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.
But those typical white paint jobs can also be rather… well, bland.
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”.
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.
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.
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 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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer
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