Fashion Trends: New Jets

The Idiosyncratist had occasion to travel through a couple major airports last week on an annoying but necessary excursion that now has ended. But enough of that.

One thing I observed in the airports was that commercial jets are being given new looks, at least on the outside. To people in the know (including me, since last week) the look of an airliner is called its livery.


United Airlines

Take, for instance, United Airlines, whose big jets used to look this:


Five years ago, United merged with Continental Airlines. The combined group took the United name but adopted the more subtle and subtly colored Continental tail fin.

In the example above, a large two-aisle model lost its apparently now-dated horizontal stripes and acquired a more graceful, undulating line that coordinates with the tail design.


American Airlines

More recently, American Airlines and US Air merged. The American name was retained, but since then the “AA” tail fin logo has been replaced with a red and blue striped design, as seen below.


Again, possibly in keeping with newer trends, the horizontal midsection stripes have been abandoned.

Let’s take another look at the new American tail fin. Some aircraft design devotees (yes, there are such people) say the red-blue striping looks too rah-rah, like a U.S. flag.


That may be, but the first thing I think of when I see this tail design is a piano keyboard.

American Airlines also had a long history of gray-colored siding, originally unpainted metal. The idea, I believe was that the color implied speed and, perhaps more, minimized the weight of paint on jet bodies. Now that the aircraft bodies are made of composite materials (of what colors I do not know), American seems to be sticking with its traditional look.


Delta Airlines

Delta planes used to look mostly like this.

More recently, Delta jets have gone the way of United and American jets, losing the horizontal stripes and substituting a dark blue underbelly, perhaps to suggest a slimmer, more sleek look.

As you can see, the tail image implies a delta shape but doesn’t spell out the name of the airline.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest started with a different business model — all 737 Boeing jets running mostly shorter hops with no seat assignments and (get this!) friendly service people. Its founders were flamboyant Texas executives, of course.

Its airliners for many years were painted in desert gold with red accents.


Not too many years ago, it switched to bright blue plane bodies, but with the name still on the tail.


The latest look is the same blue, but with the name emblazoned on the plane body.


All this makes me wonder whether the FAA adopted some new, little-discussed regulation about appropriate tail fin designs and striping for commercial jet liveries. Who knows?
Still to Come

Alaska Airlines started in Alaska and always has had a picture of an Eskimo on its tail fins. Over the years, as the airline has expanded its route structure up and down the Pacific coast cities and then to various eastern destinations, it has kept the Alaskan name and the Eskimo image, which is said to be much loved in its home state.

The image has been updated recently. Below on the right, is the traditional black-and-white detailed picture. On the left is the new rendering, less detailed and in shades of blue and green.


But change is afoot. Alaska is in the process of acquiring Virgin America and, in the process, a broader route structure.

Here is the Virgin America look. It is all red and white, and it has the seemingly outdated “Virgin” lettering on its tail.


I can’t see a way to blend the two airlines’ liveries. Red and green and blue is probably too many colors. Plus, combining a picture of an Alaskan native man and the word “virgin” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In fact, this happened before. Alaska acquired Horizon Airlines, a regional carrier in the western states, in the late 1980s. Horizon flights didn’t adopt the Alaskan livery until 2011.

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