What went wrong? Two things, Covid-19 and the TAP call centre which seemed to collapse and left many passengers very unhappy.
TAP has been through some challenging times, not least with the EU ‘open skies’ policy and the loss of ‘monopoly’ of routes. The new low cost airlines were hurting the companies profitability. TAP looked to have turned a corner under new ownership. In June 2015, the Portuguese Government decided to sell the TAP Air Portugal Group, owner of the national air carrier to the Gateway consortium with David Neeleman in partnership with Humberto Pedrosa who took control of 61 percent of the capital of the Portuguese carrier.
David Neeleman modernised the airlines fleet by ordering over 50 new Airbus jet aircraft, added a number of new European destinations and increased its trans-Atlantic expansion plans, focusing on North America rather than its traditional core market of Brazil. As a passenger I noticed quite a few subtle changes and service upgrades. It’s worth remembering that TAP was Europe's first all-jet commercial fleet, but much of the fleet had aged more than the normal life span of a flag carrier airline.
The deal with Gateway caused a lot of political and union upheaval and in 2020 the state took back a controlling stake in TAP. There were rumours of Lufthansa becoming a shareholder, but this didn’t come to fruition. A national flag carrier airline is, at best, a political ‘hot potato’.
Then Covid-19 struck
TAP was not going through a particularly strong phase when Covid-19 struck. The airline crisis was not restricted to just TAP, but some were financially stronger than others. The low-cost airlines were hurting ‘flag carrier’ airlines before Covid. Covid was almost a death sentence for many major airlines. What fights could be operated were, but drastically cut. From our many people it’s clear few, if any, had problems with the flights, but the call centre totally collapsed, and passengers were left with unanswered calls or ridiculously long waits. When you did get an answer you were frequently cut off or told to hold. Refunds were few and passenger frustration was at fever pitch.
I renewed my TAP Miles and Go card in January last year. I paid the annual fee on my credit card. Despite that, by simply downloading the TAP form that gave the opportunity to pay monthly instead of annually, TAP set up a direct debit on my account, I hadn’t signed anything, just downloaded the form to look at. I was being charged twice, but despite endless phone calls and emails, TAP denied what they had done, until I proved it, and then did nothing. Hours wasted on the phone, all to no avail. I had to get my bank to cancel the direct debit. TAP would neither refund nor resolve. Does that leave a regular passenger happy, no! I totally sympathise with people who have found the TAP customer service line worse than useless.
It’s worth noting that it wasn’t just TAP suffering these problems, airlines worldwide, nationalised and private, were struggling to survive, failing to refund passengers, not making refunds, cancelling flights at a moment’s notice and failing to care for their passengers. TAP were no more guilty of all this that most other airlines, which is no excuse but something to bear in mind.
History of TAP
TAP Air Portugal was created on March 14, 1945 with the original name of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses. TAP was not Portugal's first airline; Aero Portuguesa, half owned by Air France until 1943, had been created before the war. It flew a single route to Tangier until it was closed down in 1953.
TAP was only nationalised in 1975. Boeing 727 airliners entered its fleet the same year. In 1976, TAP began flying to Caracas, Venezuela, and Milan, Italy. The only accident TAP has suffered was in November 1977 when a Boeing 727 overran a wet runway in Funchal, Portugal, killing 131 people. Nevertheless, Air Transport World gave TAP it’s "Technical Management Award" in 1978. TAP have always had an enviable reputation for its technical support and safety record, and was the only European airline capable of overhauling the JT 9-Ds engines that equipped its 747s
TAP’s fleet have included DC-3s a pair of Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellations were put into service on the Imperial Route in November 1955. By 1957, the Super Connies were being used on the Paris and London Routes, and TAP had ordered three Vickers Viscount plans for medium-length routes. Historian R.E.G. Davies's May 1962 listing of world airline fleets allots TAP three Douglas DC-4s, three DC-6s, and five Lockheed Super Constellations.
Who are the flag carriers?
A flag carrier is an airline, that enjoys preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations. The term also refers to any carrier that was once owned by a government, even after their privatisation. Flag carriers are, or should be, something a country is proud of. Europe still has plenty of them, Air France, KLM, SAS, Lufthansa, even British Airways is considered a flag carrier despite its privatisation. Few have not needed EU and government funds to keep them flying.
TAP must be supported and survive
TAP must, and will, survive these problems. They are still a very good airline who offer much better service than the cut throat operator such as Ryanair. I have flown TAP Business Class for many years, and have always appreciated the service, TAP have a superb business class lounge in Lisbon, one of the best in Europe, On board they have good meals, which you can choose in advance, excellent wines and very good service. I don’t want to fly with my knees under my chin, if I must fly, I want it to be as comfortable as possible, and TAP achieves that.
Let’s just hope they can sort out customer service. Speaking personally, I really like to see the flag of Portugal traveling around the world and promoting a very special country.
TAP’s old slogan used to be, ‘As big as an airline should be’. It was a great marketing line and reflected what they wanted to achieve, big but still personal. Maybe they should go back to those objectives.
"I don’t want to fly with my knees under my chin, if I must fly, I want it to be as comfortable as possible, and TAP achieves that."
Obviously you have never flown in TAP's excruciatingly tight economy cabin. Seat pitch on the new jets is less than on Ryanair. Service is abysmal and the advertise meals were suspended as of not long ago, substituted with a pay-for "snack bar trolly" much as maligned Ryanair... except for the airfare. That was as high as ever. TAP is a disgrace as a national airline.
By Peter from Açores on 03 Jan 2022, 18:22
Well written about TAP.
I like TAP.
The Portugal News has given way too much column space to Ryanair.
Instead, they should provide support to TAP.
By Odd from Algarve on 03 Jan 2022, 18:30
Dear Paul, I understand your nostalgic view of TAP. But I have had a very bad experience myself. Last week we wanted to fly from Brussels to Faro via Lisbon. Our 13-month-old baby, my wife and me. As Tap couldn't find a bigger plane for our connecting flight from Lisbon to Faro, we were unceremoniously removed from the passenger list and booked on a late evening flight. We were expected to wait more than 12 hours for our connecting flight in Covid 19 times with a 13-month-old baby. If you're a father yourself, you might know what that means. Changing nappies, organising baby food and where, pray tell, is your baby supposed to sleep in the airport? When we approached the TAP staff present, we were summarily told that we, as passengers, were not a priority. There were healthy, young people on this flight for whom it would have been no problem to wait at the airport. But a family with a baby is removed from the passenger list. After this incident, I lost all confidence in TAP. So it was fitting that our return flight was cancelled without replacement. We are angry and disappointed. As a responsible family man, I cannot recommend TAP in good conscience, nor will I fly with TAP again. For me the fitting slogan for this airline is "TAP - take another plane"
By Immanuel from Other on 03 Jan 2022, 19:27
I too started flying to PT in the '80's with TAP, a lovely airline. I have tried to continue with them, and I must say that, once aboard, the flights are delightful and the crews are wonderful. But the on-ground customer service is abysmal, or worse. NO calls go through, dealing with the ground crew in OPO is abysmal, to the point that we have decided to look at any and all alternatives, including flying United (really?) and taking intermediate-stops through Frankfurt on Lufthansa. TAP should be ashamed of what they have done to customer "service"... the worst I have EVER experienced. Shame shame shame.
By robert l peckham from Porto on 03 Jan 2022, 22:16
Sounds like the author would like the EU to subsidise his business class experience. He can be assured that easyJet and RyanAir offer a far better experience for the ‘hoi polloi’ than the cramped TAP economy class ever could. And without relying on government handouts.
By Martin from UK on 03 Jan 2022, 23:28
I flew TAP during covid. Never again, even after covid. I was flying from Canada, fully vaccinated. Canada banned direct flights from Morocco so I was trying to get info from TAP about staying in Portugal rather continuing on. No responds as described in article through text or phone. Eventually I decided to continue to Morocco. On my return, I read TAP website about requiring antigen test for the stopper, but the website also stated 'exceptions' for Canadians who are fully vaccinated. I left message with TAP to clarify - no response. I went to airport prior to departure - no office open. I asked AirFrance rep as they were open, ad they stated EU regulations were such the a fully vaccinated Canadian did not need a then test. Next day I was refused entry, I showed agent TAP site about exception s - didn't matter. Asked if testing avaible at Casablanca airport, told no. Asked if can rebook flight - no. The issue is not the cost of the antigen test buttelying on TAP website and customer service. I spent 900& to rebook another ticket.
To add salt to the wound, the next day an American couple understood the same thing I did about exceptions, they were told about a testing site at airport. There is more details but I got crappy agents while the agents next day were completely different in their info and support.
I tried to get at least a credit travel for my trip return. Nothing - refusing to acknowledge their customerserbices.
Don't waste support government money. covid just exposed the lack of customer support.
The next day I explored Lisbon for 4 hours - loved it. Looking forward to visiting Portugal in future - not with TAP. I'll fly airlines that support customers before and after flights. Covid exposed TAP incompe
By Walter from Other on 04 Jan 2022, 00:07
Clearly this writer has no idea what it's like for the working class that cant pay for the luxury of business class. TAP is literally bleeding money. And guess who's paying for it? You got it.. the working class.
By Igor Borges from Lisbon on 04 Jan 2022, 00:24
This is now no more than a vanity project.
They have been the worst airline I have ever flown with for over 40 years, why should the tax payer just fork out for this day after day when other airlines who are not subsidised cannot get the slots?
By Martyn from Algarve on 04 Jan 2022, 04:33
I am pleased that you have enjoyed the business class flights ,heavily subsidised by me and many others who have never flown TAP and who have had to travel cattle class ,and treated as SLF (self loading freight ) by fat chance airlines. Please in future be prepared to pay your own way
By John from Alentejo on 04 Jan 2022, 10:02
This is a fun history lesson but I fail to see the case for keeping TAP alive with massive taxpayer-funded bailouts. I might be more sympathetic if TAP offered a good customer experience.
People pick on Air India but they've always treated me well, and they serve good food in their lounges. TAP? Meh. They could start by awarding frequent flyer miles without requiring gobs of paperwork and months of escalation.
By Nevadifornia from USA on 04 Jan 2022, 11:17
Get a TAP credit card (Millennium Bank has them) and you gat TAP air miles on everything you buy from supermarket to fuel. Then you can upgrade to Business Class free of charge.
By Paul from Algarve on 04 Jan 2022, 11:51
I live in Portugal for over 30 years and fly a lot to Germany and from there to my bussiness in Thailand.Sometimes I had to use TAP as there were no other flights available. I NEVER had flights so bad with any other Airlines line! TAP is just horrible with everything...from service to long time delays.(which we had every time !)With my personal experiences with TAP,I just can say: DON'T USE THEM !
Let them go down the bushes,they deserve it!
By Hubs from Algarve on 04 Jan 2022, 13:24
I agree about the flights,but since covid call centre is appalling, we needed their help several times for flights to sao Paolo in 2020 and 2021 long waits of 45minutes plus then get through to the booking agent in discussion they put you on hold then call drops,you start the process again same issue,after several attempts you ask booking agent not to put you on hold as that seems to be the issue to be told not possible,you ask can they take your number in case (lol) call drops to be told they can't do that,then the only way of changing a flight is to pay a fare difference more than the original cost, much more, as they have you hostage you agree,after nearly ten hours trying to change its done, then the next day I get a call from tap because they made a one cent error in the credit card transaction and need my permission to change, funny that they were able to make an outbound call for that and not before. Going forward I will avoid using them.
By Brenda from Other on 04 Jan 2022, 14:06
Thank you so much for this. Riding on TAP is a lovely experience and as I am in love with Portugal and want to support my new country I have always been very pro-TAP. But yeah, lately they've made me completely furious. Mind you, they've never injured passengers by dragging them off planes, like United. And I don't want to be stuck with only riding in a soda can like Ryan Air. I've had dreadful experiences at one time or another on most airlines and fewer good ones than on TAP. I really, really, hope they get someone in there who can help them sort out the call center and back end stuff because that can sink them and not without reason.
By SusanL from Porto on 04 Jan 2022, 19:13
I only started visiting Portugal since 2018. Every time I fly from Canada, I book with TAP. Now that I live here, I’m Portugal, I will continue flying with them. I’ve had to contact them, but never experienced anything but politeness and issues always resolved. The wait time, however, was occasionally a trifle long. I fly business class on longer flights … excellent service…. And economy on shorter flights. The newer aircraft are so much better, especially since COVID-19, because the air circulation is optimal.
By Lorie Casbourne from Algarve on 04 Jan 2022, 20:29
My wife and I along with one of our daughters were booked to stay two weeks the end of February. Due to COVID’s uncertain times, we moved it up to end of March. Fruitless time on the phone trying to change our flights. On hold for an hour this morning then disconnected. I think we’ll cancel flights and try to rebook.
By Brian from Other on 05 Jan 2022, 21:58
I have been flying TAP frequently for the last 10 years, mostly transatlantic, and became rather fond of the airline. But my most recent experience with them has left me with a very bad taste.
One weekend in last November TAP was offering a "Cyber Weekend" promotion of a 20% discount on all intra-Europe fares. My wife and I decided to take advantage of this to make an online booking for a trip to Porto Santo. On Saturday we booked a round trip OPO-PXO for two in September 2022. We completed the reservation and made three attempts to pay, one by credit card, one by debit card and one by MultiBanco. All three failed with no explanation as to why. We then telephoned TAP to try to pay that way. Their auto-answering system offered an option to pay for a booking made online. I take this as an implicit acknowledgement that online payment for bookings does not work reliably. We waited on hold for about an hour then gave up using an option to request a callback. No callback came. On the Sunday, once the first booking had timed out after 24 hours, we made a new identical booking and tried again to pay for it online this time by credit card (a different one), PayPal and MultiBanco. Again none worked. We telephoned again, waited half an hour for an agent and then gave up for good.
By Pete Maclean from Porto on 05 Jan 2022, 22:12
With the bad experience I had with TAP , even if am given free ticket to fly with TAP I won’t I will rather pay high fee for other flights. It’s very bad for the company
By Louis from UK on 06 Jan 2022, 16:29
I have flown with TAP on numerous occasions over the years between the UK and Portugal. I have always enjoyed flying with them and will continue to. I just wish their north of England airport was Liverpool which is a far nicer airport to use than Manchester.
By Carl Spurling from Algarve on 20 Jan 2022, 12:32