Flying business to Rio de Janeiro, cidade maravilhosa, with TAP Portugal


Airbus A330-202 CS-TOL (msn 877, first flight 23/10/2007)
ETD: 11h00
ETA: 17h15
Seat: 01A

April 19 2010

When I opted for TP instead of AF for this flight, I was far from imagining that if I had chosen AF instead, my return flight would have been cancelled – and for many days. Indeed, from April 17th onwards, most AF flights were cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. Since the winds didn’t spread the ashes that far south after this first eruption, TP’s longhaul flights weren’t affected. Most of their feeder flights were, though. This meant that my flight had a very very light load (and I was actually surprised it didn’t get cancelled): only a little more than 40 pax.

Although the landside of the airport was chaotic due to the ash cloud, my check-in didn’t take more than 10 mins. (which I considered to be swift given the circumstances). Airside, however, it was heaven on earth: almost empty.

As I had anticipated that check-in might be a pandemonium, I arrived to the airport quite early. I therefore had quite some time to kill. I headed to TP’s Premium Lounge. As usual, a very nice food offer. But my lounge visit was disturbed by the fact that I waited 1h15 for a shower and still couldn’t take it. This was because the previous pax didn’t give the key back to the welcome desk and, despite the lounge agent knowing I was waiting, she didn’t bother to get up and check what was going on after such a long time.

Even though the boarding pass mentioned 10h00 as boarding time, I stayed in the lounge until 10h25. In fact, TP’s (that is, Groundforce’s) boarding procedures are usually… problematic. They post unrealistically early times for boarding in the boarding passes that are rarely complied with. Additionally, they very often announce “last call” immediately after boarding starts. But I digress – back to the report!

It was a long walk towards the gate, one which seems even longer due to the lack of moving walks. Immigration was swift and I could still enjoy some amateur spotting. Of particular interest was the visit of a CO’s B764 to fly to Europe pax who had been stranded at EWR because of the ash cloud.

Once I managed to get a glimpse of the aircraft, I realised it was CS-TOL again. Albeit a repetition, it was good news because it’s one of the most recent deliveries. TP has 12 A332s: while CS-TOE, -TOF, -TOG, -TOH (Star Alliance livery), -TOI, -TOJ and -TOK all came from either LH or OS, -TOL, -TOM, -TON, -TOO, and -TOP were directly delivered from the factory. As such, the latter five have been fitted with the latest version of the C/CL seat and IFE.

Boarding (a jetway again!) was very quick because, as I have mentioned, the load was particularly light. There was separate boarding for premium pax – which was actually enforced. The gate agent, however, seemed to be having a bad day – or was just rude: not a word from her when she gave me the boarding pass back.

Once onboard, I was greeted by the Y/CL Purser, who directed to the left towards my seat. The C/CL Purser was in front of the aisle, just standing, and didn’t say a word. It eventually became clear throughout the flight that she barely interacted with the pax.

The seat next to mine was empty and after I made myself comfortable I was offered orange juice, water or sparkling wine; other people’s coats were hung (I didn’t have one).

At a certain point, I noticed a pax coming from Y to visit the cockpit. As I learnt later on, the gentleman was TP’s PNT and had gone to the flight deck to greet the crew and ask the captain to travel in C. It seems, however, that according to the airline’s regulations, PNT (and I guess PNC) can only fly in C if they are dressed “appropriately”. It turns out that the captain considered that his colleague’s attire (jeans, tennis shoes and a short-sleeved sporty shirt) – who was much younger than himself – didn’t meet the requirement and sent him back to Y.

At 11h00 sharp doors were closed. Captain Braga Gonçalves and Chief Purser Maria Dulce (oddly, the surname wasn’t mentioned) welcomed the pax. In C class, the load was of less than 50%, ie, 11 pax. The flight would be long (10h15) and some turbulence was to be expected. It took us 20 mins. to push-back and taxi to rwy 03.

We took off towards the North at 11h20. We turned West shortly thereafter and I could spot Cascais and Guincho Road from my window. From that point on, we had nothing but many hours of ocean ahead of us.

Service started 20 mins. after departure. Hot towels and menus (which were in Portuguese, English and Spanish) were handed out, together with noise-cancelling headphones. There were 3 FAs working in C, including the C/CL Purser, and the Chief Purser. The latter’s job description didn’t require her to actually participate in inflight the service (especially in flights with such a light load), but mostly to supervise it. That was what actually happened. TP has since reduced its crew in long-haul flights by eliminating one FA (from 7 to 6 FAs, apart from the Pursers), but has kept the Chief Purser and two Pursers – if one asks me, I’d say that it would make much more sense to elimite one of the Pursers instead of a FA, as TP initially wanted.

The menu read as follows:

After take-off

Amuse bouche
Chicken mousse with a dust of dried fruit and port wine
Lentil salad with smoked sausage and parsley

For your salad
Beef pastrami | Shrimp | Mozzarella cheese | Laminated almonds | Pineapple

Cream of pumpkin soup with tomato tartar, vanilla and mint

Main course
Roasted pork with cauliflower mash
Stone bass confit with sun-dried tomato, pistachios and rosemary
Fusilli pasta with asparagus, goat cheese and pine nuts

For dessert
Plate with Ilha and Serra cheese and orange compote
Pear gratin
Fresh fruit

Coffee – tea
Selection of expresso coffees – Portugal, Timor, Tanzania and Night and day

Express meal
Should you prefer to rest or work a little longer, you can choose our Express meal – a quick meal made up of your choice of the following: fresh salad, soup and dessert. If you wish to opt for the above mentioned meal, please inform the Cabin Crew at the beginning of your flight.

And the wine and beverage list was the following:

Sparkling wine
Espumante Luís Pato Maria Gomes Bruto | Bairrada
With a winemaking tradition reaching back to 1890, one of the Bairrada Region’s most illustrious representatives can be found in the cellars of Luís Pato. Derived from Maria Gomes and Baga grapes grown in sandy clay soil, this sparkling wine is produced using the champagne method. Smooth, fruity and perfect for the start of a meal.

Port wines
Churchill’s Tawny 10 years
This is a 10 year-old tawny port aged in oak casks, which gives it an intense colour and complexity but retains the characteristic freshness and youthful acidity found in the wines under this brand. Elegant and subtle, it has notes of dried fruit, nuts and orange peel. It pairs perfectly with cheeses and fruit and nut-based cakes.

White wines
Valado 2008 | Douro

This elegant nectar is produced in the surroundings of Régua by one of the most symbolic estates of the Alto Douro winegrowers, Quinta do Vallado. Built in 1716, it once belonged to the legendary Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira. This wine has a citrus colour and a fruity, seductive palate with a good structure and lasting finish.

Paulo Laureano Reserva 2007 | Alentejo Regional Wine
Founded in 1999 and based in Vidigueira, Alentejo, the Paulo Laureano Vinus winery is a success story demonstrated by the personality, balance and unquestionable quality of its wines, such as this Reserva Branco. It has a lively, fresh attack, good structure and a lasting finish in the mouth. The perfect choice for soft cheese or a fresh cod.

Red wines
Churchill’s Estates 2007 | DOC Douro

This is a balanced and elegant table wine made in the Douro Region estates, of the award-winning producer Churchill Graham. Produced from Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz grape varieties, it is full-bodied and well-balanced. Its concentrated cherry aroma and spice notes give it a freshness that conveys a long, pleasant finish on the palate.

Casa de Santar Reserva 2006 | DOC Douro

From the historic and prestigious Casa de Santar in the Dão Sul region comes a Tinto Reserva with a bright colour and fruity aroma. Its flavor lingers on the palate and the wood notes resulting from a nine-month ageing process in oak barrels pair well with notes of forest fruits. This is an ideal choice to accompany meat dishes.

Apéritifs | Liqueurs | Digestifs
Portuguese brandy (aguardente)
Martini Rosso
Madeira wine
Sweet Port wine
Scotch whisky
Malt whisky
Whisky 12 years

Cold drinks
Alcohol free beer

Soft drinks
Sparkling water
Mineral water
Tonic water
Diet coke
Ginger Ale
Orange juice
Apple juice
Pineapple juice
Tomato juice

With the first round of drinks (a gin & tonic for me) came the hors d’oeuvres. This was probably the worst detail of the whole meal: served in tiny plastic bowls with plastic forks, they looked cheap. As for the flavour, they were very much unsophisticated. I preferred the chicken one to the lentils, which wasn’t particularly tasty.

Bread and butter followed and the full set of (metal) cutlery was provided.

One could have soup, salad, or both. One and the other were served from the cart.

I first chose soup only, but then ordered the salad as well. The soup was served from a thermos – which is practical, but not the classiest touch – and was very au point: not too liquid and the contrast with the tomato (both in terms of texture and flavour) was great.

The salad – which came with gourmet olive oil – was good as well: fresh and flavourful ingredients. I asked the salad to be served with all the available items except pastrami. The only remark was that the cheese in the menu was mozzarella, but the one which was actually served was feta (and in reality I preferred that).

As for the main dish, I chose the fish – which was served from the galley directly. As I have stated before, my expectations when it comes to TP’s C class food are high. I can’t say the stone bass was bad – but it was dry. The side dish, however, was quite tasty and the mix of flavours was very pleasant for the palate. Differently from food, my expectations when it comes to wine aren’t that high and, maybe because of that, the Paulo Laureano Reserva 2007 was a good surprise.

I don’t dig (sweet) desserts that much and therefore I generally go for fruit. This one was the right choice – especially the mango, which was really juicy. And to that I added the cheese – very good Ilha and Serra cheese. Both options, as well as the Pear gratin which I chose not to take, were served from the cart. Port wine was also offered, but I kindly declined it.

After lunch, I had another gin & tonic. The Y/CL Purser, João, then passed by with duty free items. We started chatting. He was incredibly kind and we ended up talking for a long time, mostly about TP and the aviation industry. Later on, he offered some chocolate mousse from the Y meal, which was very tasty.

I started exploring the seat’s and the IFE’s features.

The seat is the newest version of the Recaro seat that TP has, featured in the new A332s. It’s great for lounging, but not so much to sleep because it’s angled lie-flat and one slides. For a daylight flight it’s quite good, surely not for redeyes. The controls, however, are easy and intuitive to use; apart from the usual buttons, there were some preset configurations and one button to memorise a certain position. The table tray doesn’t fold and moves around a fixed point, which is quite useful because one can get up and move around even when the table is being used. The legroom is enormous.

The IFE was the same as in the inbound leg, just with a (much) bigger screen. Still, I should add I’m not a fan of the place where the LCD is: in the wall in front instead of being in the armrest (even if that would make inevitably smaller).

At that point in time, we were over the Atlantic, somewhere between the Madeira and the Cape Verde archipelagos.

When crossing the Atlantic and the ICTZ CBs are to be expected. This flight was no exception.

I napped a bit. When I woke up, instead of yet another gin & tonic, I needed some sparkling water.

Time to explore the amenity kit. In shades of pale green and grey, it can be reused for other purposes (and even has a hook to allow it to be hung). Inside, a pair of socks, an eyemask, earplugs, a moisturiser, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a shoehorn and a small pen. All in all, the usual amenity kit content. The materials, however, were not of great quality and it looked a bit shabby. The new version (to be posted soon), made of recycled materials, is definitely an improvement from this perspective.

By then, we had already reached mainland Brazil – Fortaleza to be more precise.

1h15 before arrival we were served a light snack.

The table was set again, but this time there was no choice and no cart service – the meal was instead delivered in a tray. The menu read as follows:

Before landing

Salmon sandwich with apple and lemon compote

Traditional Portuguese patîsserie

Orange, grapefruit and pineapple

The quality of the meal was definitely high. Indeed, the salmon was fresh as it should be (even if I could find no traces of the compote), the queijada was moisty and the fruit was succulent. The quantity was also adequate. My only complaint is the lack of any warm item – why not a toast instead of a sandwich? In addition to this, TP’s competitors (at least AF and LH), in flights of similar duration, offer a much more substantial (and warm) meal.

After the meal was finished, hot towels were handed again.

At 17h00 we reached our TOD and started the cabin’s preparation for landing. 15 mins. later, I felt like having one last gin & tonic and went to the galley to ask for one. Even though almost everything was already secured, the Chief Purser was very kind and prepared it for me.

Looking back to the service, the shy (but kind, not dismissive) posture of the C/CL Purser was more than compensated by the smile and proactiveness of the two other (younger) FAs working in C/CL: Ana and Patrícia. The Chief Purser was rarely sighted actually, I saw the Y/CL Purser more often than the Chief Purser.

The views during the approach didn’t show the stunning landscape of Rio, but the dusk still made it look special.

We touched down on rwy10 at 17h35, 20mins. behind schedule due to strong headwinds.

During taxi to gate there was the chance to spot the airplanes that had got stranded at GIG during the ash cloud crisis, namely two AF’s B744s.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 10
Check-in [1,5]: 10
Boarding [0,5]: 7
Seat [2,5]: 7
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 8
IFE [1,5]: 7
Power outlets [0,5]: 10
Crew [3,5]: 9
Food [2]: 7
Beverages [0,5]: 9
Freebies and amenities [0,5]: 6
Disembarkation [0,5]: 10
On-time record [2]: 8

Weighed overall impression: 8,21 (inflight overall impression: 8,18)


~ by Tiago on April 11, 2012.

One Response to “Flying business to Rio de Janeiro, cidade maravilhosa, with TAP Portugal”

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