Since TAM became LATAM after the merger with LAN at the start of 2016, many changes in the airline’s service have occurred. The airline that, pushed a “premium” service from the beginning, needed to adapt to the reality of the market to assure its survival. Thus, the carrier adopted low-cost practices, such as the increase of the capacity in aircraft and charges for additional services, including food.
The last time I’d flown LATAM during the transition, my experience was interesting, to say the least, and included a generous service composed of free sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee. From then on, however, much has changed.
At the end of July 2019, well into the finished transition to LATAM, I finally had the opportunity to try the new service flying between Porto Alegre and Congonhas.
I was able to check-in for my first flight online via the LATAM mobile application. Overall, the experience was really positive as the app worked perfectly and all functions were very intuitive.
Regardless of checking in online, I arrived early at the airport. My flight was LATAM’s first operation of the day and I was checking baggage. There was already a separate line for my flight, so I didn’t have to wait for too long. The airport agent was in a good mood and in no time, my bag was on its way to the aircraft.
I arrived at Gate 121 some minutes before the flight was called. Boarding lines had been organized into six boarding groups.
I had selected seat 7A, a “LATAM+” seat, which offers more legroom. In theory, passengers that buy LATAM+ seats have boarding priority, being allocated in boarding group 3. However, I was put in group 4 but didn’t understand the reason why though believe it to be a system failure.
Boarding began five minutes before the time provided by the airline, respecting the priorities. It was the first flight of the week to the economic hub of Brazil, so I believe some 40 passengers had priority status.
The process consists of special assistance, then priority boarding from groups 1 to 3 and the remainder in groups 4 to 6. After boarding the priority groups, the remaining lines were consolidated and I was one of the last to board.
Upon arriving at the end of the corridor, I discovered the boarding would be via the ramp and airstairs. Passengers would have to take a bus to the stand that the aircraft was departing out of out.
Interestingly enough, our aircraft was at a stand which had a jet bridge. However, I believe it was inoperative due to the expansion works currently undertaken in Porto Alegre’s Terminal 1.
Onboard the Aircraft
The aircraft that would take us to Congonhas was PR-MBZ, an Airbus A320 first delivered to JetBlue in Sept. 2002 as N546JB. Following a six-year stint at JetBlue, it was then transferred to TAM in September 2008. Just as most of LATAM Brasil’s fleet, it has yet to receive the new livery of the airline, as well as the new, updated cabin.
Despite boarding by bus, pushback started exactly at the scheduled time of 6:00 a.m. 11 minutes later, we lined up on Runway 11 and took off from Porto Alegre, still before dawn.
Merely five minutes later, the seat belt sign was turned off and flight attendants promptly started the onboard service.
Generally, the new LATAM proposition is that the passengers are able to choose what they want to consume through a buy-on-board selection called “Mercado LATAM.” There was quite a good number of options and I was particularly interested in the sandwiches, though the flight attendants later told me they didn’t have any available in that flight. They, very proactively, suggested me to order the toast.
To drink, I asked for a Coca-Cola. During the service, the only courtesy item available is water.
Soon, the sun started to appear on the horizon as we were flying at 37,000 feet. Thankfully, I was on the other side of the aircraft, so I could let the window open without the blaring sun blinding me.
The main entertainment option was LATAM’s magazine, “Vamos,” for which I didn’t pay much attention. In theory, the LATAM Play service was available; however, as I hadn’t downloaded the app, I had to open it through my smartphone browser. Though, the website did not load at first.
The service offered a variety of movies in English, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as an audio selection. Most importantly for AvGeeks, a moving map section is also featured on the service.
Unfortunately, the signal oscillated from time to time. Overall, though, the experience was pretty nice and the system is approved. It is, indeed, a cheap option for the airline, at least cheaper than individual screens, I believe, and as effective as them.
LATAM Play is accessible through the in-flight WiFi network installed in the aircraft. Additionally, there was a power outlet below my seat to charge my device.
The cabin was sufficiently clean. I am not the biggest fan of the Recaro seats, but the rumor is that the airline gradually change them out.
As I was in a LATAM+ seat, the most important aspect was the legroom. I found the legroom to be ample and considering the minor price difference from a standard seat, I believe it is worth it.
Not before long, we started our descent to a cloudy Congonhas.
We landed five minutes before our scheduled arrived time. Personally, it doesn’t matter how many times I land in Congonhas, the approach between the buildings in the middle of the city will always impress me.
We deboarded as we embarked, via airstairs. From the remote stand, A bus took us to the deboarding/connections area and the luggage was available very quickly.
Based on my experience, both on my outbound and return flight, I can honestly say that I was positively surprised by LATAM’s service. The airline accomplishes what it promises to the passenger. Flights were punctual, employees were in a good mood and Mercado LATAM worked just fine.
However, there are some small imperfections that can – and must – be corrected. Despite that, LATAM is on the right path.