Africa: TAP, Venice – São Tomé via Lisbon & Accra
Here are some details on my flights:
Flight Venice (VCE) – Lisbon (LIS):
Flight number: TP 861
Flight date: October 23, 2019
Aircraft type: A320-251N (Star Alliance Livery)
Aircraft registration: CS-TVF
Departure time: 20:10
Arrival time: 22:20
Flight duration: 3h 10m
Flight (LIS) – São Tomé (TMS) via Accra (ACC):
Flight number: TP 1529
Flight date: October 24, 2019
Aircraft type: A321-251NX
Aircraft registration: CS-TXB
Departure time: 09:45
Arrival time: 16:55
Flight duration: 8h 10m (including intermediate stop in Accra)
I like to visit little-known countries that remain unspoiled by mass tourism, and since I had a desire to return back to Africa, I had decided to spend 10 days of my late October holidays on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. The islands lying just off the western equatorial coast of Africa, are not so easy to reach. The only viable option for me was choosing the Portuguese flag carrier TAP to visit this former Portuguese colony. Independent since 1975 with a population of approximately 200.000, it is the second-smallest African country (after Seychelles) and the smallest Portuguese-speaking country in the world. Let us fly there in the following report!
There are very few airlines serving this destination and besides TAP, no other European flag carrier flies there. I booked my TAP flights departing from Venice, the closest airport served by TAP for me, paying around €750 for the return ticket.
Venice Marco Polo airport is around 3 hours away from Ljubljana. The best way to go there and avoid high parking fees is using either GoOpti or Nomago airport transfer services for around €20 each way. Initially, I had booked my return bus ticket with Nomago but later, they consecutively cancelled two of their daily departures on October 23, including mine, offering me a much earlier departure that same day which did not suit me.
Since these cancellations happened twice, I was not very happy to say it politely, which resulted in the agreed cancellation of my Ljubljana to VCE ticket. I received a refund. They also apologised for the inconvenience and sent me a gift voucher that can be used for their bus tickets. After these events, I ended up taking a GoOpti van to Marco Polo airport. My Nomago bus journey from VCE back to Ljubljana was operated as booked and without delays.
My flight to Lisbon was an evening service (TAP also operates a morning flight) which offered some good views of a lit up Venice and Lisbon during take off and landing. Since both flights from Venice arrive too late for same day connection, you have to spend a night in Lisbon to catch a morning Lisbon to São Tomé flight. After a comfortable and on time arrival at Marco Polo airport, I had to wait before I was able to drop-off my baggage – I had already checked in at home.
TAP assigned me window seats, so I just confirmed it and printed out my boarding pass. If you want to change the assigned seats you can do it, but you have to pay around €15 per flight or more for this privilege. Just before boarding, they re-assigned my seat for the VCE – LIS flight to 4F, moving me from the rear of the cabin (standard economy area – green seats) to the front keeping my window seat location. This was actually an upgrade as I ended up in their EconomyXtra section (red seats) with more generous seat pitch (33 vs. 28 inches) and other advantages (reclining chairs with headrest adjustment, tablet holder, access to power supply and the possibility of USB connection). But let us go to VCE airport and take a tour around it first.
After I had dropped my baggage, I passed through the security check and headed straight to the ‘eating section’ of the airport to buy a delicious prosciutto sandwich and some drinks. After my stomach was out of ‘rebellion mode’, I decided to walk around the airport which is small enough and very easy to navigate. You have a lot of opportunities to spend your money there. There is also a special Ferrari store selling different Ferrari products, maybe you can even order a new Ferrari car!
Due to the delayed inbound flight, our flight to Lisbon departed with an approximately one-hour delay.
The aircraft used for this flight was an A320neo painted in the Star Alliance livery. The flight itself was comfortable. As said, I had been upgraded. Our cold meal included a chicken and mushroom wrap, cheese, salad, bread and butter. They were ok but nothing special. I opted for red Portuguese wine which was really good. The cabin was dimmed during most of the flight until we landed at Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport with approximate delay of one hour. For both, boarding in Venice and deboarding in Lisbon, airbridges were used.
After landing, I took the metro to city centre and spent the night there before continuing my flight to Africa the next morning.
In the early Thursday morning, I was back at the airport and ready for the African leg of my TAP flights. With my baggage being checked in to my final destination, I headed directly to the security check area after taking some photos of the airport for this report. As photos say more than words, let me not write too much about this modern airport but for all Benfica fans, I have to mention a Benfica store inside the airport. If you go to Portugal, do not forget to try their custard tarts called Pasteis de Nata. My day at Lisbon airport started with a cappuccino and two pasteis de nata dusted with cinamon – delicious!
Our flight to Africa departed at 9:45. Gate 41A was assigned for Accra/São Tomé flight and buses were used to drive us to the aircraft parked at a remote stand. TAP’s new A321LR (delivered in June this year) was used for the flight. It was my first time flying this aircraft type. Their narrowbody long range A321 aircraft (maximum range of 7400 km / seat capacity 168) is also used for TAP’s transatlantic flights to the USA and northeast Brazil: Porto – New York (Newark), Lisbon – Washington and Lisbon – Belém.
It is no surprise that TAP has excellent air connectivity with former Portuguese colonies and now independent Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries. They fly to 10 different destinations in Brazil alone, and to all of their ex-colonial countries in Africa: Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique.
Once seated, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the other two passengers occupying the right side of row 23, were also Slovenians travelling to São Tomé! This flight was a daytime flight. We departed on time and immediately turned away from the Portuguese coast over dark blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the African coast. We turned left over the African continent near the Moroccan town of Essaouira.
The seat I had was comfortable, the in-flight entertainment system was good as well (the airplane was practically new) and although I am tall, I had enough space for my legs. We were served hot meals on the first leg between Lisbon and Accra, while cold sandwiches were provided for the Accra – São Tomé flight. The meal was washed down with a cold beer and it was good. Overflying Mauritania, Mali and Ivory Coast, we entered Ghana’s airspace and after some time started our descent towards Accra’s Kotoka International Airport.
Just before landing, overhead bins were open and while walking from the rear to the front of the cabin, a flight attendant started spraying the cabin with a special anti-insect spray. Afterwards, the overhead bins were closed again and shortly after we landed. The airport looked very empty when we landed after the five-and-a-half-hour flight.
Some passengers left the aircraft in Accra, some new ones came on board and after approximately 40 minutes we were airborne again for the flight to São Tomé. The Lisbon passengers bound for São Tomé remained in the aircraft during this stopover. Flying over the Gulf of Guinea we reached the São Tomé island in an hour and a half and after a right U-turn we landed at TMS airport at around 5pm.
There are three islands of this insular country worth mentioning: the main island of São Tomé, the smaller island of Príncipe to the north and a small island called Rolas just off the southern tip of São Tomé island. The equator line crosses this islet and not surprisingly its main attraction is the Equator mark. These islands were very important during the Portuguese colonial era as big quantities of cocoa and coffee were produced by plantations established here. Unfortunately, this also meant slavery and abuses of contract workers after slavery was abolished …
Nowadays, cocoa and coffee are still produced here but the times of big plantations (called Roça) with magnificent buildings are gone – ruins of once remarkable plantation buildings are now tourist attractions. The islands with dense tropical vegetation also offer good hiking trails and of course, you can enjoy visiting their picturesque beaches, swimming, snorkelling and eating delicious seafood dishes and juicy tropical fruits. Just take it easy and do not hurry and worry – they have a special word for this mood: leve-leve. English is not widely understood and spoken here. The best is of course if you speak Portuguese. Second best option is Spanish due to its similarity with Portuguese, followed by French. I must say that I had no major problems in communication using my not so perfect Spanish.
The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe has its own national airline called STP Airways. They offer Lisbon – São Tomé (operated by Portuguese EuroAtlantic Airways) and domestic São Tomé – Príncipe (operated by Ukrainian AeroJet Airlines) flights.
As I had decided to visit Príncipe island, I had an opportunity to check the Saab 340B aircraft for TMS – PCP – TMS flights. The return ticket bought well in advance was approximately €100. This internal flight is a short 40-minute hop between the two islands. The notices inside the airplane were in English, Portuguese and Ukrainian, the sole flight attendant was also from Ukraine. No drinks or food were available on this uneventful flight.
To conclude, I was very satisfied with TAP Air Portugal’s service and my equatorial holidays were great as well. I highly recommend visiting these little known islands and applying their leve-leve attitude to our everyday life from time to time.
Written by Matjaž Nose