This story is over 5 years old
Tech by VICE

Why Did American Airlines Have to Rebrand Itself?

After more than 40 years, the immortal brand of American Airlines is being buried.

by Daniel Stuckey
Jan 17 2013, 9:00pm

"And so it is... you said it would be." It's definitely an emotional moment, so some Damien Rice is necessary while I process American Airlines' rebrand announcement page

After some forty-plus years, the livery and branding of American Airlines–that seemingly immortal fixture of tarmacs around the globe–has changed. The new design seems to refer to American's OneWorld partner, British Airways, at least in terms of tail design. But really, how much more creative can one get with the same old red white and blue? As displeased as longtime AA fanboys might be with the new paint job (points to self), it nevertheless arrives at an interesting, if not serendipitous moment for the airline industry.

The cheery Pepsi-ish design belies some inner turmoil. As a merger with US Airways nears in the horizon, American has recently been accused by the Regional Transportation Authority, along with United Airlines, for setting up their small office locations outside Chicago's city limits, a loophole that has saved each airline millions in fuel taxes. Bankruptcy protection will help American escape from being sued, but United might not fare as easily.

And just yesterday, the airline held hands with other carriers as the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner–of which American is awaiting 42 new craft in late 2014–was taken out of service by a concerned FAA. Following a number of in-flight battery fires and emergency landings on ANA and Japan Airlines, Tom Horton, American's CEO, remains optimistic about the long-anticipated, fuel-saving, jetlag-decreasing plane of yesterday's future.

The days of that awesome AA scissor-eagle logo are over. The new one is distinctly corporate-friendly, with notes of the old Greyhound livery; but quieter, and disappointingly streamlined. An abstraction of one of Dr. Mario's pill capsules. The minimalist insignia surely seems optimized for the inevitable, system-wide lapel-pin overhaul. I hear the deafening scrape of a thousand wall-plaques being torn from the hallways of airports around the globe. The AAdvantage membership card in my pocket now glows with obsolescence.

An American Airlines redesign was necessary, I guess. But what prompted it? Some have spoken of the 787's carbon-fiber body, that the new plane simply can't achieve that classic metallic sheen of the airline's partial-coverage paint job:

Here comes a bare, polished chrome look, like some German kitchen appliance. "The paint covering the fuselage, as you’ve seen, is a silver mica that pays direct homage to the now-former aluminum,” American told

Other upcoming changes will push some analog antiques out the window. Wi-Fi is now available on almost all domestic flights in 2013, and the pilots and crewmembers will miss no opportunity to log into their plane's routers. Integrating both Apple and Samsung devices, American won't be singling out one of the two infinitely-feuding tablet titans. The pilots will tote iPads with specialized navigation apps, complimenting the already-sleek Heads Up Displays that have dramatically improved aeronautics for pilots on AA's newer aircraft. Onboard attendants will carry the Samsung Galaxy Note, helping them to determine passenger priority status and connecting flight information.

I still am having a hard time getting my head around it all. With redesigns, band reunions and new versions of everything spilling out of some secret cultural reservoir, I can't quite work out what the driving catalyst is for all this change. Was it that the world didn't actually end in 2012? Is it Obama? The fiscal cliff? Honey Boo Boo and Lena Dunham drying up the New York Observer's printing press? Or how about Motherboard's new, cleaner design? Do I need a change too? Perhaps it's time I should, to borrow a phrase, "advance toward becoming a new American... moving forward with great purpose and respect for our history—challenging [myself] to progress, to modernize, to innovate..." Or maybe I should just trade in some of my miles.