Will the world ever get back to how it was before?

Last month, after so many months in lockdown, I finally got fully vaccinated against the Corona-19, and now I’m gradually starting to enjoy simple things again. My wife and I went to some of Porto’s popular touristic sites past weekend, but something was off. No busy people walking around, no crowds on most streets…

 

Where is my red carpet?

Back in the 80s when I was about 14 I boarded a Fokker F27 from TAM Airlines for the first time. The company was just another small regional airline in Brazil and to compete with the big ones part of the strategy was to provide a high-quality service. The memory of those early days is preserved by the phrase “The Magic Red Carpet” painted next to the cockpit windows of present-day planes.

Red carpets were actually placed by the stairs of each Fokker during the boarding process, but this was just part of a broader plan. TAM acquired other airlines and also gradually became a CRM master, at a time, no other company in Brazil was technically prepared to explore this kind of personalized interaction with clients. Among other magic moments, TAM call center would answer calls knowing the passenger’s names and agents would wish us a happy birthday at the check-in desk. It was remarkable, and it worked perfectly with other strategic moves. By the time I was finishing university, TAM was about to become the biggest airline in the country.

On the other coast of South America, another airline was also working on what would one day become an aviation giant. I didn’t have the opportunity to experience LAN’s services during their first years of operation, but I do remember flying with them when they were still Lan Chile, a single country company. And thereafter, while they were acquiring airlines all over South America I was visiting Chile, Peru, Equator and several other countries on board of those beautiful blue planes.

The two companies grew to a point where an acquisition or fusion was inevitable. Latam Airlines Group started as an agreement in 2010 and was officially born in 2011 after being approved by Chilean and Brazilian authorities. It was a logical move. They had strong operations in complementary countries, and it would be a combination of two amazing flying experiences. At least that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, after years of combined operation, costumers are still experiencing problems.

Since I was usually flying LAN on South America I ended up choosing Lanpass as my main frequent flyer program that, by the way, always had an agreement with TAM’s program even before Latam existence. But years after the merger and despite LAN’s Brazilian website informing visitors they should contact TAM, one cannot call or go to a TAM office to buy tickets or exchange millage points from LAN. The only option is LAN’s operation in Brazil, with few offices and a call center available only during business hours.

I ended up getting used to this crazy situation because there is no other option. But last Sunday I couldn’t believe on what was happening. I was trying to purchase a ticket from LAN’s website and the transaction wouldn’t go through. I tried it several times and the payment kept being rejected. I thought the problem could be related to some system at Visa working to prevent frauds, and I called the bank. They told me none of my attempts ever reached their system. That was the information I needed. Obviously, LAN’s website was to blame.

In a perfect world, calling LAN should be the easiest way to fix a case like this, but remember, there’s the crazy Latam situation. LAN in Brazil redirects calls to TAM when agents are off-duty, but TAM has no access to LAN’s system and therefore cannot help LAN’s costumers. Isn’t this crazy? Remember, this merger was approved 5 years ago!

After a lot of complaint, the TAM agent finally had an idea. She would create another reservation, and then I would be able to purchase the ticket. TAM’s new itinerary was created using the exact same flights I scheduled at LAN, and it would cost me an extra US$200. How is this even possible?

After four hours, trying to buy a simple ticket, I gave up and complained on Twitter. TAM replied using a pre-formatted answer, and LAN asked for my number and email address. Although I’m living in Brazil, I gave them my US VoIP number because I had already tried the Brazilian call center, and it didn’t work like I mentioned above.

Mr Rodrigo Ramos called me from Chile on behalf of Latam, and he was wonderful. He patiently guided me through alternative paths and one of them finally worked. Overall, it looks like the problem was related to the ticket being purchased from Brazil on LAN’s website instead of TAM’s. 

Did I get this right? Are we supposed to pay more to fly the exact same routes on board the same planes of the same company just because we happen to be in the wrong country? And by the way, I was purchasing a ticker to depart from and get back to Chile and not Brazil.

But what really amazes me is the fact that I was treated in an entirely different way just because I was talking to the same company in another country. If the systems are not yet one, TAM should at least have the decency to connect me to a LAN agent in situations like this. Is it asking too much? I can’t stress this enough: 5 years have passed since the merger was approved. And moreover both companies recently promoted Latam using sentences like “Coming together to take care of people”, “Starting today LAN and TAM have the same rhythm” and “We care so that dreams reach their destinations”.

Gosh, how I miss that red carpet!