Having just returned home to Spain following a three-month trip to Florida, I thought that other fellow travellers would be interested in hearing about an airline that most of us had never flown.
The airline in question is Portugal’s national carrier Tap Portugal and how I was pleasantly surprised by the entire experience, including using Lisbon as a hub.
To set the scene for you, the trip was to visit a friend of mine who lives in the upmarket town of Boca Raton, Florida. The name Boca Raton will be familiar to fans of the Jerry Seinfeld show as the place where Jerry’s parents retired from New York.
Not only is “Boca” as the locals call it full of retirees escaping the bitter cold of the north, it is also a place that holds the distinction of having three of the most expensive gated communities in the United States.
With my limited funds in mind in mind, I began searching the Internet to try and get a good deal on an airfare.
As you are all aware airlines increase their fares during the summer once the children finish school for their summer holidays, so it was going to be difficult to find a good deal.
Despite knowing that I could be facing an uphill battle I was still convinced that I could get a good price for a ticket even if it meant having to change planes three times or even needing to sleep on a bench in the airport overnight.
Unfortunately for me, there are no direct flights from my local airport (Alicante) to North America, meaning my best bet for a reasonable fare would require a short-hop to either Barcelona or Madrid.
In the end, I could find nothing less than 800€ so started looking at flights out of Spain’s third largest city, Valencia.
Valencia, of course, meant a longer drive, but being a large city I knew I would be able to fly to Miami with a stopover along the way.
The best deal I could find was on Turkish Airlines for 630€, but it would mean flying first to Istanbul in the wrong direction and then staying overnight at Ataturk International before a long 13-hour flight to Miami.
Steadfast I continued to surf the web, convinced that if I kept searching I could find a better price, so decided to wait a few more days before pulling the trigger and booking a flight.
Two days later there it was, TAP Portugal was offering a round-trip ticket to Miami via Lisbon from Valencia for less than 500€. I could not believe my luck and jumped on the deal straight away, which consequently has now led to me having a new favourite airline for my adventures.
The reason I was able to source such a decent fare is that TAP Portugal is aggressively marketing the airline and Lisbon in the United States.
Their plan is to convince Americans to make the Portuguese capital their entry point in Europe and with two new routes serving Boston and New York with state-of-the-art A330 aircraft and a trendy city like Lisbon to explore they are certainly making a strong case while undercutting their rivals with very competitive prices.
My journey started with an early morning two-hour flight from the Mediterranean city of Valencia to the Atlantic Ocean port city of Lisbon aboard a twin-engine ATR-72 aircraft.
The flight was a bit noisy thanks to the turboprop engines, but you are afforded excellent views due to the aircraft’s high wing.
As this was my first time using Lisbon as a hub I did not know what to expect and was prepared for the kind of nightmare you encounter when arriving at Heathrow, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle.
Luckily, this was not the case as a bus takes you from the plane straight to the main terminal.
Having to take a bus from the plane to the main terminal may seem a bit dated these days, with most modern airports using a boarding bridge between the terminal and the aircraft.
This, of course, is a great system as it takes the weather out of the equation, but have you ever thought about how far you always have to walk before you get to where you need to be? With the bus system in Lisbon, you never have to walk far at all.
I also have to say that I was very surprised by the facilities at Lisbon airport, where despite my early 5am arrival on the return leg of my trip everything was open.
The main terminal has all the usual upscale shops that you normally see at an international hub, but also some excellent dining choices with reasonable prices.
In the terminal, you will also find two Multibanco ATM’s where you can use your debit card to get Euro’s and not pay the silly commission that they charge at the bureau de change.
Another advantage of flying through Lisbon is that you do not have the long waits at the security check, unlike Europe’s biggest airports.
Now onto the flight to Miami aboard what I assumed was one of Tap Portugal’s new A330’s as the aircraft was in pristine condition with a touchscreen individual on-demand entertainment system that I had never encountered before on any of my previous journeys. The system gave me so many options that I found it hard to choose what I was going to watch during the flight, a big plus if you are a frequent moviegoer.
Now I am not a huge fan of airline food but was pleasantly surprised by Tap Portugal’s offering of braised beef with peas and rice I have to say that it was delicious paired with a glass of Douro red wine. In fact, from salad to desert it is the first time I have ever eaten everything that I was served on a plane.
To sum up my trip, in a nutshell, all I can say is that Tap Portugal is now my favourite airline and I will try and use Lisbon as a hub for all my future adventures.
I also plan to make a point of spending a few days in Lisbon during my next journey, because if the cabin crew was a reflection of the Portuguese people as a whole I am sure I am in for a fabulous time while sampling the nightlife in Bairro Alto.
Thanks, Tap Portugal, I can’t wait for my next trip with you.