LISBON — Many travellers reminisce about the good ol’ days of air travel, when flying was a source of excitement rather than dread. So, TAP Air Portugal decided to take travellers back to the 1970s with its first U.S. ‘retro flight’ from Lisbon to Miami – just a few weeks after a retro flight to Toronto – complete with authentic details sourced from its aviation museum.
After all, the former government-owned carrier has been around since 1945, so it has plenty of history to draw from. At one time, TAP flew to Toronto and Montreal; the carrier pulled out of Canada in the 1990s when the routes were no longer turning a profit.
A lot has changed since then. TAP completed a privatization process in 2015, with Atlantic Gateway Group as its private shareholder — headed by former WestJet founder David Neeleman (who also founded JetBlue Airways and Brazil’s Azul Airlines) — and a goal of refreshing the brand.
After a long hiatus, TAP returned to Toronto on June 10, 2017 with five flights a week in spring/summer and three in fall/winter. Toronto is the carrier’s fifth gateway in North America to date and the only one in Canada (so far).
The retro flights to Toronto (on July 14) and Miami (on Aug. 11) were a tribute to Portugal and its people, which have a long, shared heritage with TAP. They also helped to spread the word about TAP in the North American market – from its massive fleet renewal project to a stopover program, business-class offerings and new fare products.
The retro aircraft livery features a design first used in the 1950s, including a re-creation of the original ‘Transportes Aéreos Portugueses’ typography.
On the flight to Miami, cabin crew donned retro outfits designed by French stylist Louis Féraud and served up fare from TAP’s original menus in the 1970s. Retro throwbacks included shrimp salad and pheasant terrine, codfish à zé do pipo and sirloin à portuguesa (plus, passengers were served rebranded Coca Cola and Sagres beer, both of which collaborated with TAP on the initiative).
There was also a surprise appearance by Michelin-starred Chef Rui Silvestre, who served up a box of chocolates and take-home cork bottle of flor de sal (sea salt) to business-class passengers. This also served to highlight TAP’s ‘Taste the Stars’ program, in which the carrier is collaborating with six Michelin-starred chefs to shine a spotlight on Portuguese cuisine.
As of September, inflight meals will include a creation from one of these chefs – not just for business-class passengers, but for economy class as well. “The whole mission is making it authentically Portuguese, as opposed to just a better airline meal,” said Liliana Vieira, TAP’s District Sales Manager for the Canadian market, who has been busy this summer meeting with agents and tour operators across the country. “Even little things like the duty free on board [offers] Portuguese artisans selling jewelry with a Portuguese flair.”
While the retro flights were one-off experiences, TAP is promoting its focus on the North American market and re-entry into the Canadian market, as well as its extensive network of connections.
“It’s another gateway into Europe,” said Vieira, since “London-Heathrow tends to be bit busy.” TAP has a codeshare agreement with Air Canada and is part of the Star Alliance (so Aeroplan members can use their points with TAP).
The aim is to boost tourism in Portugal with a stopover program and position the Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport as a gateway to Europe and Africa — an airport that’s smaller and easier to navigate than many hubs in Europe (plus, it has a newly revamped executive lounge).
As of September, TAP’s ‘Portugal Stopover’ program will allow passengers on medium- and long-haul flights to stopover in Lisbon or Porto for five days (previously, it allowed for three days). Passengers connecting from Lisbon to Porto will receive the connecting flight at no additional charge. The company’s network comprises 84 destinations in 34 countries, with 2,500 weekly flights (Portugal’s Madeira, Algarve and Azores have also been added as qualifying final destinations). There’s also an app that promotes stopover highlights.
Carlos Paneiro, Vice-President of Sales for North and Central America, told Travelweek earlier that he anticipates about 60-70% of passengers on Toronto flights will be outbound Canadian passengers, and of those about 50% will take advantage of TAP’s network to fly beyond Lisbon to Europe (with 52 gateways) and Africa (with 15 gateways). He also said fares will be as low as $500 for a round-trip in the off-season.
TAP is also the only airline to offer a business-class product from Toronto to Lisbon, said Vieira. “The Canadian market isn’t aware there is a business-class [option] to Lisbon,” she said. “It’s pretty economical compared to London or Paris.” And for business-class customers who decide to take advantage of the stopover program, they’ll receive one free hotel night at a five-star hotel, such as the Dom Pedro Palace in Lisbon.
TAP opened the doors in July to its revamped business lounge at the Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport, with rest zones, showers, a restaurant and bar, a business centre and a children’s area, all in a bright, contemporary space with plenty of cork features. The lounge is open to passengers with business-class fares, as well as members of TAP Corporate TOP, Star Alliance Gold and TAP Platinum American Express.
In the meantime, TAP is undergoing a massive fleet renewal project, with 53 new aircraft on order for delivery starting in 2018 (including 14 A330-900 and 39 A320 neo aircraft). By 2020, TAP’s entire long-haul fleet will be brand-new or retrofitted; the new aircraft will be used to expand TAP’s capacity in North America, including the possible addition of flights to Montreal.
TAP is currently offering flights from Toronto to Lisbon five days a week in the spring/summer season and three days a week during fall/winter, using A330s that have been retrofitted with upgrades, including 25 lie-flat business-class seats, and 244 economy-class seats with minimum 31-inch pitch. The spring/summer schedule will return on March 25, 2018, with plans to eventually provide daily service from Toronto to Lisbon.
While the retro flights were a one-time deal, they’ve proved highly popular – so it remains to be seen if TAP will, once again, take passengers for a trip back to the 1970s.