March 15, 2016.   Winglet Fatigue.

A happy winglet is an unadorned winglet. I’ve had it up to here with carriers that feel compelled to turn their little upturned fins into billboards, festooning them with stripes, logos, or text. The surface isn’t big enough, and the result is too often cluttered, tacky and contrived. Not to mention redundant. You’ve already got the fuselage and tail to work with; we don’t also need to see your name or trademark painted across the winglet.

There are scattered exceptions. Virgin Atlantic’s Union Jack motif is handsome, and Hawaiian Airlines has an unobtrusive floral pattern that makes for a pleasant accent. Turkish Airlines’ winglet logo is similarly understated and attractive, as is the oryx head used by Qatar Airways. Generally, though, the idea is to keep it as modest as possible — a solid color or, if you must, something with just a touch of highlighting. See Delta and United, respectively. Those are dignified winglets.

In case you missed it the first time.

There’s a special place in airline hell, meanwhile, for carriers that insist on using this space to advertise their Web addresses. I’m not sure it’s necessary to have this anywhere on the plane — as if there’s a person alive who doesn’t know that airlines have online sites, and that you can go there and purchase tickets — but it’s especially garish when it’s crammed onto a winglet. Have a look at VietJet Air, in the photo below. Never mind for a minute what a hideous name that is: VietJet Air. The simple “VietJet” would have been perfectly sufficient, but no, instead they have to shove the “Air” done our throat as well. (JetBlue does this too, insisting that we call them “JetBlue Airways,” in case maybe you thought it was a bank or a furniture company.) The bigger problem is that the carrier’s Web address appears no less than three times — most gratuitously, of course, on the winglet.

The true purpose of a winglet is aerodynamic, not promotional. At a wing’s tip, the higher pressure beneath the wing meets the lower pressure above it, sending out a turbulent discharge of air. Winglets help smooth this mixing, decreasing drag and, in turn, improving range and efficiency. Because planes have different aerodynamic fingerprints, winglets aren’t always necessary or cost-effective. For instance, the 747-400 and A340 have them, while the 777 does not, even though it too is a long-range widebody. Because fuel economy wasn’t always the priority that it is today, and because the advantages of winglets weren’t fully understood until fairly recently, older models were designed without them. For these planes — a list that includes the 757 and 767 — they are available as an option or retrofit. An airline considers whether the long-term fuel savings is worth the cost of installation, which can run millions per plane. It depends on the flying. Aesthetics are a personal thing. I find winglets attractive on some jets — I love the scimitar tips on the new A350 — and awkward on others, like those on the 767. You see them in different forms. Some are large and jaunty, while others are just a tweak. With a “blended winglet,” the wing tapers gradually with no harsh angles. Planes like the 787 and 747-8 use amore integrated style, sometimes referred to as a “raked wingtip.” I am especially un-fond of the curvy, steer-horn, top-and-bottom winglets that are becoming common now on 737s. They’re quite garish.

Airbus has nicknamed its next-generation winglet — a taller, thinner fin designed for the A320 series — a “sharklet.” This, we take it, is in reference to its dorsal-esque shape, but grammatically it makes no sense. “Winglet” means a small wing, or an appendage to one. A “sharklet” would be a small shark. No part of an airplane is called a shark.

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