American Airlines Employees Will Vote on the Aircraft Paint Job (Or At Least the Tail)

American Airlines Group CEO Doug Parker told employees of both American Airlines and US Airways that they would get to vote on the tail of American Airlines planes. If they prefer, the airline will go with the old tail icon that had been in place since 1968. If they like the new tail, they can keep it. But the decision needs to be made quickly so they can start painting US Airways planes.

Personally the new paint job has really grown on me since it was unveiled. I don’t really like the tail, though… still, the old one seems dated especially after they’ve painted so many planes with an updated one.

    Tail and body of an American Airbus A319

Ultimately Doug Parker’s letter — and even this blog post — is spending too much time on the paint job relative to the operation of the airline.

And since it’s a decision that probably doesn’t matter a whole lot for the business, where there’s no right or wrong answer (although if you think there is, you’ll surely tell me in the comments!), it seems a great idea for a new CEO to show he’s listening to his employees.

Here’s the note:

A Message from CEO Doug Parker

The Livery

It’s time to take care of the question on many people’s minds: now that we have merged, are we going to keep the new American livery (announced in January 2013), or are we going to do something different? It is a relevant and timely question as we now have more than 620 US Airways and US Airways Express aircraft that need to be painted in an American Airlines livery.

My View: You Decide

While I enjoy debating the merits of certain aircraft liveries as much as anyone, I have always believed they are not particularly important to the success of an airline. For our team members who work in, around and on these aircraft day in and day out, it matters a great deal, but I have yet to find a customer who based their purchase decision on the exterior design of the airplane. I think our livery should represent the American brand well-it should be professional, and it should be cost efficient – but it is not a make- or-break decision for our airline. And since it is important to our team members, I think our team members should decide.

No More Buffing – We Have to Paint

It is important to know there are some constraints on the decision. For example, we can’t continue with the traditional American buffed silver look as there is no good way to convert the US Airways fleet to polished silver because of the materials used on Airbus aircraft. In addition, the B787 and A350, both of which we have on order, are composite aircraft and that material cannot be converted to a shiny metallic look. This, of course, is the same dilemma American faced last summer as the first of a large order of unpolished aircraft began to be delivered.

Major Changes are Not Cost Effective

A second constraint is cost. One of the great things about the buffed silver livery was its cost efficiency – no paint meant less weight. And we want to continue that tradition. However you may feel about the new livery and branding, the fact is it would be irresponsible for us to start over from scratch. There are currently more than 200 aircraft in the new livery and the new flight symbol or, “eagle” as it’s sometimes called, and the related signage is up in many airports and facilities already. One of our five imperatives at American is, “Provide a Return for our Investors” and we can’t do that by spending their capital redoing a lot of work that has just been recently accomplished.

Two Livery Choices: Flag or AA?

Given those two constraints – we need to paint and we aren’t starting from scratch — we have developed two livery options. First, I think most everyone agrees the team has done an excellent of job of painting the airplanes in a color that is nicely reminiscent of our buffed silver heritage. I think the newly painted aircraft look extremely nice and have heard the same from many of you. So, we aren’t going to mess with the fuselage. That just leaves the tail. As to the tail, we have two options for you. The current flag tail or one with our traditional AA. We decided to include an AA option because we have heard from many employees that they miss the old AA with the eagle. I understand that perspective, and indeed it has some attachment to our goal to “Restore American as the Greatest Airline in the World” because it is harkens back to our proud past. The problem with this design is that it contains two different logos – the old AA and the new flight symbol. Brand experts tell us this is not ideal, that we should stick with just one. But if our team members decide they would like to keep AA on the tail of our airplanes, we will manage just fine.

It’s Up to You

People have already begun to ask me, “Which livery do you hope wins?” The answer is I honestly do not care. I think both look fantastic. As someone who began working at American in 1986, I, like many of you, am fond of the AA and think it reflects the proud history of this airline. But I also think the new branding looks great. It is bold, professional, fresh and represents American well. And the more aircraft I see painted in this scheme, the more I like it.

What I do care about and what I am happy about is that we have found a way to let our team members provide their input to this important decision. So, it is up to you. I just ask that we get it done quickly, so we can start painting US Airways aircraft. Have fun and please vote – we want your input.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary–Since the tail can’t be viewed from the wing (unless you ate literally standing on the wing (which is not how I’ve interpreted the name of your blog over the years), it would seem this debate is outside the purview of your blog 😉

  2. I hated the tail from the start, and still do. It’s a giant eyesore. It is bright and bold, I’ll give it that, especially relative to the rest of the plane.

    All that said, I really don’t give a rip. I have never chosen to fly an airline based on what its paint schemes were. And I’ve never not flown an airline for a bad one. Unless they take into consideration the handful of people who might not buy a model 777 for their desk with the new livery, then I don’t think it should matter at all to the airline.

    Parker has sure said as much many times. It’s a completely inconsequential decision, but one that won’t go away until he puts it to bed.

  3. I can’t believe they’re not offering a third choice: a redesign of the tail. The old AA logo looks silly with the new branding and large titles, and the new one was always ugly (thought I’ll admit I think it looks less ridiculous now than it did the day I first saw it.)

    The only thing that makes sense to me is a completely new tail, based either on the new eagle and swoosh, or some new stylized “AA”.

  4. Can’t believe Parker didn’t take Jeff’s option three and keep the USAir tail. Common Doug, that how all the cool cats do it now a days.

    Oh wait…

  5. I think this is a great employee relations move — it will engender a lot of good will. I also like how Parker isn’t sugar coating it: he’s always believed the livery doesn’t matter (which is why he’s putting it up for a vote) and isn’t claiming anything else in his employee letter.

    Personally, I’d vote for the new tail. When it was introduced, I hated the new livery. But, as many others have said, it grows on you. I think the new tail is a keeper, and combining the two styles would look a little silly.

  6. Largely seems to be an exercise in seeing how many times you can cram the words “our”, “we” and “team” into a single communication.

  7. It’s pretty scary how clueless he comes off about the understanding of branding in the capitalist world……..if that is his best shot then stockholders should be pretty nervous……….and I believe it really is his way of letting AA employees give Tom Horton the finger as he goes out the door……….that’s Horton’s logo created under his watch………but saying I don’t care about what the product looks like is pretty scary for customers who are getting the message that he thinks it is just bus service in the first place…………..and in AA’s case I guess he is right………..Hasta la vista Tom!

  8. Anyone else catch the dickish subtext? “I don’t think this is an important decision, therefore I’ll let you employees decide”

  9. > Anyone else catch the dickish subtext? “I don’t think this is an important decision, therefore I’ll let you employees decide”

    Yes, I was going to comment on it. Pretty amazing.

    Also, pretty clueless on the power of branding image. Pretty scary.

    Personally, if the only other option is to put that ugly dated 1960s eagle on the tail, I sure hope they keep the current one, faults and all.

  10. He’s loaded the question to get a new tail livery answer – as clearly mixing up logos would be an absurd choice. But it doesn’t get away from the fact that the tail design is the very unhappy part of an otherwise good rebranding.

  11. I think this is a stupid waste of time. Is Doug Parker a CEO or a candidate for high school class president?

  12. Does anyone else see a risk of this being divisive? What if: Old AA employees mostly vote for the old logo; US employees vote for the new one, both because they want to get away from the old AA, and because it’s more evocative of the US logo. US employees are outnumbered and outvoted, and it adds to the feeling that this isn’t a merger of equals…

  13. Things sure have changed since I served my 2 years sentence working there!! The only letter the TWA employees/lepers/detainees (that’s how we were treated) got from AA, was “dont let the door hit you in the ass on the way out to the unemployment line.

  14. Things sure have changed since I served my 2 years sentence working there!! The only letter the TWA employees/lepers/detainees (that’s how we were treated) got from AA, was “dont let the door hit you in the ass on the way out to the unemployment line.

  15. Contrary to others, I think Dougie did a good thing by letting employees choose. Employees have virtually zero decision making power in a company this size, and letting them vote on something that isn’t all that important is a great idea. And I agree with Dougie, it ain’t no biggie. And yet, I do love the old tail. 😉

  16. “letting them vote on something that isn’t all that important is a great idea”…

    Except that: “I really don’t care about this, so you decide” is a clear admission that what he is doing is providing a diversion, so employees can feel that they have some say, and are “important”, without that really being true at all.

    It’s like he is saying ‘stop talking about important matters like employee integration, seniority, etc.’, and talk about something totally unimportant instead.

    Holds true for us too. Instead of worrying about award chart devaluations, inferior service levels, meals in FC, we are now discussing tail paint jobs.

    Translation: “Look, shiny object”….

  17. Actually, there’s a lot of logic in the idea that the livery of the airplane not being all that important.

    Certainly, for a start-up, livery is important because it’s part of an overall branding strategy and, for a startup, the best way to tie the brand to the aircraft.

    But for an established brand, the livery is basically an identifier. It’s not putting butts in seats. Any issues with overall brand recognition have already been encountered in the initial rebranding (which I think left a lot of equity on the floor).

    For this change, I think there is no dickish subnote. Truth is, employees have been vocal in their dislike of the new branding and livery. DP is being forthright in saying that he doesn’t really care, but is willing to listen to people who are passionate.

    The reason the tail can be done is that it’s a decal (versus paint) and so can be changed with relatively little fanfare. In fact, I think they have to be replaced every few months anyway.

    I do think the ideal solution would be a new design, incorporating the US Airways tail design (if not the flag icon). Of course, I think that the new AA should retain the “Cactus” call sign, so maybe I’m biased.

  18. i think the employees would like the opportunity to have a say as to what a part of their airline looks like or represents. those of you bashing Parker obviously haven’t worked a job where you’ve had ZERO say in what goes on.

  19. @mrcellardweller
    You are missing the entire point of the bashing……we’re not bashing Parker over asking for input…..we’re bashing him over his very poor execution of asking for that input……..and we’re bashing him for asking for it out of one side of his mouth while saying that the employee input is on an item that doesn’t really matter which is a definite back handed slap…….
    Additionally, we are bashing him because his comments show a complete lack of understanding on how important corporate branding is to “both” employees and customers…..when the employees come to work each day and see that logo they need to feel pride to produce the best possible product they can………
    But this is from the same brain that doesn’t believe in meal service on 3.5 hour flights so we shouldn’t be shocked by it……..

  20. 1. Parker Knows that logos are VERY important part of the business like any 1st year marketing student does.
    2. tails are painted not decals (decals cause drag)
    3. AA was the only airline with letters only on it’s tail
    4. We can all recognize a cathy pacific tail logo, but most likely would not if it was in Cantonese.
    5. Everyone can identifies the tail of the plane before any other part, that is why it is painted as such.

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