About the Airline:
TAAG-Linhas Aéreas de Angola – What comes to mind when you think of this airline? It is probably one or more of the following:
A) Never heard of it
B) Sketchy African airline
C) Recent EU Ban
D) Has several brand-new Boeings with some more on order
E) Ronerone and The777Man both wrote excellent Trip Reports covering the airline
It’s indeed a contrasting array of thoughts. TAAG Angola is really something else, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The airline has some new 777s equipped with AVOD, flat seats in J and F, and mood lighting. They now have a functioning website with live online booking, online check-in, and have plans to introduce a Frequent Flyer program. Their hub in Luanda has been renovated with self-check-in kiosks and what appears to be a much better airport experience. On the other hand, TAAG is flying 732s and 743s from another time period, has a notoriously poor on-time record, possesses well documented safety issues, and is blessed with possibly one of the worst airline reputations in the world.
So is TAAG a modern African carrier on the same playing field as Kenya Airways and South African Airways, or is it some questionable airline similar to the DRC’s Hewa Bora and several defunct African carriers?
Perhaps my determination to find the answer to this question is the source of my fascination for this airline, although I am still unsure at the moment. The only thing that mattered is that I needed to be on a TAAG flight as soon as possible to find out for myself!
I suppose a brief history lesson might be of interest to those who want to learn a little about this mysterious carrier.
To my surprise, TAAG’s origins actually date back to the 1930s when the airline was founded as DTA - Divisão dos Transportes Aéreos de Angola by the Portuguese colonial government to provide basic air service for the then-Portuguese colony. Shortly before Angola acquired independence, the carrier’s name was changed to TAAG - Transportes Aéreos de Angola. In 1975, it was finally changed to what we now know the airline as today, TAAG - Linhas Aéreas de Angola.
Oddly enough TAAG somewhat benefited from Angola’s brutal civil war, as the carrier was the only practical way to get around the country due to poor road conditions. People were thus “forced” to use TAAG. This is most likely where TAAG developed its infamous “ways” of enjoying completely full flights, expensive tickets, and yet not having to put any effort in customer service or operating an overall safe and reliable airline. Quite honestly, this is the best position of all from a business perspective!
Well, the airline seemed to continue with their ways until 2005 when they ordered 6 Boeings (3 77Es, 2 73Gs). All signs seemed to be pointing to a brighter future for TAAG, and it was re-affirmed when they actually took delivery of the aircraft. However, the EU commission was apparently able to see through these glossy new planes when they banned TAAG from EU airspace in June 2007.
TAAG had reached a point where it must choose between joining their friends at Hewa Bora Airways in the DRC as an operational disaster, or striving to be a major player in Africa. Well, it took a year and a half to make the decision, but the Angolan government chose the latter. TAAG’s board was ousted, and a new board of directors was appointed. The new board immediately professed their desire to remove TAAG from the EU blacklist as soon as possible. Things seemed to be finally improving – for real this time. In 2009, TAAG passed IATA inspections with the help of South African Airways, and received permission from the EU to operate their Next Generation fleet (777s and 73Gs) into Lisbon. In 2010, they continued their pattern of improvement. By ordering 2 777-300/ERs, receiving permission to fly their NG fleet to all European airports, and introducing a fully-functional website; you really have to be somewhat inspired by their drastic turnaround.
Now, let’s see what it’s like to fly on this airline on its flagship route.
Ticketing & Such:
We had originally planned to fly LIS-LAD-LIS in early August, which would include a nice day flight on TAAG’s 777 along with two days in Luanda. We had everything set up with a reservation at the chic Talatona Convention Hotel, and decided the plan would work well by combining this destination with Lisbon and Marrakech. Well after over a month of waiting, our visas still had not yet been approved or denied and they seemed to be sitting in visa limbo on some bureaucrat’s desk doing nothing. Thankfully, during some intense last-minute re-arranging, we were able to fly on TAAG by moving the flights to the end our trip and connecting onward to Windhoek, Namibia. This should work out perfectly as you can transit without a visa in Luanda, and I’ve always wanted to go to Namibia!
The flights were booked through a U.S.-based travel website known as vayama. It worked perfectly and they accepted American Express which is something I’m sure TAAG is unable to do itself.
We were booked on the following flights:
14 Aug: TAAG, DT 653, LIS-LAD, Departs 11:00 PM, Arrives 6:30 AM
15 Aug: TAAG, DT 5173, LAD-WDH, Departs 2:30 PM, Arrives 4:55 PM, Operated by Air Namibia
17 Aug: TAAG, DT 574, WDH-LAD, Departs 2:30 PM, Arrives 5:00 PM
17 Aug: TAAG, DT 650, LAD-LIS, Departs 10:00 PM, Arrives 5:10 AM
Because our experiences from this point on were so eventful and nerve-wracking, I felt compelled to be more descriptive than my usual Trip Reports. If you find it too lengthy, then I apologize!
Leaving our hotel in LIS for the airport, the concierge tells us “You know what we tell people who are about to fly TAAG?.... You’re a brave man!”
Why yes, I am brave! Thank you very much.
As we arrived at Portela Airport in Lisboa, everything was complete chaos from this point on.
I knew before leaving for the airport our flight would be delayed since the incoming aircraft wasn’t supposed to land until 11:00 PM, which was our original departure time. Apparently the aircraft had some technical problems in LAD which was the reason for the delay. So, common sense has it that our flight would just depart at 1:00 AM or something which was not a huge inconvenience. Well, you can imagine my shock when the check-in screens listed 6:00 AM the next day as our departure time. “Oh Sh*t” was the first thought that came to mind. Apparently LIS has a curfew from midnight to 6 AM and there was no way they could turn the aircraft around quickly enough to take off before curfew. However, a TAAG agent directing the check-in line assured us that TAAG has booked everyone in a hotel and ushered us to a check-in agent to receive our boarding passes.
Huge check-in line in LIS:
Facing our new departure time, we would have exactly 1 hour to connect in LAD IF the flight left on time. Arriving at the counter, we explained our situation to the agent. She told us she would check our bags to LAD only because she thought TAAG wouldn’t be able to transfer them properly to WDH. When we told her this would not work due to our short connection time in addition to not having Angolan visas, she replied by saying “What?! No visa?! It is not possible to transit through Luanda without a visa”. It was then that I proudly handed her the form from TIMATIC stating that a Transit Without Visa through Angola is possible. After more typing on her computer, she told us to go to TAAG’s ticket office and speak with a woman named Ms. Elga. Envisioning some evil lady who had earned her position through “connections” and was completely unqualified, it turned out this person was one of the most helpful ground staff I’ve ever encountered.
At the office, the TAAG staff told us they tried to get us on the TAP flight to LAD but it was full. They also told us our connection in LAD would be too short considering we would have to reclaim our baggage and such. They continued typing on their computer to find a solution.
Without much hope, we walked to the TAP ticket office to explore the possibility of returning back to states ASAP and ditch the trip to Namibia. Well, TAP told us ALL flights to the U.S. were fully booked up until our original date of departure. I could not believe this was happening. Things were not looking good at all.
Then we thought of a “revolutionary” idea. What if we stored our checked baggage at the storage facility here in LIS and moved only the necessary clothes to our carry-ons? Then we might have a shot of making the connection in LAD since we wouldn’t have to reclaim any baggage.
Going back to the TAAG sales office with our proposal, they instructed us to go Ms. Elga at the check-in desks. There, she told us that she was not confident the flight would leave on-time at 6:00 AM as the aircraft apparently still had a mechanical problem. We told her we really did not have any other options. She agreed with us but said she needed to call her supervisor to make sure it was acceptable. She got off the phone saying we were set, and had her colleague print out two sets of boarding passes. She kept one set to herself and told us that she would be faxing them to TAAG’s ground operations in LAD so they had our information and knew we were coming. She also told us that despite the fact we were checked in, we could opt not travel at any time up until the flight leaves and get our tickets refunded. Asking her if they could print our connecting boarding passes for the LAD-WDH flight here in LIS, she smiled and said “My airline does not have through check-in!” Ms. Elga then instructed us to go back to the TAAG ticket office where they will issue us hotel vouchers.
Asking what would happen if we missed our connection in LAD, she replied by saying if you are in transit for over 24 hours you be deported back to LIS. Oh no… What have we gotten ourselves into?
After getting our boarding passes stamped at the TAAG ticket office, we still needed to store our bags which would not be going with us to Namibia. A Portway (TAAG’s handling agent in LIS) representative was waiting to take a group of TAAG passengers, including ourselves, to the hotel. We told him we needed to store our bags, and he said it was okay but we needed to be as quick as possible. As soon as that was taken care of, the Portway agent escorted about 20 of the stranded passengers to a modern bus which then drove us to a really nice Marriot about 10 minutes from the airport.
Checking in at the hotel, the receptionist informed us the wake-up call would be at 3:30 AM and the bus would leave at 4:30 AM. This time seemed a little late for a 6:00 AM departure…. I really began to worry even more.
Hotel room which was not bad at all:
After a good 4 hour nap, the phone rang to wake us up at 3:15 AM. What? I thought it was supposed to be later? Perhaps the bus will leave earlier now?
Downstairs in the lobby you could really tell how happy all of the TAAG passengers were to be up at 3:45 AM with their flight delayed 7 hours. The expression on everyone’s face was full of bliss, joy and happiness. The hotel receptionist told us that the bus was actually coming at 4:15 now. Good sign I suppose.
At 4:16 AM, the bus drove into the hotel pick-up area. The bus was fully loaded and another bus was sent to transport the remaining TAAG passengers to the airport. Once we arrived at LIS, we were hoping to find Ms. Elga at the ticket office to give some insight on whether the flight would leave on-time. The ticket office was closed so we went to the check-in desks from the previous night to find our whole crew standing there. We asked a TAAG agent if the flight was on-time and he told us it will leave at 6, but if it does not leave at 6 it will leave at 7. Ah, how reassuring. Not.
Walking through the airport, I observed several people sleeping on the floor and many fellow TAAG passengers who seemed to be sitting down sporadically and in no rush to clear security.
Point of No Return:
Regardless, we cleared security and immigration hoping to find Ms. Elga at the departure gate. These processes went smoothly at this quiet hour and I was delighted, thrilled, and relieved to see that our TAAG 777 had parked at a jetway. This meant the boarding process would go much quicker than if it had parked at a remote stand. I saw the culprit for our delay was D2-TED, TAAG’s oldest 777 which would be operating our flight today. Bad boy, TED!
I noticed the crew boarding the aircraft from a bus about 1hr 5min before the new scheduled time. Definitely a good sign. They seemed surprised the aircraft had docked a jetway as they were all pointing at it and seemed confused about it. I then saw Ms. Elga at the gate desk, and my father went over to talk to her while I watched our bags. He told me that Ms. Elga thought the flight would leave on-time and she would call TAAG’s operations in Luanda right after our plane took off to ensure we made the connection. Seriously, what a great person! It’s rare you will find someone so helpful even on supposedly more reputable carriers.
Three flights to Luanda this morning:
Boarding began at 5:18 AM, and I had never been so stressed, nervous, and afraid while boarding an aircraft than I was at this point. In fact, I was on the verge of throwing up! My natural instincts were telling me not to board this TAAG flight, but I somehow ignored them and boarded D2-TED regardless.
Date: 14 August 2010
Airline: TAAG Angola Airlines
Flight: DT 653
Aircraft: Boeing 777-2M2/ER
Aircraft Reg: D2-TED
Aircraft Name: “11 de Novembro”
Departure City: Lisbon, Portugal
Departure Airport: Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS / LPPT)
Arrival City: Luanda, Angola
Arrival Airport: Quatro de Fevereiro Airport (LAD / FNLU)
Scheduled Departure Time: 11:00 PM
Actual Departure Time: 6:18 AM (7hr 18min late)
Scheduled Arrival Time: 6:30 AM
Actual Arrival Time: 1:55 PM (7hr 55min late)
Load Factor: 98% in Y
We were welcomed on board the 777 by a TAAG flight attendant who directed us to our seats. There was no turning back now; we were flying to Luanda regardless of when this flight left.
Welcome aboard TAAG Angola Airlines!
Through my ongoing panic attack, I noticed the cabin was attractive, well-colored, and had a comfortable feel. This was completed with several young and good-looking flight attendants dressed in smart uniforms.
We were seated in row 36, which is the last row on TAAG’s 777. The seat was comfortable, although I could have used some more legroom. I noticed some wear in the cabin such as my footrest not stowing properly, my seat not staying in its upright position, and some other minor issues. During boarding, recorded announcements with a posh British accent were played over the P/A which sounded very nice and professional.
Unfortunately, my fellow passengers appeared to be in no rush to leave. I painstakingly witnessed one of the slowest boarding processes I’ve ever seen which only added to my stress level!
Departure time came and went, but passengers were still boarding the aircraft. I felt the urge to get up and start pushing people to their seats and stowing their bags just so we could leave quicker. Finally at 6:18 AM, 7 hours and 18 minutes late, the 777 pushed back from gate 43, and I could not have been more relieved! I noticed another TAAG 777 parked at a remote stand which must have just operated a flight from LAD. The safety video was played throughout the IFE system, and the English version had a smart British accent. Taxi to the runway was SLOW which absolutely killed me! During the taxi, we were given candy by the cabin crew which I have never experienced on any other airline.
Takeoff was very powerful in typical 777 fashion and the wheels left the Portuguese soil at exactly 6:40 AM.
Here is a video of the takeoff in HD:
As we were climbing, the mood lighting was activated which of course I always appreciate.
The seat belt sign was switched off after passing 10,000 feet, and captain came over the P/A to welcome us on board and give us general information about our flight. He “apologized” for the delay but it was pretty obvious he wasn’t really sorry at all.
Shortly after, the purser came over the P/A and informed us about the in-flight service on today’s flight.
Ah, Homer Simpson on TAAG!
A snack was served shortly after departure. I hadn’t had anything to eat in over 15 hours so I ate this in lightning speed and was still hungry after! I will say the cookie was really tasty, however.
TAAG’s IFE has this really cool airshow which shows where your flight is on a 3D animation of Earth. Then the “camera” zooms in to where your aircraft and circles around showing all the cities which surround the aircraft.
Here is a video I recorded of the airshow in HD:
TAAG’s blankets follow the same alternating blue-orange pattern as the seats.
There were several little children on this flight who were pretty much destroying the interior of this 777. One of them took the IFE remote out of the seatback and began hitting things with it. What a brat! On the return flight, another kid was climbing around the seats and removing the “Fasten seat belt while seated” placards.
Interestingly, the airline has actually branded its economy class as HighFly. This logo is on the food trays, blankets, etc.
TAAG’s IFE is actually really nice! It has several movie choices and is superior to all of its competition.
For lunch, the choice was between chicken and fish. Not really liking seafood at all, chicken was the obvious choice. The meal was tasty, but I was so hungry at this point that taste was the least of my concerns.
Legroom was a little tight for a long-haul flight:
I spent the remainder of the flight staring at the airshow in hopes that some magical tailwind would enable our flight to land half an hour early. The airshow was giving an estimated arrival of 1:50 PM, which meant we would be parked at the gate around 2:00 PM.
As the cabin crew was picking up our meal trays, we asked a flight attendant if she thought we had a shot of making our connection. She studied our itinerary and said “It will be no problem. We will let you two off the plane first, and my colleague will meet you on the ground in Luanda”. Ok, it was definitely good to hear that. She also told us that passengers exit out of the rear door in LAD, which was great for us since we were in the last row of the aircraft.
Descent into LAD was uneventful and we made a large number of turns before lining up for our final approach.
A video of our landing in Luanda in HD:
Touchdown finally occurred at 1:55PM. We turned off the runway and waited for a South African 747-400 to take off before beginning our backtrack towards the terminal.
Our 777 parked next to one of TAAG’s 747-300s. Just as the seat belt sign was turned off, we quickly got our bags out of the overhead bins and sprinted towards the rear door. The flight attendants helpfully ushered my father and me to the front of our fellow passengers and we waited super anxiously for the door to open.
At 2:05 PM and with 25 minutes to our connecting flight’s departure, the door was opened but the crew pulled what looked a little like caution tape across the doorway so that no one could exit. I heard a flight attendant talking on an aircraft phone, and I heard the word “transito”. I assumed she was talking about us. About 30 seconds later, the tape was removed for just my father and me, and we practically jumped down the airstairs.
At the bottom of the stairs awaited a bus driver and some sort of ground agent. Remembering Ronerone’s advice from his truly excellent Trip Report (see here), we just started panicking and telling them “Transito”. They ushered us into a bus, and we really didn’t know what would happen next. Then, from under the wing of D2-TED I see a smiling TAAG agent running towards us, waving two boarding passes in her hand.
NO WAY! TAAG had actually checked us in for our AIR NAMIBIA flight! I had never been so happy and relieved before! I could finally breathe as I knew at this point we would make it to our final destination. With just me, my father, and the TAAG agent on the bus; the doors closed and we made way for the terminal. The agent escorted us through immigration, helped us scan our carry-on baggage, and then lead us through a back corridor which brought us to passport control. She told the officer that we were transiting to Namibia. The officer took our boarding passes, seemed satisfied with them, and let us through. The nice TAAG agent then took us upstairs to the departure area where we got in line to board our Air Namibia flight. It was now 2:15 PM, which meant the whole process took 10 minutes. I’d like to see that happen anywhere else between two international flights.
Before going down the escalator, we thanked this truly awesome TAAG agent multiple times and she even let me take a picture with her haha.
About 5 minutes later, we were on the bus to our Air Namibia 737-500. Right before the bus left the terminal, we saw the TAAG agent smiling and waving goodbye to us from the terminal. We happily waved backed as our bus pulled away.
Most airlines can offer at least a relatively good experience when everything is running smoothly from an operational standpoint. What separates the good airlines from the bad, however, is how they handle situations when things go wrong. This area is where TAAG really surprised me. Don't get me wrong, a 7 hour delay is pretty much disastrous. However, they did send us to a nice hotel near the airport, we did make our connection, and did end up arriving on-time to our final destination. Surprisingly, what impressed me most were actually TAAG’s staff members. Ms. Elga, tha cabin crew, and the TAAG agent on the ground in Luanda went far beyond what most other airline employees would do in the same situation. It was obvious they genuinely cared that we got to our final destination, and that we had a good experience with the airline. While so many other employees could tell us it is not their problem, they are too busy, and give other excuses to not help, these TAAG employees went beyond their call of duty. For this, I thank them immensely.
Would I recommend TAAG to others? On a point-to-point basis I definitely would. I can only speak for the LIS-LAD-LIS route, but I can say TAAG completely dominates TAP in pretty much EVERY aspect. I don’t believe 7 hour delays are the norm for this airline, and this delay could have happened to ANY airline. Before my journey, I constantly checked TAAG’s on-time record on their LIS flights through www.ana.pt, and I can confirm that TAAG flights to LAD rarely leave more than 45 minutes late. So if you are a frequent traveler of TAP’s LIS-LAD flight, I suggest you give TAAG a try.
So to answer my question, is TAAG on the same playing field as South African Airways? Or are we dealing with a joke of an airline with virtually no hope of success? While I still believe TAAG has a ways to go, I do think it is heading in the right direction. If TAAG continues with its current pattern of improvement, I truly believe it will be competitive with Africa’s best carriers.
Here is some of the in-flight literature I collected during the flight. Oops, the safety card must have been stuck in the in-flight magazine I took off the aircraft!
Thank you for reading!
Some of my prior Trip Reports:
Asiana Airlines 777-200ER ICN-LAX In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Apr 16 2010 in Trip Reports) Thai Airways A340-500 CNX-BKK In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Apr 6 2010 in Trip Reports) Bangkok Airways A319 BKK-REP In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Mar 30 2010 in Trip Reports) Asiana Airlines 747-400 LAX-ICN In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Mar 28 2010 in Trip Reports) Delta 737-700 ATL-SXM In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Aug 5 2009 in Trip Reports) Air India 777-200LR DEL-JFK In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Jan 11 2009 in Trip Reports) Drukair A319 PBH-DEL In Y W/TONS Of Pix/Vid (by MHTripple7 Jan 10 2009 in Trip Reports) Air India 777-200LR JFK-DEL In C W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Jan 5 2009 in Trip Reports) South African 737-800 JNB-CPT In C W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Sep 21 2008 in Trip Reports) South African BAe 146-200 LVI-JNB In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Aug 13 2008 in Trip Reports) Delta 767-400ER JNB-ATL In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Aug 1 2008 in Trip Reports) Air Botswana BAe 146-100 JNB-MUB In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Jul 23 2008 in Trip Reports) Air France 777-300ER CDG-JNB In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Jul 23 2008 in Trip Reports) Air France A330-200 DTW-CDG In J W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Jul 22 2008 in Trip Reports) Delta 737-800 JFK-TPA (Pix And Vid) (by MHTripple7 Apr 18 2008 in Trip Reports) Jet Airways 777 DEL-JFK Mar 28 2008 Pix (by MHTripple7 Mar 29 2008 in Trip Reports) Jet Airways 9W707 W/Diversion (Pix) (by MHTripple7 Mar 22 2008 in Trip Reports) Jet Airways 777-300ER JFK-DEL ( Pix) (by MHTripple7 Mar 21 2008 in Trip Reports)
[Edited 2011-03-03 22:51:44 by ManuCH]