LATAM - the group formed by the merger of Latin American carriers LAN and TAM – this week unveiled its new brand in Sao Paulo. Tom Otley was in the Brazilian city to speak with the airline’s VP of marketing Jerome Cadier, where he discussed the rebranding, new aircraft and why the airline is like ‘BA and Iberia on steroids’...
How long did the rebranding process take?
We started the process in the first quarter of last year, so it took us a year from doing the scenario building. This was followed by selecting the most promising ones. Since the first quarter of this year we were ready so it was a case of getting the right approvals.
Is it a worry that LATAM is a very generic name?
This was one of the discussions we had, and originally it was a concern. How can you really own the name when it’s out there and used by very large companies in a lot of contexts that are not in the airline industry. So it is a generic name, but nothing represents the region and us better than this. And the fortunate combination of the three letters of LAN and the three letters of TAM into something that has a meaning meant we could not forgo the opportunity.
When Iberia and BA merged, they kept their original brands. The advantage with that is it allows product differences. You have called yourself one company and so people will expect one experience?
They expect it today. People buy on the TAM website a flight operated by LAN and vice versa, so we have the expectations and reality that are unmatched today since there are still differences in the way we service and the way our folks are trained. But we want those differences to not exist anymore and so we will build on the strength of the two companies to create a new one. No one has done this so far – they either stay with their original names or one of the names become the name of the overall airlines – like United and Continental, or American and US Airways.
The point of all of this is to change. We do want to prepare ourselves for something that is fundamentally different and bigger to match the growth potential for the region. In terms of mergers, we’re probably closer to a BA and Iberia since these are two airline brands from two different countries. But we are BA and Iberia on steroids, since we have seven operating countries where we have separate companies, but we are operating under a single brand. We are certain the passenger wants one experience. He doesn’t want to be guessing what metal he will be flying on – TAM or LAN. They have the attitude that they bought LATAM so why would they then be treated differently.
When will the first aircraft have this consistent experience?
We will probably have to match some good opportunities we have with the Olympics being in Brazil next year. The Olympic torch will be carried from Greece to Latin America, so potentially that could be the right way to show the livery but it hasn’t been finalised yet. The difficult thing is how do you make sure you have enough critical mass to start painting your planes, so we’re still finalising when the best time is to do it. Also when we have the new uniform it’s internally a very big thing, and painting the plane which externally is a very big thing.
...And when will we get on a plane and see the consistency in the seating?
We have managed to do this already. As we knew we were going to go to a unified scenario – though we didn’t know which one – we started to work on the seats before. So the internal look of LATAM is already flying today, We have it on the A320 family - the LATAM cabin interior. And also the new 787-9 that we received and the new A350 will be very similar. The B787-8 is a little different, but we have used it as a basis for the wide-bodied fleet.
For European flights to Brazil we have the B777-300ER which have just been reconfigured. What about those?
The idea on those is that the business class configuration was not the one we wanted – it was lie flat, not fully flat, and was not as competitive as we needed. So the challenge was how could we make sure they are competitive when we know they are not going to be in the long haul fleet for the long term. The long term fleet is going to be the A350 and B787 and some of the B767 for offloading between the different countries. So we changed the seat, made it almost fully flat, introduced some of the colours some of the texture, but keeping a lot the same since it’s not really the new cabin. So it’s in the direction of the new one, but not all the way.
So what will the new long haul fleet look like in a few years?
As the new aircraft comes in they will replace the B777-300ER aircraft. The idea of the long term, long haul fleet is the A350, B787 and the B767. The A350 will replace the B777-300ER in time, in terms of size, and we are discussing the A350-1000, but long term it’s the A350 and B787.