Ever since the mid-nineties when Air France turned Concorde into a giant flying Pepsi advert, airlines around the world have on occasion sought to jazz up their fleet with a brand-new livery (that’s a paint job to you and me). Designs range from in-vogue cartoon and movie characters to patriotic symbols and artwork chosen to celebrate new flight routes and anniversaries of momentous events. Whatever the inspiration, they’re bound to put a smile on the faces of bored travellers waiting for their flight. Here are some of the biggest, brightest and spangliest aeroplane liveries around. Keep your eyes peeled for them on your travels!
The Hobbit – Air New Zealand
Calling all Hobbit fans! If you’re heading halfway around the world to explore Tolkien territory, your expedition could begin before you even set foot on New Zealand soil. Unveiled in 2012 to coincide with the first Hobbit film, Air New Zealand’s Hobbit plane was almost as epic as the film itself, taking over 400 hours to complete. Tolkien-esque touches continued on board, with a safety video featuring characters from Middle Earth and pointy ears for the cabin crew on the first flight. The second film was also celebrated in December 2013 with a Boeing 777 emblazoned with the dragon Smaug. It flew to Los Angeles on the day of the film première.
Hello Kitty – EVA Air
How best to celebrate the launch of a new flight route between Taipei and Los Angeles? Well, if you’re Taiwanese airline EVA Air, there can only be one answer: Hello Kitty. Put Hello Kitty on everything. The cute livery featuring Sanrio’s famous feline creation created quite a stir on its inaugural flight in September 2013, but that’s not the half of it. At Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, passengers can check in at dedicated Hello Kitty desks amid a riot of pink and hair bow decals. Clutching their Hello Kitty boarding passes they’ll set foot on board and find Hello Kitty-themed everything, from snacks to toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper.
Panda – All Nippon Airways
In 2007, Japan‘s All Nippon Airways commemorated 20 years of operating flights to China by turning a 767 into China’s best-known indigenous creature – the panda. Some 350 people worked on panda-ifying the jet, even down to the headrests, napkins and cups. What’s more, ANA isn’t the only airline to ‘panda’ a plane. British Airways gave one of its fleet a full panda paint job in September 2013 to mark the launch of a brand new route from Heathrow to Chengdu, China. And if you’re on board, you’ll most likely be on flight no. BA88 – a nod to the Chinese belief that the number eight brings good luck.
Firefly – British Airways
Almost two years ago, ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Olympic flame embarked upon a 70-day, 8,000-mile torch relay around the UK. You might have heard about it at the time. But before embarking on this marathon journey, the flame first had to travel over from Athens. Enter the Firefly from British Airways, an Airbus A319 fittingly decorated in shades of gold and bearing the slogan “Our moment to shine”. Famous faces on board flight BA2012 included David Beckham, Boris Johnson and Princess Anne as well as the fiery guest of honour. Hats off to BA for kicking off the relay in true blue (or in this case golden) British style.
Pokémon – All Nippon Airways
All Nippon Airways’ aviation creations aren’t limited to panda prints. In the mid-nineties the world went potty for Pokémon and sharp-eyed ANA didn’t let this marketing opportunity soar past. Nearly 10 of their fleet were decorated inside and out, providing a complete Pokémania experience for passengers. Cabin crew uniforms are Pokémon-themed, as are the food containers and souvenir bags. And what’s playing on the in-flight entertainment? You guessed it. Most have been retired but one is still in operation, so fans can still join Pikachu, Jigglypuff and the rest on an adventure in the skies.
Salmon Thirty Salmon – Alaska Airlines
What comes to mind when you think of Alaska? Huskies? Probably. Snow? Yup. Salmon? Well if it didn’t, it might do now. Especially if you’re lucky enough to board Alaska Airlines’ Salmon Thirty Salmon. This Boeing 737 (get it?) was festooned with a giant fish to promote the state’s thriving fresh fish industry. Rumour has it the livery was inspired by an incident in 1987 when one of their planes was hit by a fish as it was taking off in Juneau. Alaska Airlines are big fans of decorating their fleet, with Disney characters and college football colours always favourites, but this has to be their most pun-tastic plane.
Bearbus – Germanwings
To be perfectly honest, just the genius name of the Bearbus from Germanwings makes us want to book a seat. We don’t care where it ends up (psst – it’s more than likely to be Berlin). This Airbus 319 was given a makeover in 2009 to commemorate the launch of Germanwings’ operations out of Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport and to promote tourism in the German capital. Its inspiration came from Berlin’s coat of arms – a brown bear wearing a crown. And not sunglasses, we might add – this is just an extra touch that makes this bear the coolest bear in the sky. And the only one, perhaps. But undoubtedly the coolest.
Aladdin’s Genie – Alaska Airlines
As bright and fun as these liveries are, you’d be forgiven for thinking some airlines are simply jumping on the movie theme bandwagon (how cynical of you!) but we can reassure you that they really have a heart when it comes to pepping up their fleet. Alaska Airlines came up with the Spirit of Make-A-Wish featuring the wish-granting Genie from Disney’s Aladdin and the logo of the Make-A-Wish Foundation® to celebrate their long-term partnership to make wishes come true for children with serious medical conditions. And of course the Genie is a legend of a Disney character anyway – who wouldn’t want him on their plane?
Yananyi Dreaming – Qantas
For the last 20 years, Qantas has been celebrating Aboriginal art by commissioning five of its planes to be covered with special designs by Aboriginal artists. The first in the ‘Dreaming’ series was Wunala Dreaming in 1994, featuring kangaroos travelling through the red desert of central Australia. Yananyi Dreaming was inspired by the sacred rock formation Uluru (AKA Ayers Rock) and the stories of the indigenous Anangu people, while the latest in the series, Mendoowoorrji, is based on a painting by Aboriginal artist Paddy Bedford and took to the skies in November 2013. We’d love to see more airlines following suit!
Beach – Bangkok Air
Bangkok Air go all out when making their planes as aesthetically pleasing as possible, with a variety of themes to be spotted in the sky. Their beach and floral themes celebrate the natural beauty of the destinations they fly to all over Thailand and south-east Asia, as well as special designs depicting famous spots such as Angkor Wat and the Mekong World Heritage route. Designers often compete for the chance for their creation to be the one chosen (alongside a pretty hefty cash prize too). Some planes are even specifically designed to appeal to young flyers, featuring the airline’s cartoon character mascots Sunshine, Rocky and Daisy.
Have you seen any interesting aeroplane designs on your travels? Let us know in the comment box below!
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