current writings on all things

Airline Identities Take Flight

Airline_Feature_headline   Some of the most highly visible identities in the world today crisscross the globe at 35,000 feet. Not only are the visual identities of airlines vitally important to identifying passenger jets while in the air, they are also a source of national pride for most countries, particularly those in which airlines are governmentally controlled and operated. Utilizing color schemes and graphics that appeal to the sensibilities of their countries of origin, these airlines’ often use their countries’ flags to promote their brand. This is not the case in the  United States, where the airline industry is an unregulated, private enterprise.   Airline_wing_symbolsWith so many different choices in carriers, airlines in the U.S. must compete for passengers on a daily basis by using a unique and memorable identity—not only to differentiate each company’s aircraft, but also to project an image of quality, experience, and reliability. Surprisingly, most airlines do not take the opportunity to stand out in the crowd; many utilize similar color schemes, such as the color blue, which is suggestive of the sky. Additionally, similar themes are used in most airline marks, such as wings (think American, Midwest or United Airlines, globes, or the idea of a horizon (Continental and Delta).   airline_feat_swa-nwaThere are, however, two identities within the U.S. airline industry that soar higher than the rest in terms of uniqueness and memorability: Southwest Airlines and NWA. Southwest Airlines uses only blue, red and yellow painted Boeing 737s in its fleet, and prominently features an illustration of one as its logo—the consumer not only knows exactly who the company is, but what its planes look like as well. Southwest’s brand is fun and approachable, and doesn’t try to pretend and be a business-oriented carrier—instead, it resembles that of a discount vacation carrier. NWA (Northwest Airlines) started as a regional airline (hence its name) but is expanding into international markets. Even though the name was abbreviated to give it wider market appeal, the airline was able to keep the essence of its old mark, that of a compass pointing to the northwest. Not only does the logo capitalize on the equity of its old mark, it is highly suggestive of travel without the use of traditional clichés.   With the turmoil in recent years within the airline industry such as mergers, bankruptcies, and financial chaos, it will be interesting to see how carriers’ brands will continue to evolve. Gone are the days of giant corporations such as Pan American (PanAm) and Trans World Airlines (TWA)—today, smaller and more nimble startup services are taking the skies, along with a new perspective on the creation of successful airline identities.   By: Ryan Hembree