This is not my first time around the block with TAAG Angola Airlines. Exactly two years ago I flew this same route on this same airline, and it was quite the experience. Probably one of the more stressful ordeals of my life, which begs the following question: Why the HELL would I do it again?! I am truthfully still trying to pinpoint my exact desire for this, and I hope this report will provide insight for both me and you.
Taag Angola 777-200ER Lisbon-Luanda In Y W/Pix (by MHTripple7 Aug 29 2010 in Trip Reports)
Angola is not a popular tourist destination for a variety of reasons, one of them being an insane visa application process. I know I’m American so everyone will yell at me for complaining, but I’ve never seen anything like it. Invitation letter (notarized in Angola and written in Portuguese), bank statements, proof of yellow fever vaccination, a passport photo wearing a dress-shirt and tie (no joke), and finally the actual application form are the plethora of requirements for an Angolan visa. I think this “exclusivity” made Angola more appealing to me. You always want what you can’t have right? You think I’m crazy yet?
When I flew TAAG in 2010, as described in the trip report linked above, I did not actually enter Angola. I had tried to get a visa, but had failed miserably after the Angolan embassy in Washington D.C. simply never processed my visa application. After the aforementioned TAAG experience, a feeling of unfulfillment continued to linger. I couldn’t exactly figure out why at first, but I eventually realized that this was the result of my failure to actually stay in Angola. I had the biggest desire to visit this place and I had no idea why!
As a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator, virtual airlines (yes, they exist), and TAAG; I was obviously on the lookout for a virtual airline for TAAG. I found what I was looking for in late 2009, shortly after real-world TAAG was removed from the EU Blacklist, and joined immediately! It is called AVAGroup – Angolan Virtual Airliners Group, which consists of both TAAG Angola Virtual and SonAir Virtual (www.flyavagroup.com).
Shortly after joining, the TAAG Virtual CEO sent me an e-mail expressing how surprised he was to see an American showing an interest in TAAG Virtual and Angolan aviation. He apologized that his website was only in Portuguese, but said that I was more than welcome to fly for them.
His name is Nuno Sousa, and I discovered that he actually lived in Daytona Beach where he was studying aviation management. I began making YouTube videos for TAAG Virtual, which helped them out a bit at this annual international business fair in Luanda called FILDA (Feira Internacional de Luanda). They have a pretty cool stand at FILDA, where they set up a decked-out flight simulator for everyone to try out. Nuno and I talked on Facebook from time to time, which was great as I got to learn about Angola and TAAG from an Angolan’s point of view. It was refreshing to hear a positive outlook on matters in Angola, which was a far cry to what I’m accustomed to hearing about Africa here in the States. I finally had the opportunity to meet Nuno and his two friends Nelson and Neila for lunch one time in Orlando, which was an awesome experience.
TAAG Virtual has a private Facebook group for its pilots, which I am obviously a member of! It is in this Facebook group that pictures and statuses are posted about tons of different things – Flight Simulator, Real-Life Flying, TAAG Virtual events & gatherings, and just your average day-to-day Facebook nonsense. I’ve been taught my whole life that “strangers” on the internet are automatically pedophiles or kidnappers. But my gut knew that this was far from the truth. These people were really cool guys who loved aviation just like me!
Enough was enough. I needed to go Angola.
I chatted Nuno on Facebook and asked if there was any way I could travel to Luanda and visit them. He was extraordinarily generous, told me I am always welcome to Angola, and that I could even stay in house. This was too good to be true.
I promptly booked my flights.
But there was still that dang visa.
Nuno was confident I could get it. He suggested that instead of sending the application to the Angolan embassy in Washington D.C. (probably one of the most useless buildings in the U.S.), I send it to the Angolan consulate in Houston. We guessed they’d be much better at processing visas in a timely manner than Washington (oil industry). Plus, Nuno knows people in the consulate! After getting a yellow fever vaccination and the invitation letter from Nuno, I sent away my documents to Houston without much confidence at all.
Well, you can imagine my surprise upon receiving the “documents processed” e-mail from Travisa. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this. And it only took 5 days! Pretty sure I just got accepted to college or gained admittance to an exclusive country club. I was set. I was actually going to Angola. Wow.
Having just arrived from MIA on a TAP A330, I just needed to re-clear security. I had checked-in online the day before at my house in TPA for my TAAG flight, which went seamlessly.
LIS is not well-designed for transiting. There was no one at the transfer desks by immigration, so I tried to follow the transit signs to the international departures area. The signage led me up a staircase, where there were hoards of passengers walking in the opposite direction. That couldn’t be right. I had a lot of time, so I decided to just try it. I ended up walking through this very long hallway, which finally opened up into this small security checkpoint. I told them “I’m going to Luanda”, to which they responded “Yes Luanda, right this way”. I cleared this security checkpoint, and was in the deserted international departures area. What a weird experience, but hey, it worked!
I went to the bathroom to try and clean myself up. I changed clothes, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I felt much better after that.
The TAAG flight from LAD arrived 20 minutes early, and the 77W could be seen parked at a remote stand. TAAG’s striking color scheme definitely stands out among the dozens of Euro-white aircrafts. Additionally, I was surprised to see the mysterious CEIBA Intercontinental 77L parked at LIS. Some of rarest 777s at the same airport!
I had a lot of time to spare, so I decided to get breakfast at this restaurant called “First Class Café”. I had a pretty good ham and cheese sandwich with coffee. I needed to be energized for my upcoming flight!
After some spotting and walking around, I decided to plop myself down at our gate. I wanted to let the anticipation build inside me.
Transito!: A Connection On TAAG-Angola (B743/B772) (by ronerone Jul 31 2010 in Trip Reports)
Nothing could better describe this flight than the above quote. LAD-LIS-LAD is extremely important to TAAG’s operation, and the airline will do anything in its power to make sure this flight always goes without any problems. TAAG operates newer, nicer, and bigger planes than competitor TAP; this flight is about showing the best of Angola and TAAG to the western world and its former colonial power.
The gate area slowly began to fill up. I had never been around such a passenger mix. The majority of the passenger demographics appeared to be younger Angolans – incredibly fashionable, youthful, and friendly looking. Then there were the old Angolan men, who truthfully looked rather angry and intimidating. And then lastly there were the Portuguese going to Luanda for whatever reason – be it work or visiting family. Oh, and there was me of course! The lone blonde-haired American on this flight. Boy was I sticking out!
Date: 11 August 2012
Airline: TAAG Angola Airlines
Flight: DT 651
Aircraft: Boeing 777-3M2/ER
Aircraft Reg: D2-TEH
Departure City: Lisbon, Portugal
Departure Airport: Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS / LPPT)
Arrival City: Luanda, Angola
Arrival Airport: Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (LAD / FNLU)
Scheduled Departure Time: 11:00 AM
Actual Departure Time: 11:07 AM (7 minutes late, from stand)
Scheduled Arrival Time: 6:30 PM
Actual Arrival Time: 6:17 PM (13 minutes early, on stand)
Estimated Load Factor: 80%
Boarding was called exactly an hour before departure at 10 AM. I walked up to the gate agent and presented my boarding pass. He checked my visa and for some reason asked to see my ticket. I handed him my ticket, which he seem satisfied with. Then, he scanned my boarding pass, tore it in half, and gave it back to me.
Since this was a bus gate, I took the escalator downstairs. Once downstairs, I began walking to the doors of the bus. Out of nowhere, this guy grabbed my carry-on and took it. WTF. I turned around and he was picking it up. He mumbled something “Too Heavy”. I tried to protest, but this guy was having none of it and was only speaking Portuguese. He tagged my bag to LAD with a handwritten bag tag and sent it away.
This frustrated me as I HATE checking bags. The manner this guy did it was also rather unpleasant. I know my bag was within the limits because I just took everything on an AA 737-800 and a TAP A330-200. The 777 cabin has much more space than both of these planes!
Anyways, I put that behind me and got on the bus. Again, the drive to the aircraft was a long one. Arriving at the mighty 777-300ER, registered D2-TEH, I took in the scene and snapped a picture. Obviously some guy had to yell at me for taking the photo but whatever, he will get over it. I’m not a terrorist.
We boarded from the rear air stairs, where a TAAG flight attendant greeted and directed me to my seat. Manufactured and delivered new to TAAG in 2011, not only was D2-TEH’s cabin modern, clean, and very aesthetically pleasing, but it was incredibly comfortable. TAAG is the only airline in the world to have switched FROM a 3-4-3 configuration to a 3-3-3 configuration on their 777s. Pitch was very generous at 34 inches.
Angolan music was played during boarding, occasionally interrupted by a recorded announcement asking passengers to stow their bags and make sure their seatbelts are fastened. Like my prior TAAG flights, boarding was incredibly slow. Angolans are never in a rush to go anywhere!
At 11:01 AM, exactly 1 minute after the scheduled departure time, boarding was completed and the doors were closed. The First Officer came over the P/A saying “Welcome about this TAAG Triple Seven with nonstop service to Luanda”. He then proceeded to give us extensive details about our route and thanked us for flying TAAG. His English was extremely good.
Pushback commenced at 11:07, 7 minutes late, followed shortly by a safety video. The flight attendants followed along, pointing out the exits and the safety card. Then came the 777 engine start which was very loud and exhilarating.
We taxied to runway 03 where we held short of the runway where the captain announced over the P/A “Cabin crew, prepare for takeoff please”. We taxied into position and waited for an Orbest A330 to land on intersecting runway 35. I had no clue they landed widebodies on that runway.
Takeoff power was applied, and the roar of the GE-90s was like nothing else I’ve ever heard (except on other 777s of course).
Shortly after our powerful takeoff, the purser introduced herself over the P/A and explained the in-flight service. We were to be served lunch first and then an afternoon snack before landing in LAD. Additionally, there were to be duty free items for sale on this flight.
Like most foreign airlines, the seat belt sign was switched off at 10,000 feet.
Our climb was relatively quick. The 777 was definitely louder than the A330 I just flew on, but for some reason the noise didn’t bother me at all.
I was beginning to get rather hungry, so I was relieved when the cabin crew began the meal service promptly after reaching our cruise altitude. It was a choice between beef and fish (classic), with me choosing the former. TAAG also gave passengers the entire “mini” wine bottle, unlike TAP. Alcohol was free and flowing generously.
I thought the meal was pretty good. In terms of taste, it was above average compared to other Y class meals I’ve had. They gave us a toothpick and a moist “towel” in the silverware packet. This was nice because I always feel like my hands are disgusting after boarding and sitting in an airplane. Also, the butter wasn’t extraordinarily hard like it usually is on flights!
They came around again after the meal offering drink refills and coffee.
I began to explore the IFE system, which I thought was a disappointment. The system interface was fantastic with fast response times and all, but the movie choices were pretty terrible. There were less than 10 choices, most of them being movies I have never heard of. Come on, if you have a nice system, you might as well use it right!
I ended up watching some sub-par movie about fishing in Yemen, but the in-flight map was to be my main source of entertainment. After lunch the purser announced that duty free sales were now open, and the mood lighting was activated.
I napped a little throughout the flight, watched some other sub-par movie, and listened to music. I still couldn’t believe how comfortable this seat was; I was able to doze off while sitting straight up in the seat, which is usually impossible for me.
Roughly 2 hours before arrival into LAD, an afternoon snack was served. I was very impressed with the quantity, especially considering this was less than a 7 hour flight.
The cabin crew on this flight was a bit of a let-down. They did their jobs, responded to call buttons, but really didn’t seem happy to be on board. They rarely smiled or anything.
But then right before descending, a flight attendant came to my row and asked “Are you Will?” I was a little confused and told him “Yeah that’s me!” to which he responded by saying “You’re the flight guy! My name is Ednei and I have your profile on Facebook. It’s very nice to meet you in person.”
That was really cool, and definitely left me with a better feeling about this flight. Stuff like that doesn’t happen too often!
Descent into Luanda began just as the sun was starting to set. Luanda is usually cloudy this time of year, and today was no exception.
ANGOLA SIX-FIVE-ONE, cleared to land runway TWO-THREE.
Final approach was incredibly smooth followed by a very soft touchdown on runway 23.
We landed at 6:05 PM and coasted all the way to the end of the runway where we turned around and back tracked to taxiway E. Taxi to the ramp was very slow, where we parked at the stand furthest away from the terminal at 6:17 PM (13 minutes early).
I was incredibly nervous about clearing immigration in Luanda. I know that sometimes they detain people if they are suspicious of your intentions in Angola. I’m pretty sure they NEVER get American visitors who aren’t traveling to Angola for work, so I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
As I exited the bus at the arrivals terminal, all of a sudden I hear “Hey Will!” Startled, I turn to see Nuno’s friend Nelson (he works in flight operation for TAAG) waving to me. I went over where we shook hands and hugged, and he proceeded to make sure I got through immigration without problems. We then went to baggage claim where it took 30 minutes for my bag to come out. Next, we cleared customs successfully and I was officially in Angola. I DID IT. This wasn’t real.
Nuno was waiting for me outside the secured area, where he was very excited to greet me with a “Welcome to Africa!”
TAAG did well this time around. Their hard product is competitive with the world’s premier airlines (seats, IFE, mood lighting, and food). The flight arrived early into LAD, which was a first for me with TAAG. Safety seemed to be taken seriously, which I was pleased to see. From those perspectives, TAAG is easily amongst the best in Africa. Where they still need to improve, however, is with their cabin crew. For the most part, the flight attendants were not the most pleasant to interact with. They didn’t seem too comfortable with English, which was probably a factor in the disappointing service. But I know TAAG has significant expansion plans beyond Lusophone countries, so they’ve got to improve their English if they want to succeed. The younger crew members were noticeably better and friendlier than the older, and my nice encounter with one of the flight attendants definitely “saved the day” and left me with a better impression than I would’ve had otherwise. I’d recommend TAAG to a “regular” traveler if the price was right and they cared more about hard product than cabin service. To any aviation enthusiast, it’s definitely worth the experience!