The Newest Livery Redesigns: The Nightmare Continues

From Etihad and Iberia to Spirit and Southwest, Several Airlines Have Unveiled New Looks. The Report Card is Very, Very Bleak.

SO A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I’m at Kennedy Airport. From the corner of my eye I see something blue. I like the color blue, but not this one. It’s a soapy, anemic blue accented with gray. And the rest of the design — all swoopy and swirly and annoying. Oh no, it’s the new livery of Aerolineas Argentinas, splashed across the side of an Airbus A340. What an overwrought mess. And look what they’ve done to the Andean condor up there on the tail. A proud and graceful logo has become a cartoonish abstraction (those white flash lines are particularly distracting and tacky). Aerolineas’s prior livery was a little dry, but it wasn’t crying out for change. Did they need to do this?

Grade: F

Aerolineas Liveries

 

Not to be outdone, the Spanish airline Iberia has a new look too. The “IB” is gone from the tail after several decades, replaced by — take a guess now — a swishy-swoopy-curvy thing that is so godawfully boring that it almost brings tears to the eyes. Sure, Iberia’s bulky fuselage striping needed an overhaul, but you don’t toss out a logo as well-known as the IB. Tweak it if you want, but you do not get rid of it entirely. And to replace it with something so uninspired is a tragedy. The typeface is ugly too. The trashing of the “IB” is almost as bad as the trashing of American’s famous “AA,” and it shows us that nothing is sacred. No trademark, no matter how iconic, is safe from the hacks that have taken over the airline branding world, with their endless catalog of “in-motion” themes.

Grade: F

Iberia Liveries

 

Next in line, Etihad Airways. This is a commemorative thing for the carrier’s double-decker A380s. It’s not as unpardonable as what Malaysia Airlines has done (see next entry), but it’s pretty bad. It’s tough to make an Airbus A380 even uglier than it already is, but Etihad figured out a way. The tail is especially unattractive. Is that random assemblage of triangles supposed to evoke some kind of Arabesque? Well, it doesn’t. A gimmicky mish-mash of gold and coffee-colored triangles, it looks like a bunch of cardboard boxes caught up in the wind. Yet another example of designers trying to prove how clever and crafty they can be, instead of using their skills to establish some genuine brand identity. The Etihad falcon emblem, meanwhile, looks like a crest that you’d see on an Arabian colonel’s hat, while the typeface is just plain ugly.

Grade: F

Etihad A380

 

Moving on. I know, I know, its paintjob is the least of Malaysia Airlines’ worries right now, but while I hate to pile on, they deserve it for screwing up one of the more dignified and handsome looks out there. Malaysia was one of the last carriers hanging on to a “cheatline” — that classic nose-to-tail striping along the windows. Straight lines are verboten these days, and so the red and blue cheat has been twisted up into a pair of awkward, ribbony flares. It looks like something a third-grader would have drawn, and it’s a great example of not leaving well enough alone! Though at least they’ve kept the Wau, the indigenous kite design on the tail. Malaysia has a “special” livery for its A380 aircraft — an swirly blue fever-dream that is too ugly to be described. Is there such a thing as an F-minus?

Grade: F

Malaysia Airlines Liveries

Malaysia A380

 

Closer to home, several U.S. carriers have reinvented themselves as well, with similarly poor results.

Southwest’s heretofore livery made its 737s look like an amusement park ride, or an overly rich dessert concocted by a starving child. A month or so ago the carrier announced a redesign, and sadly it’s no different. It’s garish, syrupy, and so bright that it’s painful to look at. I confess to being fond of Southwest’s heart emblem, however. They should feature it more prominently. There’s no excuse for it not being on the tail, in place of that hideous tricolor swoop.

Grade: F

Southwest Liveries

Southwest Heart

 

Oh my god, it’s a giant bumble bee from another galaxy! It’s a Manhattan taxicab taken to the air! It’s a roadsign warning drivers of danger! It’s the Yellow Pages! Nope, calm down, it’s just Spirit Airlines, at it again. Poor Spirit has had a tough time of things. If I’m counting right, they’ve gone through four different looks in the past ten years, all of them awful. There’s not much to say about this latest one. It’s only fitting that the country’s most downmarket carrier wear the most downmarket livery. There’s certainly no mistaking it. It’s actually an improvement on the previous scheme, which turned every plane into a box of laundry detergent. The least offensive of Spirit’s attempts, which isn’t saying much, was probably the peculiar, jaggedy black-on-silver motif of a few years ago. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall for that board meeting. “Now, how can we get our planes to look more like ash trays?”

Grade: F

Spirit Airlnes Liveries

Spirit Airlines Ashtray Livery

 

Finally we have Frontier Airlines. Today’s Frontier is no relation to the original Frontier, which ceased operations in 1986, but they’ve gone and resurrected the stylized “F” that was part of the first carrier’s Saul Bass-designed look of the 1970s. It’s a good move, and I like the arrow as well (though not the chunky rectangular part in the back). The animals-on-the-tail thing, though, is getting tired. Put the “F” up there, the way Saul had it.

Grade: C

Frontier Liveries

 

Not an impressive report card, is it? But the uglification of airline branding shows no signs of relenting.

And I am not, as one reader puts it, merely “an old fogey resistent to change.” I’m 48, which isn’t quite fogey territory yet, and I have no problem with change. I’m just opposed to shitty liveries, and with the relentless fixation designers seem to have nowadays with the “in-motion” theme — i.e. curves and swooshes (not just the aforementioned Malaysia or Iberia debacles, but see El Al, Taca, Avianca, PIA, et al. Stop trying to be clever. An effective corporate brand isn’t about cleverness or some abstract “meaning.” Meanwhile there are plenty of liveries out there that I like, and that are improvements over the prior schemes: Delta, Thai, Turkish, AeroMexico, etc. And some of those incorporate swooshes, even! There’s change for the better and change for the worse.

On a popular airline message board, one person actually describes the new Etihad look as “elegant.” No, I’m sorry. The JAL crane is “elegant.” Those triangles are showy and nonsensical. Simplicity, people. As has been noted in this space before, a truly iconic logo or livery is one that a child can replicate by hand, from memory, with a pencil. It relies not on color or texture, but on shape, and it is always something simple. Think Lufthansa; the Pan Am globe; the forsaken “AA” emblem, etc.

If you’ll allow us to switch realms here for a minute, here’s one of the finest examples you’ll ever see…

MBTAlogo.jpg

A few of you probably recognize it. It’s the logo for the MBTA here in Boston, our mass transit system. The “T” as we call it. I was riding the subway out to Logan the other day and it struck me what a classy and elegant mark that is: an unadorned Helvetica character ringed by a simple circle. It’s perfect. T for timeless. You’ll see it in different variations, sometimes set in a black square.

MBTAlogo2

The circular T logo has been with us since the 1950s. It’s just a matter of time, maybe, before somebody gets the bright idea to jazz it up with some curves and swooshes. Fingers crossed.

 

Related Stories:

TRAGEDY OF THE NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES LIVERY

ET TU, KLM?

 

See chapter seven of Cockpit Confidential for an in-depth and funny essay on airline branding and identity.

Now a New York Times bestseller!

Book Cover With Bestseller Credit

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138 Responses to “The Newest Livery Redesigns: The Nightmare Continues”
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  1. John Hansen says:

    Hi Patrick, agree fully regarding the blue/black monstrosity that is the Malaysia Airlines A380 livery, already an ugly aircraft without dressing it up like that! Any thoughts on the harmonisation of the Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon (Dragon Air) liveries, with the new matching green/red tails respectively, and more consistent and solid coloring? I think it’s a pretty good solution to combining the two brands, flew on both airlines this week into/out of HKG. Cheers!

  2. Johnny Panic says:

    Holy cow, that new Spirit livery says “Caution! Stay away! Danger!”. The only thing it’s missing is a robot flailing its arms around, à la the robot in Lost in Space. Who in their right mind would think that’s an okay livery for an airline?!

  3. Mike Shulman says:

    Agreed with you especially about the most ugly Etihad triangles,and the Iberia fiasco, but I do like the wildlife on the Frontier. I would like to see more special liveries, like the ANA Pokémon, Singapore Tropical & Qantas Wunala Dreaming. I guess with all the airlines vying for profits, the liveries are the least of their problems.

  4. Art Knight says:

    And…people are making lots of money for these designs. The kite on Malaysia Airlines used to be active. It was flying! Now it is as static a component on a schematic. It could be an inductor or a resistor. It certainly isn’t inspiring.

  5. Isabel says:

    Another SWA redesign?! Why?

    Now I’m getting images of the T logo redone with as many overdone swooshes and horrible colors as they think they can get away with…eeek.

  6. Chandra says:

    I had travelled to US by both Emirates, and BA.I was shocked to see the tail fin design looks the same in both.How is that permissible in a world of patents and copyrights?

  7. Ben says:

    Could Southwest Airline’s poor new livery be consider karmic considering the low cost carrier’s and the 737’s stogy reputation? They kind of to pretty much deserve it.

  8. Planely Obsessed says:

    I don’t understand why one would paint a plane gold. I know Etihad is meant to be a luxury airline, and I’m sure it is but painting your plane gold is excessive. If you want to see a real airline livery Etihad, look no further than Singapore Airlines. They’ve only ever had one livery, which has been subtly changed over the years, but it is pretty much the same as it was 40 years ago and it still looks upmarket. I’m not sure how a collapsing wall of cardboard boxes is meant to attract people to your airline.

  9. Sid says:

    I love the ethiad one. And the American Airlines is a HUGE improvement.

  10. William says:

    I like the Frontier livery designs. I now will try to see how many I can observe.

  11. Markus says:

    No offense but i can’t share your opinion about these new liveries.
    Except the last two, these are really not so good.
    But the new Aerolineas Argentinas is very fresh and modern looking, while the old one is just boring. And the new Etihad… well, it’s simply art.

    Doesn’t mean that i don’t like old liveries, i like a lot e.g. the United Batlegray or Lauda Air, Tyrolean Airways and so on. But some of these old liveries was really unoriginal, And the new ones look for my taste much better.

    But well, everyone has different taste 🙂

    • Patrick says:

      Yes, different tastes. And thanks for being civil and respectful, even as we disagree.

      “…But the new Aerolineas Argentinas is very fresh and modern looking, while the old one is just boring…”

      The old one was boring, you’re right. But the new one is horribly garish.

      “… And the new Etihad… well, it’s simply art…”

      Maybe, but good “art” doesn’t always make for a good livery. That’s one of the points I was making in the post: corporate identity is a lot more than a flashy paint scheme, impressive as that scheme might be, in and of itself. In many cases, when a design is overly detailed (and self-conscious), its effectiveness as a branding tool is reduced.

  12. Alan Dahl says:

    What really bugs me is the Continental globe messing up United Airlines aircraft. It looks like one of those 1970’s era Friday/Monday cars where uncaring workers would build a car with the front half of a Mercury and the back half of a Ford. Toss the globe and bring back the Saul Bass tulip — or, even better, the 1960’s red/blue slash bisected by “UNITED”. My dad was a UAL pilot back in the day and IMHO the 1960s DC-8 livery was the peak of their styling. So iconic and it was even featured in the titles of Hawaii Five-O!

    • Patrick says:

      Great comment, Alan. And that’s right, the opening credits to the old “Hawaii Five-O” featured a quick glance of a DC-8, shot through a fisheye lens.

      I think the idea of United returning to the ’60s-era “bowtie” tail is a nonstarter, but I’d love to see the “U” brought back.

  13. Richard says:

    I certainly agree with some of your comments. It always amazes me when airlines change a well known tail logo for something that takes away their corporate identity. The tail, some standing 4 stories high, is the biggest advertising hording you cam get. In the past BA,JAL,PIA and Air India have all changed their tail logos only to reintroduce them again when they presumably realised their mistake.
    While I’m not a big fan of the cheatline, and like bold colour schemes, I agree that some of the above are awful.

  14. C4Net says:

    The only modern one I really like: Vietnam Airlines. Classy, nice color choices, nice logo, not overdone. Their 787 is especially sexy in that motif.

  15. C4Net says:

    Yes. Agreed. Someone please wake me up when it’s over. Simple and Classy will always win out over Artsy Tartsy. And if you want “Motion”, fine. But in jets the only motion you REALLY want is FAST and FORWARD! All the other directions are simply nauseating. Favorite of ALL TIME: Texas International Airlines, post 1973. (Google it). Thick bright red cheatline from the nosecone across the windows to the tailcone; above that a Columbia blue cheatline from the brow to the tail, interrupted from just behind the cockpit to the wing LE to insert “Texas International (US flag)” then continuing to and widening to fill the entire background of the vertical tail, with a HUGE, elongated (stretched no doubt due to high speeds!!) white star emblazoned in the field of the tail; all on a white fuselage with silver underside. Simple, Elegant, Streamlined, Striking. (sigh)

  16. Randy McMullin says:

    fuck you. kill yourself

    • Patrick says:

      I am going to leave this comment standing if for no other reason that it demonstrates everything that is wrong with the internet, and gives you a glimpse into just how nasty and uncivilized many people are.

  17. Mike says:

    You are to harsh. Many people love the Etihad color scheme. It is unique and eye catching, though probably looks better on single decker planes. I wonder why you didn’t post the old photo for Etihad, as that all gold logo with the weird national symbol thingy on the tail was really bad. And I agree with those people and not you on this. As for my personal taste, I also wouldn’t critisize Malaysian for it’s A380. I don’t understand a special livery for one type, but this one is kind of cool and different. While I agree about their new desing for everything else, as this is just a modification and not a good one. All the other examples are spot on for me. I wasn’t aware of some of the changes… The Iberia tail fin :(((. You are right that it will be missed like American’s AA and for me also United’s tulip (I know they had a compromise to take the name from one airline and the livery from the other, but Continental’s globe is so much more typical). But you may like that one, as it seems you don’t like uniqueness as much as me. Anyway, nice site. Cheers, Mike.

  18. The-David says:

    Dude that anonymous guy just doesn’t know about what’s good or bad about this article.

  19. The-David says:

    Grade F.
    Grade F everywhere.

  20. ---------- says:

    I would give your website design an F

    • Patrick says:

      Thanks. That’s big of you, insulting my site anonymously.

      Instead of being a jerk and a coward, why don’t you tell me what, specifically, you think is wrong with it. I’ve thought about a redesign, actually, but I’m not sure which aspects of the site need changes, and I don’t really have the money right now for a total overhaul.

      The trend in web design seems to be neutral light colors and lots of block-ish, quadrangular graphics. There are things I like about this aesthetic, and things I don’t like.

      What I wouldn’t want a new ATP site to look like, just as one example, is the new http://www.airliners.net. Have you seen it? What an abomination. Sterile, boring, and totally non-intuitive so far as finding your way around. It’s horrendous to navigate.

  21. Christopher Robinson says:

    -I agree with you 100% on all the new swishy curvy liveries.I hate them and I want to kill them all…
    -I disagree with you about Etihad’s livery…It’s beautiful…beautiful… Reminds me of colourful Air Jamaica, which reminded me and im sure many others of the beautiful caribbean sunset over Montego Bay, or BWIA’s turquoise green, that represented perfectly the tropical feeling. Caribbean airlines livery is BORING, and Fly Jamaica’s livery is INCOMPLETE
    -Pan Am’s livery was one of the UGLIESt and most BORING i’ve seen yet.
    -I wanted to see some examples of what you consider A+ liveries.
    -American’s new livery is such a disaster..It looks especially horrendous on the new 777-300ERs, and on American Eagle.

  22. Pete says:

    I think someone’s just attached to the older liveries. I especially like the Etihad. You should throw in a few examples of what you consider good. Hard to take it serious when they are all F grades. For example I think the older frontier was better than the new, but here you actually like that one. Different tastes.

    Background: I studied architecture, with its first year being focused on graphic design and industrial design.

    • Patrick says:

      Attached to the older liveries? Well, if by and large the older liveries were better, and the overall trend in livery design is a negative one, then sure. But, there are plenty of “classic” liveries that were pretty awful, don’t get me wrong. And I like the Etihad “cardboard boxes” design too, as a design by itself. I just don’t think it works as airline branding.

      You’re right, though, I should do a post with some A and B grades instead of always being so crabby. Among those that I really like are Qatar, Turkish, Delta, Emirates, Hawaiian, and even the new American Airlines — if you count only the tail and not that horrifying new trademark. This post, though, is also supposed to be funny. I’m honest in my grading, but I’m also playing the curmudgeon role.

      Thanks for the comment.

  23. Marc McDonald says:

    Have you seen Eva Airlines’new Hello Kitty livery?

    http://www.evaair.com/en-global/flying-with-us/hello-kitty-jets/gallery/

    At least it’s colorful…I guess….if by colorful you mean you overdosed on prescription painkillers and glitter glue and then threw it up.

  24. greenlight says:

    While the Boston “T” logo is iconic – its meaning is probably lost on most Americans. What does it stand for? Why, “Tunnelbana” of course! The MBTA officials got the idea for the logo when visiting Stockholm in Sweden…

  25. First you called A380 as ugliest airplane in the world, which is true but look people love flying with this ugly plane because it’s comfort and quietness. Now you called Etihad livery as ugly? I don’t wanna live in this planet anymore.

  26. angelina says:

    Sorry i have to disagree with you about Etihad livery. I think it’s much better than Iberia and Spirit. It maybe complicated with those geometrics design on it’s tail but still great and not as bad as China Eastern or Malaysia Airlines livery. Everyone have their own taste and opinion though.

    • Patrick says:

      It’s an interesting and attractive design in and of itself, but as a branding tool it fails. That’s what a livery is really all about.

      And that Etihad typeface is so damn ugly.

      • clark says:

        Missing 80s livery era so much? Why you’re so passionately criticising their livery like they would change their livery based on your words.

  27. Paul says:

    Who writes this article?? Doesn’t have a creative bone it their body.
    None of the critique is remotely informed of the creative concepts behind each design and the editor clearly possesses an inherent fear of graphic progression.
    Take it down before you embarrass yourself even more mate!

    • Patrick says:

      Well I don’t know, Paul. You weren’t meaning to, but it sounds to me like you just so brilliantly summed up exactly what is wrong with the spirit behind these inelegant and nauseatingly overwrought designs in the first place!

  28. Joe says:

    Patrick, what’s your opinion of the Icelandair “Hekla Aurora” 757, the Air New Zealand “Hobbit Jet” 777s and their All Blacks livery which they’re introducing on a few planes?

  29. Anonymous says:

    I would have given Malaysia Airlines a ” C “. It`s not great but it`s OK. To be honest, the three most horrible new liveries out there are American Airlines, Etihad and Alitalia. Am I seeing things or what, but it looks like Alitalia`s new livery includes painting the wings a pearl white ( weird !!! ). I was catching an Iberia flight out of Madrid to O`hare and I was literally embarrassed when an American Airlines 767 with the new livery taxied past the gate I was sitting at ( I`m American ). I would like to know who the airlines are hiring to do these new liveries. I could do better on scrap of paper.

    • MW says:

      American’s paint job is a huge disappointment. They had a timeless, classy, glamorous paint job. It did not need to be changed. They are no longer my number one choice in carriers. Believe it or not, their paint scheme was very important to me. What they have now looks like a military cargo plane.

  30. Dave T says:

    a) Spirit: Was it really necessary to put the name of the airline on both the fuselage and the tail? The scratch lines on the latter do look like rain or sleet. I guess it’s saying that these things can fly through anything. Good to know.
    I do like the text on the engine cowling. It opens up all kinds of possibilities. Rather than have, say, a different animal on the tail of each plane (e.g. Frontier), Spirit could have differing descriptors of their company. Some possibilities: “Hidden Fees”, “No Service”, “Bring Food”, “Hate Flying”, etc.

    b) It’s good that Malaysian has a different scheme for its A380, a plane which, at least on this blog, seams to be universally hated, at least for its appearance. As the proportions of the A380 are severely different from those of any other plane, it demands a different approach. The merging multi-barred curves do help to minimize its bulkiness.

    c) The MBTA logo’s ‘T’ is certainly not Helvetica.

  31. Frank says:

    Look at the China eastern logo…got from so-so to horrible.

  32. Michael joyce says:

    New SW definitely better, same for Frontier. The new Spirit can’t be called boring and I really, really think the Etihad tail is fun. I can’t understand your preference for old Southwest. Makes a Boeing look like an Airbus.

  33. jord says:

    Have to disagree here, everyone is somewhat of an improvement over their old ones.

    Particulary the first one, the blur is much more inviting and cleaner.

    Iberia’s new one is much more modern and cleaner, and more inviting.

    While not all of them are fantastic, I think they’re all improvements.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I strongly disagree with loads of your thoughts. Aerolineas Argentas, Southwest, Malaysian and Etihad have all improved.

  35. Hugo says:

    Hi Patrick,
    I must say I strongly disagree against your ratings of Etihad Airways and Iberia. I think Etihad’s New livery is highly innovative, and I have personally been on their aircraft many times.Iberia’s is also pretty cool, though they have dropped the crown, which is kinda a minus.A few suggestions of bad liveries I would like to make is Air China’s highly outdated livery, and that of Yemenia Yemen Airways. I would also love to have your opinion on the livery of Emirates and Hainan Airlines. I personally think its great, but you can correct me anytime. Thanks.
    -Hugo
    (This is just the previous comment without typos)

    • Patrick says:

      Sure, the Etihad design is an innovative and interesting design — for the sake of itself. But, that doesn’t mean that it works as an airline branding tool. It’s too busy, too complicated, too self-conscious.

      As to Air China, you call it outdated, but I call it classic. It’s handsome. I wish more carriers held onto the traditional fuselage stripe. Air China’s logo, too, is very distinctive.

      I like the Emirates livery quite a bit. I wish the typeface weren’t quite as glitzy, but it works. And the tail design is excellent.

    • Dave T says:

      At which ever blog does one see a reference to Yemenia Yemen Airlines? or Hainan Airlines? Love it! You must really get around. Or you’re very bored.

  36. Hugo says:

    Hi Patrick,
    I must say I strongly disagree against your ratings of Etihad Airways and Iberia. I think Etihad’s New livery is highly innovative, and I have personally been on their aircraft many times.Iberia’s is also pretty cool, though they have dropped the crown, which is kinda a minus.A few suggestions of bad liveries i would like to make is Air China’s highly outdated livery, and that of Yemenia Yemen Airways. I would also love to have your opinion on the livery of Emirates. I personally think is great, but you can correct me anytime. Thanks.
    -Hugo

  37. Ken says:

    Spirit Airlines.

    Simple? Check.
    Iconic? Check.
    Instantly recognizable? Check.
    Visible for miles? Check.

    Yup. Totally agree. It sucks.

    I’m talking of course about your opinion. I hope you’re a better pilot than an advertising guru, because you stink at the latter.

    • Patrick says:

      Ken, with whatever due respect, did you really just describe the new Spirit Airlines livery as “iconic”? I mean, did you actually say that?

      Yes, it’s a simple design, I’ll grant you. As for instantly recognizable and visible for miles, it most certainly is, as are many monstrously ugly things! I won’t argue that it’s not in some ways effective, from a marketing standpoint, but that does NOT mean that it’s the least bit attractive, dignified or tasteful.

  38. Ben says:

    I saw one person call the new Spirit livery “Not so Magic School Bus.”

  39. Ravindra Nabiel says:

    You forgot 1 airline. Air Asia…

  40. Justin says:

    Totally agree with all the grades given here, and wouldn’t give a single one higher. Saw the new Southwest look in person not too long ago and dear God was it disgusting. The dark lavatory-liquid-blue and Comic Sans-esque typeface just cannot be taken seriously for an airline that’s earned itself a pretty decent reputation.

    Of course the worst offender, by far, is Iberia

  41. gibosh says:

    Interesting- purely as design, in almost every case, with the exception of Southwest, I much prefer the new design to the old. And although I am a regular flyer, none of the prior designs had either any hold on me as brands, or any kind of claim to nostalgic fondness. In particular, I find heraldic livery (coat of arms, crown, etc) quite busy and ugly, and an explicit signifier of archaism– not an archaism of the actual time of heraldry, but the archaism of the time when we thought referencing heraldry somehow implied status. I.e., when I see a coat of arms on a plane (or on anything else), I tend to identify it as innately outmoded, as symbolic of a company that doesn’t understand contemporary design, contemporary mores, and by implication, perhaps not contemporary anything. And that is likely one of the main points behind continual redesign of livery: the last thing you want is your customers consciously or unconsciously thinking that your airline is outmoded, because in the mind of the general public, in air travel old equals dangerous.

  42. Evan Wilson says:

    That silver and gray Spirit Airlines livery makes the plane look to me like an old DC-3 for some reason, so I kind of like it in a retro sort of way. (Though I’m not sure I’d want my passengers thinking that their flying experience is going to be like RIDING in a DC-3.) The new look is clearly designed to blind passengers so they don’t see the duck tape holding the wing on.

  43. Sheldon says:

    I’ve been buying airline tickets for about 50 years and I’ve yet to base my choice of airline on the colour of its fuselage. I can’t see it when I’m inside the plane and pay no attention to it while waiting to board. I’m sorry but I fail to understand why you take the exterior colours of an airplane so seriously.

  44. Andrey says:

    Let me agree with you on the being bored by the prevalence of abstract and “in-motion” themes. But I prefer the old Delta “flying colors” tails – they are one of my favourite liveries, dynamic, representative of the flag, fresh-looking and simply beautiful.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t have said it better, great article.

  46. Michael Joyce says:

    Sorry Patrick, I think the new designs are all much better. Especially SW. Those old planes looked fat. I do partially agree with you about AA, I like the tail but not the gray.

  47. FAIRTV says:

    The author of this article knows very little about design.

    • Patrick says:

      I know more than you might think. Some of these liveries are clever or attractive designs in and of themselves, I admit. The problem is, there can be an important difference between design, strictly speaking, and branding. Too many airline designs nowadays smack of self-satisfaction — as if their creators are all sitting around trying to impress and outdo each other, in the process totally failing to come up with a truly compelling identity. The tone of this comment — “the author of this article knows very little about design” — in addition to being false, is arrogant and hints at the very sort of attitude that has brought us such a boring and indistinguishable mish-mash of liveries.

  48. John Payne says:

    Respetfully I disagree.

    I think for the most part the changes look very nice.

    Design is subjective.

    You may hate it but for it to have actually come to being put on a very expensive aircraft, alot of people must have liked it.

    Sometimes a rant is just that…a rant.

    Times change. Tastes change. Sometimes good, other times…not so good.

    In my humble and insignificant opinion…They all look good.

  49. Patrick…

    Forgive me, but I’m surprised that you’ve never remarked on the logo that graces (irony –ed.) Star Alliance liveried planes—I presume that they’re backups supplied by airlines for their alliance partners. Perhaps the logo and livery needs to be somewhat generic, but as it stands, it looks like someone gave a pack of Letraset to André the Giant.

    Love your work…

    —Michael B.

  50. Nikhil Deodhar says:

    Well, to start off, I would disagree with the author’s opinion about the liveries of Frontier Airlines and Aerolinas Argentinas- I think they both look classy, except for the tail on the latter of course… Others look pretty bad though. Especially Etihad and Spirit liveries.
    As for Southwest Airlines livery, the newer livery isn’t that bad- but I agree that the older one looked better.
    Lastly, as an example of airlines that DID get it right, I think I should mention Air India. They changed theirs in 2007 IIRC, but they have done a good job of it…

  51. JeanSeb says:

    I’d like to add :
    – Garuda
    – TAP

  52. Monique Memminger says:

    I’m currently in flight school. My classmates and I enjoy reading your website. This site is one of our favorite pastime.

  53. John says:

    Dear Patrick,
    thank you very much for your article, I could not agree with you more. And I thought I was the only person who spared a thought or two about airline liveries. I hope those people working for the airlines are reading this too.
    As an aside, I would like to recommend the airline “Aer Lingus” as another example of an airline screwing up a good livery, although it was 20 years ago. Lets hope they do a better job next time, which should be coming soon. My recommendation for Aer Lingus would be to paint all their aircraft like the one Airbus A320 that they gave the “retro” 1970’s look just a a year or two ago. I saw it close up at Dublin in December and when you compare it to the current livery, you have a statement that conveys a lot about how the airline industry has developed since then.
    Regards,
    John

    • Patrick says:

      I agree with you on Aer Lingus. I was always fond of the 70s-era livery with the blue stripe and the bold white shamrock. The new livery is weak and half-assed. The wilting shamrock is ugly.

  54. NidaWilder says:

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  55. MJA says:

    Which reminds me, do havge a look at the Alitalia/Etihad EXPO livery on their A330’s. If ever you wondered what a plane looks like with ‘post it’ notes stuck all over it, check it out.

  56. MJA says:

    Not all swoosh/curve designs are total fails. Look at Oman Air. Now that is a nice livery, at least better than all those boring eurowhite schemes you sometimes see. The new Royal Brunei livery is also another one that pretty much deserves an F.

  57. corey b says:

    I agree completely. I’ve chimed in (as a graphic designer) before on this site regarding logo changes. I call this trend “fear of the concrete.”

    It’s a thing that seeps down from the corporate levels, I think. It’s characterized by a super-sensitivity, crossed with something like political correctness but it’s actually more insidious. It’s the complete inability to make a concrete statement or use a distinct image from real life, both in art and discourse. It also appears in businesses’ mission statements… the evasion from actual descriptive language.

    I don’t like it and I am on your side of the fight. Why kill the condor? Same reason that my home city Atlanta devised a godawful helix-thing as its Olympic mascot way back in 1996. It’s the fear of the concrete, and we need to push back.

  58. If you need a new livery concept for your airline, mail me.
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  59. bobbi says:

    Etiad’s livery started out nondescript and got beaten relentlessly, endlessly, maliciously with the world’s most POWERFUL “ugly stick”.

    Awarding an “F” demonstrates “grade inflation” on a scale hitherto unknown in the annals of art.

  60. Rog Williams says:

    I agree with all this! Especially the comments about the lack of necessity to change liveries.
    What is it about today, when millions are spent paying “consultants” to change images every few years? Often ending up with worse outcomes. A terrible example was the £60m rehash of the British Airways paint scheme twenty years ago, which had each aircraft painted in different, garish patterns. (Famously, Maggie Thatcher covered a model with her hankie, saying it was awful.) Thankfully it was replaced shortly afterwards – but with a downmarket “swoopy” design: the original was dull, but classy and radiated stability to the passengers who are, after all, the part of the equation that matters.

    PS: Patrick – Please get rid of this Captcha idiocy it takes half a dozen tries to get the images to work and it’s not a banking site!

    • Patrick says:

      That British Airways campaign was called “World Images.” It was a nice idea that went rotten really fast. I talk about it briefly in the airline identity essay in my book.

      But I forget, was it Thatcher or the Queen who described it as “awful”?

  61. Tom Zimmermann says:

    One airline that did get it right in my opinion is Air New Zealand, (they have other cool cabin/seating designs too).

    Not many black planes out there and uses the silver fern nicely..

    http://www.airlinereporter.com/2013/06/air-new-zealand-shows-off-new-livery-times-two/

  62. JohnLM says:

    Agreed on all fronts, just awful. The Etihad is better then the original but being the latest design to copy the artist Andy Gilmores work to evoke up class modernism it will need replacement a few years from now when that fad falls out of favor. Etihads prime directive right now is to try and catch up and surpass Emirates. Their new interiors and branding are the initial thrust from gold and lacquered wood gaudy to modern London hotel swank. Spirt airlines is the worst. I didn’t think it could get any sadder then that awful awful tri color mess but it did. Quite a feat. Southwest is always on the cutting edge of making planes look dated the minute they roll out of the paint shack. I never thought I’d wish to see the brown, tan and orange livery again but now that’s considered retro. It’s funny that people on here are defending these new paint jobs. Just goes to show maybe they do do their research as the non aviation/design enthusiast probably likes swirls and swooshes.

  63. Jean Delisi says:

    I agree with most of the grades. As for American, at first I did not like the new livery but it has grown on me. I still do not like the tail. If we can land a man on the moon there is no reason why American could not have retained the classic metal look. The iconic AA should not have disappeared. Spirit is just awful. A five-year old could have done a better job. I just saw Southwest’s new scheme and I thought”Do I want fries with that” I love the heart though. Hopefully this blue will last longer than the current Canyon Blue-this shade is not holding well. Wished they go back to the Mustard Colors. As for Frontier, I like it for the most part, just put the F on the tail and put the animals on the winglets.

  64. KenP says:

    Actually, the new Spirit color makes it look like a Hughes Airwest plane right out of the 70’s (except those were DC9’s). Hughes, based in Las Vegas, would have local comedians joke that they got a deal on the yellow paint which determined the livery.Looking at the Spirit yellow paint job brings it all back.

  65. RenaissanceLady says:

    I live in the mountains southwest of Denver. As such, I take Frontier Airlines fairly frequently. Of all the things about that airline which are worthy of complaint (the fees for both checked AND carry-on luggage being at the top of the list, surly flight attendants being another), I have absolutely no qualms about the different animals on the tail. It adequately represents the quirkiness that is Colorado — and especially Denver. I’ve seen little kids desperately trying to see which animal they’ll be flying, while more than a few adults also express interest in this regard.

    So many people are absolutely terrified of being on a plane, so I don’t feel you should begrudge Frontier in this regard. By having something this whimsical, it helps lighten the mood of many of the passengers. This is even more true after dealing with the nightmare that is TSA, navigating unfamiliar airports, etc. If the airline tried replacing the animals with some standard corporate logo, I imagine they’d be up to their eyeballs with complaints.

    • Patrick says:

      I’m not begrudging them! I’m just a little tired of it, and annoyed by the fact they include things like sharks — sharks! — as part of the artwork. If they stuck to Colorado or western themes I might feel differently. On the whole, though, I agree with you. I’d like to see the stylized “F” incorporated more noticeably, but the animals tails are an effective and fun branding tactic. I like them. And, I think the company’s slogan, which dovetails nicely with the tails, is great: “A whole different animal.” I even mention this in my book.

      • RenaissanceLady says:

        OK, I’m with you on the whole Flying Shark Like it’s Sharknado thing. I’d personally rather they used Bigfoot, as at least that’s something people up here are (allegedly) likely to see, at least compared to a shark. I also agree that I’d like more Colorado or Western-themed animals on the tail. “A whole different animal” is a great motto, especially in relation to the airline’s quirky style. Considering how much of Frontier has become painfully bad, their style and slogan are among the things I still appreciate.

        I’m a bit younger than you, so I don’t quite remember the old Frontier. (Was it ever related to Horizon Air? It seems like, before I was living in Colorado, I had taken both of these airlines and had connections in Denver at the old Stapleton airport. I somehow thought they might have been partners or incarnations of each other, but I could be mistaken.) I’m surprised I don’t remember the livery of either airline, considering how vividly I recall other airlines from my past.

        I have your original book but need to get the new one. I always appreciate your insight.
        — RL

  66. BetterYeti says:

    An overlooked livery courtesy of Pixar. Always found the koi and rising sun logo very pleasing.

    http://impdb.org/index.php?title=Toy_Story_2

  67. Dan says:

    I’m going to disagree with the majority of readers here… In almost all the instances, I believe the new liveries, while not the most amazing jobs out there, look better than the old.

    The straight lines and older font styles convey a dated look. As carriers consolidate and fight to remain relevant, they need to make moves to begin developing the next set of loyalty fliers out of the younger travelers – those who wouldn’t appreciate an old, bright aluminum fuselage and 70s era appearance eagle (AA) or a single straight line and a font not commonly used anymore.

    It’s great when a carrier (or any company undergoing a logo change and/or rebranding) manages to incorporate some bit of its heritage, but from the post and the comments it sounds like most people are nostalgic for air travel of the 70s, 80s, and 90s and thus want the liveries to remain in those decades as well.

    Just my two cents.

  68. Lee says:

    Why is it professional graphic artists with all their training and experience don’t have the common sense of the average Ask the Pilot reader? Look at the 7-Eleven logo – as ugly as red, orange, and green can be, and they stick with it decade after decade, making them the most depressing convenience store around. Then there’s the GE logo, elegant in the 1930s and now dated and boring. Just what a company needs as it continues to struggle since it plummeted in 2001 and 2007.

    Back to airplanes, what happened to AA’s idea years ago of leaving their planes shiny aluminum, saving on the weight of paint and increasing fuel economy? I thought they looked minimal and distinctive and elegant with their traditional logo.

    • Izhar M. says:

      Actually, when it comes to AA there is a practical reason for abandoning the metallic paint job. This kind of paint is not relevant for the current age of airliners that are built with composite materials instead of aluminum, such as the 787. Hence, that was a trigger for AA to replace their livery. Nevertheless, it can not explain why they abandoned the iconic AA on their tails.

  69. Harrow says:

    The new Ethiad livery looks like — actually, is — desert camouflage. This cannot be accidental. I shudder to imagine the mindset that would consider this an improvement over the crest of some Arabian colonel’s hat.

    It’s like the branding has gone from “pretentious tinpot junta generals on parade” to “seriously going to commit war on somebody”.

  70. Izhar M. says:

    Unfortunately there is more bad news on the airline livery front. One of the airlines with the best look, in my opinion, Avianca, decided to go with the flow and change its livery to the worse. Here is a sample: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Avianca/Boeing-787-8-Dreamliner/2516458/L/&sid=beaf4cae836b6585710586d372319a44

  71. Simon says:

    It’s funny, often when you see an airliner with retro livery you wonder why the airline doesn’t paint all their aircraft that way. Says quite a bit about how dull and exchangeable a lot of modern liveries are.

    Exhibit A: PH-BXA, N951AA, F-GFKJ, OY-KBO, OH-LVE, or D-AIDV.

    • Patrick says:

      I get your point, but in most cases these retro liveries are best viewed as one-offs, as novelties. While I’d love to see a 767 painted in the 70s/80s-era Delta livery, for example, but I definitely don’t want the entire fleet repainted that way. Or United’s “bow tie” livery from the early 70s. I wouldn’t want to see that across every plane.

      At least I don’t think so. Hm, I don’t know, maybe you’re on to something.

  72. Daniel Ullman says:

    The kindest thing that can be said about the Spirit Airlines livery is that is should make search and rescue operations easier. ‘nough said.

    Moving the “Southwest” from the tail was the biggest mistake there. Their planes have had fairly gaudy color schemes for as long as I can remember. Having the name on the tail was fairly iconic and always worked well in ads.

    I like the new color scheme for Aerolineas Argentinas. The sweeping blue over white is very attractive in my view. The new lettering is much less stodgy then the old. But we are back to the tail. Even if they thought the logo was to old fashion it could have been updated rather then abstracted into Satan’s Trademark Office.

    Livery is only useful in advertisements. No one is ever going to say,as they step on their plane, “Damn, that other plane taxiing out is much prettier than the one I am flying! I’ll use that company next time!” Marketing isn’t about style, it is about being noticed. The PSA smile was possibly the greatest achievement in this respect. Even if you didn’t read the ad you knew who placed it.

    As an aside, the practice of having the airline name covering most of the fuselage needs to end.

    • Patrick says:

      As to Southwest, I think having the heart on the tail is a better option than having the name up there, and would help to establish establish the heart as a more iconic, more recognizable mark for Southwest, which thus far it isn’t. They’ve always kept it in the background for some reason. If not the heart, then yeah, you’re right, keep the name on the tail. I thought it was cool the way they had the name on the tail but not on the fuselage.

      To your point about liveries in general, I sort of agree with you. I think the most important aspect of airline branding is the logo — the trademark — and not the livery overall. That’s what distresses me most about the American Airlines redesign. I can live with the piano key tail, but killing the “AA” was unforgivable.

    • Ad absurdum per aspera says:

      > The kindest thing that can be said about the Spirit Airlines
      > livery is that is should make search and rescue operations easier.

      I’ve wondered on occasion if some of the new liveries aren’t reducing visibility too much — not just Etihad’s WW2 E-boat dazzle paint, but Southwest’s abundant use of sky-blue, for instance. How does it look from the pointy end of another plane?

      That eyeball searing yellow pustule inflicted on the skies by Spirit Airlines is too far in the opposite direction, of course.

      That said, I do like Southwest’s new cabins, and you can’t see much of the outside of the plane when you’re in there anyway. I am however a bit surprised that they painted the sun-exposed surfaces such a dark color in both the new livery and its predecessor, and wonder if that makes passive solar heat gain more of an issue when the plane is on the ground.

      Count me in with readers who like the new Aerolineas Argentinas livery — though I’d have gone smaller and more subtle with the typeface. The palette me a bit of classic Pan Am.

  73. Bill H says:

    If everyone had the same taste the world would only need one brand of beer. I quite like the new scheme for Southwest. I like the darker blue (maybe due to being a Navy veteran), I think the scheme has more elegance, and I am glad the silly little heart is not readily visible.

  74. Neil Laferty says:

    “…turned every plane into a box of laundry detergent.” Ha! I really laughed out loud at that one. 🙂

  75. Paula Stevens says:

    Hello Patrick, This is my first time to write to you although I have followed your column for years. My first flight was as a young college student when I flew from Manchester UK to Glasgow then to Gander and on to Idelwild on a BOAC de Havilland Comet and fell in love with flying and airplanes. Now, having thoroughly dated myself, I’d like to throw my two cents into the discussion on airline liveries. If you google the Argentine flag and the uniforms that their football (soccer) teams wear they are all the same yucky shade of blue. I would think that might be the reason for the color change. The plane that they used to transport the World Cup team was also that shade of blue. Now I have a question for you if you would be good enough to answer. I live in South Florida and follow the traffic going in and out of MIA and FLL on Flightradar24 and liveATC.net. I particularly enjoy the European heavies which arrive in late afternoon. I have noticed that one pilot will talk to ATC all the way in but as soon as they touch down another voice will talk to the tower and then to ground. This is especially evident when one voice is male and the other voice is female. I am assuming that the second voice is that of the pilot who flew the plane in. Is that correct?
    Anyway thank you for the enjoyment and frequent laughs that your column provides.
    Paula.

    • StillBitterMate says:

      That yucky shade of blue is currently ranked second in the world.. and has the world greatest player.. again 😉

    • Paula Stevens says:

      Futbol: That yucky shade of blue is currently ranked second in the world … and has the world’s greatest player.. again 😉

      With the benefit of hindsight “blah” rather than “yucky” might have been a more appropriate adjective to describe Argentinian blue and I certainly respect the talent of the team and Lionel Messi. My family both in the UK and USA are devout Liverpool fans and frequently go to international games at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. They saw Messi play there in 2012.

      Paula.

  76. Jon says:

    I think the worst airline livery I have seen, while not a redesign as they are a relatively new airline, if for Transavia (the budget airline of Air France KLM). Their planes look like flying tubes of toothpaste.

    • Patrick says:

      Actually Transavia has been around for a long time and the current livery isn’t their first.

      You’re right though, it’s dreadful. The toothpaste-tube thing is a funny and strangely accurate comparison.

  77. jtwent says:

    Sorry, but you are not a design critic. The new liveries are, on the whole, modern and refreshing. Spirit’s is the only one that is truly awful, as is the airline.

    • Patrick says:

      No I’m not a design critic, but I’ve been something of a student of corporate branding for years. I find the field fascinating. And I know a BAD airline livery when I see it.

      As to whether the new liveries are “modern and refreshing”… Even if they are, neither of those things is, in this context, a virtue.

      • Gyula Bogar says:

        Speaking of corporate branding. As ugly as the yellow Spirit is, shouldn’t the goal be for planes of airlines to be recognized from far, as they are seen most of the time? Without binoculars you can barely differentiate between planes flying over areas even at lower altitudes approaching airports. I would think it good marketing when a colorful Southwest or royal blue KLM gets recognized instantly even at 2000-3000 feet.

    • Simon says:

      Of course they’re modern and refreshing!

      They’re modern because they were created yesterday and they’re refreshing in the sense that they were new and a surprise when revealed.

      But that doesn’t change anything about the fact they’re either ugly as sin or simply uninspired corporate outpour.

    • Richard says:

      I think your first sentence sums up the problem perfectly. This is not an art gallery we’re talking about – it’s something designed for the public to look at, and more importantly choose to look at. It doesn’t matter if every single design critic in the world thinks they are wonderful. If the public doesn’t agree then they are not good designs for an aircraft. We look at planes because they are attractive (A380 not withstanding) and impressive things, not because we are forced to. You can get away with less attractive but striking branding in other areas but not here. Brand awareness isn’t enough – the design has to make you WANT to get on the plane.

  78. Richard says:

    I’m still seething over what the corporate branding hacks did to American Airlines. Whenever I see the new livery, my blood pressure goes up a few points. What American did was a crime. I would choose a competing airline if I had a choice when booking a flight.

  79. Josh says:

    Say what you want about Etihad’s new livery (prismatic? maybe they used an iphone filter app on the old logo?), at least it’s not a swoosh!

    (I actually like it, FWIW– it’s fine as a special/one-off livery, but not as a fleet-wide corporate identity)

  80. Chris Holm says:

    I don’t think that is supposed to be an arrow on the new Frontier design. I think that’s a harpoon, which is a neat nod to the Frontier design history.

    • Chris Holm says:

      In hindsight, I realize I was confusing Frontier with Alaska Airlines and the Eskimo logo on the tail, so the harpoon imagery doesn’t make much sense.

      While I still think that with the arrow point on one side it still looks like a harpoon, it probably isn’t anything more than a generic design feature to represent moving forward or similar.

  81. Tod Davis says:

    Just as long as they don’t touch the Qantas Kangaroo

  82. mactenchi says:

    I actually like the new Etihad tail design. I think it’s cool and modern, reminiscent of digital camouflage.

  83. Reenie says:

    I agree with most of your takes on these new liverys. That Etihad box design – what the…?? That is busy and jarring. And brown boxes – even UPS didn’t go that route. That “swirly blue fever-dream”? Yikes. Even the Belugas are mad.

    Spirit wins hands-down though. A bumble bee that looks like its been in a fight (the slashes through the lettering add that charming effect). I’d forgotten about their black-and-silver debacle. I shuddered when I saw it again.

    Here’s to hoping these all look better at a distance? Like a 30,000 foot distance?

    • Patrick says:

      Yeah I was wondering about those weird scratches/slashes in the “SPIRIT” typeface. They are there for what reason, exactly? (Oh wait, I know: they add “texture.”) They make the letters look charcoaled and burned.

  84. Marshall says:

    I’d change all the F’s here to D’s. The only airline truly deserving an F is China Eastern for its new livery, which makes CE’s prior livery look like it was designed by Van Gogh. You really have to try hard to make a 773ER as exciting as a box of store-brand baking soda. China Eastern has succeeded. I bet even Air Koryo’s livery designers look at CE’s new livery and think, “Oh man, that’s just depressing.”

    • Patrick says:

      I was going to include a critique of China Eastern’s new non-livery as part of this post, but I got lazy and left it out.

      Not to worry, it’s fully deserving of an F.

    • Ben says:

      I saw that new China Eastern livery and the first thing that came out my mind was “what livery?” It looks like a generic business jet belonging to China Eastern and not to the airline itself.
      I also agree that is very hard to make a 777-300ER look dull, but they did here. This livery is so bad that it would make even a 747 look dull.

  85. John says:

    The lines with curvatures suggest that the plane is going somewhere even when standing still of the Aerolineas Argentinas. Should have kept the old condor on the tail.
    Iberia’s livery was nicely simplified, but should have kept the crown on the tail.
    The geometric shapes of Etihad remind me of the paint schemes on ships during WW II. Are there any U boats in the sky?
    That heart on Southwest looks like it was designed by Pepsi Cola for a can of diet water.
    The new Spirit livery is absolutely dreadful. The plane looks like an alphabetic bumble bee.
    The new Frontier is nice with the green lettering, and the bear on the tail is a nice touch, The old gray lettering suggested something time worn and needing an upgrade.

  86. JuliaZ says:

    I hate to say it, but I think the new Iberia livery is pretty, though I wish that they’d kept the IB. Spirit looks like the Yellow Pages. Southwest changed their colors a little… I like the new blue more… but the heart should be front and center, and the kids loved being able to always tell their planes from the red bellies. No longer. Malaysia gets a pass from me. They needed to change and what they did is inoffensive; they kept the iconic kite. The A380 though? Holy crap, it’s disgusting… an ugly paint job on a hideous chunk of metal, though the blue does slightly suggest the whale’s ocean….

  87. Don Murray says:

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with most of your grades! Why change something to make it worse? Changing the Frontier name to green rather than the nondescript gray is a slight improvement, that was the only one that didn’t get an F! I can’t image how much airlines paid design consultants to do such bad pieces of work. Just my opinion, I am a mainframe computer guy, not an artist or design person.