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TAM takes to virtual skies with Second Life

Brazilian airline to offer cyberspace flights to online community.

Brazil's TAM said it is about to become the first airline to promote itself in the Second Life online virtual world by offering cyberspace flights that correspond to its real-world international service.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. It has its own economy and currency -- the Linden dollar -- which can be exchanged for US dollars.

Second Life, created by US-based Linden Lab, opened to the public in 2003, since when it has grown explosively and is today inhabited by over 5 million people from around the globe.

TAM said on Thursday it will offer avatars -- users' 3-D representations that, ironically, can fly on their own -- gifts to take virtual TAM flights to Second Life islands called Milan, Paris, New York and England.

The islands represent the leading Brazilian airline's actual international destinations.

"Of course, avatars can fly there on their own, or we can take them there, free of charge, for which they get frequent flier points and gifts like a virtual aircraft or clothes," a company spokesman said ahead of TAM's Second Life launch on Friday.

A TAM lounge will be set up on Second Life's Berrini Island, where avatars will be greeted by a virtual pilot and flight attendant.

"It's more of an institutional marketing tool, for people to learn about the airline's destinations, and for us to be present in this new online fever," the spokesman said.

Several companies are already active in Second Life, including Japanese car maker Toyota, IBM and Reuters Group plc, which has a virtual news bureau there.

TAM said some 200,000 Brazilians use Second Life (secondlife.com), the virtual world's fourth-biggest community by country.

TAM ended last month with a 51.7% share of Brazil's air travel market. It flies to 48 cities in Latin America's largest country and various international destinations.