United Gets Into the Retro Colors Game (Airplane Porn)

Let’s face it. The holidays are here and the number of out of office replies I’m seeing keep rising. So let’s finish out this week with something light. How about some airplane porn?

United is an airline that has had some of the best, historical color schemes (aka liveries) on its airplanes. Because of that, it’s always been frustrated that the airline was never willing to paint an airplane in the colors of yesteryear. (I suppose the gray colors that still adorn many of the airplanes can be considered retro by now.) But that’s finally changing. And this little beauty is going to be gracing the skies sometime soon. (Actually, it’s probably going to be on an Airbus, but you get the idea.)

United Retro Livery

United actually put this to a vote and got huge turnout. This livery, better known as the Stars and Bars, captured a full third of all votes. And it’s going to look fantastic, but to be honest, my preference would have been for another. That’s right, I’m partial to the livery that introduced the United tulip, the one that dominated my childhood. You probably know it as the impossible mix of blue, red, and orange – colors that do not come together in nature. But every time I see a picture of a DC-10 in those colors, it instantly makes me think it’s time to go to Hawai’i. But hey, I love the Stars and Bars as well so it’s all good.

I’m heading out for the holidays today, hoping that the water in our house dries up. (That’s what happens when you get half your annual rainfall in one week.) Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate. See you back here next week.


29 Responses to United Gets Into the Retro Colors Game (Airplane Porn)

  1. Brian Lusk says:

    I love the livery they chose. For a short time back then, airlines went over the top with their liveries and didn’t waste an inch of fuselage. Look at Eastern’s late 50s early 60s livery that screamed “Fly Eastern Air Lines” and with the big gold eagle on the tail. Or Braniff’s “Pepsi” red, white, and blue livery. However, my favorite all-time UA livery is their 1950s Mainliner scheme that all of their piston aircraft wore.

    I’m not a big fan of those early 70s liveries like the tulip, or EA’s “hockey puck,” or CO’s black meatball on the gold tail. Nevertheless, I understand why folks would be attached to them, and CF is right, it has a lot to do with your first recollections.

  2. nealberk says:

    I think I saw the old tulip colors on a United plane a few weeks ago. Wait, that was probably just one that they have not gotten around to repainting yet.

  3. Zach says:

    I’m with you on the inaugural tulip scheme. Reminds me of my first flight on a 747 as a kid. It was a UA 747-100 LAX-HNL. By then, they’d relegated those birds to high-volume medium-haul domestic routes and had replaced whatever 70s-era lounge had been on the upper deck with extra economy seating, so I was able to ride up top on the way back to LAX. Still one of the two or three most memorable flights I’ve ever taken.

  4. Ryan says:

    Mmmm airplane porn. Best Christmas gift ever.

  5. TDM says:

    You don’t like blue, red, and orange together in a livery? Don’t let Southwest hear you say that! Merry Xmas!

  6. BCH says:

    Looks good, but here in NYC some of the memories aren’t so good. It’s the 50th anniversary of the midair collision that brought a UA DC-8 crashing down into the heart of Brooklyn. The only recognizable piece of wreckage (in a widely republished photo) from this horrible event is the DC-8’s tail emblazoned with the diagonal stripe and “United” below it.

  7. Brian says:

    Merry Christmas to you too! Thanks for a great year on The CF!

  8. Some liveries look better on longer planes then shorter ones. While the Stars and Bars screamed USA back in the day, it looked better on a DC8, ‘cheat’ lines on 707/720’s and DC8’s made the planes seem a mile long.

  9. Tony says:

    I think most will prefer the scheme that resembles closest to their childhood memory of United. I remember in 1968 at age 10 my first trip on an airplane a United 727 from LAX to ORD. This is the scheme I remember as we approached the gate. The other two schemes that invoke childhood memories are the old TWA globe with the red arrow contrail, and of course the mighty Blue globe of Pan Am.

  10. Merry Christmas Brett! I love reading your Crankiness! Ha, ha.

  11. stan says:

    i always thought that the tulip logo was ugly and dated in any era. i’ve never understood its appeal.

    the stars and bars is cool, tho!

  12. Perry says:

    The blue-red-orange tulip definitely brings back memories! In fact, my family and I lived in Hawaii in the late 70’s, so seeing a DC-10 with those colors, absolutely takes me back. That said, I still love the grey “malevolent skies” look the best. It’s not because of any particularly good memory, I just like the color combination. That Airbus looks pretty cool, though.

  13. Bruce says:

    Dear Cranky,

    I hope you’ll think twice the next time you solicit comments on something like airplane liveries. Three days of opinionated yapping from folks whose remarks are boring and irrelevant. Some like it, some don’t, some have memories, some don’t, some dislike the lovely tulips, some love that boring depressing gray. Enuf already. Jeez. UA will do what they wanna do. Let’s leave it at that for chrissake.

    • stan says:

      yes, 19 comments in three days is a flood of boring an irrelevant input

      from what i see, only one comment here falls into that category…

    • Don Nadeau says:

      “Enuf already. Jeez. UA will do what they wanna do.”

      Well, if you are right, that’s one of the sad problems with some in the airline business. Such things as customer perceptions and corporate branding are not given the attention they deserve.

      Take Allegiant Air for example. There’s a business model that seems to compete solely on its low price image and on its limited network of exclusive nonstop services. In policy making beyond these two selling points, considering what customers actually think of the airline does not seem to enter the picture.

      That’s a dangerous corporate path for any airline–or for any business.

      There is little barrier to entry for a well-financed new airline to compete with Allegiant on price and routes, but there’s a huge barrier to entry for any airline to compete with the goodwill Southwest has built over the years, whale bedecked planes and all.

      • Bruce says:

        “Such things as customer perceptions and corporate branding are not given the attention they deserve … In policy making beyond these two selling points, considering what customers actually think of the airline does not seem to enter the picture.”

        These abstracts are probably not given more attention because it’s hard to connect things like paint jobs to putting bottoms in seats. Survey after survey shows that price is what counts most for the typical pleasure traveler. For biz travelers, it’s skeds, frequencies and mileage programs. Pls show me a survey or other proof that corporate branding or livery topped these other factors when a passenger chooses an airline. Liveries can generate warm feelings but I doubt that the vast majority of travelers could even identify the airline if the name were removed and only the stripes or colors remained.

  14. Don Nadeau says:

    Of course, you are correct that price, schedules, and mileage programs are crucial, but great companies also distinguish themselves in the lessor areas that impact customers.

    You ask that I prove the impact of branding on airline bottom lines, but just one U.S. airline JetBlue puts significant attention on this area, and as far as I know, its research and payback are private.

    I do know that companies like Coke and McDonald’s (starting internationally) are placing huge attention on design. In fact, McDonald’s believes that its rebranding to a far more chic experience in Europe has led to very significant sales increases (see Fast Company, October 2010, which also features JetBlue).

    Sadly, in my opinion, overall the U.S. airline industry continues to lag grossly in creating an experience the majority of its customers actually enjoy. As far as I know, just one airline Delta has even bothered recently to bring in someone from outside the industry with a fresh outlook to improve customer interface.

  15. Bruce says:

    Dan,

    You raise some valid points but most have nothing to do with the passenger’s perception of the airline’s livery or other design elements. Advertising (and branding, which I separate from logo designs) is another thing … JetBlue has very edgy ads that appeal to more than price sensitivity in the traveler’s mind. They also have very good service, as does Southwest– mainly because they don’t overpromise and, in WN’s case, no nickel-and-diming with fees for baggage, blankets, window seats, etc. Selling Coke and burgers, I venture to say, is an entirely different ballgame where not only is the marketplace crammed with products but the purchase is made much more on a spur-of-the-moment basis. In that dog-eat-dog situation, logos and corporate branding play a bigger role in snagging the consumer.

    –Bruce

  16. Bill Hough says:

    UA should adopt this “retro” paint scheme:
    http://www.aviation-designs.net/?id=1371

  17. Pingback: Article: United Gets Into the Retro Colors Game (Airplane Porn) « Astriker's Blog

  18. Al B says:

    Don Nadeau: Thanks so much for posting those fascinating articles (and grudging recognition to Bruce for instigation).

    It’s amazing what one can learn from this site.

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