MIAMI – It’s been a busy year so far for TAP Portugal’s co-owner, David Neeleman. Among the accomplishments in 2017 so far are:

  • New service to Alicante, Beijing, Budapest, Bucharest, Cologne, Gran Canaria, Lome, Stuttgart, and Toronto;
  • Celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Lisbon and Porto stopover program;
  • Reopened its premium lounge at Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport;
  • Created the Michelin Stars Onboard, tapping six chefs to create menus on the airline’s flights;
  • Unveiled first retrofitted Airbus A330; and
  • Achieved a $39.9 million net profit in 2016

David Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways Corporation in 2002 and Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras S.A. in 2008. Also, he became co-owner of TAP Portugal in 2015.

Neeleman spoke to Airways about TAP Portugal future routes, the Portugal stopover program, the transformation of TAP’s fleet, the stopover program and why Lisbon is the best hub in Europe.

Airways Magazine: TAP now serves five North American cities with the addition of Toronto. what made Toronto so appealing? What are future routes under consideration?

David Neeleman: Canada is a great year-round market for TAP, not just for the popular European travel summer months, but also for the snowbirds who like longer-stay trips to escape the winter. TAP used to serve Toronto until about 20 years ago so, really, we’re just returning to a market we should never have left.

With the new Airbus A330-900 and A321LRneos coming on in the next few years, TAP will continue to expand not only to more large routes like Toronto, but also to thinner routes like Montreal, or even Baltimore or Hartford in the U.S.

While we don’t like to name too many new routes, I fully expect that we’ll double our North American service over the next five years.

There have been some changes at the top. What are they?

I was CEO of the holding company for Azul and Antonoaldo Neves was CEO of the airline. When he left to be on TAP’s board, we hired a new CEO because John Rodgerson can’t be the CEO of the airline because he isn’t a Brazilian. John is now the CEO of the holding company and I remain the chairman.

When will the A321neos and 330-900neos start entering the fleet?

We’ll see the first new A330neos in the summer of 2018 and the A321s at the end of 2018.

Where is TAP in the process of upgrading the A330 fleet?

We’ve been retrofitting our entire fleet of A330s, adding fully flat seats in business, and more comfortable slim line seats in economy, plus improved in-flight entertainment and more. By 2020 we expect to have our entire fleet either renovated or replaced with the new neos.

Why should travelers connect to Europe on TAP via Lisbon rather than other hubs?

First off, Lisbon airport is so much smaller and easier to navigate if you’re in transit than Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle. It’s a much more pleasant experience just as an airport. Also, TAP has just marked the first anniversary of our really popular stopover program, which means you can enjoy a break in Lisbon and Porto en route to our 65-plus destinations in Europe or Africa for no extra airfare.

Since we last spoke, you’ve expanded the stopover program. how successful has it been and will there be further expansion?

Yes, we added five Portuguese destinations which now qualify for the Lisbon and Porto stopover en route – all in the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores. But even better, we just expanded the stopover to up to five days, up from three, for travel starting in September. So now people can spend a longer visit to really get a proper taste of Lisbon and Porto.

Talk about the new retro livery being unveiled in Miami.

Our retro livery plane is great. It’s the paint scheme that was used from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. I suppose it’s only fitting, with TAP’s new fleet of 50-plus brand-new aircraft on order and the retrofit of the A330 fleet, that we can now have fun looking back on the past as well.

For the plane’s first arrival in Miami, the passengers will have a really great experience from Lisbon. Flight attendants will wear 1970s uniforms, there will be a new retro safety video and even retro food items.

What are your goals for the airline for the rest of 2017?

More growth and awareness of the stopover program. We’ve doubled our passenger traffic from the U.S. in just one year – and about 70,000 people have used the stopover option.

Our main focus is to have travelers from all over North America think of flying Tap whenever they want to fly anywhere in Europe or Africa, not just when they’re flying to Portugal. With all the new planes and comforts coming onboard, our goal is nothing short of becoming one of the world’s best airlines.

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