American Airlines to Keep New Livery

 

Employees vote to keep the new look, but was the election rigged?
Never mind the tail. It’s the logo, stupid!

January 6th, 2014

IN MARCH, 2013, American Airlines unveiled its first major identity change in forty-plus years. The news broke as the carrier prepared to emerge from bankruptcy and prepared for its merger with US Airways.

American had bucked more than three decades of design fads. It’s distinctive silver skin, tricolor stripe and gothic “AA” logo dated back to the days of the its 707 “Astrojets.” Heck, my first ever airplane ride, in 1974, was on an American 727 decked out in the very same paintjob that, until last year, was American’s signature.

It was never anything beautiful, but what distinguished it was the logo — the famous “AA,” its red and blue letters bisected by the proud, cross-winged eagle. This was one of the last true icons of airline branding left in the world. Created by Massimo Vignelli in 1967, it was everything a logo should be: elegantly simple, dignified, and instantly recognizable.

AA-classic-logo

The redesign features a U.S. flag motif tail, a faux-silver fuselage, and an entirely new logo that is so unspeakably ugly that it nearly brings tears to my eyes.

The logo — the trademark, the company emblem, to be reproduced on everything from stationery to boarding passes — is the heart of an airline’s graphic identity, around which everything else revolves. It has been said that the true test of a logo is this: can it be remembered and sketched, freehand and with reasonable accuracy, by a young child? The Pan Am globe, the Lufthansa crane, the Delta tricorn, Air New Zealand’s “Koru” and many others meet this criterion beautifully. As did the AA emblem. Maybe they need a tweaking or two over time, but the template of such logos — the really good ones — remains essentially timeless. American Airlines had one of the really good ones. And if you’ve got something like that, you dispense with it at your peril.

I was at Kennedy Airport recently and had the opportunity to view several American Airlines jets — some in the old paintjob, others in the new one. I’m sorry, but there was nothing old or anachronistic looking about the AA emblem. It did not need to be “refreshed,” or “modernized,” as some have suggested. Particularly if you’re replacing it with something so utterly vapid. What exactly is that new, Greyhound Bus-esque logo? It looks like a linoleum knife poking through a shower curtain. If it’s not the worst corporate trademark the airline business has ever seen, I don’t know what is. I can’t imagine a kid with crayons trying to sketch it. Why would anybody want to? It evokes nothing, it says nothing, it means nothing. It gives American Airlines all the look and feel of a bank or a credit card company. I cannot believe how awful a mark this is, and how anybody signed off on it I’ll never understand.

AA New Logo

Its uglier, even, than the hideous Horus head of the new EgyptAir. It’s uglier, even, than the “rising splotch” that Japan Airlines came up with a few years back to replace its beautiful tsurumaru — the circular, red and white crane/Rising Sun it had used since 1960 (and which, by the way, JAL has wisely resurrected).

I’m hardly the only person put off by the new branding. It was controversial from the start, and among those who hated it most were thousands of American’s own employees. Finally, last month, CEO Doug Parker put things to a vote, allowing the carrier’s employees to choose between the new look, or a quasi-retro design that incorporated both the old and new schemes.

AA livery options

By a margin of about 2,000 votes, of some 60,000 cast, workers chose to stay with the new look.

Parker says he is happy about the result. But if he got what he wanted, that’s probably because the vote was effectively rigged. Parker won by making the airplane’s tail the focus of the vote. This misses the point, because like it or hate it, the piano key tail isn’t really the problem. It’s the logo that’s the problem. Neither of the choices dealt with the linoleum knife. In fact, Parker’s retro design would have kept both logos in use — a ridiculous, half-baked appeasement that would have left the plane looking manic and jumbled. A company can’t have two logos.

The smarter compromise would have been, and should have been, to keep the new tail, but dispense immediately with the linoleum knife and put the “AA” on the fuselage. Had this option been put to a vote, I suspect it would have won by a healthy margin.

AA Livery How It Should Be

To be clear, I’m not arguing that American didn’t need a spruce-up. The striping and typeface were overdue for a revision, and livery changes are all but mandatory, it seems, when airlines exit bankruptcy. But I can live with the tail and with the faux-silver body paint. Doing away with the AA symbol, however, was a tragic and unspeakably bad call.

Each time one of American’s newly painted planes taxis past me, I wince.

________

 

By the way, the AA wasn’t the only iconic logo to bite the dust recently. Spain’s Iberia Airlines just unveiled a new look as well, and has parted ways with its well-known “IB” symbol.

There has been an “IB” of one form or another atop the tails of Iberia’s jets since at least the ’60s. My favorite version, once seen on the carrier’s DC-8′s and earliest 747s, had the letters set inside a crosshatched globe, with the “IBERIA” name spelled out below. It was a handsome design, understated but unmistakable.

There’s no denying Iberia needed a revision. It’s latest colors and stripes were cluttered and overwrought. But their replacement is bland and generic, and the IB is gone entirely. Like American, they’ve turned to some banal abstraction instead.

And like too many other liveries of the last fifteen years, the new Iberia centers on a supposed “in motion” theme, featuring yet another, as it has been called, Generic Meaningless Swoosh Thing.

Somewhere is a vending machine. Airline executives drop in a million dollars worth of consulting coins, and out pops the latest, curvy-swervy variant of the GMST. These arcs and curves are meant to be “sophisticated.” They suggest “movement” and energy and who the hell knows what else. But all they really do is make your airline indistinguishable from everybody else’s. Consider the latest looks of Avianca, El Al, TACA, that of Indonesian carrier Garuda, just for starters. With very few exceptions (Thai Airways and Aeromexico), these designs are so dismally uninspired that it’s hard to look at them without yawning.

 

RELATED STORIES:

The Yin and Yang of Airline Identity, part 1.

The Yin and Yang of Airline Identity, part 2.

 

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20 Responses to “American Airlines to Keep New Livery”
  1. […] half-baked appeasement that was destined from the start to fail. More in my essay here… http://www.askthepilot.com/american-to-keep-new-livery/ Enjoy. […]

  2. As a pilot for American and an owner of my own businesses, I agree that the logo is disgusting and hardly worthy of that of a global airline.

    Another thing that is somewhat offending is that the tail, which is supposed to be representative of the US flag, has orange stripes in it. The blue and white have varying shades of blue and white/grey, which I find OK, but the orange is not a varying shade of orange, which should be a lighter (or darker) shade of red instead.

    I also agree that the voting was rigged as it gave no choice to choose a different logo, or even paint scheme, showing a remarkably low effort to offer something that will represent a truly global airline, worthy of the American “brand”.

    That being said, it is a valid representation of what Mr. Horton and his predecessor(s) did to the airline.

  3. aflapr says:

    I think they should have gone the other way and gone back to the old Astrojet livery. I think going “classic” would have helped distinguish the airline – particularly post merger.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e7/American_Airlines_Astrojet_N951AA.jpg

    • David says:

      I agree with you. Updating the old retro logo would have helped emphasize the airline’s history and tradition.

      The new logo is not only hideous, but, as Patrick writes, is so utterly generic and meaningless, it could be anything.

  4. Brent says:

    I hate the matte gray, watercolor/unfinished tail and logo. That said – I do not understand how they got away with doing such a major change in bankruptcy, when they knew with near certainty that there was going to be a merger [or at least a management change].

    Seemed they rushed off to try and get as many planes done before new management came in so it would appear to be to late to change.

    I’m still trying to understand the millions the branding agency spent on the design, not to mention all the focus groups – to end up with this result.

    • Andrew says:

      The had to go with the gray coloring the soon to be delivered 787 can not be left bare aluminum like the old livery since it is carbon fiber. Leaving the bare aluminum was originally an effort to save weight and thus fuel with the aircraft.

  5. reese says:

    Personally, I LIKE the New Livery…..didn’t initially but It has grown on Me. The New AA is much better than DL,UA or that horrendous SWA garbage. I am Not overly fond of the dubbed ‘Flight Symbol’ and will miss the Bold “AA”, people need to Take Notice (which they will) “The New American Is Arriving”….the aircraft do look impressive.

    • Eirik says:

      Agree. Only difference, I liked it from the first time I saw it.
      I think it looks clean and simple, yet cool and, uhm, sexy.

  6. Mitch J says:

    I am so mad that they took their iconic “AA” and threw it in the trash bin like it didn’t mean anything. I don’t give a crap about the silver color, the flag tail, whatever. But to DIS that logo really grinds my gears. Consequently they have got a lot of work to do to impress me with customer service. A new paint scheme does nothing to impress me that you are a new airline. You must impress with your level of service. Period.

  7. Rod Miller says:

    Yes, find a good one and stick with it. American, Iberia, Delta, TAP, SAS, Air Canada, etc. all had great liveries. Look at them now. And why? Swissair used to have a stupendously symbolic and beautiful livery, with that “chocolate stripe” cheatline, then went under in disgrace. What emerged from the ashes is clunky and embarrassing.

  8. Lester says:

    They let employees decide? They should have polled design experts, graphic artists and advertising people, not employees. Do car companies poll their employees to see if employees like their new designs? (NO!)

  9. Steve T. says:

    There’s no accounting for taste. I like the new logo and design, and always thought that the old “AA” logo was staid and uninspiring. Different strokes….

  10. Marcio V. Pinheiro says:

    I used to love AA`s unpainted shyning bodies. It looked intelligent to me, easier to examine and lighter to fly. I would not change anything.
    American already had a very good looking smart planes.

  11. Chaz says:

    A) The ter’rists won.
    B) Bad taste won.
    C) Doesn’t matter as I usually do everything in my power to avoid flying American flag carriers, except Hawaiian Airlines (yes, I don’t live in the lower 48 but even for trips to Europe I’ll go via Asia and mix Asia into the trip).

  12. Vic says:

    That’s horrendous. Sorry but there is NOTHING like an American Airlines in the traditional silver with AA logo. Sadly this seems to be all part of the “blanding” of modern society, and the elimination of individuality. Have we decided that no original idea can EVER be good anymore unless it is sifted, blended, contorted, and bent completely out of shape by focus groups, project managers, product managers, etc etc? Not sure if that was the process here but seems like something that ended up as a compromise, whose main attribute was to not offend anyone involved in the project.

  13. SJ Bobkins says:

    I just fell into the website, you have made my day Patrick. I have kerosine pumping through my veins from the day I watched a Bonanza F-27 take off at our small muni airport. In the old days,I spent 100′s of hours standing on observation decks at DEN, SLC, and PHX among others memorized by everything to do with flight. I received my private pilots license while in college training in a STOL Mahl (spelling might be off) the hardest damn tail dragger, to fly ever. I’ve rented or used a father in law’s set of toys to fly lots of Piper’s and Cessna’s which were so easy, I never touched the hated Mahl again. I’ve always loved the AA logo with the double winged eagle, at the very least they should have kept the eagle. Greyhound should sue for trademark infringment, speaking of which the bus company has been the roadmap for Mr Doug Parker’ aviation dreams. I was married to an FA for 25 years who’s checks were signed by Mr Parker. I have no problem accepting the fact he may have “fixed” the vote. Along with all the former America West and new US Airways managers, I wouldn’t trade them for a bucket of warm spit. AA employees, the fun is just starting.

  14. steve sundquist says:

    I preferred the old AA logo and agree the new logo just looks goofy. I also liked the unpainted aluminum finish. With all of the emphasis placed on efficiency how much fuel do they burn hauling the weight of that paint?

  15. Ray K says:

    To this day, I don’t find the new logo nearly as offensive as that pointless, piano keyboard tail.

  16. John Delphia says:

    The new tail looks too presumptuous with the non-flag-flag. I originally thought – looking at the new angled eaglebeak/wing logo – that the tail would be the new logo instead, just angled to fit the tail. Then have the body with the same old Helvetica sans serif, spelled out American Airlines (maybe with the old eagle from the old log placed in front). There are too many non-flag-flag analogs out there, its been over a decade after the 9/11 need to be brash about it. Pan Am “showed the flag” excellently without any need to be garish about it. The fake silver would be nice if made to look like some opalescent car paint silverish treatments, real elegant.

  17. John LM says:

    The redesign you did was spot on and if they had any humility they’d pay you a fee and paint over the awful USPS inspired branding. I wonder if they’d have to replace the entire paint job to do so. I imagine the choices for the vote were based on the tail because that can be taped off and painted over without redoing the whole plane. Two logos … that is the kind of idea tha could only have come from upper management.

    As I wrote before I definitely think AA was in need of a revamp. The shiny new planes look imperial when they come off the line, but after a couple years in the middle atmosphere they start to look like they made multiple low approaches over a driving range then washed with sandpaper.

    The previous branding is classic mid century design that will always look clean and dignified on paper, but things like signs and interior trimming look especially old and dated when left to go into visual disrepair. Nothing looks good when it’s scratched and chipped, but compared to the gleaming white lacquer tables, translucent purple facades and newish A230s of Virgin America it takes on a more dated feel with the legacy carriers . Lining up at a gate with worn out signage overlooking an older MD-80 (great plane) makes your think of all the spilled soda and greasy fingerprints that accrued over the years.

    Heres hoping the new branding and planes will return AA to it’s former glory. Although I’m just assuming there was a glory at some point. I’m not quite old enough to remember the “Golden Age”. This is the same company that had the 747 only briefly although the SP looked incredible in the classic livery.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/33465428@N02/4387960733/

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