MIAMI — Did you miss flying the friendly skies? If you did, United Airlines may have some good news for you. On Friday, United debuted a brand new advertising campaign which features the iconic “Fly the Friendly Skies” tagline after a seventeen year hiatus. As we reported last month, it seemed that United was hinting that there were some changes coming, and the new campaign may help reinforce United’s re-commitment to being a much more customer centric airline.

In the July/August 2013 issue of The University of Chicago Magazine, they published an in-depth article about how the Friendly Skies campaign was created. Below, we have included some information from the article about how the Friendly Skies campaign was created. You can read the full article from The University of Chicago Magazine here.

United’s early slogan was the “The Main Line Airway” to emphasize their signature New York-Chicago-San Francisco route, but in 1965 United released a brand new advertising campaign.


In the early 1960’s, the United Airlines advertising account was considered to be one the most coveted advertising accounts in the United States, and the Leo Burnett Agency placed a bid for for the account in 1963. While the agency was small, Leo Burnett was proving to be a challenging competitor to larger firms. Over the course of just a few short months, they spent hundreds of hours analyzing United Airlines, air travel, and how United’s image should be perceived.

Later in 1963, they pitched their idea to United Airlines. Leo Burnett and his team said that they considered United to be the General Motors of air travel—“professional, official-looking” and “a little stuffy and cold—coldly efficient, with a production-line attitude.” However, they called United “stodgy” and “dull.” The Burnett team thought the trouble of United’s image was the lack of “friendliness, warmth and humanness and … fun.” They quoted a male passenger that said, “United has a reputation for great dependability, reliability and soundness…all the wonderful scientific advances known to the field of electronics and computers. However, they ain’t got no sex appeal.”

The Leo Burnett Agency was awarded the account in 1965. Innovation was a must because Burnett wanted United to stand out. He called United’s current image “official” and “stuffy,” and he said that United needed to have a “personal, human” image. During his first meetings with United, Burnett figured out quickly that the account would be a challenge because the executives were reluctant to change. It became quite clear that they would not have “free reign” of the account.

Dick Stanwood, Burnett’s creative director for the United campaign, said the desire for change came more from Burnett’s team rather than the United executives. Despite United not wanting to make many changes, he was not ready to give up. While he recognized United’s reason for not wanting to make big changes, he wanted to make sure that their ad campaign was unique. For United, it was important that the new campaign would be respectful and would fill their seats.


 The campaign was geared towards a younger audience, the middle-class, and women with a friendly image. During the 1960’s, air travel slowly transition from an elite mode for travel to a mode of transportation for the masses. It became crucial that the new campaign would be successful because airlines wanted to win over the majority of people and to fill the seats on their new jumbo jets.

Burnett’s team dubbed the project the “Friendly Skies” campaign. They wanted to import “warmth,” “softness,” and “friendliness” into United’s image. In November of 1965, The Leo Burnett Agency introduced United’s new slogan: “Come fly the friendly skies of United.” The new slogan replaced the previous slogan “The Main Line Airway.” The Burnett team wanted to make the skies friendlier beyond the weather. The campaign used stewardesses to import the missing qualities into United’s image which were considered to be more feminine qualities. The stewardess created a new “less formal” image which became the centerpiece of the “Friendly Skies” campaign. Stanwood said that the slogan represented a “drastic change, from an older airline to a younger, more with-it airline.” Leo Burnett was extremely satisfied with the new slogan, and it instantly became popular. He believed that it had a nice invitational quality.


Three Commercials from the Twentieth Century “Friendly Skies” Campaign:



In 1987, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” music was added to the advertising campaign. However, the “fly the friendly skies” slogan disappeared in 1996 when The Leo Burnett Agency and United split ways.

In the years after the “fly the friendly skies” slogan disappeared, United went through some major changes. They helped find the Star Alliance in 1997 and almost merged with US Airways in 2000. After the 2001 terrorist attacks and skyrocketing oil prices, United filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2002, and they exited bankruptcy on February 1, 2006. While in bankruptcy, United Airlines launched a new slogan “It’s time to fly” in 2004.

A Commercial from the “It’s time to fly” Campaign:

In 2010, United Airlines announced plans to merge with Continental Airlines. While merging, United and Continental used the “Let’s fly together” slogan.

The first United/Continental post-merger commercial:

It has been rough for the ‘New United’ since merging with Continental in 2010, and it has not gone unnoticed. Technology glitches, cultural issues, and operation problems have overwhelmed the merged company and passengers. Since moving to a single passenger service system on March 3, 2012, many glitches have occurred which stranded thousands of passengers and delayed or cancelled hundreds of flights around the United system. The summer of 2012 was rough for United.

They had the worst operational record among the top 15 airlines in the United States. United had an on-time arrival rate in the 12 months through September 2012 of 77.5 percent — six percentage points below the industry average. They also had the highest rate of regularly delayed flights during the 2012 summer, and according to the Transportation Department, United generated more customer complaints than all other U.S. airlines combined in July 2012.

On the 2013 second quarter analyst call, United’s CEO Jeff Smisek said: “Last year was a year of apology. This year it is an opportunity for us to sell our services to our important corporate customers and make them not only understand the power of the network, but the investments we are making in our fleet, our product, our technology, and our people.” However, you cannot please every customer. Smisek says the tide is turning as “customer service is clearly improving and they are taking notice as customer service satisfaction scores are up substantially versus last summer.”


On September 20, 2013, United Airlines announced the debut of a new advertising campaign. This is United’s biggest advertising campaign in more than a decade. In a press release, United says that the campaign “is based on feedback from customers that “user-friendly” today means the combination of service, technology and product enhancements. United has designed its investments in its global route network, new aircraft, on-board features, customer service and digital channels to be “flyer-friendly.”

Each ad relates a United product or service feature to the word “friendly” from legroom-friendly to Wi-Fi-friendly.  United wants to demonstrate on how they deliver “flyer-friendly” options in many forms.

Four commercials from the “flyer-friendly” campaign:


Tom O’Toole, United’s senior vice president of marketing and loyalty and president of MileagePlus, says that Flyer-friendly is a term that United heard a lot from customers and co-workers. The new brand campaign’s goal is to express that United is focused on customers through the investments they are making.

According to a New York Times article about the new campaign, Mr. O’Toole says that “The real aim of the new advertising is to “say to customers, co-workers and competitors that United is back in the game in a big way.” He also told The New York Times that the campaign is geared to their “most frequent-traveling, high-yield customers,” as well as at employees “who will enable United to deliver exactly what we’re talking about. It sets an aspirational target for the customer experience United delivers.”

The new campaign will include television commercials, print, radio, outdoor, digital, and social media ads. They will kick off on Sunday on broadcasts of N.F.L. football games; the PGA Tour championship; the season premiere of “60 Minutes” and the Emmy Awards program. United developed the campaign with its global creative agency McGarryBowen.

While the new campaign may be welcoming news for frequent United flyers, many are still asking if United will be able to live up to the expectations they are setting with the new advertising campaign. Only time and a lot of flying can tell.

What do you think of the new advertising campaign?