I May Not Like American’s Livery But I Get Why It’s Staying

We now know how American will paint its airplanes. Just over half of the 60 percent of American’s employees that voted chose to keep the current tail with the big, obnoxious flag on it. This finally puts the livery question to bed, but it actually says something more interesting about management. The way they went about approaching this issue is telling of how they look at the airline.

Airline employees and enthusiasts jumped on the livery question the second the chance of a merger was even rumored. While most people in the world probably don’t care at all, those who do care are extremely passionate about the subject and continued to speculate until the decision was made.

American Flag Logo

The previous management team hurried the roll out of the current colors (above) back in January 2013, just a couple weeks before the merger was announced. The timing seemed strange, but they dove into it full force. Airplanes were painted quickly and a massive branding campaign was rolled out to show off the multi-million dollar effort.

The timing seemed all wrong, and the reviews of the new branding were mixed at best. Personally (not that anyone cares), I didn’t hate the logo and I really liked the font. But the “silver” paint looked pretty gray to me and the flag-waving tail was just way too much. Once I found out that it cost significantly more to paint compared to other airline scheme, that was just the cherry on top. I assumed that once the merger went through, the livery would be toast.

Fast forward and here we are watching the new management team embrace that livery. At first, I could only shake my head. I think there was a missed opportunity to do something great here (like putting the logo on the tail, for example). But thinking about this more, I look at how management handled this and appreciate what they did.

Think back to when America West and US Airways merged. America West may have taken over but they kept the old US Airways logo. They did repaint the airplanes but with the logo staying the same, none of the branding had to change on the ground. In the American merger, by the time these guys took over in December, so much branding work had been done that it seemed clear to me that the new logo would stay. But I still figured the tail was gone.

That tail was complex, and I assume it added a lot of cost to the process. By ditching the tail, the new management team could keep the logo and all the branding that comes with it while saving money and still putting their own stamp on it.

But then the vote was announced and it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Management instead presented two options. The first was to keep the current tail and the second was to return the tail to the old AA logo with the eagle. The body, gray paint, company logo, and typeface wouldn’t change at all.

Alternative American Airlines Livery

The idea of a vote was brilliant since, as the new management team has said from the beginning, it’s the employees who care about the livery more than anyone. This is also the kind of thing that never would have been done under previous management. Branding experts undoubtedly gasped in horror when they saw the option combining the new and the old logos on to one strange livery, but this management team cares a lot less about fancy branding and a lot more about what employees want to see, especially on issues where the primary impact isn’t on the bottom line and instead on the employees themselves.

Employees missed the old logo, and they were given a chance to bring it back in some form. Despite how strange the combined livery looked, it got nearly half the votes. That wasn’t enough so the new livery stays, but there will be a heritage livery in the fleet that keeps the old eagle flying. (A TWA heritage livery is coming as well – hopefully the beginning of a healing of some deep, old wounds.)

In all this, the thing that bothered me most was that the new livery was so expensive to paint. Why not try to cut costs on something like that? I think it says a lot about how management views this airline. They must have looked at it and said, “yeah, it’s expensive to paint, but we have so much more to do right now. Why get bogged down agonizing over the paint job when in the scheme of things, it’s not a huge impact?” Just stick with what you have and move on. End the distraction and the speculation.

Now it’s all done. The livery is what it is. I may not like the tail, but I can see why it unfolded the way it did. And for most people out there, they won’t care at all. We can get on to more important things.

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