As a native West Coaster, I both swoon and cringe at the idea of traveling to Europe. Of course I want to spend time there—the food, the history, the languages, the architecture, the art—there’s no shortage of draws. The real kicker is the 15+ hours of flying and inevitable layover (unless the final destination is a major hub such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt). After factoring in all the hours spent in the sky and at airports, a trip from California to Europe used to mean a day and a half of my vacation was lost just getting to my destination and back.
Now, thanks to TAP Portugal’s new nonstop flight from San Francisco to Lisbon, Bay Area flyers can be in the Portuguese capital in less than 12 hours. Previously, flights from SFO to LIS took 13 to 18 hours, whereas the actual air time on the inaugural nonstop was 10 hours and 30 minutes. I’ve literally never gotten from California to my final destination in Europe so quickly. TAP Portugal’s near-daily departures (operating Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays) are scheduled to leave SFO at 4:10 p.m. and arrive at LIS at 11:20 a.m. the next day, a very respectable time that gives travelers the opportunity to explore the city upon arrival.
When the first nonstop flight departed on June 10 (which, conveniently, was Portugal Day, a national holiday commemorating Portuguese literary icon Luís de Camões), SFO’s Gate 93 popped with red and green banners that matched the colors of the destination’s flag. A pair of musicians crooning fado, a soulful genre that originated in Lisbon, performed on a stage beside the ticket counter. Thoughtful nods to the SFO-LIS connection kept coming as representatives from TAP Portugal and the San Francisco mayor’s office toasted the flight with madeira wine, and the brand-new plane circled the Golden Gate Bridge immediately after takeoff. (Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril looks strikingly similar to the Golden Gate; both are reddish suspension bridges.)
The aircraft—an Airbus A330neo—is part of a fleet expansion that will take TAP Portugal from 100 to 171 aircraft by the end of 2025. The first of the A330neo planes was delivered to the airline in late November 2018 and includes three seating options: economy, economy Xtra, and business. Regular economy has a seat pitch of 31 inches, while Xtra provides some extra legroom with a 34-inch pitch. The “neo” in A330neo stands for “new engine option,” alluding to the quiet Rolls-Royce Trent engine that consumes 14 percent less fuel than the A330. Beyond the step toward ecofriendliness and decreased noise pollution, other improvements include USB charging ports at every seat, plus larger overhead bins in both cabins. There’s a new 1-2-1 layout for the 34 business-class seats, while the 2-4-2 layout in the 272-seat economy cabin remains the same—there are 176 seats in standard economy, 76 seats in economy Xtra.
The most impressive cultural touch on the flight itself was the list of Portuguese wines available—four in economy, over a dozen in business class. The selection even included vinho verde, a tart white made from unripe grapes (hence the name “green wine”) that’s typically only available during the summer. Unsure whether to go with the vinho verde or a red from the Douro region? No sweat, the flight attendants would prefer passengers taste a few and find the right pour, rather than settle for something less than ideal.
Flying business class out of SFO was a luxury I can now attest is worth the splurge. On the return flight, less than 48 hours after landing in Lisbon, business class was a lifesaver. According to my iOS Health app, I walked 21.8 miles and the equivalent of 124 flights of stairs during the brief stay. The lie-flat seats that measure 21 inches wide and six feet, four inches long when fully extended; the indulgent four-course meal (lobster canapés, smoked ham with poached pear, filet of beef with madeira sauce and au gratin potatoes); the gentle mood lighting after meal service—everything about the cushy cabin set me up for optimal recovery.
And recover I did. After seven glorious hours of sleep, I watched Casablanca on the 16-inch in-flight entertainment screen, read some short stories in a partially reclined position afforded by the responsive seat controls, and arrived in San Francisco feeling fresher than I ever have after other international flights. If business class isn’t in the cards (one-way tickets start around $2,400), economy Xtra seats with added legroom go for about one third of the price. Tickets for regular economy seats start at approximately $500 each way.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Lisbon.