Navigating Lisbon Airport: A mixed bag with some great deals on trans-Atlantic flights

Lisbon Airport (LIS) is relevant for intra-European and trans-Atlantic travelers alike because it's home and hub of the airline TAP Portugal, and TAP is rather good at offering competitive prices to, from, and inside of Europe... if you are willing to take a layover in Lisbon, often times at roundtrip fares from the U.S. to various European destinations offered at less than $500. To be clear, Lisbon is a splendid city that should be at or near the top of your bucket list, but we also think that its geography in far western Europe combined with TAP's competitive fares make LIS a compelling connection point as well. In fact, we've traveled through LIS twice recently, and have our review with tips to share.

Known alternatively as Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport or Lisbon Portela Airport, LIS serves a touch over 20 million passengers a year on a variety of airlines that include biggish presence from Ryanair and easyJet in addition to TAP. Interestingly, the U.S. airlines are not well represented here, with only United offering year-round service from the United States (and Delta not offering any service at all until 2017). That said, TAP offers service to Boston, Miami, Newark, New York JFK, and Toronto. TAP's Star Alliance Membership shared with United Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and SAS make LIS surprisingly well tied into the North American and European route network for travelers on a list of big carriers.

Ground transit and checkin

If you're just passing through, skip to the next paragraph. If Lisbon is itself your origin or destination, read on. The journey between LIS and the downtown or historic parts of the city is quite easy thanks to ubiquitous Uber service and the airport's station at the end of the Vermehla (red) metro line. If you're departing, expect a chaotic checkin experience in a large main hall that snakes you through lines without a lot of direction as to the order of operations from self service kiosk to line to baggage counter. Allow some extra time for this ordeal. My experience at airport security was a bit odd: When I asked an attendant if I had to take liquids out of my carry on bag, she asked me "do you have a lot of liquids or just a little?" I replied, a bit inquisitively, "a little," and she told me to not worry about it. This sort of laissez faire approach to liquid measurement would not go down well in any number of other places, though I appreciated how easy it therefor was to pass through.

Getting around inside

It's a mixed bag once inside. On the one hand, every corner of the airside terminal I found my way into was sparklingly clean and modern. On the other hand, the airport's layout makes it seem far larger than it really is, and getting from point A to point B is not a quick experience if the two are not right next to one another. Most of the action is in Terminal 1, which centers on a single open promenade area while seeming to lead passengers every which way down various hallways to their far flung gates. Look at the a satellite view of the place, though, and you'll see it as one long nondescript building, the simplicity of which makes the actual on-the-ground experience seem needlessly disorienting. Further complicating matters for travelers leaving the Schengen Area is the relatively great distance between the main promenade, passport control, and the international gates are not readily obvious. I cannot overstate how important it is to not be lulled into a false state of bliss relaxing inside the lounge (which is before passport control) before heading to your international gate. We very nearly missed our flight.

Relaxing in the lounge

The ANA Airport Lounge is located up the escalators from the main promenade in Terminal 1, and is available to Priority Pass members. We enjoyed this lounge more than most. Its modern feel, big windows overlooking flight operations, copious sandwiches and snacks on the buffet, and generous pour-it-yourself red, white, and sparkling wine options made for a great experience. The clean restrooms and dark, quiet nap rooms are nice touches as well. It does seem, however, that this place can get rather crowded rather often, so be prepared. Overall excellent stop, though.

Overall impression... I'd fly through LIS again, but I'd also predict a much better experience now that I know what to expect. Points in its favor are multiple local ground transportation options, clean and modern feel, a solid and centrally located lounge with well stocked food and wine options, and the often outrageously good deals available for trans-Atlantic travel on TAP Portugal. With a little foreknowledge and planning, these pros do offset the chaotic checkin situation, bizarre internal layout, and lengthy transit times from security to passport control to gate. Give it a try... you'll not mind a thing when you realize you just flew from JFK to one of several European capitals (including Lisbon itself) for $450.