MARRIAGE IS NEVER EASY. Even couples who seem perfectly suited for each other may opt to live together for a time before formally uniting. You want to know your potential spouse’s strengths, quirks and, maybe most important, bad habits. And in these modern times, if you do tie the knot, does one party take the other’s name? How do you successfully consolidate two households? Will friends and families accept the new couple?
Using marriage as an analogy for the merger of two airlines may seem a stretch, but it’s apt in the case of LATAM Airlines Group, now the largest airline group in Latin America after the merger of LAN and TAM.
With access to 136 destinations in Latin America, LATAM boasts the most modern and efficient fleet in the region, including Airbus A350 XWB, A321, ultra-fuel-efficient A320neo and Boeing 787 aircraft. The airline carries some 60 million passengers a year, making it the second-largest carrier between the United States and South America and the third-largest between Europe and South America.
The airline continues to optimize its route network. In May 2016 LATAM added the only non-stop flight between Washington-Dulles International Airport and Lima (LIM). Seasonal service has also been added: three non-stop flights a week between Los Angeles International Airport and Santiago (SCL) and two weekly non-stop flights between Orlando International Airport and Santiago. LATAM also became the only airline group in Latin America to fly to Africa, with the inauguration of its São Paulo (GRU)–Johannesburg (JNB) route this past October.
If ever two airlines were destined to wed, it would be LAN and TAM. “When you consider South America as a destination or place of origin and 50 percent of that is Brazil, you need a big footprint,” says Pablo M. Chiozza, senior vice president USA, Canada & Caribbean, LATAM Airlines Group, explaining why a merger made sense.
LAN was the leader in Spanish-speaking countries, and TAM was Brazil’s flagship carrier. For the past eight years, LAN and TAM alternated between first and second place in the Skytrax World Airline Survey’s Best Airlines in South America category.
The two began an association in 2012, but would one lose its identity to the other? No. Instead, a new brand — LATAM — was announced in August 2015, the first time an airline group chose to consolidate under a single brand.
The partnership brings together the strengths and characteristics of LAN and TAM, delivering much more than the sum of its parts. According to Enrique Cuerto, CEO, LATAM Airlines Group, “LATAM was created by two large Latin American companies that started from zero and prospered thanks to their shared passion for flying, vision, dedication and innovation. Both companies conquered their markets and connected them with the world.”
Though it will take time for LATAM to completely deploy new branding across all its aircraft, business travelers are already enjoying upgrades designed to raise the airline to the world-class level of other international carriers. The South American experience starts as passengers step on board, from the warmth of the cabin crew to the interior design to the meal service.
“There’s something in the DNA of the people of South America — a warmth, a welcoming nature, a focus on service,” says Chiozza. “LATAM capitalizes on that.”
Floors on the Airbus A320 resemble the Copacabana walkway. Long-haul Premium Business Class includes flatbed seats, dividing panels, plush pillows and blankets. On the 787, the full-flat seats include an ottoman to rest your feet, a lumbar massage and a memory system that learns the user’s seat position. All are equipped with high-resolution displays with an in-flight entertainment system and a touch-screen interface. Amenity kits by Salvatore Ferragamo are stocked with creams, a mirror, eye mask, lip balm and other items.
A new in-flight menu incorporates local ingredients from each country where LATAM operates and features special dishes for each route. Selections, which change every four to six months, might include Patagonian king crab, Argentinean flat-iron steak, Brazil nuts, quinoa, wheat berries, pirarucu fish, hearts of palm or sea bass.
For its new wine list, LATAM Airlines Group called upon the only Master Sommelier in Latin America, Héctor Vergara, who revamped the selection in its premium-cabin classes to feature original wines from Chilean and Argentinean producers.
He chose wines from Uco and Salta in Argentina as well as Colchagua and Limarí in Chile. “Our goal was to create a wine list of international quality that represents the original wines and latest trends being developed in this part of the world,” says Vergara.
Travelers will find VIP lounges in São Paulo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Bogotá and Miami. Plus, they can access more than 600 lounges of oneworld alliance member airlines. The LATAM mobile app enables passengers to check in, select seats, download boarding passes, check flight status and keep track of itineraries.
Short-haul flights within South America utilize the LATAM Entertainment system that offers free wireless streaming of films, television series, children’s content and flight information direct to passengers’ mobile devices.
Even after four years of integration and a $150 million investment, LATAM knows it faces challenges, starting with getting locals to remember there is no more LAN or TAM, but LATAM.
Chiozza adds that only a small percentage of the Latin American populace chooses to fly. “We’re trying to grow our local market by making it more affordable and by educating potential passengers — why drive 18 hours when it is easier to get from point A to point B by air?” he explains. Also in the works is a joint business with American Airlines, hopefully in place within a year.
“LATAM’s goal is to be the leading carrier in South America to the United States,” says Chiozza. “It’s not about being big for the sake of being big but getting close to our passengers with a high quality of service. We connect the world to Latin America better than anyone else.”
Sounds like this new union will celebrate many happy anniversaries for years to come.
Route system: 136 destinations in 24 countries
Alliance: oneworld Loyalty program: LATAM PASS and LATAM Fidelidade
Fleet: A fleet of 329 aircraft, average age less than 7 years, includes Airbus A319, A320, A321, A320neo, A350; and Boeing 767, 777, 787-8 and 787-9.
Markets: Six in South America (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru) accounting for 90 percent of the region’s air traffic; plus Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Oceania and Africa
Hubs: São Paulo (GRU), Brasília (BSB), Santiago (SCL), Lima (LIM) North America Hubs (with non-stop flights): New York (JFK), Washington-Dulles (IAD), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), Toronto (YYZ)
I was staying in New York City with my daughter. We arrived at Penn Station, right across the street from Hotel Pennsylvania, at 9:30 a.m. — way too early to check in. But we had some luggage we didn’t want to carry around with us, so we stopped at the hotel to leave it.
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