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You know Portugal is smokin’ hot. But do you know why?
Yes, it’s a great value for the money. And, yes, social media and word-of-mouth have been strongly influential.
But the main driver has to do with increased airlift — and an entrepreneur who saw Portugal’s untapped potential. Though TAP (Transportes Aéreos Portugueses) Air Portugal has been around for 73 years, the national carrier has become one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines thanks to David Neeleman, the founder of several companies including JetBlue Airlines and Azul Brazilian Airlines. The new shareholder acquired almost half of TAP three years ago and is credited with bringing millions of dollars in new investment to the airline.
“I think TAP has a lot to do with Portugal’s popularity,” he said. “We more than doubled the service to the U.S., and people discovered Portugal. Before I even went there, I knew it had a great reputation, but I couldn’t find anyone who had been there because it’s so out of the way in Europe.”
Since Neeleman joined the company, TAP has resumed service to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Boston Logan International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport — and new routes are on the way.
TAP just announced five weekly nonstop year-round roundtrip flights between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Lisbon International Airport (LIS). The route launches June 10, starts at just $800 roundtrip and will utilize brand-new A330-900neo aircraft.
“The Bay Area has a strong economy and a large Portuguese population, so there’s a natural affinity there,” Neeleman said.
Although SFO will mark the first direct flight from the West Coast, it will be TAP’s eighth North American gateway, following another recent announcement for new routes to LIS from Chicago O’ Hare and Washington-Dulles (also starting in June). Neeleman expects TAP to eventually fly from 10 North American gateways.
On my recent trip to Portugal, I found the transfer from Los Angeles to LIS via JFK to be as painless as transfers can be: I flew from LA via JetBlue and arrived just a few gates away from TAP’s gate in terminal 5. Plus, the flight is a red-eye, and TAP’s Executive Class upgrade is usually offered for a steal at around $500 (pending availability).
- TAP Portugal’s Portugal Stopover program allows travelers on TAP’s Europe and Africa flights to enjoy up to five nights in Lisbon or Porto along the way for no extra fee.
- TAP flies to more than 70 destinations across Europe and Africa.
- The SFO flights depart every day except Wednesdays and Fridays. They depart SFO at 4:10 p.m. and arrive in LIS at 11:25 a.m. the next morning. Returning flights leave LIS at 10 a.m. and arrive in SFO at 2:40 p.m.
- TAP is the launch carrier for the new A330-900neo aircraft, with 21 planned for delivery in the next 18 months.
For us West Coasters, a good situation is only getting better — especially considering that TAP has 71 brand-new Airbus aircraft in the pipeline.
“We have come a long way,” Neeleman said. “I want travel advisors to know that we are a definite alternative not just to Lisbon, but also to Porto, the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores. There’s so much to see in Portugal that people are going to love.”
The Details TAP Air Portugal www.flytap.com