Jan. 17, 2013 at 3:27 PM ET
Even as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy and eyes a possible merger with US Airways, American Airlines is busy with a new project: a face lift.
The carrier unveiled its first new logo and aircraft livery in decades on Thursday, with brighter colors, an “updated eagle” peeking out from a ribbon, a more contemporary font and bold red-white-and-blue stripes for its fleet’s tails.
After ordering hundreds of new planes, this is the latest step in the carrier’s quest to create a more modern travel experience for its passengers, the company said in a statement.
"Since placing our landmark aircraft order in July of 2011, we've been building anticipation toward a moment in time when the outside of our aircraft reflects the progress we've made to modernize our airline on the inside," said Tom Horton, American's Chairman and CEO.
Fans of American’s bare aluminum design should know that the polished metal look was no longer an option for the newer planes, which feature composite materials that must be painted. So silver mica paint will maintain the carrier’s “silver heritage,” the company said.
Airline observers offered mixed reviews for the new design.
“Can’t say I love it,” noted Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing.
“The new livery isn’t very inspired. It reminds me of a Greyhound bus. They diminished the eagle, which has been a major icon in American’s identity since the 1930s. There’s also nothing wrong with American’s current identity. It is classic, like a Chanel suit. It is timeless.”
Harteveldt also pointed out that the tail has 11 red and white stripes, which he found ironic since American Airlines is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
But other observers said the new look had some nice touches.
“I think it’s going to grow on people,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst who worked for American in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“It’s something to build on. They’re trying to build a future for the airline, for the brand, and I think this is a good platform for it.”
David Parker Brown, editor and founder of AirlineReporter.com, was also a fan.
“I felt that American’s old livery was getting a little aged,” Brown said. “For aviation fans who follow the airline business, it’s very common that a big change like this is not very well received. But with additional time, more people come around.”
The big question now is: does the new look even matter? American Airlines has endured months of negative headlines and passenger frustration over issues that have included tensions with its pilot union, flight delays and rows of seats coming loose on flights.
The new look isn’t a solution to any of American’s problems, Harteveldt said. Moreover, he was puzzled that the carrier would unveil a new livery ahead of a possible merger with US Airways.
“I think American should have simply maintained the existing identity until the airline status regarding the merger is determined and then made sure that American’s new leadership is on board with this. Because what happens if there’s a new leader who says, I don’t like this?” Harteveldt said.
He also found it insensitive of American to make the announcement within hours of the Federal Aviation Administration grounding all Boeing 787 planes operated by U.S. carriers.
Harteveldt praised the carrier for improving its international business class product and making other upgrades, but said the new look will not boost the image of American among fliers.
“What will make a difference to the traveling public will be the airline’s on time performance, the customer service that they receive, the quality of the passenger experience,” he said. “This isn’t going to change the fact that legroom is tight.”