It was always supposed to be an evolution, not a massive change. In that context the new United Airlines livery, officially unveiled on Wednesday in Chicago, hit its goal. The carrier tweaked the design, trading out the gold for more blues and increasing the font size for the airline name. The cheat line becomes a curve, similar to the 787s and the engines are now blue instead of white. These are all small changes. Will they add up to make a difference?
Speaking with executives at today’s unveiling it became clear that this step is seen as more of closing out a process than starting a new one. The color scheme for the company already changed. The new uniforms and seats reflect the designs already. The livery is the last step in the process, and it is going to take some time for this step to complete. The current projection is roughly seven years.
The fleet will be painted in its normal maintenance cycle according to Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella, rather than expediting the process to complete it more quickly. A small “bow wave” will push through initially owing to a recent pause in repainting of the fleet, according to Nocella, but that should eventually smooth out.
The new livery features the same number of colors as the old and the work time to complete a repaint is comparable to the prior iteration. That, combined with the slow roll on the work means that the net cost for the program is very close to nil.
Beyond the livery and the uniforms United Airlines used the event to highlight other developments it has made in recent years. Media and employees alike were treated to details on the award-winning IFE system rolling out on the 787-10s (and eventually other types) featuring new accessibility features. The new Premium Plus seats were also on display, along with some details about the CRJ550 reconfiguration, still slated to fly this summer. The growing international route network (Cape Town is the latest addition) also received a nod.
All of these aspects of the business are important for the airline’s future. Just painting the planes is not going to deliver a turnaround. Can United really deliver on being a more flexible and forward-thinking operation as the the “swoop” cheat line supposedly represents in the design, for example?
CEO Oscar Munoz addressed the crowd with a focus on the concept of the new livery – and the carrier’s progress in recent years on product – far more than on the paint job itself. He hopes it can represent closure on some of the changes the company already made.
Saul Bass explained the power of design and logos simply: ‘They should symbolize and summarize.’ It summarizes all that we’ve been able to transform. It symbolizes what the new United is all about…
It is the biggest canvas we have to summarize and symbolize what our company is about going forward. That’s what makes me proud of this livery design. More than the colors, it symbolizes who we are, connecting people, uniting the world.
The idea of connecting with people, creating that emotional bond, can be difficult for airlines to execute on. United Airlines has had no shortage of challenges on that front in recent years and the new livery is not going to solve those problems. Munoz highlighted the “Backstage” training program for front line crew and other works in progress.
Fortunately the company is making some progress on that front, at least with the employees at today’s event. How it plays with customers remains to be seen.
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