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Airline Livery Opinion of the Week: American Airlines Livery Stinks

American Airlines 737-800 (N958AN) with a livery I am just not fond of at all.

American Airlines 737-800 (N958AN) with a livery I am just not fond of at all.

I have wanted to publicly say this for a while, but just haven’t had the guts: I do not like American Airline’s livery. I think it is one of the most dated liveries that just makes American look dated. I think it is so dated, that it is almost cool again for being retro.

Okay, yes I know there is money saved with not painting the aircraft and then more money saved from less weight and fuel, but it doesn’t mean I think it looks like. What hasn’t helped are more airlines are using composite material, which has to be painted gray instead of the polished aluminum. So, you end up with planes that looks like they have some sort of illness. Catching one of their brand new Boeing 737’s at Boeing Field I was somewhat shocked. You have this nice polished aluminum body, but gray nose, winglets, engine cowlings, apu cover and tail. It just looked aged even before it carried its first passenger. I kind of think it looks best on an MD-80.

Since I have been a kid I have been bothered by the fact that there is a red and blue “A” on the logo, then also a blue eagle. It seems too weighted towards the blue and always felt the eagle should be white to even it out.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the aluminum look. I enjoyed Eastern Air Lines silver livery and I even like American’s Astrojet livery.

For as long as I can remember, I have thought it was about time for American to update their look, but they haven’t and I haven’t heard they plan to anytime soon. If you take away the history and the “U-S-A” (pretend I was chanting that) pride of the livery, do you really like it for only how it looks? I know there are a lot of you in love with this livery, so bring it on. I am hoping there might be a few more of you AA-livery haters out there who have been afraid to voice your opinion, but now it is time to be heard (or at least read).

Image: Caribb

49 comments to Airline Livery Opinion of the Week: American Airlines Livery Stinks

  • William D

    Your comment about composite parts making it gray is an excellent point i hadn’t really thought about before. Clearly it’s time they did something. Ive found the AA look old.

    It cant cost THAT much to paint and annual weight addition otherwise the low cost airlines would have the look more..

  • Drew V

    IMHO, its just ok. I have to give them credit for not changing the livery every few years to try to re-invent themselves (you hear me Delta???) but it is somewhat boring in a sense. You’d think the cost savings would show up in the profits and stock price but the AMR-AA subsidiary arrangement probably dilutes the true picture. Now being over 40, I stay stick with the retro livery which this one has become. Bring on the two-tone aircraft like a 70’s Gremlin that was resurrected from the junkyard.

    On a side note, being an airline (not counting the RJ’s) that relies solely on American made aircraft (Boeing and MD), I applaud AA for being unique in its own way. I admit I’m a Delta & Air Tran fan but I say “stick with the aluminum/composite look and the tail logo”.

    William D: I don’t think its so much the cost of the paint but rather the cost savings of not only not painting the entire aircraft but the less weight all the paint adds to the airframe (equals less fuel consumption). Have you tried to carry out just 2 gallons of paint from Home Depot lately? 😉 Imagine what several hundred gallons of paint adds to the aircraft, especially the larger ones.

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  • James Kennedy

    You are correct, the American livery is not attractive. They should bring back the orange flash from the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s. That was and remains the most handsome livery in commercial aviation. They painted a 757 with the old livery and it is or was, by far, the most handsome aircraft in their fleet.

  • LDB

    I love the polished look though it tends to look shoddier, faster than a white painted fuselage between washings. The composite pieces do throw the look a bit. I figure they’ll change their livery fleet-wide when they have to get their first 787 painted.

  • Mickey Kopanski

    I agree. AA’s scheme is very 70’s looking with the thick stripes from that era and they are long over due for a new scheme.

  • Raul

    Well for the first time David I have to disagree but at the same time agree. The aluminum look could be consider a trademark, but I have to also agree that is a little dated, they should at least do something different with the logo and put at least a a new design in the fuselage, but definitely keep the aluminum look because I believe it could be consider a trademark. I don’t like when airlines constantly change the look of their aircrafts, its annoying. So in part I have to applaud American for making a statement in not changing their look (even if it is for been cheap).

  • I totally disagree, I think the American livery looks great, and I actually think the grey helps balance out the highly-polished aluminum which on that Eastern Airlines L-1011 you linked to is just way too overpowering. For the 787, I expect they will use a silver “metal flake” paint to make it appear as close to metal as possible, but it won’t have the same effect as polished aluminum.

  • Jeremy

    I agree it’s a little dated, but it’s never bothered me. I thought your first point was the best – that the retro nature of it makes it cool again. Maybe I’m a little biased by a NASA documentary I watched a week or so ago – moon race stuff where everything is so polished steel and spaceaged looking…

    What is it about the Eastern livery that makes you like it better? Aside from the obvious color differences, are they that different?

  • DCSpotter

    While it might show it’s age – for comparison age-wise I would LOVE to see the Retrojet or the Astrojet colors which would be even more dated than the current ones – let’s also remember it’s a very distinct color scheme, identifiable immediately. If there is a choice, from my point of view, it’s better to keep the current one than create yet-another-mostly-white-with-a-swoosh-thing-just-to-add-a-wee-bit-of-color.

  • Peter F

    I love the Astrojet paint, but I have never liked the current American Airlines scheme. As much as I enjoy polished aluminum, the American cheatline has never done it for me, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel otherwise about it. For some reason it’s just always looked like a bad attempt to try to convince everyone that they’re more patriotic than other airlines, or to try to convince the public they’re somehow our flag carrier, something which we don’t have in the US.

    Living in DFW for several years, their attitude didn’t do anything to make me like them more. They used a lot of double-meanings to try to sell people on their slogans and positions, such as “Keep DFW Strong” implying to most people the idea of keeping the DFW Metroplex strong, rather than their real meaning of “keep Love Field highly restricted”. I’ll admit to being biased in favor of WN (and not just because I’m a free-market kind of guy; I genuinely like WN’s product and passenger experience), but American hasn’t done themselves any favors in my eyes with their twisting of words and manipulation of the government against a level playing field, and this makes their livery have unpleasant connotations to me.

  • Ross king

    As an Australian traveling to the US, I first flew on AA in the late 80s on a DC10 from Sydney to Honolulu. Back then the AA scheme fitted well for the era. But now? No way. The AA scheme looks dated and tired. On that note, so do the aircraft interiors and the crew uniforms. Time to update yourself AA! Oh, and please get rid of the over the hill MD80s.

    The entire company is living in the past.

  • Joanne

    Um…. Who cares? Really? Are you serious? I like the shiny planes I do not stare at the planes while at the airport, however you are at the airport staring at the planes? Yes there is a lot of fuel saved and man hours saved re-painting them.

  • In a way yes, but remember that this really does save them money on fuel to have these bare metal aircraft. I have to sayd David that I disagree with you here though. I think that the livery is actually alright. It might not be too pretty but I have gotten used to it so it does not really bother me too much. Besides I don’t think they want to spend the money on a new paint job.

  • robby

    I say leave as they are, it’s a handsome scheme, although a few more astro jets would be nice.
    As for the grey tails, at least we don’t have to still see the ugly A300’s !!

  • while not a fan of the livery nor the airline, i do thoroughly enjoy getting a good shot of a new shiny AA bird ona bright day due to the amazing reflections you can get off the fuselage. as for overall design though, i agree, its boring and dated. however, nothing is worse than their OneWorld logo jets, the lack of a cheatline on the shiny fuselage looks extremely awkward

  • I think American deserves some credit here. Their livery and logo has remained constant for decades…which is a lot better than other airlines can say when it comes to rebranding.

    That being said, the livery does look a bit off on aircraft with composite parts, especially on the now-retired A300 fleet. I wonder how this will look on the 787. Perhaps AA can give a shot at reflective paint, like NWA did?

    • Hey Dan,

      You are right. I mean, it has stood the test of time and for being such an old livery it doesn’t look that bad. However, why can’t they do an updated one? Look at Delta and their widget. It has been around for a long time, but they continue to update it to make it look new. Although I LOVE Delta’s old livery (, it wouldn’t make sense for that to be their fleet-wide livery (even though I kind of think it works better than AA’s). I think AA could keep some of the aspects of their brand that works for them, but updating it to 2011 (or even 1995) standards. They don’t need to spend a bunch of money with re-painting the whole fleet, but do it as they buy new planes and re-paint the old ones.


  • Mark Meeker

    How about a compromise, use the old Lightning Stripe design, but use metal flake red white and blue instead of the orange and dark blue, on the tail use the current logo, but put in the white circular design as in the 1964-1969 era. The name should be the current red and white and helvitica font but spell out American Airlines.
    This way you get brand recognition, retro, and new livery all at the same time…As far as keeping the au natural skin tones, the metal flake silver would work, as well as an all light grey color scheme under the new lightning bolt cheatline.

  • Jammer

    If AA really wanted to make their ships look great, they would go back to the single stripe, with the lightning bolt at the front and naming each aircraft after a different city on the network that they serve, such as: Flagship Los Angeles”. I remember this from when I was a kid and always thought it was a very novel approach. They don’t have enough equipment to cover all cities, but they could start by using the name of the cities they have served the longest.

  • Rani Coellonia

    Reading your article about the aluminum livery I was reminded of Lufthansa’s 1960ies/1970ies livery:
    If I’m right, some other (European) national carriers had aluminum liveries too, back then.
    How ’bout (you, David) adding a (flickr or something) collection gallery of aluminum liveries to this article?
    Greeting from “good ol'” Germany

    • Rani Coellonia

      Maybe I should also mention that I like the aluminum liveries too. But there are two restrictions:
      1) The aluminum ‘color’ should not be the main part.
      2) What about the sun? Doesn’t it heat up the plane? And how about reflections?
      Greetings from Cologne (“Good ol’” Germany)
      PS: I do agree with David that an airline should alter its livery every once in a while. Otherwise you don’t recognize it improving its service or even going on with there business (saying that it’s close to bankruptcy or so).

  • Ive never liked AA livery either.. so you are not alone=)

  • Tony S

    Do we really need to see another Euro-white fuselage with a color flash on the tail? Or the other trend of swooping colors across the last 1/3 of the fueselage? Airline liveries by and large are generic products committee-generated focus groups that neuter any interest out of them for the sake of making the acceptable. I’m impressed with American for staying with what works. Corporate branding is often times destroyed by the very people that claim to know what it is for the sake of earning a paycheck. By changing logos, liveries, images, etc. often you ruin the image you’ve spent decades building (research the recent debacle of the GAP and their misguided new logo). American has done a spectacular job of maintaining a livery that at points along the way may look to some as “dated”, but from a design perspective has a certain timelessness to it. There’s nothing in the scheme that technically looks out of touch with current times (unless you’re a huge fan of large white planes with nothing else on them). I say Bravo to AA for maintaining their image while all the other airlines chase around trying to find an image and a look, only to become more neutral and boring.

    BTW Ross, AA is replacing their MD-80’s with 738’s, so don’t worry; they’ll be gone soon enough!

    • I do not hate the airline by any means, just not a fan of their livery. There are some airlines I am not a fan of, but love their liveries.

      No way would I want the airline to change who they are, but I wouldn’t mind a livery update.


  • FrankV

    Didn’t realize they had anything but Mad Dog 80s in their fleet.


  • Jonathan Anderson

    At least they finally updated their retro website.

  • Rich Monahan

    I love the debate about liveries. QUite frankly, I think be default AA has one of the best liveries of all U.S. carriers. Normally I don’t like silver/aluminum looking fuselages. But for some reason it works with the red, white and blue cheat lines. And yes, I think it stands the test of time. Why does it seem that all other livery changes have been for the worse. Delta’s is the most boring, Continental’s is dated, and U.S. Airways, while decent, lost the unique look of the all midnight blue fuselage. I think American should keep what it has. Tradition still has some place in our culture.

  • A good topic and discussion David. I too am tired of this now very dated color scheme. When AA painted a test Boeing 720B at Tulsa in 1968 in this color scheme they initially only had AA on the tail. Everyone decided it didn’t look right and added the eagle between the As. This final livery was adopted fleet-wide in 1969 with the eagle so after 42 years it is way overdue to be refreshed for this century. I am challenged to come up with a livery that has lasted longer.

    Personally I liked the short-lived 1962 orange lightning bolt color scheme. Here it is painted on a BAC 1-11:

    Bruce Drum
    Airliners Gallery World Airline News

  • Dustin

    Check out the movie Helvetica. It’s a movie about, yes…the font. But, also design in general. It features Massimo Vignelli who created the AA livery, and he talks about it a bit. He also designed the maps and signs for the NY subway. Personally, I agree. AA is sooo outdated.

  • JFD

    I love AA’s livery. It’s a classic, and much more inspirational than UA’s CO clone paint job.

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  • I have always loved American Airlines, and their current livery and logo are a big part of that. It looks the best on MD80, 777, 767, and especially on the retired MD-11. The only planes it sometimes looks bad on are the Boeing 737’s, because the grey colouring is not dark enough. But the livery and logo are much too basic to be that much outdated. Especially when portrayed in the best way, the logo looks like one of the best in the business, and it will be difficult for me to tell when it is created if I never knew when it was. When composite planes such as 787 come, it will be needed to get a shiny silver paint, but I say keep those tails and noses on these planes grey.

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  • Alex

    The current livery should have been retired with the DC-10 and 727. That paint hasn’t looked good on anything since the late 80s.

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