Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
After my final trip of 2012 on the final day of 2012, I was fully expecting to be having a bit of time off from flying, until the end of March. This was mainly due to my passport being renewed. This plan lasted until the 4th January! I’d noticed I’d never logged any flights in February before so I figured if I got a move on and sent my passport off a.s.a.p. I should have it back well before the end of February. Of course, getting back in the air a month earlier than anticipated was the most appealing factor. The only problem came when deciding on somewhere to go. My first port of call was to BA.com, where they had a January sale on. Having been on quite a few BA flights in the months leading up to this trip, and quite a few to come I wasn’t too enthusiastic about flying with them again. Next up was LH. Once again, no destinations really jumped out at me and I also had the same problem as BA – I had flown LH enough in 2012 to satisfy my curiosity. Being well into winter, I thought the best plan of action was to head South. Barcelona? Maybe. Malaga? Been there. Marrakech? Hmm maybe. Then for some unknown reason Porto popped into my head. I did a bit of research online and it looked like a very picturesque city. Decision made. There were two options to get me there. LH or TP. As I previously mentioned, I’d got my fare share of LH in 2012 so TP it was. Direct flights on the TAP website would set me back around £140. Or there was an option to return to LHR via LIS for £170. Of course, for any a.netter £30 more for an extra sector is a no brainer so this was the option I selected.
The booking process was a bit of a pain. First off it needed my passport number. Well OK, but I won’t be travelling on this passport… But I’ll take it with me just in case. Then there was an option where it said it needed at least one phone number. I put in the one requested number but it decided it then needed four – yes FOUR! I don’t have four phone numbers. I put in my mobile number for my home, business, mobile and evening, but it still didn’t like that for some reason. I then added +44 rather then 0044 and decided that if this didn’t work, then they had lost my business and I’d head off to Malta instead. Luckily for them, this all went through and shortly after my e-ticket receipt turned up. Probably the hardest booking process I’ve had. Not impossible though, just more of a pain than all of the other flights I’ve booked which didn’t need quite so much info in advance.
Luckily by the end of January, my new passport arrived so I was all set for the next ten years.
Unusually, but helpfully for me at least TAP open their online check in 48 hours prior to departure, so on the Thursday, just as my lunch break was finishing I checked in using my iPad and secured seq.1. I was initially allocated seat 22F, however being a little unfamiliar with the TAP fleet I moved forward a couple of rows, just incase it turned out there were no windows in the final rows, like on the Brussels Airlines examples. This was painless and my boarding pass was issued.
A similar process followed for the return pair of flights on the Friday afternoon. Despite going online a good few hours after check in opened there were still quite a few seats around, and on the return sector between LIS and LHR, the first row behind business was still free, so I grabbed that one so the middle seat would remain free. Luckily there were a few seats free as they system allocated me middle seats on both sectors, which probably wouldn’t have been too much fun.
As my flight wasn’t due to depart until 13:00, it was a relaxed start at around 09:30. After the shambles at Clapham Junction on my previous journey down to Gatwick I decided to go via Guildford this time. I was actually quite surprised at how empty the train was between Woking and Guildford – although I guess the freezing temperatures helped that slightly.
It was then across the countryside to Gatwick
I arrived at the South terminal at 10:50 and made my way over to the TAP check in area to grab my souvenir boarding passes. There was no queue, and the total time was about 2 minutes. I mentioned the different passport number to the one in the booking, and it was changed with no problems.
Seems zones D&E host the most interesting visitors
Then it was through security and off to the bridge bar (which is my favorite place in the South terminal) to grab a bite to eat. This was the first time I’d visited the South terminal since the new duty free area had opened.
You’d struggle to miss this one!
New duty free area
Once at the (busy) bridge bar I headed for my favorite spot – and was a little disappointed that due to some building works, the view wasn’t quite as good as I’d remembered. There didn’t appear to be much going on outside either.
At least the food was a bit better than on my previous visit!
During this time, I managed to track my incoming aircraft. CS-TTN would be my chariot today, manufactured and delivered to TAP in 1999.
At around 12:00, I left and had a brief wonder around the building site that is now the South terminal.
The gate for my flight was called at 12:15 and I made my way down to gate 21. This was probably the first time I had experienced a gate being announced at the time the FID’s said it would be at Gatwick!
Upon arrival, it was confirmed that ‘TTN would be operating this sector. There were also a couple of others around that I couldn’t see from the bar.
Good to see a bit of colour amongst all the euro-white!
G-VXLG operating the VS015 to MCO – a flight I’ve taken many times
23rd February 2013
A319-111 / CS-TTN
Seat: 20F / Economy
Off Stand: 13:06
On Stand: 15:17
Boarding was called at 12:45. First of all status members and passengers in business were called, but after about thirty seconds of nobody coming forward rows 15-22 were called. For the first time ever there wasn’t a mass stampede towards the door – in fact nobody seemed to want to go first, so I led the way and I made my way down the jet bridge, catching the crew out on my arrival on to the aircraft as they were all sat in the business section chatting – clearly they weren’t expecting me!
Empty cabin with one of the crew rushing to her post.
Pretty comfortable seating actually
On first impressions I thought the legroom was a bit tight, but it was actually fine for this sector.
Boarding was completed pretty quickly, although there was a bit of a wait to push back. The flight crew made no announcements, however the cabin crew kept everybody well informed and announced a flight time of an hour and fifty minutes.
The seating was the older thicker type, so pretty comfortable. Although the seat pitch wasn’t as generous as the likes of LH, it was sufficient for the couple of hours ahead.
Once we did push back, we made a pretty enthusiastic taxi down to my standard 08R, held for a minute or three for a landing EasyJet, and then we were up into some bumpy sky.
Once we had broken through the clouds however it was a smooth flight towards the South.
Shortly after takeoff, I was somewhat surprised to see a full entertainment show start – although a little pointless if you ask me as not only were there no headsets, but nowhere to plug them in either.
Around 30 minutes after takeoff the service began.
The chicken roll went straight into my bag, as after the big sandwich I had earlier, I wasn’t really feeling that hungry! Unfortunately for my seat mate, the chicken roll was the only option, and he was a vegetarian so kinda out of luck. Poor planning there from TAP.
The rest of my time onboard was spent listening to some music and watching the world go by – couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
These seats have seen better days
Descent into Porto started at 14:52 and a few moments later we heard from the captain for the first time. He said that we should be landing into Porto at 15:15 and that the skies were clear and the weather was good.
Landing was made just after 15:15, and once again an enthusiastic taxi was made over to the terminal.
As I deboarded, I grabbed a souvenir. They had postcards on all three of my flights, but forgot to pick the A320 versions up!
Then it was through the modern terminal to passport control.
Once there, I asked for a stamp in my new passport, and the officer replied that he’s not supposed to stamp European passports, but as I asked so nicely…
As soon as I exited customs, I was handed a map of the city – very handy!
It was then out to the metro. Annoyingly, I just missed one and there was a 30 minute wait until the next… Well at least it was sunny although not overly warm.
Once I made it into town, I went for a bit of a wonder taking a few pictures along the way.
As I was nearby my hotel (Hotel Carris, Porto Ribiera) I decided to check in. I wanted to get a picture of the outside of the building as it looked quite good, however due to roadwork’s it made it a bit difficult.
Decent view too.
After an hour or so, I decided to head out again.
I basically covered the same route as I had earlier, but instead of walking up quite a few steps in the dark I paid the €1.80 to take the funicular.
The following morning, I checked out of the hotel at around 8am to make my way back to the airport.
After a chilly walk to the station and a half hour or so metro ride, I arrived at the modern looking terminal. As I already had my full set of boarding passes, I could skip the check in desks.
TAP newsstand – good idea!
Gate 34 today
After a brief wonder, I headed through security. From the outside it looked pretty busy, but this was mainly people blocking the entrance by saying their goodbyes etc. Although it wasn’t that busy, it still took a while as pretty much every person set of the metal detector.
Once through, I went to see what there was airside and grabbed a bite to eat.
Following this I sat near to gate 34 in one of the chairs that seem to be popping up at most airports these days and enjoyed the view.
Not much happened until a TAP A320 landed at 10:35. As the aircraft I was scheduled to go on wasn’t on stand yet, I figured that either the expected A319 had been substituted or my flight could potentially be delayed.
My unexpected ride heading in.
As it turned out my flight had been upgraded to the A320.
A pretty quick turnaround followed and boarding started at 11:00 although due to being at the back of a longish queue, I didn’t get onboard until 11:10. The flight seemed pretty full, which surprised me – I guess that explains the reason for the upgrade in aircraft. Interestingly there were a couple of crew members on this flight that were on my outbound sector from Gatwick yesterday. There also seemed quite a few crew members hitching a lift down to Lisbon also. I later noticed that one of them was reading a load sheet for an A330 on an iPad, so guessing they were due to operate a later flight from LIS.. Despite the reasonable load, the middle seat remained free.
24th February 2013
A320-200 / CS-TNK
Seat: 15A / Economy
Off Stand: 11:24
On Stand: 12:09
Similar legroom to yesterday
Pushback was at 11:24, and we made the brief taxi over to the runway, departing at 11:30. During the taxi the captain announced the short flying time of 35 minutes.
Not an awful lot can be said about a flight of this length, other than TAP’s seat recline is possibly a little too generous. There wasn’t any service on this flight – in fact the cabin crew were nowhere to be seen for the duration.
The captain once again came on the PA mentioning we were cruising at 19,000 ft. at 390 knots, and saying that we were due to arrive in Lisbon at 4 minutes past the hour. The routing was pretty much straight down the coast.
Descent started soon after and the views were pretty good. Once again, we took a routing that saw us overfly the airport before making a 180 degree turn on to finals.
After arrival, I went to explore what the airport had to offer. Not a huge amount in the way of shops or eateries, but plenty of windows to see what was going on. It was a little confusing with the transfer signs – did I follow these or head to gate 41 in the other direction? As it turned out, the transfer signs were just for a transfer desk.
After grabbing a bite to eat, I headed down to gate 41 where my next flight was scheduled to depart from, along with seeing what else was going on.
First time I’d seen one of these in the flesh
Not seen a Harrods outside the UK before. There is also a Harrods Café – unsurprisingly it was very expensive
My previous jet heading off to BRU.
I then planted myself at a window next to where my next aircraft was due to arrive and watched the proceedings.
‘TTN once more.
There seemed to be quite a few TP A320’s arriving although none were headed for gate 41. At 14:10 I decided to head through passport control, as it was looking a little busy. Despite the fact that not much was happening at gate 41, I just don’t like being late! Although the late feeling is what I ended up with. As a cleared passport control, I made my way to gate 41 to find it pretty empty, with final call posted on the screens… Oops. Luckily I headed down the stairs and on to a waiting bus. That would explain the lack of aircraft on stand then.
The bus made its way around to the maintenance area where CS-TNH was waiting. I was then shown the international sign for no photographs allowed, as can be witnessed below. I made the international sign for, ‘yeah I hear ya, let me finish taking this picture’ back and we both carried on our way.
24th February 2013
Seat: 5A / Economy
Off Stand: 14:46
On Stand: 17:41
Once onboard, the crew announced a flight time of two hours and thirty minutes. The flight seemed pretty full, so I was glad I was able to grab 5A as I wouldn’t have a seatmate, although there was somebody in the aisle seat. We pushed back and made our way out to the runway, departing at 15:00. During startup there was quite a strong smell of oil throughout the cabin, but this quickly disappeared. So I’m assuming with both this and the fact we were outside the TAP hangar, this jet had just come out of maintenance and was performing its first flight since.
Passing the TP heavies
I swear ‘TTN is following me this weekend…
Shortly after departure the screens were lowered and played something a lot more useful today.
Around 30 minutes after takeoff, the service began – today’s meal was ham and cheese and what can only be described as a liquidized pear. Tasted ok to me though.
Following that, I put my iPod on for the next hour or so and watched the world passing beneath. I might have even fallen asleep for a few minutes. Interesting to note that this was one of those flights where the seatbelt sign stayed on for the duration. I wonder why the flight crew feels the need to do this?
At just after ten to five local time the engines spooled back. This seemed a little early unless we had made up some time enroute.
Soon enough the captain was on, saying that if we didn’t have to hold we would be landing at 17:35. After making a few turns it became obvious that we were in a hold. I was expecting the crew to make a final check of the cabin, but they were nowhere to be seen – hence why I managed to capture the final 15 minutes of the flight uninterrupted on video.
After leaving quite a good looking sunset, it was into the gloom of a typical British winters evening.
Landing was at just past 17:35 on to a dark and murky runway 09L, although no reverse thrust was used which is pretty rare. It was then just a couple of turns until we pulled on to stand 21, in between an LH 735 and an LH A320.
Disembarking was pretty quick due to being seated near the front, and it was then through the corridors of T1.
I got to use my e-passport for the second time today, and by 18:01 I was at the central bus station, just in time to miss the 18:00 departure. Oh well. I grabbed a coffee and hung around the half hour until the next one – not that I really had much option.
And so brings trip number one of 2013 to an end. I thought TAP were pretty good, although I can’t award full marks due to the condition of their cabins. Granted, the planes I went on were getting on a bit, but the BA examples are of a similar age and are in much better condition. And the LH 737’s are much older, yet are spotless. Maybe it’s time the TP birds went for a refit. Luckily the onboard service made up for that – the meal options on the two longer sectors beat any European economy meals I’ve had so far, barring LOT.
I was expecting a bit more of Porto to be honest. Maybe I just didn’t go to the right parts, but researching the destination back in January showed some pretty good pics from the Ribiera part if the city. In reality, head a few hundred meters away from the river and it seems a little run down, although the roadwork’s covering most if the area probably didn’t help the image much.