It’s been awhile since I last put together an Across the Aisle interview. Sure, I’ve spoken with plenty of people, but I haven’t done the straight interview format lately. So, when I was contacted to see if I would be interested in talking to LAN’s VP of North America and Caribbean, Pablo Yunis, I was certainly interested to kick start this series again.
See, LAN just announced it would begin flying to San Francisco from Lima four times a week beginning July 1. LAN is also looking at growing elsewhere in the US and in Peru and Brazil. Beyond that, with oneworld having its share of issues in Asia, I thought it would be great to get a South American perspective on things.
Cranky: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I’m really curious about the San Francisco route because Los Angeles has been on the network for years but San Francisco never has been, right?
Pablo: No, it’s the first time and we are very excited because we’ve been planning this for a very, very long time. We needed to grow in the US and flying directly to a very important gateway like SFO was a huge step for us.
Cranky: How did you determine this was the right time to fly to San Francisco?
Pablo: That’s a good question, because we’ve been planning this for a couple of years and we were seriously thinking about starting it up last year. With the crisis and especially the decreased demand in the cargo business, we put it on standby. In the end, we realized that it’s going to be good timing now because the demand has improved.
It’s a very important gateway because we are not only bringing clients to South America from the US but also from Canada and Asia on the same route. When you combine all those demands, and of course, there are no other carriers flying nonstop to South America, you see the opportunity.
Cranky: Are you taking new 767 deliveries or is this just taking the place of some other flying?
Pablo: We are receiving some 767s this year and also at the same time we are making some changes so we have some more availability in the US. There will be some growth this year that we didn’t expect a year ago.
Cranky: Is this a route, maybe Los Angeles too, that would see 787s? You’re taking delivery of them sooner now, right?
Pablo: The original plan was for 2013. Some rumors are on the news, because of what is happening with some Japanese carriers, we might have something sooner, but it’s not confirmed. I don’t have any dates or anything.
Cranky: Oh, so these are just rumors?
Pablo: I read it myself online like you. We would like to have those 787s as soon as possible. We have a very important growth plan for the next 5 years, so it’s strategic for us to have those planes or alternatives. And we are open to alternatives with either Boeing or Airbus.
Cranky: How did you decide to fly this with LAN Peru aircraft? I know that from LAX, you have one from LAN Peru and one from LAN Chile.
Pablo: This is kind of the way we’ve been growing in South America. In this case, LAN Peru is very well established in Peru, having very good relations with the authorities. Peru looks like the most important in terms of demand from Asia and from the US. That’s why we decided that this project should be under the LAN Peru umbrella. In the end, all this is very internal. In terms of the commercial part, we have only one brand, which is LAN and that’s it. That’s what we want to communicate to our clients. We are one airline, one brand, one service, flying and connecting all of South America to the world.
Cranky: I’m curious about Peru right now especially with all the floods around Machu Picchu and the railroad tracks being washed away. Some people anticipate this will hurt tourism. Is that going to hurt you?
Pablo: It’s important but it’s not as big as you might think. Peru is important to us as a destination and as a way to connect people to other parts of the world. We have been talking to the Peruvian government and the authorities there. The impacts of this could be very large, but for us and for passengers going and coming from Peru it shouldn’t be that that big. They expect to have the railroad fixed within the next 6 to 7 weeks.
On the other hand, Cusco is fully operating and has a lot of attractions different from Machu Picchu. You can go to Cusco today and there is no problem there. Of course, we know that Machu Picchu is an important attraction, so we are doing different things. We are working together with the government tourism group in Peru. We are launching a contingency plan campaign where we lowered our fares aggressively to Peru. We are actually promoting to go to Peru now, because people are very focused on Machu Picchu, but you can go to the rest of Peru. So we have these very low fares already on the web and through travel agencies. We pretty much expect that by March we should have traffic back to normal.
Cranky: My wife and I went to Peru two years ago and flew LAX to Lima on LAN and we went to Cusco and loved it, but in the US people think of Macchu Picchu first.
Pablo: You mention that, it’s very important. The campaign we just talked about, the focus is to say that Peru is much more than Macchu Picchu. Something like “discover the rest of Peru.”
Tomorrow we’ll finish up here with talk about a growing Lima hub, TAM and Brazil, as well as oneworld.