Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Earlier in 2019, CEO Oscar Muñoz hinted that United would undertake a “brand evolution” sometime in April, finally tying together years of subtle branding updates and refreshed patterns.
While the new livery has been receiving plenty of feedback, it makes use of several of the elements of United’s updated color palette, and harmonizes the airline’s brand identity under its primary color of United Blue.
However, United's refresh of their image started well before this fresh coat of pant. Prior to the introduction the introduction of United’s Polaris Business Class in December of 2016, one could tell that change was afoot at United. In January, United reintroduced free snacks in coach. Next came the rollout of Polaris Business Class, the first new product from the combined carrier, finally harmonizing the fleet’s premium cabins. Prior to this harmonization, on international flights, United operated a fleet of three class-configured aircraft, from their legacy fleet, as well as two class aircraft inherited from their merger with Continental Airlines. This created drastic inconsistencies with what customers could expect, even at times, on the same route. The new business class seat would now create an entirely new; two class experience, in line with competitors and Star Alliance partners. Customers would now have access to the aisle, and a restructured service, which included the thrills of wine tasting, and a more luxurious experience, with bedding by Saks Fifth Avenue, and revamped amenity kits. In fact, United’s bedding proved so popular that the carrier had to ask customers to leave the items onboard, and made bedding many of the items available online for purchasing. United also had to increase the amount of the popular cooling gel pillows, provisioned onboard.
The now iconic globe logo would appear in full force on the dish-ware, ice cream bowls, water pitchers and table lines, as well as the seats and bulkheads. The sprawling Polaris lounges carried on these motifs. The extensive use of the outline of the globe logo (what United calls the Hemi-Arc) was seen on the entry ways and bulkheads of the carrier’s new flagship plane, the 777-300ER, as well as refreshed 767 interiors, and was increasingly seen on check in counters, signage and the likes. All of these elements eventually culminated in what United finally launched on April 24th, a refresh of their livery.
The airline has also invested heavily on how they make customers feel while on board their planes. From making large, premium heavy investments such as their recently announced 767 "High J" reconfiguration, to purchasing and operating newer, more efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft, the airline has attempted to fundamentally restructure its image, especially in the wake of tumultuous news cycles in 2017 and 2018.
While the Polaris inflight dining experience has been amended somewhat since its inception the airline has responded to customer demand for a more efficient service, and more sleep. United scrapped the wine tasting and Bloody Mary / Mimosa service in favor of a more streamlined initial beverage service while many of the elements, initially rolled out on board, were instead moved into the Polaris lounges. For example, the Polaris Lounge at San Francisco now offers a wine tasting, as one of its many diverse show experiences in the back room. The airline is also testing out a modified late night “sleeper” service, which allows customers more rest on the shorter, late night flights across the Atlantic, such as Washington to London, Washington Dublin and Newark to London.
This shift in focus has made the Polaris Lounges now the centerpiece of Polaris Business Class experience. The lounges themselves are how United truly stands apart from their competition. With five of the six US lounges now complete, United offers access only to customers confirmed in United’s Polaris Business Class seats, or First/Business Class on Star Alliance partners, aiming to make the experience more intimate than other facilities such as the United Club. With a plethora of cocktails to chose from, as well as the ability to craft your own, as well as a wide array of dining options, these lounges allow customers to enjoy a full meal and then skip the onboard component (or indulge in both). Day-bed facilities and showers in every lounge also allow for the opportunity for customers to rest and refresh before or after their intercontinental journey. With all of these in mind, the service changes on board make a lot more sense.
Then came the opening of United’s Terminal C North at Houston, a massive undertaking with brand new soaring ceilings, and blue mood lighting, followed almost immediately by a redesign of United’s boarding system, shrinking the number of boarding lanes from five to two.
One of the final pieces to the puzzle would be the look of the company’s front line employees. Designer Tracy Reese was tapped to redesign the new Flight Attendant, Pilot and Customer Service uniforms (which would also be supplied by Brooks Brothers) while below the wing employees would be receiving durable, updated Carhartt pieces to complete their uniform overhaul. In the Spring of 2019, United unveiled its working designs for these new uniforms, marking a shift towards both high fashion (seen in piping on the male uniforms, reminiscent of designs by Versace and Dolce & Gabanna) and a more comfortable, relaxed attire. It undoubtedly marks a shift of United’s focus on a stauncher, upper-middle-class business crowd, towards the ever growing, and big spending millennial crowd. In addition to this, United also teamed up with high-end bag retailer TUMI, to supply luggage to the airlines 23000+ Flight Attendants.
While by no means an easy task, United has taken on the challenge of revamping its image. In playing the long game, United has managed to slowly incorporate seemingly small changes, from subtle updates to its globe logo and reinvigorating its social media platforms. To larger, more visible changes, such as the revamp of its award-wining app, product placement in major blockbusters, and investments into its more inclusive inflight entertainment product; United aims to show that it is more inclusive, more diverse, and more in tune with today’s traveling public. Even with United's introduction of the controversial 'Basic Economy' fare, the airline is trying to tap into a market dominated by low cost giants such as Spirit.
From high-tech entrepreneurs, to the customer who only flies once a year, with little to no loyalty to any particular airline; United’s investments, and changes to its brand image, show that it is trying harder than ever to cater to every customer, on every flight, everyday.
Check out this image gallery from United's new livery launch. These photos (and most of the photos showcasing the new livery, used in this article) were graciously provided by Joe Lammerman /Lammdogg Photography. Please click the link here to follow his work.
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