Mary Beth Hubbard gets the lucky seat when she flies business with TAP.
First impressions: Terminal B at Newark Airport houses 16 international carriers as well as US airlines Delta and Northwest, making it perpetually busy. I arrived less than an hour before my flight and was relieved to see there was no queue at TAP's business class check-in counter. Because TAP only offers one flight a day at 6.15pm from Newark and no service from JFK, it has no dedicated lounge so passengers use the Virgin Club House. My boarding pass and Club House pass were issued promptly and I made a brief visit to the Club House, which was on the way to my gate. It is dimly lit and windowless but has comfortable pink and purple couches, colourful modern art, three internet workstations, numerous data ports, a bar, coffee station, crisps and fruit.For entertainment, there are two TVs, as well as a stash of magazines and newspapers, a chess set and a selection of books.
Boarding: Boarding began at 5.30pm, but I missed pre-boarding and boarded with the first general boarding call. The queue was long, but it moved swiftly and I was seated within five minutes. Before take-off, flight attendants offered drinks and newspapers.
The seat:TAP is a two-class carrier and the business class cabin of the A340 is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, with 36 seats (238 in economy class). Except for the seat next to me, the cabin was entirely full. The A310 also offers a long-haul business class service on this route with the same seat dimensions and configuration, though with only 18 seats.
It took a fair amount of experimentation before I could successfully work the digital controls for the seat (the back and head rests each have four positions), but I was eventually able to recline into the lie-flat position. The 50.8-cm width, though not huge, provided a decent amount of space to curl up in.
The flight: The meal service began an hour and 15 minutes into the flight, though for those who prefer to get some shut-eye sooner than this, there's an Express Meal option consisting of salad, soup, an appetiser, cheese, pastry and fruit. The meal choices were satisfying, though not spectacular, and there were numerous Portuguese wines to choose from. My glass of Planalto was topped up regularly, but I had to ask twice to receive a glass of water. I was disappointed that my individual video screen offered only the options of two movies and one wildlife programme, so I decided it was time to sleep. With the help of an extra pillow and blanket from the vacant seat next to me, I was able to drift off in no time, despite the fact that the cabin lights were still on.
Transfer: We arrived in Lisbon at 5.45am (15 minutes early) after a six and a half hour flight, and disembarked directly onto the tarmac where a bus was waiting to transport passengers to the main terminal. Once there, a TAP representative directed me to my connecting gate, which was up one flight of stairs from where I was dropped off.
TAP has a lounge in Lisbon; however, transferring passengers must pass through passport control to get there, so unless you have a long layover it's not really worth using it. I had just over an hour until my connecting flight, so after passing through security I tried my best to get comfortable on the metal chairs at the gate. The flight was delayed an hour because the incoming plane was late, and since there was no bathroom to be found near my gate, I had to go back through security and downstairs to baggage claim to find one.
The flight: The A319 has 132 seats with 16 business class seats in a 2-2 configuration, most of which were empty on my flight. I was offered orange juice before take-off and then a breakfast of an omelette and fruit, 45 minutes into the flight. Again, the food was decent but not memorable. There was no individual video screen on this two and a half hour flight, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get some much-needed sleep.
Arrival: We landed on time. There was a bit of a walk to passport control at Heathrow, but once there the queue was minimal.
Verdict: Transferring through Lisbon may not be the ideal way to travel to and from London, but if you play clever, it can work. Although we tested the flight on the return leg, if you bought two separate return tickets from TAP (0845 6010932 www.tap-airportugal.co.uk) in London (ie: London-Lisbon return, then Lisbon-New York return), the combined business class fare would be around £2,100 for fully flexible e-tickets out of either Gatwick or Heathrow, which compares very favourably with direct flights out of London with BA and Virgin. The disadvantage of doing it this way is that buying two separate tickets means you would have to collect your luggage in Lisbon, then check-in again. Through fares are available, but they are more expensive, unless there is a promotion available (and at the time of going to press, none were) or you bought through a travel agent.
Mary Beth Hubbard