As Fozz reported, in a ceremony in Miami earlier today, Star Alliance announced that Avianca-TACA and Copa will join Star Alliance by mid-2012.
Avianca and TACA merged last year, though the two airlines still operate separately and are not formally affiliated with an alliance. Currently, TACA partners with United and Avianca with Delta. Copa still partners with Continental and is currently not affiliated with an alliance, having left SkyTeam with CO last fall.
The combined network of the two airline groups gives Star Alliance a greater presence in Central America, the Caribbean, and the northern and western regions of South America. New Star Alliance hubs will include Copa Airlines hubs in Panama City and Bogota and Avianca-TACA hubs in Bogota, San Salvador, Lima, and San Jose, Costa Rica.
Although Star’s latest additions serve primarily Central America and northern South America, they do have links to southern South America, suggesting that TAM Brazilian Airlines may be leaving Star once the “LATAM” integration with LAN is complete.
But it would be unwise to conclude based on today’s news that TAM is on its way out. On the contrary, Star emphasized TAM in its press release today, stating, “Further network expansion and improved connectivity to, from and within South America was made possible by the joining of TAM Airlines in May.” Again, we have to question why TAM would join Star Alliance earlier this year if it was in the middle of negotiations to merge with LAN. While OneWorld will no doubt fight harder than we’ve ever seen them fight to woo LATAM to their alliance, today’s news might give LATAM an incentive to choose Star instead. With the addition of two airline groups that serve North/Central/South America, Star Alliance arguably has much more to offer LATAM customers than OneWorld does.
Avianca-TACA and Copa Airlines will bring 46 new destinations to the Star Alliance network. Perhaps most noteworthy for us in North America, Miami will become a major Star Alliance hub. This is great news for Star flyers.
Not to end on a sour note, but it merits mentioning that in terms of premium hard product, both Avianca-TACA and Copa have a long way to go. I flew Avianca in economy last year and TACA earlier this year. Both trips were great–their economy product is stellar. But walking past business class to my seat in the back was like walking back in time 15 years. No pods or even angled-lie flat seats on any of the three carriers. While an updated business class cabin should not be a prerequisite to join the alliance (that would bar EgyptAir [among others] from joining), I do hope that the airlines are serious about their commitment to update their premium seats. The business class seats on Avianca’s brand new A330s look nice, but even they are not lie-flat.