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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60 comments on “I May Not Like American’s Livery But I Get Why It’s Staying

  1. I’m no big fan of the new livery, but I don’t hate it either. The tail IS a little too much and my preference would have been too adjust it to fit neatly on the tail and not bleed down onto the fuselage. For some reason it looks better on smaller aircraft. Having seen it in person however I will say that it looks very striking when I see a lineup of 3 more or at an airport terminal. In that instance, to me anyway, it’s a successful re-brand.

  2. I am amazed at how fast they are being painted. It has only been a year since it was rolled out and the skies over my house (North of DFW) are full of this new paint. While I still see a lot of the MD-80s in the old scheme, it is pretty rare to see a 737 in the old one anymore. And I very rarely see a twin-aisle in the old one.

  3. The first time I saw this, I thought it was a bit busy and unexpected, but I really like it now. It’s something different. US Airways was oAlways kind of boring to me as was Continental. I was surprised that the new united took on the continental look.

    Anyway, the new AA is fresh, bright and clearly distinctive. When you see it in person, it looks great. I think the release, being CGI, made it look a little off.

    Best of luck to the new AA!

  4. As someone who works in marketing, I think it’s depressing to put stuff like this to a vote. Or that any Tom, Dick, or Sally thinks they know enough to weigh in on branding, logo design, fonts, and colors.

    I’d bet a lot of money that the design firm did a ton of versions, and a ton of consumer research. I’d bet they also did a lot of research with employees. And I bet they weighed things we can’t even begin to imagine. And I have to believe no one at AA was surprised about the cost to paint – they knew before they approved the art.

    I worked on a rebranding for a financial services company about 5 years ago, as at one point in the process, there were 90 versions of logos, colors, fonts, etc. This stuff gets made, analyzed, thought, overthought, etc.

    Yes, people can have opinions – of course. And I get why people are so passionate. But brands matter. And branding matters. And there’s financial goodwill that goes with it. Look at any public company’s balance sheet for the proof.

    When the electrician comes over to fix the wiring, do you tell him how to do his job? When the surgeon is operating, do you tell him where to cut?

    But EVERYONE know how to make a logo?!?

    Kinda sad.

    1. As someone who works in IT, I completely agree. Let the marketers do their Job. I like the new Logo and the Flag on the tail. Looks sharp and smart.

    2. “When the electrician comes over to fix the wiring, do you tell him how to do his job? When the surgeon is operating, do you tell him where to cut?”

      I don’t think you can compare the jobs of electricians and the plumber to branding– untold millions of eyeballs and emotions are involved, not just a few.

      I’ve gotten used to the new tail, but still find the idiotic Greyhound logo completely uncompelling, even if it does accurately (if cluelessly) signify modern air travel. New tail with classic AA logo up front would have been much better, IMO.

      However AA paints its new planes, it will still be a long time before it’s my first choice–I’ve managed to avoid it for over three years now. Just too many years of bad service and decrepit MD80s and transcon 767s , now with memories of US’s mediocrity piled on.

      1. It’s funny – you undo your own argument by the end of the post.

        Leave the old logo, but you won’t fly them anyway because of years of bad service.

        Whether or not I personally like the design, I do understand that it’s hard to signify moving forward if you keep a piece of the old branding.

        No one seems to miss Apple’s rainbow apple. Or the Jeeps and safari print in Banana Republic stores…

        But by all means AA, move forward into the future with new planes that have pieces of multiple branding systems.


        1. I wasn’t presenting an argument; I was giving my opinion. But if you need to feel your’e on the winning side, the prize is all yours.

    3. Neil, I get your point, but this isn’t a full rebranding. Its a poll on a small portion of their rebranding, one which most folks don’t see until long after they’ve made their travel plans, and all sorts of folks don’t even look at. (Seriously, take a look at how many people actually pay attention to the outside of the plane they’re getting onto. The airline geeks do, but we’re a small small part of the market.)

      1. I realize branding and logos are important, especially in advertising. I mostly fly Southwest and recognize their colors in the sky. But when I go to board an airplane, I don’t look, nor do I care how the plane is painted. I care more that my seat is comfortable and the interior is clean and aesthetically pleasing. I can see why American employees might feel more passionate about it than customers, because it’s their brand and logo, not just management’s. I think taking the poll of employees was inspired, given the toxic relationship between previous management and employees. It gives American’s employees a sense they are part of the decision making (which never happened before) and that management cares about what they think. For the marketing geeks, isn’t it great that a majority of employees voted for the new brand? Win-win!

    4. That’s not what happened.

      AA boiled all that work down to two logos and asked for opinions.

      And what do you know? Those silly non-marketing types voted for the new logo after all.

    5. Neil S – Yes, the OLD management team knew how much it cost and felt that it was worth spending a ton of money on it. But that team is gone, and the new management team undoubtedly looks at this very differently and would never have designed it this way.

      Also, you joke about everyone knowing how to make a logo, but as Billy says, this wasn’t a “design your own logo” contest. There were two options, both existing logos that were designed by professionals. I think it was a great idea to let people vote.

    6. The difference between an electrician and a marketer being the difference between basically any technical and any non-technical field. For an electrician and other technical fields, there’s a right way to do their job and a wrong way to do their job, defined entirely by objective criteria ie if said electrician uses wire that’s too small for the current requirements, there’s a high probability of a fire. For marketers and non-technical fields, its all arbitrary criteria and opinion subject to change as the breeze of societal norms change.

  5. Cranky, you mention the cost of the new livery – do you have any specifics on that? Just curious.

    1. Andrew – I don’t know if that’s public information, but it was significantly more. This wasn’t a rounding error.

  6. I’m not a fan of the new livery, but it’s better than the 2nd option of the new livery with the old tail. I think if they came up with a 3rd option maybe with the new livery with the colors incorporated with the USAiways tail that would of won. I am glad they gave the employees the options though to let them know their opinions matter, but is there something going on where 40% didn’t vote at all?

    1. I agree that a third option could have won. This vote didn’t have a true alternative – the mish/mash option was just weird.

    2. Michael – I’d be curious to see how this breaks down. I think some of those included in the count are those who work for wholly owned regionals and may not necessarily care as much. Also, there are a lot of people who work at airlines but aren’t “airline people” and they just may not have cared. Imagine some of the IT folks who are computer people, not airline people. I’d say 60% isn’t a bad turnout at all, but I don’t have anything to compare it to.

  7. It is not suprising that the vote was to keep the current livery. Although the tail is way too busy and every other complaint made (although it makes it easy to spot your AA bird in a non-hub airport), the combination of the old tail and new fuselage is just graphically awkward and would be inherently ugly to just about anybody. Kind of like mashing pictures of celebrities’ heads on other bodies. I suspect most of the AA tail votes were rooted more in nostalgia or protest than pleasing graphic imagery.

    1. Shane, my thoughts exactly regarding who voted for the old tail; probably 90% were union people still grinding an axe for the old management or thinking they would give Horton one last parting shot.

  8. The new tail is horrible. The rest looks great. My opinion doesn’t count but I like that US Airways painted the bottom of the planes blue for some nice contrast.

  9. It was rolled out because all the new planes (composites) aren’t all shiny like a tin can. It’s more expensive to paint because they actually paint them.

    I don’t buy a hurried roll out for some nefarious reason. They needed a livery that was fully painted.

    1. I took Cranky’s comment about cost not to mean that it costs more than the previous, bare-metal look (that’s obvious), but that this specific design costs more than some other fully painted look would cost (like a simpler tail design, for example).

    2. Polishing planes has a cost as well. AFAIK, Boeing actually used to charge AA more to polish the planes than they charged other airlines to paint them (in a basic four color scheme.)

    3. jeremy – Andrew is correct. I’m talking about versus other painted liveries and not versus a bare metal scheme. But bare metal has its costs as well. You need corrosion prevention that is normally provided by the paint. Several airlines have done studies and opted to keep paint. (Remember this Air Canada airplane?)

      Also, there was no need to roll the paint out that day. The Airbuses didn’t come until several months later. The original plan was to roll it on the big 777-300ER but they didn’t have time to paint it so that was sitting there in gray paint. If that’s not hurried, then I don’t know what is.

  10. As you say, there are a lot more pressing matters on the new American’s agenda than the livery. Putting the issue to a vote (and it looks like it was a vote, not a survey) allows everyone to move on.

    In the end, there’s no accounting for taste. I may be one of the few people who didn’t find American’s old livery attractive. To me, it’s chopped up, with the varied metal versus paint colors creating a mess. The painted look is far sleeker and more uniform than its predecessor. I really don’t mind the busy tail, either. Management’s “old logo” option was both boring and sterile. At least the new tail, while a bit garish, isn’t bland.

    Having written this, There’s always the possibility that American can do what jetBlue does – have more than one tail. It’s going to take time to paint 580 US Airways aircraft, not to mention all of the current American fleet that will need paint at some point. That will allow time (if management wants it) to design a second or third tail without delaying the rebranding process.

    I also like the idea of “heritage” liveries. The expense of heritage liveries is worth every dime, in my opinion. I hope they keep more than one heritage American aircraft around (updated to reflect the need to paint, of course). It would also be nice to see more than one TWA aircraft (with different designs, as was done with the two America West liveries). And while its at it, add an AirCal aircraft. I also would like to see the PSA (and AirCal) aircraft flown primarily in the west. After all, PSA and AirCal were western airlines.

    Just a few thoughts. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, no matter which one(s) you celebrated.

  11. Glad a decision was made quickly, and glad that the employees voted to keep the new one, as I think it looks good (especially when you see it on actual planes).

    Airline branding, however, goes way beyond the planes. AA has a ton of re-branding to do, from the eagle immediately inside the aircraft as you board (now obsolete, needs to be replaced with the new “A”) to all kinds of posters, airport signage, flyers/brochures on-board, sides of jet bridges, etc.

    I was amazed at the time DL merged with NWA how quickly, and masterfully, the DL brand extended to EVERYTHING–it seems not a baggage cart or even wheelchair kept the NWA logo, etc. I hope the new American moves as quickly. I even found myself irritated by the old USAirways–some gates and check-in areas had the old USAirways look (gray stripes) while others had the “new” look (plane white walls with the logo).

    I realize it may seem there are bigger fish to fry in the merger, but this is the stuff the customers and the employees SEE every day. Seeing a messy brand makes the operation seem messy. Seeing the logo of your old employer makes you focus on the past, not the future. Delta seemed to get that. Let’s hope new AA does too. I agree with Cranky that moving quicky to resolve the paint issue is a good sign–may they also quickly do other branding-related tasks.

  12. “In all this, the thing that bothered me most was that the new livery was so expensive to paint”

    It has already been mentioned that new aircraft can’t shine like the old ones, but I have to say with the amount of composite materials on modern aircraft precludes the vintage AA bare metal. Composites have to be painted to protect them from the elements. Go look at a photo of an AA A-300, they looked like something in need of a dermatologist! Also your claim of the rush to re-brand, I think is off the mark. AA had new aircraft coming off the line and they had to decide how to paint them before then. That train left the station long before the doors to the paint shop opened. Also much of the painting is done before final assembly. Gray vs silver, there again the cost of paint may have been a driving factor. Metallic paint is more costly, harder to apply, heavier and I am sure harder to maintain. There is nothing sadder than a plane sporting a nose cone or panel with mismatched paint.
    I give credit to the employees who voted for the new paint, it puts a lot of bad times behind them. Also it means a lot of renewing of old and worn decor on the ground. New paint in the workplace can lift spirits.

  13. Like most others I don’t like the new tail but the old logo doesn’t look good either. I do think that the US Airways flag logo was nice and simple. something like that on the tail would be simple and easily recognizable. Instead we get a weird flag that is just busy.

    Really though, who does a good tail? The delta widget is pretty bland. US has the old Continental globe which I do tend to like but do people acquaint that with UA now? Alaska has the Eskimo, AA could’ve done a picture of Doug Parker.

    1. ” Alaska has the Eskimo, AA could’ve done a picture of Doug Parker.”

      You win. I don’t know the prize, but you win.

      Anyway, I would have preferred switching to the US livery, over this grotesque new tail.

  14. I am glad I don’t have to fly in front of that flag. Separately, it is a very striking design. Combined with the forehead-less Eagle/slanted A “flight symbol”, and plain san serif font… it’s garish, and in your face. I guess if that is what you want to portray your company as, all power to you. Dropping the “flight symbol”, and using the US Airways font for the “American” Billboard titles, would have been a better and classier combination. But what do I know, I’ve only ever designed one (in use) very small airline logo.

    1. I know your comment is over a year and half old now, but Rik I totally agree with your take. I think they could have used elements from the US AIrways Livery along with the AA Logo and developed much better look on their aircraft.

  15. The front of the plane has grown on me in the past year. The stylized eagle isn’t a bad look at all. However, the tail is still hideous. It’s just a mess.

    I know that when DL went to the current livery, it was cheaper to paint than the previous flying colors livery; and with UA, the last UA livery was much simpler than the grey cargo plan livery that awful font. Why did AA go to such an expensive paint job while bankrupt is still a mystery to me.

  16. As I learned early in my career, ” There’s no accounting for taste.” Read that closely. Many geeks lack taste. For the discerning, the new logo and livery is brilliant. And it will sell tickets and inspire confidence to a new generation of travelers. It is also brilliant the way the argument about keeping the new livery has been settled.

  17. While I don’t “hate” the tail flag, I can’t for the life of me work out why they didn’t paint the tail in the first place with the stylized red/blue with eagle emerging that features further up the fuselage? Simpler, “cleaner” and presumably, cheaper (or no worse).

    At the end of the day, as you point out, the logo and branding is one aspect of the whole package. They have so much more to focus on, get this out of the way and focus on all the other aspects such as costs and passenger experience as that will drive returns, not how the plane is painted.

  18. I do not know what to think other then A I am glad that they let the employees have a say and B how will this livery work with PHX and even to some extent LAS due to the heat that’s why when HP bought US they went to the white I mean part of me worries the gray may cause the planes to just feel warmer then a white plane

  19. Probably 99.9% of the people flying don’t care what the planes look like as long as they appear to be in good working order. Seems as if significantly more employees care. When you’re trying to integrate two companies, keeping the workers happy is of utmost importance, so letting the employees choose seems like a no brainer. It’s an easy way to give them some buy in and make them feel like their opinion is valued, whether it really is or not..

  20. As a participant in the vote, I favored the old AA tail. Primarily because the “grehound” logo destroyed the legacy of the iconic AA brand.
    However, upon reflection I have changed my mind. One of the many problems with the America West acquisition of US Airways was the retention of the white (flag of surrender) flag logo. To America West employees the flag symbolized an airline with multiple bankruptcies and fatal accidents.
    The new logo and branding doesn’t belong to any employes not nAAtive AA, US Airways, America West, TWA, AirCal, Reno nor PSA. It truly is the new American Airlines. One little move to unite the employees. Yes ,to all the heritage aircraft.

  21. Well, that’s what makes the world go around. Love the differing opinions. Personally, I like it! Its bright, bold and makes a statement that everyone can see and understand: It’s AMERICAN! (would love to see a truer silver though)

  22. If you’re going to add heritage a/c, the New American should add all those former airlines that now make up the New airline.

    Reno (Final livery)
    AirCal (Final livery)
    TWA (Final livery & twin globe livery)
    Ozark (Final livery)
    US Airways (Pre-America West livery)
    Piedmont (Final livery)
    PSA (Final livery)
    American (Pre-US Airways livery & the “Lightning Bolt” livery)
    Allegheny (Pre-Rebranding final livery)
    Mohawk (Final livery)
    Lake Central (Final livery)
    Trans Caribbean (Final livery)

    I believe that I missed some, but think this is enough heritage a/c.

  23. Last year in a ‘town square’ meeting with employees in DFW after the purchase of American was announced, an employee asked Parker which livery would be used. Parker said livery was the very least of their considerations. The only topic on which employees have input is something that doesn’t matter. I didn’t bother to vote.

    1. I wasn’t aware Us air purchased AA I was aware it was a merger … not a purchase AA was in a chapter as us air has been in
      is this what the Us air Employees have been told … ? look at the $of AA compared to Us air …I believe its a merger to bring AA and Us Air together to benefit each other AA could have came out of the merger and then bought Usair ….less $ if you do while all the books are open I would think and add in unnecessary debt and renegotiate contracts ect …… just saying my opinion

      1. AA management did not want to ‘merge’, they wanted to stand alone after bankruptcy. US wooed their labor groups and creditors to favor a ‘merger’, according to news reports last year. While I have seen no dollar amount mentioned as a sales price, certainly the incentives offered to labor groups and creditors weren’t for free drinks on US flights. :)

      2. Sharon,

        It’s a reverse merger, like America West merging with US Airways, where they kept the US Airways name, but it’s America West Management that ran US Airways and now is running American.

  24. hello all and I voted wont say which one I voted for but just a little hint …its the pride in American Airlines we all feel the same as did the TWA employees and Us airways feels and all the airlines feel the Military or your School mascot
    and moving forward and what the future brings for us and everyone else

  25. After reviewing all the ‘designer’ comments, I have one of my own.
    The ‘New American’ flag tail reveals the stoic,unduly self serving patriotic focused management …I am not flying in a military aircraft….exorbitantly labeled with our flag…
    It could have had some intelligent design, perhaps similar to the flowing BA tail or the Union Pacific Locomotive scheme.
    Thereby evoking MOVEMENT not stoic, in ones face, lassitude clearly Horton’s parting shot to be unfondly remembered….

    1. Umm–maybe the flag has something to do with the name of the airline? Or perhaps the name of the airline should also be changed to something more dynamic, so as not to suggest patriotism?

      1. Ummm maybe you haven’t noticed the more diminutive flag usually on the vertical stabilizer indicating Nation of origin?
        Know of any other ‘privately’ owned airline that flaunts it’s flag….oh Yeah…its Russia….

  26. American airlines always was very clear as to why they wanted the stainless steel, no paint look.. cost, weight etc.. I miss the old livery.

  27. The flag on the tail is a nod to US Airways, whic took over American in the merger and also had a flag on the tail. The logo is a nod to the eagle, because it has a beak. The slanted red/blue stripe from which the beak emerges evokes the United Air LInes red and blue tail “spire” from the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the idea came from. But it’s still an odd logo.

    The tail is very bright, and I like that. But it’s too much. It also doesn’t have a focal point. The “AA” logo did. The old AA livery was classic, timeless, iconic, and beautiful. It could not be improved upon. American made a mistake by replacing it.

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