At the end of our trip to Sāo Tomé and Principe, we flew home with TAP Air Portugal, via Lisbon. As we’d started our trip in Sierra Leone flying out with Brussels Airlines, we thought it would be interesting to compare the two carriers. Unfortunately the service from TAP was sadly lacking and was compounded when our luggage failed to arrive at Heathrow.
On arrival at Sāo Tomé airport, it was mobbed with people waiting to meet the incoming flight, baggage boys trying to grab our cases and men thrusting bouquets of exotic flowers into our arms. We negotiated the throng and after passports were checked, were allowed into the terminal where we joined a long queue, until we spotted a separate business class desk. Following a painless check-in, a cursory security check, followed by a more thorough Immigration check, the formalities had been completed.
Having been away for four weeks, we were hoping for a glass of something chilled in the lounge, but found a single waiting area, too small to cope with an international flight, meaning latecomers had to stand. There was a small gift shop, a tiny counter selling soft drinks and light snacks, but no Wi-Fi.
Boarding began 30 minutes before our 10pm departure, which was a good sign. We got ensconced in seats 3a and c and found the 6 rows alternating between two and one seat on either side. However, boarding was via the back and front, and those boarding the latter, walked through business class, so it was impossible to relax, or for the crew to serve welcome drinks. At one point, the queue came to a standstill for around 10 minutes, but it wasn’t immediately clear what was causing the hold up. Eventually a particularly harassed cabin crew member, who looked as though she was about to burst into tears, began bringing cases from the back into the business class overhead lockers, despite the fact that not all BC passengers had taken their seats. Boarding continued slowly and after a lull, three passengers finally arrived well past the take-off time, and we left 40 minutes late.
30 minutes after take-off, our orders for main courses were taken, but despite the fact we were in the middle of the cabin, we were told as all the previous passengers had chosen fish, only beef was left. I said we’d still not had a drink, and was told that welcome drinks were not available on this flight, and that I had a bottle of water. This was not the type of drink I was referring to.
The meal was eventually served an hour into the flight and consisted of a vegetable quiche, beef strips with rice, an excellent chocolate mousse and a large pack of crackers to accompany a small tub of rather runny soft cheese. We had sparkling wine, but in the absence of top ups being offered, had to continually ask for a refill. Coffee was also served, but all in all, it was a very disappointing service, which lacked any charm.
The Captain’s announcement apologised for the delay, explaining it was caused by having to offload luggage due to excess weight. When I asked the crew if the relevant passengers had been told their luggage had been removed, the flustered crew member said she didn’t know but explained that several TAP employees were flying as passengers, and that it would likely be their bags. Apparently excess weight is a big issue when flying out of Sāo Tomé, but bearing this in mind, nothing seems to be being done to address it.
The inflight entertainment had a reasonable choice and we both found a film to watch before bedding down for the overnight flight. I was sleeping so well my husband didn’t wake me for the light snack offered an hour before landing. It was a good call – an extra hour of sleep was better than a rubbery omelette.
Having landed in Lisbon there was no connected walkway, and our jackets were packed ready to be donned on arrival at Heathrow. The bus took forever, and having got into the transit area and asked where the business class lounge was, we were told rather abruptly that we would need to go into the Schengen area and clear immigration as we were in the international zone. We decided not to bother in the time allowed and, as there was nothing open in terms of shops or bars, resorted to an expensive packet of crisps from a vending machine.
Although we arrived at Heathrow, our bags didn’t. Having seen non business class passengers collect their luggage, my conspiracy theory is that the crew bags which were removed would have been labelled priority, as were ours, and therefore they had been taken off in Sāo Tomé.
We reported the loss before we left the airport and had a chilly journey home with no coats to put on. Two days later, one bag arrived after a passenger spotted it all alone on a carousel, phoned us to confirm it was missing, and kindly delivered it to lost baggage. After much angst and frustration in dealing with TAP, my bag was delivered by courier a week after I landed.