Traveler by Luis Linares
In August 2019, LATAM Airlines unveiled its much-anticipated Premium Business cabin. LATAM is completing this retrofit for its fleet of ten Boeing 777-300/ER that operate for LATAM Brasil, and LATAM Chile will roll out the product aboard its newest Boeing 787-9 deliveries.
I have been an American Airlines Advantage Program frequent flyer since 1990 and have a current Executive Platinum (Oneworld Emerald) status, plus lifetime Platinum (Oneworld Sapphire) for having flown over two million miles.
In September 2019, Delta Air Lines announced plans to purchase a 20% stake in LATAM, meaning the latter will depart the Oneworld Alliance in April 2020. Fortunately, I got an opportunity to experience the new product before these changes.
In October 2019, I booked a roundtrip from Miami to Porto Alegre, Brazil in the American Airlines website. The outbound leg was aboard American’s business class to São Paulo, where I had my connection on LATAM Brasil to Porto Alegre.
The return leg offered me a codeshare flight operated by LATAM Brasil aboard the 777 from São Paulo to Miami. The American Airlines website does not offer LATAM seat maps for selection, but I called the Executive Platinum Desk to get seat 1A on the 777, regardless of whether or not I was on the new cabin.
American also put me on seat 2C on the Airbus A320 flights on the São Paulo to Porto Alegre segments—LATAM Brasil has an all-economy domestic seating arrangement on its narrow-body fleet with some extra legroom in the first few rows for some of the all-Airbus fleet.
I decided to roll the dice, hoping for one of the refurbished aircraft and was happy to find out a few days before my flight that this would be the case.
LATAM offers online check-in starting 24 hours before a flight. One consistent frustration I have had with this process over the past few years is that, even with my top tier elite status, LATAM always randomly selects my seats, even if American allocated a seat for me when I made the reservation.
I was on middle seat 1E on the A321 from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, and my seat on the 777 was 9C, and I had no option to change them during online check-in. The day of the flight, a friendly agent at least was able to give me an exit row window on the A321, but given the full cabin on the 777, I had to keep seat 9C in the business cabin.
I arrived in Terminal 2 of São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport and followed the signs to Terminal 3. This is a relatively seamless process, which consists of a quick security recheck, followed by immigration without having to leave the main security area.
I did not have to do deal which much of a line at either of these checkpoints. Furthermore, the walk between the terminals offers nice views of the ramp for avid plane spotters like myself.
I am very familiar with the American Airlines Lounge in Guarulhos and had the option to use it. However, since my international segment was on LATAM, I decided to use theirs, which is known as the LATAM VIP Lounge, for my five-hour connection.
This facility is very modern and spacious. It has a variety of hot and cold food options, as well as hot and cold beverages, and there is a bar for alcoholic drinks.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available, and the vast seating area gives travellers to relax or work and includes a rest and sleeping zone with reclined seats. Parents will be happy to find a kids area and game room to keep the little ones entertained. The staff makes boarding announcements for all LATAM and Oneworld flights.
I headed to Gate 307 an hour before the scheduled 23:05 local time departure. I took a picture of my 777, which recently received the LATAM livery introduced in 2016.
Brazilian law gives the elderly and passengers with small children, or need additional assistance, boarding priority. I was in Group 1, which was the next to the board, which was a very quick process, and quickly made my way to my seat.
It is wonderful to board an aircraft with that new cabin smell, and the product is visually an aesthetic delight. The new business class configuration is a very welcome change from the old 2-3-2 seating arrangement, dating back to the mid-2000s, which did not offer direct aisle access to the window and middle seat customers.
The new Premium Business, designed by Thompson Aero, has a 1-2-1 staggered layout, with a more private feel and direct aisle access for all.
The staggered configuration of the left and right side window rows technically make every other seat an aisle one, but it is still relatively easy to see out the window from these seats, as it was in my case.
Passengers in the middle section have a moveable partition between seats. Each seat has a pitch of 45 inches (114 cm), a width of 23 inches (58 cm), and 72 inches (183 cm) of lie-flat bed space.
Moreover, the portion of the seat that covers the stowed tray table has a nice granite finish and space to place personal items, even a meal, if one does not wish to open the tray table.
In that same part of the seat, business customers will find seat controls collocated with USB and traditional power sockets. Behind my left shoulder, there was a space holding the noise-cancelling headset, the amenity kit, a bottle of water, and the menu.
Furthermore, directly below those items, is a latch for a small storage compartment. Finally, next to my feet, was another storage section, ideal to place my shoes during sleep.
The stripped amenity pouch has items that are very common with other business products, like toothbrush and paste, pen, moisturizer, eye mask, earplugs, and socks.
In addition, there is a pair of slippers separate from the kit. The IFE consists of a beautiful 18-inch (46 cm) Panasonic touch screen offering 100 movies, 400 TV episodes, 55 music albums, 15 video games, a moving map, and survey for those wanting to provide feedback on the experience.
For customers who prefer a controller to the touch option, that device was in a small compartment to my immediate left.
The menu listed dinner and breakfast options, as well as alcoholic drink choices. A loose page on the menu provided options to pass to the flight attendant before sleeping.
The first choice was “I will not have breakfast”; the second was “Maximize your rest”, which meant a wakeup 50 minutes before landing with a choice of coconut cream with fresh fruit and nuts or yoghurt with granola and jam; and the third choice was a “Boost you energy with a full breakfast”, a one-hour and forty-minute before landing wakeup followed by an omelette plus the coconut cream with fresh fruit and nuts or a selection of gourmet cheese and ham plus yoghurt with granola and jam.
Traditional cold and hot breakfast drinks were available for all options. I opted to maximize rest since I had a full workday ahead of me.
Next came the dinner menu with a “Flavors of Latin America” theme. The appetizer consisted of smoked salmon with dilled sour cream, grilled zucchini, and toasted pumpkin seeds.
The entrée choices were slow-cooked beef in pomegranate reduction with sautéed green beans and mandioquinha (Portuguese for cassava/yucca)-leek purée; ravioli filled with meia cura cheese in tomato sauce; or mixed greens with prosciutto, grapes, and sesame-crusted goat cheese.
Dessert options included creamy coconut candy with pineapple preserves and toasted shaved coconut nega maluca (a Brazilian chocolate cake with English cream and caramelized banana; a special selection of cheeses; or premium ice cream.
Each entrée option included wine suggestions from that portion of the menu, which listed Nicolas Feuillatte champagne from France; Viña Polkura wine from Chile; Bodega Colomé Malbec from Argentina; Bodega Trapiche Chardonnay from Argentina; Viña Aquitania Sauvignon Blanc from Chile; and Croft Late Bottled Vintage from Portugal.
And of course, there were liquor and non-alcoholic options available. In the interest of maximizing sleep, I went with the lighter entrée option, which was the mixed greens along with the Argentine Malbec, and my dessert was a delicious lemon ice cream.
The service has a very nice personal touch. My flight attendant was very attentive and courteous. As soon as I boarded, she introduced herself and offered me a plate of nuts and raisins with a choice of water, champagne, or coconut water.
The latter is a popular refreshment in Brazil, which I went with and truly enjoyed. She also placed a fitted pad over my seat in anticipation of my bedtime.
I left my IFE on with the moving map, as I ate dinner and soon settled for six hours of sleep out of the scheduled eight-hour flight time. Throughout the flight, the mood lighting shifted in relaxing colours, mainly orange for mealtime, and blue for sleep.
I quickly fell asleep and woke up with 90 minutes left in the flight. This was probably one of the smoothest flights I have ever taken since I could not recall any encounters with the slightest suggestion of rough air.
My fantastic flight attendant offered me the full breakfast option, but I stuck with my original choice of coconut cream with fresh fruit and nuts, which really hit the spot.
Landing in Miami was uneventful, and with my Global Entry membership, along with the fact that ours was the first flight of the day to arrive at Terminal J, made immigration, baggage claim, and customs a breeze.
Wow! I was very pleased with this new service from LATAM! This year I have frequently flown on the two existing American Airlines Boeing Triple Seven business cabins and flew twice on the old British Airways Club World product. British Airways recently unveiled their new Club World seats.
I am happy to report LATAM has caught up with its soon-to-be-former alliance partners. The product is visually attractive, modern, and very comfortable, offering some privacy. Furthermore, I could not have asked for a more pleasant cabin crew.
The service was impeccable and very personalized, and the food was delicious. Given my loyalty to Oneworld, I will probably not fly LATAM for quite a while. Sky Team frequent flyers will be in for a very enjoyable long-haul experience, once the airline joins that alliance.
On the other hand, I have more than consecutive years flying LATAM Brasil’s domestic product, and it leaves very little to be desired. The roll-out of new seats with some extra space in the first few rows has been painfully slow and the cabin crews are not among the best.
LATAM Brasil will have a brief window to make a good first impression when codesharing future Sky Team flights.
Domestically, my experience with competitors Azul and Gol has constantly surpassed the mediocrity of LATAM Brasil. Since Azul already has a strong relationship with Star Alliance, I would have to imagine that Gol and American, along with other Oneworld members will have some kind of agreement in the near future, and those clients will be very happy with this airline’s domestic offerings.
I hope that LATAM puts the same amount of energy into improving domestically, as it did with the international service, which was truly a marvel!