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United’s new look shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of its frequent flyers. The airline has been slowly changing its airport signage to match the look that’s now going to be on aircraft.

In teasing that a United Airlines new paint scheme was coming, CEO Oscar Munoz recently called it more of an evolution than a revolution. He wasn’t joking.

United released a video of the scheme on Tuesday, and it borrows heavily from the old Continental Airlines livery, first introduced in 1991. United took the look after its 2010 merger with Continental in something of a compromise. United kept the name and the Chicago headquarters, and Continental got the logo (a stylized globe) and the paint.

The airline is planning a big unveiling Wednesday at a hangar at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. But after a photograph of a newly painted Boeing 737 surfaced Tuesday night on message boards and on Twitter, United made it official, releasing a video.

The United Look

Important for United, the globe will stay, painted prominently on the aircraft’s tail, though its color will change.

Several years ago, the airline stopped using gold, an old Continental color, in much of its branding. For this livery update, United is removing gold from the tail, replacing it with a stylized blue logo, with light and dark shades.

In another change, the airline is painting its name in blue lettering in much larger letters across the aircraft’s fuselage. It will paint its engines, now gray, in blue.

United is also adding a dark wavy line, below the windows, from the aircraft’s nose to its tail. United introduced a similar line in 2012, in gold, on its Boeing 787s. United has put that gold line on all of its 787s and Boeing 737 Max 9s but never added it to other aircraft.

Longtime United observers noted on social media and message boards that the new livery shares some similarities with the paint job United used just before its merger. United used a lot of blue in that look, including blue engines.

It generally takes airlines five or more years to paint their fleets, so it will be a long time before the old Continental design disappears.

Some customers wanted United to go with a clean rebranding, arguing the airline needed to move past a logo designed a quarter century ago by another company.

But United chose a more minor update, similar to what Alaska Airlines did in 2016, after it acquired Virgin America. In a press release, Alaska’s vice president for marketing even used the same “evolution, not a revolution,” phrase.

It’s not easy to start from scratch. United flies to hundreds of airports worldwide, and had the airline started anew, all of them would have had to change signage. In addition, brand marks on the airplane would have to change, as would just about everything used by the airline’s catering department, from cups to napkins.

Airlines generally save full rebranding for when they want customers to think of them differently. American Airlines did a full rebrand in 2013 as it was emerging from bankruptcy. Frontier Airlines changed its look in 2014, after new ownership changed its model and it became an ultra-low-cost carrier.

Sometimes, though, an airline starts over when it’s probably not required. In 2014, Southwest unveiled new branding and paint. The airline calls its look “Heart.”

Here is an infographic from United detailing some of the changes. 

Download (PDF, 4.36MB)

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Tags: branding, livery, united airlines

Photo credit: United Airlines is introducing a new paint scheme for its aircraft. United Airlines

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