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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 12:00 GMT
Aeroflot turns on the charm
Aeroflot's hammer and sickle logo
Hammers and sickles are soooo 1923

Be honest - would you fly Aeroflot?

Probably not: Russia's biggest airline may boast a surprisingly solid safety record, but it has a stinking reputation for delivering service with a snarl.

Cabins are shabby, seats unyielding, your fellow passengers obnoxious, and only if you're lucky - or perhaps not-so-lucky - will the hatchet-faced stewardess bring you a tepid and gristly "meal".

Stung by such slanders, Aeroflot is determined to cultivate a friendlier image.

The airline is reaching the climax of an ambitious rebranding project, which it hopes will achieve a complete break with its shoddy past.

Orange is the new red

Full details of Aeroflot's rebranding - masterminded by trendy London makeover agency Identica - are to be released piecemeal throughout next year, the airline's 80th anniversary.

But details are already leaking out.

Proposed uniform design
Aviation chic a la Russe

The first casualty is likely to be the hammer and sickle, which has formed part of Aeroflot's logo since the airline's foundation in 1923.

Its current colour scheme, a patriotic but curiously drab red, white and blue, is also likely to be ditched in favour of reassuring navy and hot orange.

Navy blue, says Damian Shogger of Identica, "represents professionalism and calmness, but also brightness and dynamism," while orange "is warm, counteracting any perception of coldness."

The carrier's faintly military crew uniforms are also being scrapped, with various wispy new designs currently being trialled on its website.

Better behaviour

Even more important are radical changes to the airline's etiquette.

Last year, Aeroflot shocked Russians by banning smoking on international flights, having previously held out against the aviation authorities' anti-tobacco regulations.

Children's poster
The new Aeroflot is cute and cuddly

Now, it is retraining its flight attendants, encouraging them to drop their traditional steely reserve in favour of a bit of warmth.

More recruits with language skills are being sought, and the airline is endearingly encouraging them to smile more while they work.

The current menu choice - usually unspecified meat or unspecified fish - is being widened, and Aeroflot is even launching a range of children's meals.

A showpiece flight, demonstrating Aeroflot's slick new service, is scheduled to take off on 25 December.

If it ain't broke...

The ironic thing about all this activity is that Aeroflot was doing pretty well anyway.

Unlike most of the international carriers it is so keen to mimic, Aeroflot has seen no serious reduction in passenger numbers since September 11, and is likely to chalk up a record $75m profit this year.

Russia, with its vast unnavigable empty spaces, is a natural and fast-growing market for air travel, and even non-Russians are starting to appreciate Aeroflot's rock-bottom prices.

The firm says the current rebranding is likely to necessitate a 5-10% increase in ticket prices - something scarcely likely to play well in its competitive domestic market.

In its rush to ditch its Soviet image, Aeroflot may inadvertently destroy its only competitive advantage.

See also:

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