Friday, February 17, 2017

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, Lisbon to Barcelona (February 2017)

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, intra-European
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After my stop in Lisbon, I was continuing my 2017 European trip with a stop in Barcelona, Spain.  Two airlines fly from Lisbon to Barcelona – TAP Portugal, a full-service airline based in Lisbon, or Vueling, a LCC based in Barcelona.  When I compared the two airlines, both offered low fares and both offered various flight times throughout the day.  In fact, the flight times of both airlines were very similar to each other (usually within 30 minutes of each other).  Both airlines offered basic options, which included hand carry only, as well as package options that included checked luggage and pre-assigned seat.  The major differences between the two is that TAP Portugal, as a full service airline, offers free drinks and sandwiches where Vueling is a LCC meaning you have to pay for these services.  Also, as TAP is a member of Star Alliance you earn FF miles.  In comparing the two airlines - I needed to check-in a bag so I compared the ticket prices with a bag for both - TAP was only 5euro more than Vueling.   As LCC usually have tighter seat pitches and less customer service, I decided to try TAP for my flight.

The ticket that I had booked was a package which included checked baggage; this package did not include pre-assigned seats (there was a separate package for that).  Booking the flight on TAP's website was generally easy and efficient.  There were some times the website got stuck, and sometimes I was not able to enter some optional information (such as FF miles).  When I did have some issues and questions, I contacted the call center where the wait time was minimal and the service was quick; a good start to my trip.

My flight was scheduled to leave Lisbon at 8:45p and arrive into Barcelona at 11:35pm with a flight time of 1hr 40mins.  Throughout the days leading up to the flight, I was getting notices from TAP offering the chance to bid on upgrades.  TAP has the option to either bid on upgrades days before the flight, or you can see about purchasing an upgrade the day of at the airport.  I looked into upgrading, but the starting cost to upgrade was more than the total I had paid for my ticket.  That, and given the short flight time, I decided not to upgrade.

I checked in via the app, and TAP had preselected my seat as 18C.  Through the app, I was able to see my seat and see other seat availability but I was not able to confirm a closer seat so decided to do that at the airport.  Even though I had already checked in, I got to the airport 2hours prior just in case.  When I got to the airport, there was no one in line at the counters.  I dropped off my luggage, it had been included in the package I bought, and got a closer seat of 9C.  The line at security was also very minimal so I had plenty of time to roam the airport.

The boarding pass stated boarding was going to start at 8:20p, so around 8:15p I went to the boarding area.  The boarding area was extremely small and extremely crowded; there definitely was not enough room to handle everyone.   Boarding was supposed to happen in 3 groups, but when the gate agents there was no one in group 1 and most of the individuals were in group 3.  8:20p came and went and there was no announcement of a delay.  We were told to wait, and then agents were coming around gate tagging all the large carryons.  Around 8:30p, the agents told us to get in line to board.  I was in Group 2, so I boarded rather quickly – however, we did not board right away as the gate was blocked because the airplane wasn’t ready.  The agents continued to scan boarding passes making the line very long.  After about 10 minutes, the door was opened and we were allowed to board the plane.

The plane was an Airbus A320 and inside the plane looked old.  The seats and the look of the plane indicated the plane was not new.  The plane was laid out in a 3-3 setting.  The plane contained both business class and economy class, but the seats were the same and the cabins were only separated by a moveable curtain. 

The seats were generally comfortable and the leg room was decent enough for the short flight.   The seats were very plain with no PTVs or USB ports.  There was a tray table and a pouch underneath which contained the safety card and inflight magazine.   Even though we were scheduled to take off at 8:45p, we were still boarding at that time but eventually at 8:50p boarding was complete and the doors closed.  Manual safety demonstrations were done and announcements were made in both Portuguese and English.

Once we reached cruising altitude, TAP started their inflight service which consisted of a free drink and a snack.  The snack was a small (palm size) tuna sandwich, and there was only one option available.  Once the service had concluded, we still had about an hour left and there was nothing else to do on the plane.  You definitely had to bring your own entertainment to pass the time. 

Even though we left late, we landed generally on time.  Deplaning happened rather quickly, and then it was time to wait for the luggage.  Both times I flew with TAP, it took a long time for the luggage to come – sometimes almost 30-45 minutes.  I am not sure what the delay is, but it was consistent across both international sectors.

Overall, I did not see that much difference between TAP Portugal and the LCC.  Yes they provided a free drink, a small sandwich, and access to FF miles, but other than that there was no difference in terms of service.   I chose TAP because I wanted to try an intra-European flight on the carrier and the fare was not that different versus the LCC; however, if there was a greater fare difference I am not sure I would choose TAP again vs the LCC.

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