CO764
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Joined: Sat Jan 21, 2012 5:50 pm

Best value across the Atlantic? TAP's A330-900neo: JFK-LIS-OSL

Sat Sep 21, 2019 12:03 am


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Background


I spent the better part of last summer working in Oslo, Norway. Naturally, finding an cheap and exciting way across the Atlantic became one of my absolute top priorities during the preceding months. In hindsight, I probably should've spent more of my precious free time studying for my college Combinatorics course and less time compulsively browsing airfares... but oh well, what's done is done.

Anyway, SAS or Norwegian offer direct flights between New York and Oslo, but SAS's one-way economy fares were exorbitantly expensive, and my faith in the reliability of Norwegian's long haul operation has all but vanished after two poorly handled experiences within 6 months of one another, both of which led to delays exceeding 24 hours. Since I needed to be at the office the day after I was to land in Oslo, Norwegian was definitely off the table. This Ied me to the usual suspects: Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia, which I generally use to give me a sense of which carrier is offering the best deals. Within minutes, I had my answer:

TAP was charging just $120 for the base fare on a one-way JFK-LIS-OSL routing. It was a done deal. I decided to splurge on a roomier Economy Xtra seat for the long-haul leg and an exit row seat for the 4-hour hop from Lisbon to Oslo (at 6'7'', I need all the legroom I can get!). Along with a checked bag, the total price had now risen to $253 (or 227€, £202, 2,273 NOK... you get the idea). It was roughly the same as Norwegian's fare on the same route, and still inexpensive for the moderately busy mid-May season.

The aircraft scheduled weren't anything special: an A330-200 and an A320. I'd flown on TAP's A332 earlier in the year (also on JFK-LIS, funnily enough) and found it to be a perfectly decent way to cross the Atlantic, but certainly nothing to write home about. So, my expectations upon booking weren't sky high. I was just pleased to have scored such a good deal on a trustworthy airline that wouldn't leave me desperately scrambling to buy a last minute ticket on Aeroflot for over $600 that I would never be compensated for (definitely not looking at you, Norwegian... but that's a story for another day).

Several months before departure, the A330-200 was upgraded to a brand new A330-900neo, which came as a wonderful surprise. I became slightly concerned upon noticing that my carefully pre-selected window seat had disappeared from my booking and I couldn't seem to access the seat map online. I called TAP's call center in Brazil, where a very friendly agent reassured me that my window seat was safe, explaining that the A330neo's seat map hadn't yet been loaded into the online system. Then, just days before departure, I truly felt like I had won the lottery: my LIS-OSL flight had been upgraded from an A320 to TAP's factory fresh A321LR--featuring a brand new and widely acclaimed long-haul cabin--operating test runs on European hops before being deployed on longer intercontinental routes later in the summer.

Spoiler alert: the A321LR was switched back to a standard A320 just before I arrived at Kennedy to check in for my transatlantic flight... Bummer. What an emotional roller coaster! Anyway, for those of you who read about my exceptionally cool aircraft swap with Delta, I suppose you'll agree that my luck could only get me so far...

Flight 1: May 14th

I had monitored the progress of the inbound flight throughout the afternoon, and ensured that TP209 was due for an on-time arrival into Kennedy. Today's rotation was operated by CS-TUC, TAP's second A330neo, having first flown in November 2018, and named after 15th century painter Nuno Gonçalves. It would be her first ever visit to JFK! The first of many, many more, I presume. Interestingly, this A330neo service was a lucky one-off; JFK flights for the previous and subsequent weeks would all be flown by A330-200's, before the neo definitively took over the route in July.

I arrived at Kennedy's Terminal 5 at around 8:45pm and made my way to to the TAP check-in area, which was remarkably empty. The agent I spoke to wasn't particularly friendly. I inquired about how many passengers were booked on this evening's flight, to which she gave me an annoyed look and sourly replied "it's very full," shoving my boarding pass at me and gesturing me towards security. I understand she probably had more important things to do than check the loadsheet for a curious avgeek, but she could have been more polite in her response, and it wasn't a great start to the trip.

My mother had accompanied me to the airport, as we wouldn't be seeing each other for several months. After a drawn-out goodbye, I made my way through a fairly quiet TSA, emerging into the lovely atrium of jetBlue's home terminal around 9:20, some 55 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin.

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The catering options in Terminal 5 are plentiful, but not all are of an especially high quality. I was feeling a bit peckish before boarding, so I decided to grab some dim sum at the main food court, which turned out to be absolutely inedible. Possibly the driest and worst dim sum I've ever had. This, combined with the unfortunate "reverse aircraft change" of my LIS-OSL leg and the rising anxiety I was starting to feel at the prospect of working abroad, meant that I wasn't in the best mood. Hoping to get at least some sleep on the relatively short hop to Lisbon, I bought some Dream Water at a convenience store and headed for the gate.

TAP generally use gate 30 at JFK, located at the far end of Terminal 5, and the huge crowd already starting to line up confirmed that it would be a very full flight indeed. TAP board in two groups: A and B. As far as I know, the A-group consists of Business class passengers and status holders, and the B-group is everyone else. At first glance, the B-group appears to be a free-for-all, with people forming a massive line in "first come, first serve" fashion. However, once the A group has boarded, the gate staff will walk down the long B line and hand pick everyone without a roller carry-on bag, inviting them to skip the entire queue and board first!

So, despite arriving at the gate only a few minutes before boarding began, I was one of the first B-group passengers to board, merely because I had a large backpack instead of a roller bag. I'm not sure if this system applies to all TAP long-haul flights, but I've flown them out of JFK twice this year and taken advantage of it both times! If bin space matters to you, it's definitely worth keeping in mind.

Poor view of my A330neo from the gate area ...
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... but my mother managed to spot it from landside! Gotta love Mom
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I absolutely LOVE the raccoon eyes on the A330neo. Some call them tacky, but I think they're incredibly stylish!
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TAP Air Portugal 208
Scheduled Departure (Actual) : New York JFK - 11:00pm (10:59pm)
Scheduled Arrival (Actual) : Lisbon - 10:55am (+1) (10:31am)
Seat : 15K (Economy Xtra)
Flight Time : 5h59min
Cruising Altitudes : 39,000 feet & 40,000 feet
Aircraft : Airbus A330-941
Registration : CS-TUC - 0.5 years


Being one of the first to board, I was met with a near-empty economy cabin, and had ample bin space for my large backpack.
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TAP's Economy and Economy Xtra seats are both arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration. Unsurprisingly, the cabin looked and felt fresher than their older A330ceo cabin. Although I have mixed feelings about the grey seat color, I found that the light color palette and mood lighting nicely complement the airy cabin feel. The flight attendants waiting at the door were polite and professional, but there were no smiles to be seen.

Every seat comes equipped with an adjustable headrest :thumbsup:
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With a pitch of 34 inches, the legroom in Economy Xtra is very good indeed (yes, this is the best picture I have!)
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Safety card
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Once I settled into my comfortable seat, I gazed lazily out the window at the rainy tarmac outside, and was struck by memories of my previous experience on flight TP208 just two months prior, when I had the most amazing conversation with my seat mate--a fellow college student. Shane, if you ever read this, I hope you're doing well!

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On tonight's flight, however, I was getting tired very quickly and was in no mood for talking. My hopes for an empty aisle seat were dashed when a young woman came and sat next to me. I still had plenty of room for my legs, and was very pleased about my decision to splurge on an Xtra seat.

Before long, we were all boarded and ready to go. Note the wide IFE screens!
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Swanky looking A330neo on the safety video :D
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We pushed back one minute ahead of schedule then began a slow taxi around Kennedy to runway 4L, where we joined a queue of about 7 aircraft.

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As we approached the runway, the captain made a brief announcement on the P/A, predicting a speedy 5 hours and 50 minutes in the air with fantastic weather in Lisbon. At 11:26pm, we lined up on 4L. Sitting near the engine, I was treated to a beautiful (and unique!) roar as our Trent 7000 engines spooled up to takeoff thrust, and after a brief run, sent us sailing smoothly into the drizzling night sky. We quickly began the standard turn to the east, providing for some excellent views as we left Kennedy behind. The flaps were soon retracted, causing a clearly audible smooth mechanical hum--remarkably louder than on the A330ceo.

Linked are the captain's announcement and takeoff video

A few minutes after takeoff, the pitch black cabin and its dozing occupants were jolted awake by the cabin lights suddenly turning on full intensity, ruining my plans of taking a quick nap before dinner service. I kept myself occupied by tracking the moving map and purchasing wifi. It worked well but was priced quite steeply, at $14.99 for 100mb.

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15 minutes after takeoff, the lights finally dimmed as the mood lighting kicked in and the cabin crew prepared for dinner service. We climbed in steps, leveling briefly several times before eventually reaching our initial cruising altitude of 39,000 feet.

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Economy Xtra passengers are served the standard Economy meal on TAP, as I expected. I don't recall if there were any choices, but I had the beef which wasn't bad. It came with two very mediocre salad dishes and a nice cheesecake. My drink of choice was pre-bought Dream Water, which I was hoping would help catch me some Zzzzzz's before arrival. (please excuse the iPhone charger!)
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I'm not sure if it was the Dream Water, TAP's comfortable and very reclinable seat, or my state of exhaustion after a busy day in New York (or a healthy combination of all three), but I managed to doze on and off for the first few hours of the flight. When I awoke, we were near the Azores archipelago and had climbed to 40,000 feet. It was just past 8 AM Lisbon time.

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I closed my eyes, trying to sneak in a few more hours of shut-eye to no avail, so I resigned myself to listening to music on my phone as I prepared myself for a busy day of traveling across Europe. Most passengers were still dozing and the cabin was dark, so I tentatively opened my window shade by a few inches to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blue sky. It was a new day.
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Before long, the mood lighting engulfed the ceiling with a bright orange glow, signaling the beginning of our arrival phase. As the cabin stirred back to life, the crew handed out breakfast boxes, which consisted of a very forgettable sandwich, a honey oats bar, and a juice box.

Lisbon was soon within our sights.
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At 9:45, we began a gradual descent. A brief listen to the Lisbon ATC frequency indicated that the airspace was rather busy.
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Sure enough, we flew a left hand holding pattern before commencing our approach.
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As is typical of Lisbon, the approach was spectacular, with gorgeous views of the city & surrounding coastline. Be sure to sit on the right side of the aircraft if you're flying into Lisbon (if they're landing from the south, as they usually do).

Hello, Portugal! It's good to be back!
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Check out the cool engine reflection :D
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We landed on Runway 03 with a light thud at 10:25, after 5 hours and 59 minutes of flight. True to the captain's word, it was a beautiful morning in Lisbon. For gorgeous views of the approach & landing, I've included the video here!

We taxied across the apron to our remote stand, numbered 504. I've heard a rumor that the A330neo can't use the terminal gates at LIS because of its impressive (64m) wingspan, so its ops are restricted to remote stands. Can anyone confirm this?

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Parking next to an older sister--a company A340-300, soon to be retired. Built in 1995, CS-TOD was the 91st model produced in the A330/A340 line. She had arrived from Rio in the early hours of the morning.
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We pulled into stand at 10:31, some 24 minutes ahead of schedule. :thumbsup: Deboarding by stairs meant for some wonderful views of our jet basking in the sunlight.

Look. At. That. Engine!
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It's always impressive to see just how huge wide-body aircraft are, when put in perspective. This 330neo is no exception!
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While I was tempted to hide behind the tires then stay out on the apron all day and explore the sea of parked heavy jets, I eventually bade farewell to my A330 and made my way onto the waiting bus.
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Goodbye, TUC (a.k.a Nuno Gonçalves)! It's been fun!
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Tell me those raccoon eyes aren't gorgeous...
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Another comfortable way to cross the Atlantic! This United 767-400ER is in the final stages of boarding for her flight home to Newark.
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All too soon, our delightful apron tour had come to an end, and we pulled up to Terminal 1 at 10:50. Once through the seamless automated passport control and a completely deserted security check, I made my way to the rather cramped main atrium of the terminal, where I bought a ham sandwich, chips, and beer. A bit of an unusual 6AM breakfast, granted, but such is the life of the traveler!

Flight 2: May 15th

I was feeling quite tired at this point, so I found an empty gate area with some decent apron views and set up shop, hoping to rest for a few hours before my flight to Oslo was ready for boarding. While I had a great view of aircraft taxiing by, it was difficult to get any good pictures thanks to these incredibly annoying "dotted windows", or whatever the correct term is.

This UA 757 is taxiing out for departure to Dulles
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A livery soon to disappear! You won't be missed :)
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This A319 is heading to Stuttgart
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Before long, I received a text from TAP informing me that boarding for my flight would shortly begin at Gate S20, which happened to be the bus gate that I was sitting right next to! Boarding began roughly on time, at 12:50. After a considerable wait in a dim stairwell, we were finally allowed onto the bus around 15 minutes later, and I was soon on my way to the aircraft.

TAP Air Portugal 764
Scheduled Departure (Actual) : Lisbon - 1:30pm (1:32pm)
Scheduled Arrival (Actual) : Oslo - 6:30pm (6:36pm)
Seat : 12A (Exit Row)
Flight Time : 3h49min
Cruising Altitudes : 34,000 feet, 36,000 feet, 37,000 feet
Aircraft : Airbus A320-214
Registration : CS-TNG - 20.4 years


Flightradar24 was indicating that our flight would be operated by CS-TNG, the oldest A320 in TAP's 20-strong fleet, having been delivered to the carrier in 1999. Given TAP's apparent proclivity for aircraft changes on short notice, I was secretly hoping we would be reassigned to an A321neo or LR. No such luck. As it turned out, TP764 was operated by the 321LR on the days before and after this flight.... well, you can't win them all!

The bus boarding lifted my spirits as we were treated to fantastic views of our A320, looking shiny as ever despite her advanced age.
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The second aircraft from the right is the A330 that flew me in from New York this morning! In a few hours, she would leave for Salvador, Brazil.
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#artsy
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I was onboard by 1:15, and made my way to my pre-booked exit row seat 12A. The legroom was great, but the seat was fairly hard. The flight was almost completely full, and I had two seat mates. A flight time of 4 hours was announced, but there was no word from the cockpit. Once we were all settled in, a beaming female FA approached and enthusiastically briefed us on the exit row requirements.

Cabin view
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A "CSA-wings" A319 in a funky hybrid livery about to leave for Stuttgart
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We pushed back two minutes behind schedule. I've always found the wing + engine on early A320 models to look pretty "clunky". Anyone else? :D
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Yeah that's right buddy, you wait there.
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Taxiing back to Runway 03. Note the A330 parked on the disused runway! She had arrived from Boston earlier this morning, and would spend the next few days on the ground.
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Nine days later, I would make a last-minute trip on one of these aircraft/operator combinations. Can you guess which one?
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Without delay, we lined up on 03 at 1:40pm and began a looooooooooong takeoff roll, which--by my calculations--lasted around 47 seconds. See for yourself by watching the video here!

After what felt like an eternity, we floated into the air and began a shallow climb, picking up a northeasterly heading towards Oslo.
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Our routing would take us over northern Spain, across the Bay of Biscay, over the Brittany and Normandy regions of France, across the English channel, then directly over London. Finally, we overflew the North Sea, making landfall over the city of Kristiansand in southeastern Norway. We battled a strong headwind for most of the flight, and were in the air for a lengthy 3 hours and 49 minutes, initially flying at 34,000 feet before we climbed higher later on.

After takeoff, I was desperate for some shut-eye. Unfortunately, the TAP A320 seats are quite stiff and proved very hard to get comfortable in, despite the generous exit row legroom. It's a good thing these birds are typically used for 1-2 hour hops. Moreover, there was no wifi onboard, and the flight got very boring very quickly, with each passing minute seeming longer than the last, especially in my state of total exhaustion. I think I nodded off for a few minutes during the climb, but was awakened after various parts of my body began to ache.

An hour after departure, the smell of hot food filled the cabin, which came as a very pleasant surprise! Every passenger was served veal with rice, along with a quinoa salad, cheese and crackers. Dessert was a condensed milk caramel mousse. In my dazed state, it didn't occur to me to take a better picture, so this will have to do:
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The main course may not be much of a looker, but I can assure you that the veal was mouthwateringly good!! The quinoa salad with pumpkin wasn't really to my liking, but the caramel mousse was absolutely superb. I washed it all down with a cup of delicious berry juice. All in all, this was an outstanding meal for an intra-European flight, and leagues above the catering (or lack thereof...) on some other European legacy carriers. Well done TAP!

Anyway, I spent the remainder of the flight impatiently counting down the hours until arrival, listening to music, and kicking myself for not having brought a book or installed more games on my phone. Occasionally, I would glance out the window and see bits of land under the clouds, and would try and figure out where we were.

Crossing traffic
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This is the Isle of Wight, with the southern coast of the UK visible in the background! It was completely overcast over London, unfortunately...
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#artsy part 2
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This flight just seems to drag on and on... and so does this report. If you're still reading, well done!
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Finally over Norway and beginning our descent!
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My home for the next two months! (well, Oslo is probably about 50 miles northeast of here, but you know what I mean)
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Having spent lots of time in Norway when I was younger, this is an approach I know all too well. It sure was comforting flying the standard approach towards the 19's. It was a beautiful early evening in Oslo.
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Before long, we were turning final for 19L
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At 6:29pm, we made an absolute greaser of a landing which, as per usual, you can watch here.

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We made our way to stand 38, taxiing past some construction; Gardermoen is undergoing a major overhaul of its sole terminal. There's been tremendous progress, but the airport has felt like one big construction site for the past decade!
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One of OSL's more exotic regular victors: an Ethiopian B789 bound for Stockholm-Arlanda and onward to Addis Ababa!
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We pulled into stand at 6:36, and I was in the terminal within minutes.

Thanks for the ride & have a safe trip home! (No Dad of course I'm not talking to the plane, who would be THAT nerdy? Not me, that's for sure)
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My bag took its sweet time, and I barely made the 7:20 bus to my new home, where I met some old family friends and promptly collapsed.

Conclusion

And with that came the end of a fun adventure with TAP, and the beginning of two exceptionally fun & productive months in Oslo! All in all, my experience with TAP Air Portugal was a positive one. The seat comfort and refreshed cabin impressed me on their A330neo, as did the service and catering on their short-haul A320 product. Apart from an encounter with a borderline rude JFK check-in agent, I can't think of a single aspect of the TAP experience I found any worse than adequate, and I was pleasantly surprised by most aspects of my journey. Considering they were selling this trip for $120 one-way as a base fare (which includes full catering), I'd say this is incredible value, and I highly recommend TAP to anyone who stumbles upon a decently priced ticket.

My one semi-complaint: the seat comfort of the A320 wasn't very particularly conducive to any form of rest (or entertainment) ... so I won't be in a rush to fly it on a 3+ hour route. Then again, the same can be said for most A320's out there! :D

Finally, while I was disappointed to have missed the A321LR, I got the chance to log one just two months later on a certain transatlantic all-business class product... Stay tuned! (okay, technically it's a 321neo, sue me)

Thank you for sticking with me if you've made it all the way to the end of this marathon trip report! Happy flying!
 
Ryanair01
Posts: 432
Joined: Fri Dec 27, 2013 9:27 pm

Re: Best value across the Atlantic? TAP's A330-900neo: JFK-LIS-OSL

Sat Sep 21, 2019 8:35 am

Nice report, thanks for sharing.

My experiences of TAP in long-haul were positive too. Very professional crews and a comfortable cabin, but the entertainment selection was pretty poor from memory. Definitely a quietly underrated airline.

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