The Rolling Report Card

AS MY REGULARS know, critiquing airline liveries is my favorite thing in the world — especially the ugly ones, which nowadays is pretty much all of them. Just go to the search bar up above and type in “livery.”

From now on, rather than grading them individually in separate articles, we’ll compile them here, one at a time. This post will act as a sort of rolling report card, updated with every new reveal.

Click on the BOLD LINKS for photos…

 

THE CONDOR BEACH TOWEL

Condor is a Frankfurt-based charter carrier. The airline was set up in 1955 by Lufthansa, and for years its markings were handsomely reminiscent of that carrier’s: blue stripe, yellow tail, Lufthansa-esque condor logo. Later the Thomas Cook Group took control, and Condor adopted the group’s mostly inoffensive yellow and gray.

Today the airline is controlled by a European investment company, and in April, 2022, a bold new rebranding was unveiled, timed to coincide with delivery of Condor’s new Airbus A330-900s, which will replace a fleet of antique Boeing 767s. Each jet will feature a nose-to tail pattern of vertical candy stripes, in one of five colors. This, we are told, is to keep things more in synch with the leisure charter vibe: fun, friendly, easy, inexpensive and all that.

The main problem is, vertical stripes really don’t belong on a plane. The very shape of an airplane, in all its horizontal-ness, suggests motion, speed, and the traversing of distances. Vertical stripes suggest the opposite of that. The visual effect is one of negative motion, almost as if the plane is being held back and made to stop.

Officially, according to the people who were paid to concoct this nonsense, the color representations go like this: blue for ocean; green for island; beige for beach, gold for sunshine, and red for “passion” — whatever that might mean. At least, for a change, there’s nothing here about the northern lights. I’m not seeing sunshine or passion. I’m seeing a picket fence, or maybe a couch cushion.

“Unmistakable,” is how Condor CEO Ralf Teckentrup describes it. And it certainly is — for the wrong reasons.

Grade: F

 

PRETTY IN PURPLE

Lets ignore for a minute the question of whether we need another low-cost airline. Let’s also ignore the wisdom of operating 737s from the stubby runways at New Haven, Connecticut, one of Avelo Airlines’ intended hubs (the other is Burbank, where the runway isn’t much longer). Instead, let’s focus on their paintjob, which is rather pleasant.

The use of purple is unusual for an airline, but here it’s quite attractive. As is the typeface, which together with the engine nacelles and tail swoop, combine just right in a handsome, three-point balance.

This is one of those rare designs that works well even with a mostly bare fuselage. And unlike the looks of many LCCs, it’s not trying to be whimsical or amusing; it’s dignified.

While I’m not thrilled with the three-color, lightbulb filament tail, I don’t hate it, either. It’s conceptually interesting, so far as abstract logos go, though I’m not sure it was executed quite right. Maybe two colors instead of three, with slightly thicker lines?

Grade: A-minus

 

UBERBLUE

This one, on the other hand. Were they having a hangar sale on blue paint? David Neelman is the founder of Breeze, which is opening a slew of routes from coast to coast, focusing mainly on secondary cities. Previously of jetBlue and Azul, blue has always been his thing. But come on, Dave, do you have to drown us in it, a light blue and a darker one?

The checkmark motif is an effective one for an LCC — and affirmation of sorts, suggestive of ease and simplicity — but the rest of it is dead weight. Here’s a case where the fuselage isn’t painted white for a change, but probably should be.

Grade: D

 

NORTHERN NONSENSE

Northern Pacific is a low-cost upstart out of Anchorage with plans to open routes within the western United States and to Asia.

Black is their go-to color. That’s not a bad thing, by itself, and we dig the raccoon-style shading around the cockpit. It’s a trendy flourish these days, but it’s cool. Can we stop there and award them a top grade? Alas, our survey of the wreckage must continue.

Let’s focus on that strange “N” logo. Except we can’t focus on it, because it’s vibrating uncontrollably. That’s not a shadow or a camera blur; that’s actually how it’s painted. Though maybe it’s better this way, seeing how, in its non-vibrating state, it resembles the logo for an amateur sports team.

On the engine nacelles, meanwhile, they’ve applied a completely different logo — a pair of offset thingies that remind us, painfully, of the American Airlines box-cutter. Then, up on the tail, we have yet another design. Isn’t that a black hole, or a special effect from “The Matrix”? The airline says its livery is meant to “evoke the natural beauty of Alaskan wilderness.” What I see here is a bending of time and space.

And sure, why not, go ahead and throw another “N” up in the corner, but this time make it turquoise. While you’re at it, paint the wingtips in turquoise too, because the northern lights or something.

What a garble of elements and patterns — a good example of a livery trying to out-clever itself at every turn.

Grade: F-minus

 

SPANISH FLY FLOP

My plan is to start a Spanish charter carrier. Step one is to think up the stupidest name possible. I like “Iberojet,” as it sounds like it came from a third-grader. On the tail I want three bands. Mute the colors, and have that same third-grader do the painting, so that the bands are warped and pinched, diverging/converging in bizarre random directions. If there’s any paint left over, add a navy blue arc to the underside of the aft fuselage. Do the same thing, more or less, on the engine nacelles, and then write “Iberojet” on the side. Use lowercase letters, because why not.

Grade: F-minus

 

BOREAL BOREDOM

So, Icelandair has a new look, featuring, guess what, a Eurowhite body with blue titles. How novel.

The tail, though, is the exciting part, because each will boast one of five highlight colors apparently inspired by the people who make Sharpies. Wait, don’t tell me, the colors are meant to suggest… the northern lights! Which every smart tourist knows are best viewed in Finland or Norway, not Iceland.

Officially, according to a company press release, each of the accents “represents a different phenomena in Icelandic nature.” If true, they should include a gray, a black, and maybe a fiery volcanic red. What we get instead is lemon yellow, a magenta, a cyan blue. You could hunt around Iceland for a month and not see those colors. (Two additional colors are yet to debut. Surely they’ll be lovely.)

I’m being a wise-ass. In fact I don’t hate it. If they’d chosen only one accent color, the effect would be annoying and banal; the grab-bag keeps it lively and interesting. The problem isn’t the tail, it’s the lettering. Sure, billboard-style lettering is meant to be big, but in this case it’s too big.

Still it’s a balanced design, mostly, and better than the one it replaces. Also they’ve hung on to their logo, which for decades has been one of the most distinctive in the industry.

Grade: I’d have given a solid B if the titles were smaller. As it stands, it’s a C.

 

UNITED BLUES

After its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, United came up with an amalgamation blending the United typeface with the Continental globe. Bland and ultra-corporate, it looked like something you’d see in a PowerPoint slide. A refresher was maybe inevitable. Unfortunately, they’ve gone way too far in the other direction. They’ve stayed with the 2010 template; except, now, they’ve sucked away whatever dignity it had.

We start with the “United” title, which has gone big. Big for big’s sake, unbalanced and oddly spaced, as if it were painted over some other name. The gold accenting is gone from the tail now, and the blue has been amped up, turning the old Continental globe into a fluorescent spider web. Is this the airline’s excuse for a logo? Do they even have a logo? It’s a tail that manages to be gaudy and boring at the same time.

And, needless to say, you can’t have a livery these days without some annoying “in-motion” theme. United obliges with a mandatory curvy thing along the lower fuselage. Is it a worm? A garden hose? Worst of all it’s black.

Granted this isn’t as terrible as what American Airlines did a few years ago. It’s bold, I’ll give you that, and you can marvel in the simplicity of it. Or, you can call it what it is: an immature scheme that evokes the downmarket cast of a budget airline — hardly the look that a preeminent global carrier should hope to project.

Grade: F

 

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