…the trip where layover times kept being eaten away, bite by biteBackground
Family matters required my presence in Hamburg on a relatively short notice and thus began the frantic search for space on a flight from Caracas to somewhere in Europe and eventually to HAM. Now, the days when many European flag carriers offered almost daily service are a thing of the past and only AF, IB, TP and UX, soon to be joined by Plus Ultra from Spain, still offer a few flights a week each (TK too, if you count them as a European carrier).
These days people are leaving the country by any means at their disposal due to “la situación país
” – the situation the country is finding itself in – and space on the few remaining flights is scarce. IB and UX were fully booked, AF still had Y seats available but at a whopping 2500+ Dollars, in Y. No thanks! The remaining carrier was TAP, with whom I had had a good experience two years ago. So flights were selected and the angel
of a travel agent I have even persevered long enough to secure a spot in an affordable booking class.
As seats could not be selected for free upon booking, I went to TP’s website to have a look at the situation, which seemed all good with plenty of open spaces. So it was just a matter of waiting until web check-in opened. The flight information also included a very interesting detail: “operated by EuroAtlantic Airways (YU)”, and the seat plan was indeed that of a B763 instead of the usual A332. I’d be getting a new airline without even looking out for it!
And then there was also the routing via Curaçao. Like many other carriers, TP (or YU for that matter) no longer have their crews stay in CCS and instead added a stopover in CUR on the northbound flight to change crew and refuel.
Due to the scheduled mid-morning arrival of the flight from CCS, an immediate connection to the morning flight to HAM was not possible, leaving me with a 9 hour layover at LIS until the late-afternoon flight. Not wanting to hang around the airport for all that time, and having heard and read so many people raving about the city, I made plans to go and experience some of Lisbon myself in an effective 6 hours, allowing for immigration and transfer at arrival and security at departure. This should be a fun trip, though a long-ish one!
Map by GreatCircle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. SwartzThe trip
During online check-in I was able to switch my originally assigned aisle seat to a window seat without charge for the transatlantic sector, but was stuck with a middle seat and no free changes for the onward sector. Well, that was something that could be taken care of later. I arrived at the airport 4 hours prior to scheduled departure and got immediately in line for check-in/bag drop. Before even getting to the check-in counters the National Guard had set up a first checkpoint. After being asked for the reason and duration of my trip I was directed by the NG right to the bag drop queue. The following, very blurry image reflects the madhouse that check-in for this flight was.
There were 5 counters open, 1 for J class passengers, 1 for bag drop, 2 for Y check-in and 1 for the cashier. Unfortunately, the intended uses were not respected at all and it was a free for all, with check-in agents just calling “next!” no matter whether the passenger needed a full check-in or just to drop his bags. About midway through my wait in line the head agent mingled with the queuing passengers to talk about a “campaign” they were having urging passengers to also check their cabin baggage “for security reasons”. As it turned out, this was by no means a voluntary handover but a compulsory one. Regardless, when my turn came I tried to explain that I had a 9 hour layover in LIS and that I needed my carry-on there. Besides, the trolley was within the airline’s size and weight limits and my ticket specifically allowed for 1 piece of cabin baggage. All my arguments notwithstanding, I was told that I could certainly try to take my trolley on board, at the risk of being denied boarding at the gate. In the end I had to reshuffle the contents of the rollaboard, take a small backpack for the absolute essentials and check the cabin baggage. What a mean “campaign” and even nastier way to enforce it!
The whole check-in process took 75 minutes. Now a quick look at the FIDS:
Apart from the fact that all remaining flights for my travel day plus nearly all of the following day’s flights were displayed on that single screen, there it was, in bright red letters right next to my flight: “delayed”. The first bite into my layover in Lisbon…
For a change, and as a consequence of the significant drop in traffic, security and passport controls were extremely swift. Only four people ahead of me at security and immediate access to an emigration officer was the fastest ever for me to get airside.
Here, too, the reduction in passengers is evident. As the old joke goes, the terminal is half the size of the city’s cemetery, twice as dead:
Apart from TP, there were just a couple of other departing flights.
AF A332 F-GZCG bound for CDG:
Avior (9V) B734 YV2928 to MDE and sister ship YV3012 to BOG:
Laser (LE) MD-82 YV3145:
There was definitely not much going on. The shuttle buses meant to transfer passengers between the national and international terminal were also sitting idle on the ramp, all nicely lined up. The same goes for Conviasa’s A342 in the background of several of the pics.
Eventually the incoming flight pulled into the gate at the originally scheduled departure time.
Airline: TAP Portugal (TP), op. by EuroAtlantic Airways (YU)
STD / ATD: 17:50 / 19:12
STA: 8:55 +1 / 12:00 +1
Aircraft: Boeing B767-36N/ER
Here’s a picture of the plane from the A.net database:
Today’s flight would depart from gate 16, which is a bit different from the other gates in that it is a mostly enclosed space separated by a corridor from the main departure hall. This makes it a rather hot place, especially if the A/C is not running as it should, so I remained outside until the staff finally said it was time to go in for boarding. The person staffing the entrance to the gate area explained that TP have been chartering YU equipment for the CCS flights since the beginning of the year because their own A330’s are being refurbished, but that come July TP would resume flights using their own metal. I couldn’t find any threads regarding the subject here on the Civil Aviation forum and wonder whether that may be true or if it’s plain bs.
To get into the gate area there was another security control with an X-ray machine for the cabin luggage and a pat-down for the passengers. Boarding was called shortly after I made my way to the gate starting with J pax and other elites followed by a conga line of 20 wheelchair-bound passengers.
It took some time until all travelers with reduced mobility were placed safely in their assigned seats, but eventually general boarding was complete as well. Cabin crew in EuroAtlantic uniforms were welcoming the passengers at the door and throughout the cabin.
Each seat had a set of earphones and a combo of TAP branded pillow and blanket placed there, and the headrest covers were TP branded as well.
The legroom, published as being 30’ on YU’s website, was ok and not different from other airlines in Y. What irked me though was the fact that the lever to release the seatback for reclining was located under the seat, next to the life vest. I had to lean forward to reach it, moving in the opposite direction from the one required to push the seatback to a reclined position… It was only thanks to a little help from my seat neighbor that I finally managed to get the seat into a more or less comfortable position for dozing.
Although the seats were equipped with IFE, the safety demo was still conducted manually. For your safety, special leaflets for 3 similarly configured YU B763’s:
No inflight magazines or other reading materials were provided.
There must have been a LOT of passengers that got around the “No cabin baggage” policy this evening…
We eventually pushed back nearly an hour and twenty minutes past the scheduled departure time and, with no traffic either arriving or departing, were soon airborne en route to CUR. Being only a short hop of around 40 minutes, there was no cabin service on this leg.
On stand at Curaçao’s Hato airport:
Here the cockpit and cabin crews that had been operating the flight from LIS via CCS left the plane and a new crew boarded to take the flight back to LIS. The handover process went very smoothly and refueling was completed eventually as well. At about the time everything was ready to continue the trip this announcement came over the PA: “If there is a doctor or a nurse on board, please report to the crew”. Second bite into my LIS layover…
Not visible from the rearmost cabin where I was seated, a passenger either in the mid section or in the J cabin had apparently become ill and needed medical attention. The rumor mill immediately started churning and some fellow passengers came up with the idea that it must have been the hard landing at CUR that sickened the passenger… In my opinion “hard landing” would be a bit of an overstatement. It was definitely no greaser but rather a firm placement of the plane onto the runway.
It took a while to asses the situation and to decide that it would be better for the passenger to seek medical attention at a hospital in Willemstad. And then it took some more time to search for and unload this passenger’s and their travelling companion’s baggage. During our stay an Insel Air F50 came, went and came back and an AA A319 landed, but other than that there were no movements visible.
Still sitting on the ramp at CUR:
Passengers moving around, wondering when the flight will resume, worrying (and asking the cabin crew) about their missed connections…
The general consensus though among all on board was that, if a medical emergency had to occur, this was the best place for it to happen, on the ground. Much preferable to such a situation arising while over the mid Atlantic.
Eventually, nearly 3 hours after landing in CUR, the flight was ready to continue. Once at cruising altitude the meal service commenced and was cheerfully welcomed by all passengers. From a quick glance into the galley upon boarding I knew that tonight’s choices would be chicken or fish. By the time they reached the last rows, the crew had run out of the chicken option so I had the fish with two salads and a dessert cake, which were all quite good.
There was no inflight magazine and the IFE had no map feature. The movie selection wasn’t overwhelming either and not wishing to trouble the omnipresent Dr. Sheldon Cooper (is there an IFE that doesn’t include The Big Bang Theory?) I settled for a couple of episodes of one of the more ingenious cops & robbers shows out there before dozing off for a few hours.
After a very short night the crew readied themselves for the breakfast service: a small sandwich, a couple of cookies and a coffee hit the spot nicely but wouldn’t leave anyone full.
The flight continued for some time after the meal service but eventually we made landfall near Santa Cruz, northwest of Lisbon.
Still flying northwards, i.e. away from LIS, for a while we went into a holding pattern (yet another bite into my layover) circling between Peniche by the ocean and Vila Franca de Xira on the River Tagus…
…before finally taking a southerly course on approach to Lisbon airport.
We landed on rwy 21 at noon, a tad over three hours late, and parked on a remote stand, meaning a bus ride to the terminal.
By the time I had cleared passport control and customs it was close to 1:00pm which left me with around 3 hours to explore Lisbon, allowing for transfer time into the city and return to the airport, and the expectable long lines at security. Off we go!
The metro/subway/tube took me straight from the airport to downtown, my first stop being the Praça do Comércio. A lot of locals and many tourists were milling around under the watchful eye of Dom José I The Reformer
, King of Portugal.
Who will win this race?
A kiosk on the way to Cais do Sodré:
From there I used the metro like a hop-on-hop-off bus stopping at several stations to take in the city sights:
I’d have loved to ride the Santa Justa lift, but the queue was long and there wasn’t enough time left. Maybe on another occasion.
A quick metro ride back to the airport, a switch of seats from a middle to a window at the general check-in counters and a winding, 45 minute long queue at security later I made it to the gate for my continuing flight just in time for boarding.April 2018
Airline: TAP Portugal
STD / ATD: 18:00 / 18:15
STA: 22:15 / 21:45
Aircraft: Airbus A320-214
Here’s a picture of the plane from the A.net database:
Again a bus gate and a remote stand:
And some reading material:
A small snack consisting of a sandwich, a bottle of fruit nectar and a mini pack of gummy bears was served during the flight.
Still feeling a bit hungry after that, I had a few of the addictive pasteis de nata
that I had bought earlier at the airport. Though to be honest, the ones I had in the city were better.
To my right, the full moon was rising over the horizon.
I swear it looked much bigger through my own eyes than through the camera lens!
Despite all the delays that occurred during the trip, this flight landed on HAM’s rwy 05 a full thirty minutes early. But don’t worry; the lead was more than compensated by my baggage turning up last on the carrousel…