CHICAGO — United Airlines is giving its aircraft a makeover for the first time in nearly a decade.
United teased the announcement with a video on Twitter Tuesday night, showing workers stripping the paint from an aircraft before applying the new design, which was unveiled at an event at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday.
Mark Krolick, United’s vice president of marketing, described it as a modernization of the design United adopted after its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, which paired the United name with Continental’s globe logo.
“We wanted something that paid respect to the heritage of the company but was also very forward-looking,” he said.
That globe will still be featured on each aircraft’s tail, but in sky blue rather than gold. The tail itself will incorporate three different shades of blue. Engines and wingtips will also be blue, as will the formerly gold line running across the aircraft’s main body. The line will also have more of a swoop than the current design — meant to signify a “more nimble, flexible company,” Krolick said. The swooping line already appears on United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
United’s name will also be in bigger, bolder letters on the plane’s main body and the phrase “Connecting people. Uniting the world.” will be painted near each aircraft’s door.
United CEO Oscar Munoz said the new design “symbolizes what the news spirit of United is all about.” It follows investments in the service, company culture and network of destinations meant to make United “the airline people choose to fly,” he said.
Early reaction to the new design on Twitter was mixed.
Comments included “I already miss the old one,” and “Booooooring. Going back to sleep now,” as well as more positive takes, such as: “Haters are wrong. It looks sharp.”
One element that doesn’t appear to be included is United’s pre-merger logo, a red, white and blue stylized “U” known as the tulip, created in the 1970s by designer Saul Bass.
The tulip still has fans: a “Save the United Airlines Tulip” Facebook group has more than 5,100 members, who speculated about the new design in the days leading up to United’s announcement.
Krolick said there was no talk of bringing the tulip back. “Our intention was to take what we have, modernize it for the future and really lean into the globe,” he said. “The globe has really become an icon representing our global network and mission of connecting people and uniting the world.”
One Boeing 737-800 has been repainted. Getting to the rest of the more than 1,300 planes in the airline’s fleet is expected to take a couple of years.
A Boeing 777 that carries more than 266 passengers is more work than a 70-seat regional jet, but a single aircraft can take four or five days to paint, said Krolick, who declined to say how much the process is expected to cost. United said planes are repainted every seven years, on average. The work is getting done by a vendor, and not in Chicago.
Designs emphasizing motion have been trendy in recent years, with carriers adopting curving lines as well as more complex patterns, said Patrick Smith, who flies a Boeing 767 and writes a column called “Ask the Pilot.”
They can be attractive but “all begin to look the same,” said Smith, who hadn’t yet seen United’s new design.
“An effective corporate brand isn’t about cleverness or some abstract meaning,” he said.
While United has kept the look of its fleet relatively consistent, it occasionally shakes things up with one-off specialty designs.
Some involve a partnership with another brand, like a Star Wars-themed aircraft that will begin flying this fall, before the release of the latest film in the franchise.
United declined to say how much a brand would pay to paint its logo on a plane.
The deals usually involve more than just financial compensation, Krolick said. The airline hasn’t announced any details about its plans with Disney around the upcoming Star Wars movie. But partnerships with movie studios could involve access to on-screen talent or content like films customers can stream in-flight, he said.
Other special paint jobs are in-house projects. United is running a contest that will select two women artists to have their designs featured on aircraft — one each representing the New York and California regions. Others have promoted the airline’s green initiatives or re-created old-school aircraft designs.
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