CHICAGO — As airlines merge with one another and consolidate, the conventional marketing strategy is to either adopt one airline’s name or brand under a single identity or develop a whole new corporate identity to symbolize a new era in the airline’s history. 

When United Airlines (UA) and Continental Airlines (CO) merged in 2010, the announcement of a combined identity featuring United’s name and Continental’s brand surprised many.  

This move, at the time, thought to be an interim one, certainly simplified the merging process and made it feel somewhat seamless from a marketing point of view. 

However, it left United’s visual brand in a disadvantage over the years. While direct competitors American and Delta have radically reinvented their corporate identity in the last decade, United’s brand gives the general impression of being “more of the same”, even after the merger. 

As said by Airline Marketing expert, Henry Harteveldt, in an exclusive Interview published in our 25th Anniversary issue last month, “when you take a look at this, you had a larger fleet at United than at Continental, and the brand equity at United, based on independent research I had done, showed that United’s brand equity, name recognition, and reputation was stronger than Continental’s.”

Harteveldt suggested that what both airlines should have said is, “We’re not going to touch the livery for a while. We will put temporary ‘United’ stickers over ‘Continental’ on the Continental planes, and instead focus on getting the companies’ cultures aligned and putting the internal pieces together.” 

“During that time, they could have worked on a brand strategy, so that after most of the merger-related work was done, they could’ve unveiled a new, “neutral” livery,” he said.

However, the decision-making process was utterly different.

Now, it was time to take the logical step towards evolution and give the United brand an innovative refresh; a way of telling the traveler that a new, improved United is here. 

That new exciting chapter in United’s history was finally opened yesterday at their Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) maintenance facility where the airline’s refreshed and updated livery was officially unveiled. 

With hundreds of proud United employees as witnesses, CEO Oscar Munoz spoke about the importance of this new livery for the airline, “symbolizing and summarizing what the spirit of United is about, making our values visible to the world.” 

“This evolution of their brand reflects United’s reinvention and serves as a visual representation of the airline’s changes over the years,” commented United’s Vice President for Marketing Mark Krolick on a short video highlighting different milestones in United and Continental’s history and the development of the new identity.  

The rebranding, which in the words of Munoz represents an ‘evolution rather than a revolution,’ was inspired by Continental’s 1991 livery as evidenced by the iconic globe, now simplified and stylized, which remains as the airline’s logo. 

United’s own palette of colors was used in the development of the new livery, with tones such as United Blue, Rhapsody Blue, Sky Blue, and Runway Gray being on the fuselage.  

Other colors, such as Premium Purple, while not directly featured on the livery, also play a prominent role in the new branding. This led to strong online rumors that the color would also be included in the new livery. Despite the rumors not being true, I personally believe purple would have looked great on the winglets. 

Unsurprisingly, and as hinted by United a few days prior to the unveiling -or rather, leakage- of the new livery, the new evolution says goodbye to the gold used by Continental. 
In a similar fashion to the airline’s Boeing 787 and 737 MAX fleet liveries, the new livery displays an updated swoop in which the gold has been replaced by Rhapsody Blue. The engines, in contrast, are painted in United Blue.  

The tail features the stylized globe in Sky Blue, with a gradient background blending Rhapsody Blue, United Blue, and Sky Blue. 

A “Connecting people. Uniting the world.” slogan will be featured on the aircraft’s nose, similar to the “Worldwide Service” slogan also featured on the nose of the aircraft painted in the unforgettable Battleship livery.  

The new tail gradient, either on purpose or incidentally, is another element that brings back memories of United’s previous liveries, specifically Rising Blue livery used between 2004 up until the merger with Continental.  

This livery was also the last one to feature the classic and unmistakable United tulip logo, which many enthusiasts hoped would make a comeback with the new livery. 

It’s not surprising that an airline with a history as rich as United’s has an equally rich history of liveries and corporate identities. 

The famous Battleship livery, introduced in 1993 up until the unveiling of Rising Blue, has been regarded as one of the most iconic airline liveries in history. 

Another classic United livery that gained a lot of popularity has been the Saul Bass livery that preceded the Battleship scheme. Introduced in 1973, the work of the aforementioned designer was the first United livery to feature the tulip logo.  

Photo: Quintin Soloviev

While not as iconic as Battleship or Saul Bass, the Friendship livery gained historic relevance being featured on the airline’s first 747s, 727s, and DC-10s. 

Photo: clipperarctic – Continental DC-10-30

And one cannot forget about Continental’s famous meatball livery, also designed by Saul Bass and introduced in the late 1960s, lasting up until the introduction of the globe livery that starting this month has a new stylized shape. 

The New United Livery

The aircraft chosen to introduce the new livery was N37267, a former-Continental 737-824 delivered in June of 2001. In similar fashion to Delta and American using a 757-200 and a 737-800 respectively, United has chosen a narrowbody aircraft to unveil its new image. 

The aircraft is expected to fly to Los Angeles for a photoshoot this week before going back to revenue service next week. 

United’s new livery represents the final step in a long design journey started by the airline, a culminating piece that concludes years of progressive product updates that have become prominent across their brand. 

New uniforms, new interiors, new business class product, among other improvements have been implemented in the past few years, and with this new livery as finale, United has taken an important step towards the consolidation of their brand.