TAP Portugal is currently experiencing a resurgence. After the completion of privatization efforts in 2015, the airline is now 45% owned by the Atlantic Gateway Group, headed by JetBlue and Azul founder David Neeleman. Network restructuring, new fare products, and fleet renewal all are taking place at TAP.
The 72-year old airline celebrated its legacy by introducing a retrojet in June 2017. Resplendent in “Transportes Aéreos Portugueses” titles and iconic “Passarola” tail logo, the Airbus A330-300 (registered CS-TOV) revived the livery first introduced in 1955 on the Lockheed Constellation.
This color scheme lasted for more than 30 years, into the late 1980s on the Boeing 727. CS-TOV is the second aircraft in TAP’s history to proudly wear the country’s name, “Portugal”.
Its goal – a tribute to the country and its people, while recognizing the shared heritage between Portugal and TAP. The retrojet will promote the country across the airline’s important North American, South American, and African gateways.
Launched one year ago, TAP’s Portugal Stopover program is designed for travelers from the United States, Canada, and Brazil en route to Europe and Africa to stopover in Lisbon or Porto without an additional fare. This program has been proven popular: 70,000 travelers have taken advantage of the offer over the past year.
To allow for additional flexibility, the program has been expanded to include final destinations in Algarve, Madeira, and Azores. One-way and multi-destination tickets also qualify in addition to round trip tickets. In response to demand for more days, travelers can choose to stopover for up to five days starting in September 2017.
Travelers participating in the program can take advantage of one free touring experience, free wine at participating restaurants, discounted hotel rates, and discounts to sights and activities.
While in Lisbon, travelers can join a walking tour to include the Chiado neighborhood, full of trendy bars and restaurants. Or take a tuk-tuk tour to nearby historical city of Belém – where the famous Portuguese egg custard tart was invented – and have a taste of Pastel de Belém hot out of the oven.
It has been said the Portuguese have 365 different recipes for bacalhau: dried and salted cod. It would be appropriate to enjoy free wine with a tasting menu with four different kinds of cod at D’Bacalhau – a restaurant famous for its cod dishes. Or at Praça do Comércio in Lisbon, grab an outside table in the busy square at Can the Can. If you think canned fish cannot be a star in a restaurant meal, think again. Can the Can innovatively combines traditional Portuguese canned fish in a modern style Mediterranean cuisine that results in a tasty and healthy meal.
While on a day trip to Sintra outside of Lisbon, ordinary travelers go for the famous sights such as the Moorish Castle and the National Palace. However, for the aviation enthusiast, a visit to Museu do Ar is a must.
This extensive museum is the result of a three-way partnership between the airport operator Ana-Aeroportos, the Portuguese Air Force and TAP, its collection covers the spectrum of aviation history in Portugal. Of interest is a beautifully restored TAP DC-3/C-53 (registered CS-TDE) open for display as well as a display room dedicated to TAP artifacts.
A Present with a Past
TAP celebrated the retrojet’s first flight to the U.S. in Miami by creating an authentic retro-flight experience. Known as “A Present with a Past” – a clever play on words – the airline welcomed passengers on a journey back in time with “a flight to the glorious 70s”.
Flight attendants dressed in 1970s uniforms by French designer Louis Féraud greeted passengers at check-in in Lisbon. From the ticket counter and on, the “Passarola” would become a common theme throughout the retro flight experience.
Period touches including large plastic luggage tags, ticket jackets, and postcards were handed out to passengers as they checked into their flight. The celebration continued at the boarding gate where passengers were invited to dress up in 70s headwear for a green-screen photo before picking up their retrojet flight certificate.
To fully appreciate the retrojet livery, CS-TOV was parked at a hard stand so passengers can get a clear view of the aircraft as they approach on the loading bus. While this was an exciting moment for the aviation enthusiasts, some passengers on the bus expressed concern that they were to fly in an “old airplane”. We had to reassure them that this was indeed a new aircraft painted like an old airplane.
Upon boarding and seeing the stairs adorned with the old TAP logo, it became obvious the airline went through great lengths to ensure an authentic retro experience.
Flight attendants, all dressed in their 1970s era brightly colored French designer uniforms, welcomed passengers on board.
A leather flight bag was found on every seat. Business Class bags were stuffed with period Portuguese cologne, hand cream, and toothpaste. TAP even printed a special retro newspaper front page.
Business Class passengers were also given a Portuguese board game “O Sabichão” – the original in-flight entertainment. For those that prefer audio entertainment, there was the “TAP 70s” channel. Even the safety briefing video was retro, filmed in the DC-3 at Museu do Ar and performed in authentic period uniform.
During beverage service, this author ordered a Coke Zero. Soon, a flight attendant pulled out an iconic Coca-Cola glass bottle from her drawer and replied, “I am sorry, this is the only kind of Coke back in the 1970s.” Laugher all around!
For those who prefer cerveja, Sagres beer was also served in classic glass bottles. The Port wine after lunch – a 1972 vintage Graham’s Port, of course!
The ultimate attention to detail was found on the lunch menu. TAP went as far as researching period meals from its museum and recreated a special retro menu for the flight. Everything from the appetizer (choice of shrimp salad or pheasant terrine), to main (choice of codfish à Zé do pipo or sirloin à portuguesa), to the dessert (banana and chocolate parfait), were authentically retro.
The sirloin is a traditional Portuguese dish. The beef was tender, a bit salty from the cured ham (though not unexpected), and potatoes complimented nicely soaking up the sauce. This dish compared favorably with the restaurant version served earlier in our trip.
To promote Portuguese cuisine on board its flights, this fall, TAP will launch “Taste the Stars” program. Five talented Portuguese Michelin-starred chefs will create dishes for both Business and Economy classes.
Chef Rui Silvestre, one of those chefs, presented passengers gifts of Flor de Sal and a box of freshly made chocolate sweets.
Prior to arrival in Miami, flight attendants prepared one final fun activity. They carted out “Caixa de Furos de Chocolate” – a chocolate surprise game. Typically found near cash registers in shops around Portugal, players punch through one of many blanks dots thereby receiving a colored ball.
The color determined the type of chocolate the player gets with the ultimate prize being the chocolate umbrella, which very few people got.
TAP Portugal has undoubtedly put its best foot forward promoting Portugal, its food and culture which ultimately benefits the airline. It appears to be working. As of July 2017, U.S. traffic has doubled year-over-year. Worldwide, the airline has flown 1.6 million more passengers over the same period last year. We wish the airline continued success!
In addition to special retro flights already flown to Toronto, São Paulo, and Miami, TAP is planning for one more promotional retro flight to Luanda.