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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
No more service with a scowl
Aeroflot Ilyushin aircraft
Aeroflot is reducing its reliance on Soviet-era planes

For decades, its name has been synonymous with shabby seats, surly service and tasteless food.

Now Aeroflot, the flagship Russian airline, has launched a campaign to shed its Soviet-era image, with the help of a slick British public relations firm.

As part of the makeover, Aeroflot is training its historically harsh flight attendants to smile more, replacing their drab uniforms and offering tastier meals.

The airline has also unveiled a new corporate colour scheme of silver, blue and orange, designed to give it a "warmer" image.

"Our goal is to look more contemporary," said Vitaly Zotov, a spokesman for the airline.

The changes, aimed at fixing Aeroflot's long-time reputation for service with a scowl, are part of an overhaul that also includes modernising its fleet and getting rid of the public's perception that the airline is lax on safety.

Stewardesses 'unfriendly'

Once a government monopoly, Aeroflot now needs to raise its profile and its profits to fight growing competition from new Russian carriers that provide domestic services.

Executives from Aeroflot and Identica, the London public relation's firm that is overseeing Aeroflot's image revamp, say the airline has already taken major steps forward in customer service.

"Stewardesses used to be very austere, authoritarian, and they certainly weren't very friendly," said Tom Austin, deputy chairman of Identica.

Aeroflot logo
The famous logo will not be changing

"But I think if you go on to any Aeroflot flight today, you will see a marked difference."

The carrier has added Western Airbus and Boeing planes to its core fleet of Ilyushins and Tupolevs.

Some of Aeroflot's international flights - featuring Western planes and cheap fares - compete well with US and European rivals, and the airline says its net profits grew to $74m last year.

Aeroflot still faces several obstacles as it tries to change its image.

Ambitious plans for expanding Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, its main hub, have been repeatedly delayed, while some of the airport's biggest clients, including British Airways, have moved to rival Domodyedovo airport, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation.

Aeroflot, still 51% state-owned, has also been involved in a long-running embezzlement scandal.

'Horrific' incidents

The biggest challenge for Aeroflot, however, may be countering its image of lax safety.

While the airline has had a good safety record in recent years, memories of a series of crashes and near-misses in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, are still fresh in many people's minds.

During that period, crews regularly took on extra passengers for cash, resulting in dangerously overloaded planes.

In the most notorious accident in 1994, a pilot allowed his son to sit at the controls, causing a plane to crash in Siberia, killing 75 people.

The PR company handling the airline admits there were some "horrific" incidents during that era but says Aeroflot's reputation is more "perception than reality".

Hammer and sickle

As part of its campaign to attract new customers, Aeroflot has banned smoking on international flights and introduced new business class service on its Moscow-New York route.

It has also been working with Identica on the new colour scheme - silver for "professionalism" orange for "friendliness" and blue, a holdover from the past, symbolising its "heritage".

Aeroflot has also commissioned Russian designers to come up with new crew uniforms.

Despite all the modern changes, however, Aeroflot has decided to retain the ultimate symbol of the Soviet past, the winged hammer-and-sickle, as its logo.

Last December, airline executives floated the idea of getting rid of the symbol, citing passenger surveys that showed many people viewed it negatively.

But Aeroflot now says it is keeping the logo, not out of nostalgia for the Soviet past, but because it has been the internationally recognised face of the airline for 70 years.

Aeroflot turns on the charm
20 Dec 02  |  Business
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Aeroflot passenger numbers rise
22 Jan 02  |  Business

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