air safety

Jan 18, 2013

American Airlines hits raw nerve with new look graphic

It's amazing what a creative mind and historical ignorance can do to ruin a product relaunch

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The new American Airlines livery may well become a classic, like its previous and very durable logo, but really, what was it thinking by posing one of its 777-300ERs alongside a jagged line of mountain peaks?

In 1995 a confused AA crew flew a fully functional Boeing 757 into a mountain while approaching Cali, Colombia, in darkness, killing 159 people, including one of five survivors who died of injuries two days later.

The accident was an example of inexcusably poor flight standards by the carrier, and it is far from forgotten either in the US or Latin America. A graphic reminder like the image handed out by American above is the last thing a smart, well read and curious ‘creative’ would ever devise, and how AA didn’t pick up on it is puzzling.

(Yes, Boeing and Airbus fly their jets photogenically past landmark peaks like Mt Rainier. Past them, not into them.)

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21 thoughts on “American Airlines hits raw nerve with new look graphic

  1. comet

    It’s a mystery why any aviation company would pose its planes in front of jagged mountain peaks, but they keep doing it.

    Apart from the aviation aspect, psychologically, jagged sharp angles induce thoughts of danger and fear.

    Next we’ll see Air New Zealand posing a plane in front of a snowy Antarctic peak. Or Sukhoi posing a Superjet in front of a tropical volcanic mountain range in Indonesia.

  2. moa999

    For a high qual version of the 738 used as the first actually painted aircraft

    Very interesting putting a flag on the tail given the current ‘discussions’ with US Air, whereas they could equally have put the newly stylised Eagle on the tail.

  3. Matthew

    Funny but the colour scheme looks more French than American, made me think of AirFrance. Particularly the Flag thingy on the nose.

  4. wordfactory

    The new livery wasn’t designed for cynical old bastards like you lot. I’d reckon it’s strikingly attractive for new and existing customers, but the real test is: will it still be pretty in five years? 10 years? Well, it beats the hell out of the old one, which used to evoke the Red Army choir

  5. Glen McDonald

    Who thought of painting a piano keyboard where an eagle should be? As long as it improves their safety, reliability and service – and keeps those nicely cramped seats in place for the entire journey – who cares if their promotional pics are from “Titanic Marketing Inc.”
    Seriously, if that’s the best they can do in-house, I wonder how long it will be until Emiroots Tim Clark is speaking publicly for American Airline’s too?

  6. Dan

    A typically spurious argument about this hitting a “raw nerve”. Taken to it’s logical extreme, any airline which has ever experienced a hull loss should never release a publicity photo of one of its aircraft with the ground visible, as this would be “a graphic reminder” of a past accident.

  7. Mini Fahey

    Why so negative. Really guys, Air France, ah no. A piano thingy where the eagle should be….why should the eagle be there?? because you say so? And as for the ground being visible in a promo photo, would be a graphic reminder of a hull loss, well, i think the vision of an aircraft would do that too! Just sayin

  8. Nick Brodie

    FFS – i cannot believe you lot – scary thing is you believe you’re own BS. Picture a plane on a tarmac, nup one crashed there once. Taking off pic? uh-huh remember Concorde? Oh, how about a landing pic? No no no – a few have slide off the runway. O.k., nice pic fresh outta the factory then? Can’t do that either – remember Etihad….. might have to stick with some nice drawings then…..
    As for the livery – good on ’em – the US needs a patriotic shot in the arm and a general public that supports their airline unlike the relentless Q bashing that goes on here.

  9. Ben Sandilands

    While not an art critic, I have some good AA memorabilia from the two previous liveries, including an Astrojet T-shirt featuring the Convair 990 Coronado, which must have been the fastest jet ever operated by American. I’m guessing that the new livery will in fact became another long lived classic, although I wouldn’t like to place a bet on who owns AA in the future, or how any merger may work out.

    However the positioning of the graphic near jagged mountains, while of puzzling relevance to any airline promotion, seemed remarkably silly and insensitive in the case of American.

    This is a post about the dumb things creatives do. There must be far better symbols or settings in which to place the American brand.

  10. Ben Sandilands


    Much of what you call Qantas bashing is from Australians who love this fair land and are in despair at times over what the airline’s management has done to give away or diminish its business, and, at times from those who are enraged as what they see as needless damage done to it by some employees.

    To wear my views on my sleeve, it seems to me that Qantas has been severely impacted by ideological struggles that misrepresent things to score points. On both sides.

    But one side of that struggle is heard in the general media, and the other is not.

    I hope there is enough left of Qantas to turn into something to be proud of again once the current bloody minded agendas exhaust themselves.

  11. Malcolm Street

    Convair 990? IIRC, not just American’s fastest jet, but apart from supersonics the fastest jet airliner ever. Too bad about the fuel consumption and passenger load…

  12. Nick Brodie

    Ben – to be perfectly frank most Australians have no idea or have their heads in the clouds when it comes to their expectations from airlines. Qantas can’t be an all-points flyer – regulation is over, it’s a private company, it’s not subsidised and we’re a small country. Australia being a hub is not an option – codeshares, JSAs and alliances prevail. If anyone wants Australian owned and made then they have to be prepared to pay a premium or the brands will just cease to exist or go offshore – as many excellent brands have. Virgin knows this, which is why they’ve embraced foreign ownership (free of the shackles of a Qantas Sale Act). Virgin also has a very lean workforce free of the old-fashioned, outdated and inefficient legacy conditions inherited from a vast workforce from TAA and the former international-only Qantas Airways. Finally, all the best intentions in the world won’t save Qantas if the flying public insist on flying cheaper (often substantially cheaper) options whilst sticking the boot into Qantas because they once didn’t get a smile with their biscuit on a $99 SYD-MEL flight….

  13. Mark Skinner

    Yes nick, that is quite true. However, nor will they put up with being stranded by an airline for spurious reasons with no advance warning either. There is a sting in this tale too. While the airline blamed industrial action in the press for the strandings, the reason Joyce gave to the Senate Committee under oath was quite different.

    Nor is trying to operate with outdated aircraft against competitors who have and are modernising with much more economic and efficient plant, and then saying that Qantas will invest no further till it becomes profitable. Hmm, one does not need an MBA from Harvard to see the outcome there – this from an airline that had quite a capital hoard at one stage.

  14. michael r james

    I think the new design is typical of pointless managerial idiocy. There are thousands and thousands of undistinguished company logos and icons out there, and this new one has joined them.

    The old logo was distinctive and instantly conveyed company id. It is unfussy even with the stylized eagle–perhaps too blunt for some people–but in a lineup of planes sitting in air terminals it stands out amongst the vast majority of mediocrity and fussy or blah logos and colour schemes. For these reasons I would suggest that they have also destroyed a difficult-to-estimate but real amount of brand power.

    It is also their internet address, and of course their name and their IATA id. Although it is not the national flag carrier it conveys that notion, just in the logo, to almost anyone anywhere in the world.

    I can understand new management thinking a change may be desirable in a 45 year old logo but if the design consultancies cannot improve on it, then they should have the sense to decline it. I can see that the style/typography of the old one could have perhaps been refreshed a bit but the new one is totally abstract w.r.t. what it represents. It is change entirely for the sake of change.

    It would be like new management deciding to change the Coca Cola logo just because it was old.

  15. michael r james

    @Nick Brodie at 6:49 pm
    “If anyone wants Australian owned and made then they have to be prepared to pay a premium…’

    This is not true for the simple reason that QF don’t fly to a lot of places people want to go, namely those half dozen European capitals other than London (and incidentally LHR has the highest landing charges in Europe, possibly the OECD. And soon all the Asian world cities too.

    A lot of us are not bottom feeders for the lowest possible price, but simply ask for reasonable value. We also expect not to be treated like idiots or as if we have no choice. Nor to make a few select insiders (Dixon et al) while destroying the airline built up as a significant world airline over 70 years of tax-payer support. These are the reasons we fly Cathay or Singapore–or perhaps Virgin A as they develop (a CX-VA arrangement might be attractive).

  16. michael r james

    dratt it, no Edit button.

    “a few select insiders …rich”

  17. fractious

    @ michael r james
    “pointless managerial idiocy. There are thousands and thousands of undistinguished company logos and icons out there, and this new one has joined them.

    The old logo was distinctive and instantly conveyed company id. a lineup of planes sitting in air terminals it stands out amongst the vast majority of mediocrity”

    Precisely. I’ve never flown AA nor am I likely to, but whatever hellhole of an airport I’ve been the AA logo stood out like the proverbial dog’s testes. It was as instantly recognisable to me as Qantas still is, and PanAm, Olympic and BOAC once were, and I would have thought those at the top of AA’s greasy pole would have appreciated how a distinctive logo sticks in punters’ minds. This new one is ‘Meh’ at best.

  18. Mark Skinner

    Also there are at least thirty countries with red white and blue as their flag colours.

    Of those twelve have horizontal stripes as a feature.

    Perhaps the new colour scheme is a precursor to the planes being registered in Liberia.

  19. patrick kilby

    Mark about “Nor is trying to operate with outdated aircraft against competitors who have and are modernising with much more economic and efficient plant”; the new 738s are about as good as they get, A320neo’s likewise; A380s have nearly 10% on 773s; and the A332s and A333s just keep on blitsing the competition. When the 744s reach their use-by-date (determined by depreciation tax law),they will be replaced by more A380s and 789s. What is so non-modernising about that. And not bying things until you can pay for them, or they can pay for themselves, is also not a bad approach.

  20. Mark Skinner

    Patrick – all very well. Except Qantas isn’t replacing its 747s on the basis of their age or depreciation. Qantas is going to wait until its international division gets profitable. Quite a novel approach. It is also not the only ‘novel approach’ by Qantas’ management. This is not the thread though, and I apologise for the thread derail.

  21. Tom Moton

    I liked the old logo with the Eagle on the tail, very distinctive.
    But airline management is doing what they always do, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than addressing AA’s major financial issues…

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