approached a big city that, according to the map, could only be Frankfurt. Then again, that same display was still listing a flying time of about 25 minutes: but the sights outside (well, at least whatever I could see - it was around an hour before midnight, so there was not that much to see) clearly indicated a landing in easterly direction, which ruled out the 25 minutes of flying time left.
While we were just passing that awful eyesore of a chemical plant at Höchst, the cabin lights were dimmed and, a few moments later, at 22:40, we landed. The plane was slowed down without any backthrust and, at 22:41, we were off the runway - which was a good idea, because there were another 4 planes lined up to land behind us... lots of traffic in these late hours.
After just having left the runway, we stopped - we were still a long way from the terminal, so this could only mean that we had to let some traffic pass by on the taxiway... and by went a Lufthansa B747-400, followed by a Lufthansa Cargo MD11, an A330 of which I couldn’t see the airline, yet another A330, this time a Lufthansa -300, followed by an Air Namibia MD11, and only three more A320s/A321s and a Singapore Airlines B747-400... by now, it was almost 22:50, and the possibility of catching the earlier train was starting to vanish again, just after having been rekindled by our surprisingly early arrival...
Once this barrage of planes had passed, we were on our way again, heading to gate B10 - the same one, where my trip began a week ago. After the engines were cut off, and the gate had swung over to the plane, people started moving. I was in the terminal by 22:55, but I had given up on the early train by now.
I made my way to the baggage claim, around the current set of construction related detours, and found myself waiting... and waiting... by 23:17, the departure time of the train I had wanted to take, my suitcase hadn’t materialized... and it didn’t for another 5 minutes. Then I was though customs, without being checked - as usual, and down into the train station, where I was greeted with a sight that, normally, annoyed me: the train had a delay of about 10 minutes, which meant I still had about a minute to get down the stairs to where I just heard it arriving: fortunately, I made it - and my connection at the main station arrived within moments, so I was back home by midnight.
Now comes the hard time of settling back into normal working life - and the central European timezone...
All in all, the flights were ok - not brilliant, but not horrible either. Unfortunately, I have the impression of there being only one real consistent thing about TAP, and that’s the complete lack of consistency.
I’ve had seats from extremely comfortable to completely worn out, flight attendants from extremely friendly to pushing passengers aside, coffee from brilliant to sewage-quality, check-in processes from efficient to something that would have been sub-standard 10 years ago...
Considering that the announcement that TAP would join the Star Alliance came at roughly the same time as the one for South African Airways, I can - purely from a passenger’s standpoint - only wonder, why TAP already is a full member, while SAA is still waiting to join: for the passenger, SAA is lightyears ahead of TAP.
Would I fly TAP again? Yes, I would - with offers like the one I got this time, I’d fly them again without hesitating. But if I’d had to pay full price for this flight, I’d have come home with very, very mixed feelings whether the money for the flight had been well spent.
In any case - I hope you enjoyed reading this... I certainly enjoyed the trip that the report is based on...