When flying Business Class on short-haul flights within Europe, you’ll normally just get a standard Economy seat at the front of the plane with the middle seat blocked. This includes most short-haul flights with TAP Air Portugal, a Star Alliance airline based in Lisbon.
Most of TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft are configured for shorter flights. But the airline also has a sub-fleet of Airbus A321neo LR aircraft (the “LR” stands for Long Range) fitted with 16 lie-flat Business seats, which TAP calls “Executive Class”. These narrow-body planes are normally used on long-haul flights from Portugal to North America and Brazil, but they also operate occasional flights to European destinations.
I recently with flew TAP Air Portugal from Frankfurt to Lisbon. It just so happened that the flight I booked was operated by an Airbus A321LR. This lucky coincidence gave me an opportunity to try out the Business Class product TAP normally offers from Lisbon to “secondary” long-haul destinations such as Washington, Boston, Natal, Belem or Accra. (TAP also has larger Airbus A330-900neos which are used to fly to places like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Maputo and San Francisco.)
|Route||Frankfurt (FRA) to Lisbon (LIS)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A321neo LR|
|Class of travel||Business|
|On-time performance||We departed 40 minutes late and arrived 15 minutes late|
I paid €266 (approximately AUD398) for a one-way Business Class ticket from Frankfurt to Faro, via Lisbon. (This review covers the first flight from Frankfurt to Lisbon.)
You could also redeem points with any Star Alliance airline for a seat. For example, it would cost 30,500 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles + €51 (~AU$76) taxes, one-way, for a Business Class award seat on TAP from Frankfurt to Lisbon.
It was a busy Monday afternoon at Frankfurt Airport, where in late April 2022 only ~50% of passengers (and a much lower percentage of staff) were wearing masks.
There was no queue to check-in with TAP Air Portugal in the premium queue, and I wasn’t asked for any COVID-related documentation. I had completed a Passenger Locator Form for Portugal, which the airline had advised was mandatory, but it looks like this requirement was revoked around the time of my flight and nobody ever checked this.
There are often long queues to clear security at Frankfurt Airport, but my Business ticket gave me access to the fast-track lane. The security staff at Frankfurt Airport were very thorough, as usual, and unpacked most of my backpack.
I had access to a choice of lounges at Frankfurt Airport, including the Lufthansa Business Lounges through my Business Class ticket and the Lufthansa Senator Lounge through my Star Alliance Gold status. The check-in staff recommended that I visit the Lufthansa Panorama Lounge near gate A26 as it was closer to my departure gate than the other lounges.
This was my first time visiting the Lufthansa Panorama Lounge and I was pleasantly surprised! As the name suggests, it offers a great view of the runways (although the weather during my visit wasn’t the best).
The Lufthansa Panorama Lounge had a range of different seating areas along with bathrooms, showers, a buffet and a fully-stocked bar. (Despite being fully stocked with all the necessary ingredients, the bartender declined my request for a Bloody Mary – I suspect because he didn’t know what it was.)
The extensive buffet options included a traditional German soup, baked potatoes, chicken wings, spätzle (egg noodles), salads, pretzels, fresh bread and desserts.
My boarding pass stated that boarding gate would close 50 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. The inbound aircraft hadn’t even landed in Frankfurt yet at this time. When boarding eventually started, priority boarding was called but in no way enforced, resulting in a bit of a scrum at the gate.
When I boarded the plane, the flight attendant looked at my boarding pass and told me to put my carry-on bag under the seat in front. I don’t think she was really paying attention as this is not possible with the Business configuration on this aircraft.
The Hard Product
It’s unusual for airlines to offer a lie-flat Business Class product on a narrow-body aircraft. These types of planes are traditionally used for short-haul flights where simple recliner seats suffice. But with narrow-body planes now able to fly a lot further – the new Airbus A321XLRs Qantas has just ordered will be capable of flying up to 8,700km – some airlines are getting more creative with Business Class seating configurations on long-range narrow-body aircraft.
Qatar Airways and JetBlue also offer lie-flat beds on some of their Airbus A320 family aircraft used on longer flights to Europe, and airlines including Flydubai and Singapore Airlines now offer lie-flat beds on their Boeing 737 MAX jets.
On TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A321neo LR aircraft, there are five rows of “Executive Class” in a staggered configuration. This is designed to optimise the space available while offering all passengers a lie-flat bed.
The cabin seemed new and the interior looked very nice – although I must stress that this type of plane isn’t normally used on routes like Frankfurt-Lisbon. When travelling within Europe, you have to seek out specific flights and days where this aircraft type is scheduled and hope there isn’t an aircraft swap! (When looking for flights, the Business Class seat map is a giveaway.)
In rows 1, 3 and 5, the Executive Class configuration is 2-2. Rows 2 and 4 have a 1-1 configuration, making the seats in rows 2 and 4 “throne seats”. I chose 4E, which as a throne seat had a bit more space and offered exclusive aisle access while also being close to a window.
I had plenty of space to stretch out and was very comfortable in my seat.
There is a reading light, USB port and remote control for the in-flight entertainment system to the side of the seat. There’s also a coat hook beside the TV screen.
The in-flight entertainment system was excellent with lots of content. However, on short-haul flights you’ll need to BYO headphones.
There was a five-digit code on my boarding pass, which I could enter into the in-flight entertainment system to get “personalised content”. This basically just resulted in my name appearing on the TV screen, as far as I could tell.
Free wifi was advertised as being available on this flight. I logged in but couldn’t get the internet to work at all.
Directly beside the seat was a storage compartment. When I opened it, I found a used glass and a bunch of paperwork that must have been left by someone on a previous flight and was not cleared between flights.
Later in the flight, I reclined the seat into lie-flat mode and had a nap. It was definitely a novelty to have a completely lie-flat bed on a narrow-body aircraft, and the bed was just long enough for me to lie down comfortably. (If you’re particularly tall, however, you might not find the bed so comfortable.)
My main criticism is that the space for your legs and feet in the “throne seat” was quite narrow. When lying on my back, both of my shoulders were also quite close to the sides of the seat – there was not much extra room to stretch out.
The seat was well padded and not too firm though.
For a smaller person, this would be a great seat. I personally found it a little less spacious than the Business seats on most wide-body aircraft, although there’s only so much you can do with the (reduced) amount of space available on a smaller aircraft. Overall, it was still a very decent hard product!
The Soft Product
While the TAP Air Portugal A321neo LR Business Class seat was clearly way nicer than you would usually get on an intra-Europe flight, the in-flight service was the same as you’d get on any other TAP flight of this length.
For this short flight, there were no amenities provided like pillows, blankets or an amenity kit. There were also no pre-departure drinks offered.
A safety video was played before take-off. I really liked the video on TAP, which was narrated in Portuguese by people from all over the world who had decided to make Portugal their new home.
I also loved the instrumental boarding music. If anyone happens to know what that music is, I would love to know! 😉
We departed Frankfurt around 8.20pm and headed west towards Portugal as the sun was close to setting.
A week before the flight, I received an email from TAP with the option to pre-select my meal. I didn’t have a strong preference for either option, so was happy to choose on board – but I did have a look at TAP’s website to see how this worked.
After takeoff, printed menus were handed out. Sure enough, the two main course options were as advertised.
The meal was served just in time to view the sun setting over Paris out the window. It came on a single tray, along with a choice of drinks including Portuguese red or white wine. No spirits were available.
I find that steak is often overcooked and tough when served on planes, and while this beef was more on the well-done side, it wasn’t tough and tasted great.
The cabin crew came around several times with warm bread to accompany the meal, and offered tea & coffee afterwards.
I was offered one drink top-up after the meal, then barely saw the cabin crew for the rest of the flight.
We made up some time in-flight, but still landed 15 minutes late. Parking at a remote bay, the bus trip to the terminal then took ages. When I finally made it into the terminal at Lisbon Airport, my connecting flight to Faro was about to close. There were several TAP staff instructing passengers connecting to Faro to run to the next gate.
My connecting flight from Lisbon to Faro was also with TAP Air Portugal, but just on a “regular” Airbus A320neo with the standard intra-Europe Business Class product (an Economy seat with nobody in the middle seat).
In comparison to the previous flight, this was unfortunately one of the most underwhelming Business Class flights I’ve ever taken. Admittedly it was only a 45-minute domestic flight, but the only in-flight service I received was a glass of water or orange juice during the cruise. There was also no in-flight entertainment or wifi available at all on that plane.
TAP Air Portugal A321neoLR Executive Class
For an intra-Europe flight, the Business Class product on TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A321LR was clearly well above average. For long-haul trans-Atlantic flights, this would still be a very good product – but the seat does have some minor shortcomings that would likely not exist on a wide-body aircraft.
I didn’t find the in-flight service particularly special and the crew, while professional, could have perhaps been a little more attentive. But overall, this was a nice flight and a welcome upgrade to the usual intra-Europe Business Class experience.
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