A New Zealander, Lowell Yerex launched TACA in 1931, his vision to create a type of franchise of airlines throughout Latin America coordinating operations within a single structure. In a round-about way that’s what El Salvador based TACA remains. Within the TACA structure subsidiary airlines operate in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. TACA began life focused on freight and in the 1930’s was the world’s largest freight carrier. TACA later stagnated and was acquired by a US company which ran it from New Orleans. In 1980 the El Salvador’s Kriete family bought it and returned administration to San Salvador. During the 1990’s TACA revived its original strategy with success, partnering with airlines throughout Central America. In 2009 TACA and Columbia’s Avianca agreed to merge operations while maintaining brand separation. TACA have now established subsidiaries in Mexico, Peru and Columbia. As part of the airlines revival they have joined Star Alliance in 2012. Lacsa, TACA’s Costa Rica subsidiary continues to fly under its own name.
TACA provides friendly on-board service by a smiling crew. Crew typically speak Spanish and English with most passengers being Latin Americans or expats living in the US. The friendliness of crew remind passengers of home. Crew perform their tasks efficiently and are nicely attired in a professional uniform. Service is an odd mixture of both casual yet formal. Crew are polite and kind towards children. Cabin interiors are standard and crew are relaxed and relaxing.
TACA and its subsidiary companies like Costa Rica’s Lacsa, and TACA Peru have Latin America’s most extensive network. Together with its subsidiaries they fly from Canada in the north to Argentina in the South but to go from top to bottom may require several transit stops in exotic locations. TACA has an extensive route map linking the US to Central America and typically provide the very best direct connections. TACA also have excellent connections to Cuba from several locations so for Americans visiting the Communist island, TACA often provides the best option. TACA does not fly outside the America’s but passengers can travel to Spain through their partner airline Avianca.
TACA is a reasonably priced airline that operates in a competitive market where passengers typically shop around for the best deals. While cheaper airlines exist there are benefits in paying a little extra to fly TACA. TACA is reasonably reliable and more professional than others. If something goes wrong or a flight is cancelled they will make an effort to rebook without making the passenger seem at fault and generally service is superior to no-frill or US rivals. A TACA flight will also earn Star Alliance frequent flyer points which is useful for United, US Airways, Air Canada and others.
TACA provides a standard meal service and seldom make an effort to localise its cuisine. Short flights include coffee, tea or soft drinks with snacks while on long haul flights crew serve an international type of airline cuisine which could belong to any airline on the globe. There is nothing distinctive about the airlines on-board cuisine, except the fact they have some and sizes are reasonably generous. The presentation of meals, even in Business Class, is nothing outstanding.
TACA has not invested heavily in state of the art on-board entertainment systems, but most aircraft have the older style of small drop down TV screens mounted on the roof with a large screens at the front. Movies and shows will be in Spanish with English subtitles. However the airlines newer aircraft, including the smaller Brazillian made E195 regional jets are fitted with the latest seat back entertainment systems. The inflight magazine, Explore, is a fine publication and also available on the internet.
TACA has an extremely generous baggage allowance of 64kg for Economy passengers (in two bags) on most flights which most passengers use to the maximum. Large number of passengers also attempt to take ridiculous amounts onboard as carry-on which is frustrating for other passengers and staff alike. Ground service can be slow and frustrating as staff negotiate their way through the mountains of check in luggage. Central American airports have a terrible reputation for baggage theft and unreliable handling, so bags should be locked and packed carefully and Travel Insurance is a good idea. Misconnecting bags have the highest change of being riffled through. Business Class passengers aren’t exempt either.
TACA’s Business Class seems to be designed to provide a place where Central America’s elite can congregate together away from the general population. The airline’s lounges are quite ordinary and resemble cafes and lack ‘extras’ which are becoming standard the world over. The on-board experience is essentially an improved version of Economy. Larger seats, bigger and more expensive meals and larger TV screens. TACA’s Business Class catering is packed with sugary and high fat servings whose presentation should be improved. Their cutlery and crockery looks ‘practical’ rather than luxurious. The main selling point of Business Class is the sense of privilege.
TACA is focused towards low paid Central Americans typically home for a holiday laden with gifts and the airlines product aimed at this market is just fine. Baggage allowance is generous, service good, there is entertainment and planes are tidy. A TACA Economy ticket is a good deal all round.
The airline’s loyalty programme is run by its partner airline Avianca and is called LifeMiles. Now that they have joined Star Alliance a LifeMiles membership can come in handy throughout the world and is quite a good idea for frequent travellers from anywhere within the American continents. LifeMiles is perhaps the best frequent flyer scheme in Latin America as well as being one of Star Alliances most useful cards. Points can be earned in a multiple of ways other than flying and Miles can be spent on upgrades, flights and also at the e-Store online department store.
TACA is a very hierarchical company with an elite running the company with a sense of superiority and immunity from accountability. Its a bit like a feudal estate where the workers are totally disposable and the gentry look after themselves. Corruption and nepotism reign throughout all levels of the company from the board down. However as the airline focuses more on the bottom line and its performance has improved and it might even be possible for someone without ‘contacts’ to actually progress in the company through skill.
TACA has experience a large number of incidents throughout its long history, many of their own making. The latest accident was in 2008 when a flight from the US overran the runway at Tegucigulpa in Honduras and crashed into the road. The incident was a blend of pilot error and inadequate airport facilities which is typical of the region. TACA do fly many older aircraft which are maintained to a satisfactory level. Satisfactory is not good enough for many passengers. Many pilots get their job through contacts rather than talent.
Central America’s best airline that has been rapidly improving over the years and continues to provide good value for money.
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