In America, opposites for rationalising new airline livery

Eskimo livery Horizon.gifPeople do not like change, and when it comes to re-branding jets that feature storied liveries, emotions run high.

How airlines respond and rationalise their decision can be tricky, as two recent re-brandings illustrate.

First was the re-branding following the merger of Continental and United. The new livery was Continental’s old livery albeit saying “United” in a new typeface. This livery has not been popular to many, and was not helped along when United-Continental chief executive Jeff Smisek half-jokingly opined on the livery, “Well I created it so I like it a lot.”

Compare that to yesterday’s letter to customers–posted on Facebook to directly reach them–from Horizon Air chief executive Glenn Johnson about the carrier featuring an Alaska Airlines-styled “Eskimo” livery:

The Horizon Air name has become synonymous with exceptional service – thanks to the cumulative efforts of caring and hardworking local employees over nearly three decades.

We weighed these and all other relevant factors for several months. In the end, we decided there would be more benefit to adopting the Alaska brand – which for more than three-quarters of a century has built so much positive equity up and down the West Coast (and, increasingly, nationwide) – while at the same time subtly incorporating the valued Horizon name. In essence, we ended up aiming for the best of both worlds.

By the way, those words you see next to the entry/exit doors say, “Proudly Operated by Horizon Air.” Words we live by.

Johnson’s themes–hardworking employees, best of both worlds–were also mentioned by Smisek. The difference is Johnson, unlike Smisek, does not try to pass the new livery off as the best symbolic representation.

Quote Smisek:

The Continental livery…the globe and colours are associated in the United States with very high quality service, excellent airline, great reliability…Because Continental is an excellent airline with great reliability and with great service. However the Continental name is not well-known off-shore. The United name is a wonderful brand, very well known off-shore.

Johnson did not mention what the Eskimo represents or indeed what the name “Alaska Airlines” implies. He does offer a token by saying Horizon aircraft in the new livery won’t just be operated by Horizon but proudly operated by Horizon. As for justifying adopting the Alaska livery, all he says is that the brand, like United’s, was stronger.

At the end of the day, livery changes are just that: business decisions.

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