An aircraft’s livery, or paint scheme, is one of an airline’s biggest marketing tools (literally).

While many airlines operate exactly the same types of aircraft as their rivals – both Qantas and Virgin use Boeing 737s, for example – their planes are differentiated by the colours they’re painted in.

Planes are effectively giant billboards, easily spotted as they fly over cities and into airports at every destination served by the airline. So, airlines put a lot of thought and effort into liveries!

Many airlines paint their planes predominantly white, which is said to be cheaper, fades less quickly and keeps planes cooler, since white paint reflects sunlight more effectively. It’s also a “cleaner” look, and makes it easier for maintenance workers to spot potential damage.

Qantas and Virgin Australia 737s
Qantas and Virgin Australia (and Rex) paint their planes white. Photo: Jonathan Wong.

But those typical white paint jobs can also be rather… well, bland.

Zip Air 787
Japanese airline Zip Air’s plain white livery is not exactly… exciting. Photo: Melvinnnnnnnnnnn (FN2187) on Wikimedia Commons.

Some airlines have taken an opposite approach, painting all of their planes in bright colours. South African airline Kulula is one example. Kulula paints its planes bright green and has even added humorous labels to several planes, including one with oversized arrows pointing “up”.

Kulula Airlines 737
A Kulula Airlines Boeing 737-800. Photo: Bob Adams on Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than painting their entire fleet in a wacky livery, most airlines just have a small number of planes in a unique livery which stands out and grabs people’s attention. For example, one common trend is for airlines that are members of a global alliance – Oneworld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam – to have an aircraft painted in alliance colours.

Qatar Airways 777 in oneworld livery
A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER in Oneworld livery. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Many legacy carriers have also painted a few of their planes in historic “retro” liveries. Many Australian frequent flyers would recognise Qantas’ “Retro Roo” Boeing 737-800s, for example.

Qantas Retro Roo 2
VH-VXQ, Qantas’ second Boeing 737-800 in “Retro Roo” livery. Photo: Qantas.

But occasionally, airlines go a step further and paint a plane with a design that’s completely original, unorthodox and attention-grabbing. Here are 10 truly unique airline liveries…

1. Qantas’ indigenous aircraft designs

Few aircraft liveries are more eye-catching than Qantas’ stunning indigenous “Flying Art Series” planes.

The first Qantas jet to be painted in a special Aboriginal livery was Boeing 747-300 “Nalanji Dreaming” in 1995. The second was Boeing 747-400ER “Wunala Dreaming” in 2003. Wunala Dreaming continued to fly until July 2020, when it was the last Qantas 747 to be retired, although it was repainted in Qantas’ traditional white livery in 2011.

Qantas 747s in indigenous livery Nalanji Dreaming and Wunala Dreaming
Nalanji Dreaming (VH-EBU) in blue and Wunala Dreaming (VH-OEJ) in red. Photo: Qantas.

Qantas still has two planes in indigenous liveries in active service today; a Boeing 737-800 and a Boeing 787-9.

2. Icelandair’s Northern Lights livery

Serving cities all over Europe and North America, one of Icelandair’s main selling points is its free stopovers in Iceland. What better way to advertise this than by showing the delights of Iceland to potential visitors in the cities it flies to – such as the Northern Lights, in the case of this Boeing 757?

Icelandair Boeing 757-200 at Keflavik airport (KEF)
Icelandair Boeing 757-200 TF-FIU. Photo: Adobe Stock.

3. GOL’s World Cup livery

For the 2014 World Cup, Brazil’s GOL Airlines hired two graffiti artists to paint a special 737. This unique airline livery was the rather stunning result:

GOL 737 in World Cup livery
GOL Airlines Boeing 737-800 PR-GUO in a unique World Cup livery in 2014. Photo: Nicolas Fagundes Figueiredo via Wikimedia Commons.

4. Brussels Airlines Aerosmurf livery

In 2017, Brussels Airlines ran a competition for members of the public to “design our next Belgian icon”. The winning entry was “Aerosmurf”, which was designed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Smurfs cartoon that was invented in Belgium.

Brussels Airlines A320 in Aerosmurf livery
Brussels Airlines A320 OO-SND in Aerosmurf livery. Photo: Brussels Airlines.

5. ANA & United Star Wars liveries

In another nod to a pop culture reference, both All Nippon Airways and United Airlines have painted aircraft in unique Star Wars liveries. The theme is continued on the inside of the aircraft with Star Wars music playing during boarding and themed headrests. On ANA, all of the Star Wars movies are available to watch on the in-flight entertainment system.

ANA Star Wars jets
ANA’s fleet in Star Wars livery. Image: ANA.

6. EVA Air’s Hello Kitty livery

Taiwan’s EVA Air similarly operates several Hello Kitty themed aircraft. Once again, with EVA Air, this is more than just a livery. Prior to COVID-19, the entire in-flight experience for passengers lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on your perspective) to fly on these planes was unashamedly, in-your-face, Hello Kitty-themed.

EVA Air 777 in Hello Kitty livery
EVA Air Boeing 777-300ER B-16703 in Hello Kitty Livery. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons.

7. Air New Zealand’s All Black livery

Several Air New Zealand planes have been painted in a distinctive all-black livery in honour of New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks. (I flew on this aircraft in Premium Economy in 2019 and wrote a review of the flight at the time.)

Air New Zealand 777-200ER in All Blacks livery
Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER ZK-OKH in All Blacks livery. Photo: Matt Graham.

In the past, Air New Zealand has also painted several planes in special “Lord of the Rings” liveries, which some have described as the “ugliest planes that have ever flown”.

8. KLM’s Orange Pride livery

In 2016, Dutch airline KLM unveiled a striking half-blue, half-orange Boeing 777. It’s KLM’s only aircraft featuring the national colour of the Netherlands and was used to bring Dutch athletes home from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

KLM 777 in orange livery
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines shows its “true colours”: Boeing 777-300ER PH-BVA. Photo: Tom Kool.

9. Air Astana Snow Leopard livery

When Kazakhstan’s flag carrier received its first Embraer E190-E2 in 2018, it featured an unusual livery depicting a snow leopard! As well as looking pretty cool, the aim was to draw attention to the threat of extinction faced by these animals which are native to the south of Kazakhstan.

Air Astana E190-E2 P4-KHA in "Snow Leopard" livery
Air Astana E190-E2 P4-KHA in “Snow Leopard” livery. Photo: Air Astana.

10. ANA “Flying Honu” livery

It’s sometimes said that the Airbus A380 looks a bit like a whale. But Japan’s All Nippon Airways has decorated its three Airbus A380s used for flights to Honolulu with colourful Hawaiian turtles.

ANA A380
1 of 3 All Nippon Airways A380s in “Flying Honu” livery (JA381A). Photo: Airbus.
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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Frank

Well done Matt, great article…