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This morning came the official announcement that most of us have suspected for a while now: LATAM Airlines – the parent company of both LAN and TAM will be a part of Oneworld once TAM officially leaves the Star Alliance in early 2014 along with a Paraguayan subsidiary.

latam logo hi res.jpg

This comes as no surprise since LAN has been a member of Oneworld since 2000. TAM is Brazil’s biggest carrier, flying 800 daily departures to 60 destinations in 16 countries in Latin America, the US and Europe with its fleet of 161 aircraft. It will add 35 destinations to the Oneworld map (currently Oneworld serves on 7 Brazilian destinations, but this brings it up to 42).

LAN Colombia, which flies to 23 destinations in 3 countries with a fleet of 20 aircraft operating 113 departures a day will also join Oneworld, adding 18 Colombian destinations to the alliance’s South American network.

In terms of what it means for frequent flyers, according to the announcement: “When TAM becomes part of oneworld, the 10 million members of its Fidelidade frequent flyer programme will retain both their tier status and any points they have earned.”

Also according to the announcement: “With the addition of TAM and LAN Colombia to Oneworld, plus the impending additions of Qatar Airways and SriLankan in the coming year, and the planned merger, subject to approvals, of American Airlines with US Airways, the Oneworld network will grow to more than 950 destinations in almost 160 countries served by a combined fleet of some 3,300 aircraft operating around 13,000 daily departures, carrying 480 million passengers a year and generating annual revenues of some US$ 140 billion.” It’s all part of a push to put Oneworld, the smallest of the three major alliances, back into competition with Star Alliance and SkyTeam.

At the same time, American has applied for the right to fly one additional daily flight both Los Angeles and Chicago to Sao Paulo, Brazil, with the US Department of Transportation. The LA flight would begin in late 2013, with the Chicago flight coming online in 2014.

AA plans to expand their Brazil service.
AA plans to expand their Brazil service.

American’s Vice President of Network Planning, Chuck Schubert, said: “American is committed to expanding its presence throughout Brazil to match customer demand in this extremely important and growing market. With these additional frequencies, we will offer more options to travel between Brazil and the United States enabling our customers to connect through our growing global network.”

This represents a potential big shift in American’s South America focus since right now, the airline only serves the country from its hubs in Miami, New York JFK and Dallas/Ft. Worth. It currently flies from Miami to Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo; from New York  (JFK) to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo; and from Dallas/Fort Worth to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and in total  has over 800 weekly flights to Latin America.

However, by opening up both the west coast with direct access to Brazil as well as its northern central Chicago hub, this diversifies the airline’s current coverage in the region significantly since right now it is mainly dependent on its Oneworld partner, LAN, to supply connections within South America from its hubs in Peru, Chile and Argentina – but noticeably not Brazil.

Since LAN and Brazilian airline TAM are merging and joining the Oneworld fold, this brings TAM’s extensive Brazil-based route network at its disposal and could open up American’s South America coverage significantly.

American’s newfound focus on the region is also evidenced by the fact that it chose to launch service on the first of its new 777-300ER‘s from Dallas to Sao Paulo, so with American’s new aircraft routes and a potential LATAM Oneworld membership, US-based flyers are going to see even more flights from the US directly to Brazil in the future, and much more access to flights within South America.

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