TAM Eliminating First Class And Improving Business Class

I was sent the following press release from TAM this morning:

São Paulo, April 30, 2014TAM Airlines, part of LATAM Airlines Group, continues to stay innovative with its most recent enhancement being a more personalized on-board service with the creation of a new leadership position within the flight crew. Starting November 1, international flights operated by wide-body aircraft will have a dedicated crew member who will be responsible for overseeing the flight experience. In this new position, titled “head of on-board service,” the person will circulate throughout the different cabin classes to ensure service consistency.

“Our efforts are focused on providing passengers with an increasingly better travel experience, marked by quality and consistent services,” says Jerome Cadier, CMO at the LATAM Airlines Group.

Another improvement is that the Boeing 777 aircraft will now come with more comfortable Business Class seats, which are ideal for passengers to rest during the flight. When reclined, the seats are 84 inches (213 cm) long, or 15% bigger than existing seats. Thus, passengers will fly to North America and Europe with greater comfort. The adaptation of the seats will be made gradually in all Boeing 777 aircraft and should be concluded by the end of the first half of 2015.

On November 1, TAM will also discontinue First Class services on flights to the United States, Europe (Germany, Spain, France, England and Italy) and Mexico. “We took this decision to enable us improve the Business Class seats and the on-board service offered to passengers, after taking into consideration the average load factor of the First Class. With this change, we will be able to offer an even better and more personalized on-board service to more passengers,” adds Cadier.

As of today, April 30, tickets for First Class will no longer be available. With this change, TAM will offer two travel classes (Business and Economy Class) on flights to its 19 international destinations.

TAM introducing head of on-board service

Starting November 1, 2014, international widebody flights will have a new head of on-board service position. While I enjoyed my flight in TAM first class from Sao Paulo to New York last month, I did find it a bit odd that there didn’t seem to be a purser leading the crew.

This concept is hardly innovative but rather TAM catching up, so I’d say it’s about time they added this.

TAM is eliminating first class

Here’s the really sad news. TAM has always had a first class product that intrigued me. For years it just wasn’t possible to fly it using miles, since they didn’t release any first class award space. Then in February they began opening up tons of first class award space, to the point that virtually every seat was bookable using miles.

That trend has continued, and even now that they’ve transitioned to oneworld they still release tons of first class award space.

Unfortunately it seems that first class wasn’t profitable for them, and as of November 1, 2014 TAM will be eliminating first class on all routes that currently offer it.

This is really sad news. TAM almost never releases business class award space, so it was awesome to be able to redeem miles for first class. And they did have a really innovative first class cabin, with just a total of four seats.

TAM-777-First-Class-02
TAM 777-300ER first class cabin

I’ll also miss their first class lounge at Sao Paulo Airport, which is by far the nicest lounge at the airport, as I presume they’ll be closing it as well.

TAM-First-Lounge-Sao-Paulo-14
Sao Paulo Airport TAM first class lounge

TAM has stopped selling first class seats for travel after October 31 as of today, and if you look at the seatmaps for travel starting November 1 you’ll notice it still shows the first class cabin, but the seats are simply blocked off. Perhaps if the flight is full it will still be possible to assign a first class seat as an elite member, even if the service will be business class.

TAM-Seatmap

TAM improving business class product

Unfortunately they’re short on details here, but supposedly the seats will be 84 inches long. They don’t explicitly mention it, but hopefully these new seats are fully flat. Their current business class product really leaves quite a bit to be desired.

TAM-777-First-Class-01
TAM business class cabin 777-300ER

Perhaps it will be a similar to what LAN and TAM have announced they’ll have on their 787s and Airbus A350s:

LATAM-787-Business-Class-1
LATAM’s new business class interiors

LATAM-787-Business-Class-2
LATAM’s new business class interiors

They’re also pretty ambitious with the reconfiguration goals. They hope to have the fleet reconfigured by the first half of 2015, so the project should take about a year.

Bottom line on TAM changes

It always sucks for award passengers when an airline that’s generous with releasing first class award space cuts first class. And TAM’s first class was especially useful, since there aren’t many decent airlines flying longhaul to/from South America. At the same time, the average business traveler will of course benefit from a better business class product.

To those of you that redeemed miles already for TAM first class for travel after November 1, I’m sorry!

Comments

  1. So am I screwed on my travel in TAM F from GRU to JFK on January 4? I used United miles; would UA refund them to me for free? Would my existing tickets be converted to J, and would the J be the new configuration? I’m sure you don’t know much more than I do, but this is shitty news!

  2. @ Nick — You’d definitely be refunded the difference in miles and should automatically be downgraded to business class. Whether or not it’s the new product is anyone’s guess.

  3. @Lucky, just checked the itinerary– downgraded for sure. If I called UA, I assume they would redeposit the entirety miles without a fee, if I cancelled the reservation altogether?

  4. Ben- “As of today, April 30, tickets for First Class will no longer be available.” Is this just for purchased tickets or award tickets also?

  5. Ben- That’s what I thought. In your response to Bjorn are you assuming he already booked it prior to today?

  6. @ Joey @ John — Whoops, sorry, I misunderstood the question and wasn’t clear. You can still book first class for travel through October 31, but as of today they’ve stopped selling first class for travel starting November 1. Will update the post to reflect that.

  7. There goes my plan to try and fly TAM first class from NYC/MIA to Brazil in March/April of 2015!

    Is TAM still my best bet for this trip? We were thinking Rio, Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires and I *really* want to use up these Avios. So many Avios!

  8. @ Lauren — Tough to say, since we don’t actually know what their new business class product will look like. I might consider LAN, simply because they do have a fully flat business class product throughout their fleet, even if the service isn’t great.

  9. Damn. I literally just ticketed two TAM F award seats for this coming March, JFK-GRU, continuing to EZE and back from SCL (those flights in Business Class).

    I expect AA to move us to the AA operated JFK-GRU flights. Any other solution will be unacceptable.

  10. just checked my Feb’15 JFK-GRU F seat via UA miles … ALREADY changed to biz

    cancel button here i come

  11. Was able to change to the AA operated JFK-GRU flights with no problem. AA F on the 773ER is pretty good (and not often available at the Saver level), so, all things considered, I’m happy.

  12. My parents were ticketed on JFK-GRU for next March. I assume AA must offer to put them on its own F flight now? As long as it’s the new 777, which I think it is down to GRU, I think that’d be acceptable, right?

  13. @ Michael A: AA operates two flights between JFK and GRU. Only one (950/951) is operated by the new 777, so that is the rotation you want. I just got off the phone with AA and was able to switch to those flights with little difficulty. You need to call, though. The default is to be downgraded to TAM Business Class.

  14. At least TAM has given its customers some notice on this. I was booked on a First flight on Asiana from ICN to Narita and learned from my United mileage account that Asiana eliminated First on this flight! It looks like they have eliminated all Asia-regional First Class service this year. No notice and no compensation.

  15. Darn, I had 3 TAM F tickets booked for Christmas using US Airways miles. Will they allow me to outright cancel at no charge?

  16. Ben,

    I am in the same position as @Brian, that is, three TAM F tickets for Christmas booked with US Airways miles.

    Can you suggest any other options besides a refund? I’d hate to be stuck on the existing poor quality business class seats!

  17. To supplement my question above, If I go for the refund, can I wait several months to see if TAM is planning to put a reconfigured plane on my route?

  18. Same position as Craig and Brian, but with independent paid tickets booked in Brazil that now can’t be refunded. Really upset about this.

  19. @ Craig — I’m afraid the best you can hope for is that your flights will have the new business class product. There aren’t really any other good products they can rebook you on.

  20. Just booked JFK-SCL in Business class on LAN for the end of March next year using Avios. We will probably head over to EZE, go to the falls and then head up to GRU or GIG and take our chances with the TAM business class! Unless we can find award space on AA for our return. Or unless you an recommend a better way to get back to the east coast from EZE….

  21. I just called TAM and they said that the remodeling will not begin until November 1, so the likelihood that I will get the new seats just seven weeks later could be slim.

    I believe TAM has ten 777’s in their fleet right now with two more on order.

  22. Or, we could fly from Iguazu (IGU) direct to Lima for 10K Avios each, and then fly LAN back from Lima to Miami or NYC. Though it looks like their is no availability for LIM-MIA or JFK for the day we want, while their is from GIG or GRU. Hmm…

  23. 2 weeks ago I booked my friend on the JFK-GRU 1st class for November 2, and then business on Tam from GRU-Buenos Aires, using AA miles, for a 62.5K saver award. What do you think should be my strategy when contacting American? Do you think they would accommodate him in first class on the AA JFK-EZE flight, even though there’s no saver first class space?

  24. @ Brian — Chances are they would open up first class award space on American metal. I would be aiming for that, in your shoes.

  25. @ Brian – I’ve already called AA and they opened up F award space on JFK-GRU for me. Just make sure you ask to be on flights 950/951, as they are the 777-300ERs with the new First Class.

  26. @Ben and @Ryan – American ended up opening up first class space for him on the JFK-EZE flight. Thanks for input!

  27. @ Brian – That is another option, albeit the old First Class, which, at some point, will go away (not sure if that will happen before your flight). I was offered the same option, but did not want to have to deal with the issue again if F is eliminated prior to my trip and, with only 8 seats, F on 773ER is going to be better than the 772ER. Since I was already making a stop in GRU, I figured it was no harm, no foul. Plus, TAM runs some flights from GRU to AEP, the smaller airport closer to downtown B.A. Avoiding EZE is another plus.

  28. This just threw me for a loop. I used SAA Voyager miles to book JJ F GRU-JFK-GRU. Now JJ isn’t part of Star Alliance anymore and I’m not inclined be downgraded.

  29. @Ryan Good point. Definitely something to mull over. AEP is for sure more convenient than EZE. I don’t think my friend wants to spend another 50 minutes on the phone with American, though.

  30. Has anyone had any luck getting a US Air agent to secure a AA metal first class seat as a replacement to the TAM elimination on an existing award tix?

  31. @ Nolan — I highly doubt they’d be able to do that, since their inventory/revenue management departments are still being run separately.

  32. Do you think AA would open up business on the 77W instead? Not sure I’d wanna pay the premium for F, doesn’t look that good. Thoughts?

  33. @ acs — If you’re booked in first they’d most likely be willing to open up first. Not sure about business, probably depends on the agent.

  34. Wow, this sucks for everyone who booked tickets already but, on a positive side, perhaps TAM will get a fully-flat J seat because the current product looks very weak.

    P.S. Also, perhaps, current F lounge will become more accessible 🙂

  35. Booked JFK to GRU in F for February with United miles. Automatically downgraded, but booked in C class now. Think that’ll let me earn AA miles?

  36. During the days of Diamond Club and bmi, I could always find 1F and 3C seats available on almost all flights between FRA-GIG, FRA-GRU and CDG-GIG. I guess this is the answer to the question “why so much F award availability all of a sudden”? They just can’t sell them! I really hope the new/updated business class is similar to what they will get on the 787s although I wonder if it’s closer to LAN’s current 787 business class product!

  37. I just called US Airways to cancel my 3 F tickets on TAM for a December flight. She said were still in F. Can this be right?

  38. @ Brian — If you pull up the itinerary on the website it should immediately indicate if there was a schedule change once it’s loaded. It will then ask you to accept or reject the changes.

  39. I just learned about this today when I called AA for something completely different. Unlike others, they refuse to open up F seats on AA flights from JFK to GRU. And, they refuse to refund the difference between first and business class miles — they say there is no longer any saver business class inventory. My only options are to keep the TAM biz class seats we were downgraded into and paid first class miles for, or AA will be happy to refund my tickets entirely. Doesn’t this sound horribly wrong? What can I do? I’m jealous others were able to get AA to open up F inventory — they won’t do that for me and they want to keep my extra miles! Help!

  40. @Lucky — I was transferred to a supervisor. He refused to do anything and said all other supervisors would do the same thing. This just sounds really, really wrong — and I’m lifetime AA gold (I know there are plenty with higher status, but still…)

    Any ideas for what I can do? I think I actually just want the difference in miles refunded… AA flights from JFK or DFW would arrive too late in GRU for our connections to Iguazu Falls.

    So for a while will the awesome first class seats still be on the plane but no one will be allowed to sit in them? Is there any precedent for this?

  41. @Todd How about getting on the JFK-EZE flight, and then getting a connecting flight to the Argentine side of Iguazú (it might be the nicer side)? The airport code is IGR. This option may require you to take a taxi cross-town in Buenos Aires to make the connection at the AEP airport. Inconvenience easily solved if you take a couple days break in Buenos Aires. Search AEP-IGR space on BA.com.

  42. Hi gang… Could any of the folks who were able to get AA to open up seats in first on AA flights please tell me what department they called and how they made this happen? Several of the comments said it was easy, but AA is flat out refusing to do this and says their Help Desk hasn’t heard of this being done for anyone else.

    Thanks so much,
    Todd

  43. @Todd When my friend called American last week, he had luck with the first agent, to whom he spoke. However, he was on the line for an hour with her, and she had to work with some sort of back office. Which one, I’m not sure. He has no status on American.

    Perhaps you could follow Lucky’s advice. Hang up, and call back. Hopefully they didn’t annotate your reservation. Good luck!

  44. @Brian — thanks for your notye.

    I did call back and lucked out with a very sympathetic agent who said she was still unable to do anything, despite talking to the Help Desk for quite some time. She eventually spoke to a very sympathetic supervisor, who basically asked me for my choice of AA flights and promised to make it happen — though she still had to send it over to the Rate Desk where they don’t even take calls from the reservations agents. She said she even put in the record that she told me it was going to be confirmed and she gave me her name and city in case there are problems.

    So, fingers crossed….

  45. Good news — all set with 2 first class seats on AA 77W round trip from DFW-GRU. Hooray… and phew!

  46. Hi Lucky, Another victim of the TAM downgrade here – had two F/Z class seats from GRU-JFK booked for Nov 8th via QF OW redemption – any ideas on my options? Guessing AA won’t open seats for me as booked through QF. QF agent had no suggestions! Thanks

  47. @ Ross — Ouch. Sadly if booked through Qantas I’m afraid your only real option is to accept the downgrade or look for other available award space (and there just isn’t much on American to Sao Paulo).

  48. Since I know many blog readers go back to read older posts, I would like to re-post a comment I just made today about my experience keeping my TAM first class itinerary which was changed to business class. I originally posted this to Nick’s story on this blog today, about his trip to South America, which originally he originally booked in TAM first.

    —————————————————

    Hi Nick,

    Nice review, but I wanted to tell you what you missed when you canceled your TAM first class tickets to take this flight.

    I was in the same predicament as you. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to fly TAM first class within hours of hearing about it and booked three first class seats for my family JFK-GRU-SCL and return for Xmas week.

    Imagine my disappointment when I learned through this blog that there would be no first class and that the seats in the downgraded business class cabin would be sub-par. However, we decided to rough it and maintain the itinerary.

    I was a little surprised when we checked in at JFK and an additional agent started talking to us and seemed to know all about our itinerary. However, I didn’t think much of it. The outgoing flight was an an A330 that still had the old first class cabin and they changed our seats to put us in there. They also gave us access to the AA First Class Lounge. We were very happy at that point.

    At GRU, we were met by a TAM Special Services escort, which was another surprise. On our connection to SCL, we were driven to the plane and got to board it ten minutes before everyone else. The entire rest of our trip involved escorts.

    On the return, SCL-GRU, we were finally on the 777 with the four-seat first class cabin that was like a living room. They again changed our seats to put us in that cabin and we had it all to ourselves. The highlight was the three of us having lunch together at a table for four. The seats in the middle section enable you to do that! (like the bed for two Ben loves to talk about). Although there was no table cloth or fancy china or first class food, we were at least in first class. The FAs closed the curtains to ensure we had privacy. I felt like we received first class service. Three FAs served our business class lunch.

    The real surprise was when we were about to land at GRU to connect to our JFK-bound flight. I took a short nap after lunch, knowing I had just under an hour before landing at GRU. However, I slept for over two hours, wondering why we hadn’t landed, and then heard some kind of announcement in Spanish containing the word Rio de Janeiro.

    Apparently there was a major wind and thunderstorm over GRU and the entire airport was closed down. Our flight had circled the airport hoping it would clear, but when it ran low on fuel, we were sent to Rio.

    At Rio we refueled and then headed back to GRU. It was nice to be in the spacious first class cabin but I was sweating bullets that we would miss our connection to JFK. I tried making cell phone calls to rebook our connection while on the tarmac in RIo but couldn’t get cell service.

    When we finally landed at GRU, perhaps four hours late, the plane pulled onto the tarmac and we were told there was no gate for us yet. However, almost an hour later, they wheeled up some stairs, and a special agent came aboard, grabbed us, told us not to worry, said that they had rebooked us on a flight leaving in a few minutes, said we were given the best seats on the plane although there was no first class cabin, said that they already taken our luggage and retagged it, and then drove us to the gate at a different terminal, where she escorted us onto the flight! Everyone on the plane that we left thought we were celebrity VIPs. We were the only ones who deplaned at that time. I never had any kind of service like this before! Those TAM special service agents were incredible!

    No one else on our delayed flight could have possibly made their connections and would have had to overnight at GRU. If that was us, we would have had to pay the reciprocal visa fee to leave the airport for a hotel, so we were very relieved. (The flight we got on left about midnight). The flight we missed would have had us sitting in the first class cabin again, but we were very happy to just have an immediate connection in business class, which at least was 2-2-2 in a modern cabin (could have been 2-3-2), although with slanted flat seats.

    Overall, I was very happy we stuck with TAM. We received the essence of first class service for the most part, received some incredible customer service and escorts, and received a refund in points for the difference between first and business.

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