Brazilian TAM goes retro to celebrate its roots in a time of rapid expansion

As the airline industry has always captured people’s imagination, airlines – legacy carriers in particular – can tap their heritage to incorporate a bit of storytelling into the travel experience (see also our earlier ‘heritage marketing’ report). BA’s new ‘To Fly. To Serve’ retro-style brand campaign, for example, aims to showcase the airline’s history and emphasize its ‘Britishness’. Brazilian airline TAM, meanwhile, has taken this retro approach several steps further by creating a vintage onboard experience on two of its aircraft.

TAM Vintage
Since May 2010, TAM has offered passengers on shuttle flights between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro a full retro experience on board  two A319 aircraft. Highlighting two important moments of the airline’s history, the first aircraft is painted in TAM’s livery dating from the 1970’s, when the company launched its regional operations. The other aircraft was painted in a 1990’s color scheme, a time of great expansion and national level recognition.

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The TAM Vintage project was launched at both Sao Paulo’s Congonhas and Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airports in May 2010. Actors dressed up like in the 70’s greeted passengers at check-in counters with a music band playing songs of that time.

On both aircraft, the seats, on board service, printed materials and other details are modified to create a nostalgic atmosphere. Cabin crew and pilots wear uniforms from the 70’s and 90’s: Red skirts below the knee for the ladies and a white cap and jackets with large gold buttons for the pilots.

The aircraft interior has also received a retro makeover, with seat covers, carpets and curtains refurbished in the fabric and pattern of old times. Meals are served on old-fashioned disposable tableware.

The onboard safety video features actors dressed in clothes, accessories and makeup of the 70’s and 90’s, and narrated in the typical tone of voice from the decades. The retro makeover is so detailed that even the safety leaflet has been adapted, while the in-flight magazine for May 2010, the month of the launch of TAM Vintage, was a special vintage edition featuring old ads.

Besides going several steps further than other airlines in showing its heritage, what makes the TAM Vintage initiative even more remarkable is that the airline has maintained the retro experience for 1.5 years on its two aircraft. Says Ricardo Cruz, Marketing Manager Brand at TAM, “The full concept was introduced in May 2010 and since then has remained the same. After October 2011 we expect to keep only the interiors, safety video and vintage paint.”

According to TAM, the goal of the vintage project was to promote the reopening of the TAM Museum, as well as strengthen its roots, in order to keep its core values alive in a time the airline is growing rapidly. Much of the material used on recreating the 70s and 90s onboard were redeemed from the TAM Museum. See also this video (in Portuguese) for more on TAM’s Vintage project.

About TAM
Established in 1976, TAM is the largest airline in Brazil and is currently in the process of merging with LAN from Chile to create one of the largest airline groups worldwide, called LATAM Airlines Group. The merger is a response to the airline industry consolidation in the USA and Europe, as well as the rise of ‘Gulf Gullivers’ such as Emirates.

TAM has been growing rapidly in recent years, taking advantage of the burgeoning demand for air travel in Brazil. In 2010, demand for domestic flights in Brazil increased by 23.5 percent and TAM estimates that in 2011 this will grow with 15 to 18 percent. In 2010, TAM carried 34.5 million passengers on flights to 51 destinations in Brazil and 19 international destinations, with a fleet of 153 aircraft (including 28 long-haul planes). The airline is also expected to benefit from the world cup soccer and the Olympic Games, which will be held in Brazil in respectively 2014 and 2016, and will add nearly 25 aircraft to its fleet in the next 4 years, for example growing its 777-300ER fleet to 12 aircraft in 2014, up from 4 four today.

TAM has also commissioned Priestman Goode to redesign the entire passenger experience for the airline, from cabin architecture, seats, galleys and lavatories to staff uniforms and in-flight service provision, such as meals. The airline will introduce the new designs in the first half of 2012.

Special thanks to Dan Segal (Rio de Janeiro) for writing this article for airlinetrends.com

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