Is there a more iconic airline livery in the world than the American Airlines livery? Ever since the launch of the airline in 1936, American Airlines has taken great pride in expressing their brand philosophy onto their fleet of aircraft.

The Astrojet livery: 1964-1968

Designed by Doyle Dane Bernbach, the American Airlines Astrojet livery was significant in that it introduced the iconic double-A (“AA”) logo that is still in use to this day. It’s a relatively simple livery design overall, featuring the signature red “lightning bolt”graphic that was used in previous versions.

American Airlines Astrojet livery
The American Airlines Astrojet livery over top of my Boeing 707 template

The main difference from previous versions was that the lightning bolt started at a single point on the nosecone instead of blending out from it.

On the vertical stabilizer, the American Airlines logo was redesigned into a circular graphic featuring eagle wings and double A’s (which represented “American Airlines” – not boobies).

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The classic bare metal “Eagle” livery: 1968-2013

Created by famed designer Massimo Vignelli, this bare-aluminum livery was minimal yet timeless. The colors of the American flag (red, white, and blue) ran down the center of the fuselage, while a stylized eagle logo (with American Airlines abbreviated as “AA”) was painted on the tail.

The amazing thing to me is that this livery (designed in the 1960′s) lasted as long as it did. Is there any other major airline livery that has lasted so long? It’s pretty interesting to think about, especially since other US airlines like Delta and United have gone through 3 different color schemes each from the mid-90’s to the mid-2000’s. Talk about an identity crisis!

American Airlines bare metal livery
You couldn’t go to any US airport in the early to mid 2000’s and not see several of these bad boys coming and going. This is what the bare metal Eagle livery looks like on my Boeing 737-800 template.
American Airlines bare metal livery Boeing 767-200
Possibly the best aircraft to represent this bare-metal livery: the Boeing 767-200!
American Airlines livery MD-80
The MD-80 is pretty much what I think of when I think of the old American Airlines colors.

It was sad to see this American Airlines livery disappear. It was time though. Cheat-lines are oh-so 1970′s and American desperately needed to shed it’s old and tired image and step into a new era of quality and service to reflect modern times (and increased pressure from competition).

An all-new American Airlines livery: 2013-present

An all new American Airlines livery was unveiled on January 17, 2013, and it was a stark departure from the “bare metal” livery it replaced. Futurebrands had quite a challenge on their hands when accepting this assignment.

It’s not easy to take something as iconic as the 30+ year old American Airlines identity and give it a modern look. No matter what they did, they were undoubtedly going to tick some people off. But you know what? They succeeded magnificently.

It’s also worth noting that I find it rare for a major airline to create a livery which is more bold (and daring) than younger “hip” airlines. For example, I much prefer this AA flag livery over the livery of Breeze Airways (a hip young startup airline in the US).

American Airlines livery 777-300ER
The new American Airlines livery was unveiled on the then-brand new Boeing 777-300ER…
new american airlines livery on a boeing 777-200
…but these colors look better on the shorter 777-200 IMHO.

The new look for American Airlines was a bold departure from the past. Mainly because the rumors that the bare-metal look would not be a part of the new color scheme actually came true. This was due to the fact that many modern airliners aren’t actually skinned with aluminum anymore. It’s not so easy to polish carbon fiber to a mirror-like finish!

American Airlines livery on the 787-8
This is what these colors look like on the 787-8. I like it. I like it a lot.
American Airlines Boeing 787-9 side view
And for comparisons sake, here is what this livery looks like on the slightly longer 787-9.

Even though we all knew this was coming, I was actually at a loss for words when I first saw it way back in 2013. It was nothing like I thought it would be. I knew that the iconic polished aluminum fuselage was history, and that silver paint would be used instead. And I had a pretty good feeling that they would stick with a red, white, and blue color scheme. But still – it was nothing like I thought it would be.

American Airlines 757 new livery
American Airlines looks great on my Boeing 757-200 template!
American Airlines A319 side view
In contrast to the longer 757 above, the American Airlines livery holds up pretty well on shorter aircraft as well (as seen here on my Airbus A319 template).

In regards to the tail, I was hoping to see something a bit organic and flowing (like the representation of the flag in the Emirates livery). Instead, we got a hard-edged and highly abstract American flag. The concept in and of itself is good – I quite like the idea of incorporating the flag into the livery. But I personally feel it’s too busy and not complimentary to the new logo (which, as a matter of fact, I love).

American airlines a321T new livery
Here’s what this livery looks like on my Airbus A321 template

An all-new American Airlines logo is a major part of this livery, and I think it’s a classy evolution of the classic “AA” eagle logo it replaced. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t place it on the tail though, as the darn thing is in the shape of an aircraft vertical stabilizer for crying out loud.

American Eagle erj-175 livery
The American Eagle livery is basically the same, except for smaller titles. This is what it looks like on my Embraer 175 template.

These colors look absolutely fantastic in bright sunshine (even better than the old polished livery did), and the silver paint they chose for the main section of the fuselage has a perfect balance of bling and class. I know that there are many out there who don’t feel the same way about this new look, but I’m liking it more and more each time I see it out in the wild.

American Airlines livery 737-800
Those of you who live in Dallas or Miami are very familiar with this American Airlines livery by now. It looks sharp on my 737-800 template!

This was a controversial livery to say the least. So controversial, in fact, that American Airlines asked their employees if it should stay or go several months after it’s initial release. The results of that poll were close, but long story short – this color scheme was here to stay.

American Airlines special liveries

American Airlines has been relatively cautious when it comes to special liveries. Nearly all of the special color schemes that they’ve released over the years have been relatively mild and largely based on the current livery.

American Airlines One World livery
The American Airlines One World livery on the 777-200. Is it wrong that I like this better than the normal livery?

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  1. I am a dyed in the wool AA fan. I do like the livery, but I have often wondered how an updated version of the lightening bolt livery (what you refer to as Astrojet) would have looked. Also, I wish the color was more silvery looking, like Northwest used to have. I also would have liked to see a more Eagle looking logo, rather than this modern, minimilistic eagle. The eagle is such a beautiful symbol of flight, the USA, and American Airines, so I would liked to have seen more of it. I know they wanted to modernize and I agree, but something tells me an upgraded lightening bolt in red or orange, along the fuselage, with a more silver color, and a more realistic image of an eagle would have been dynamite. Any thoughts??

    1. That sounds like a good idea actually, though I’m a pretty big fan of the polished aluminum. However, with all the composite-skinned aircraft they have these days, silver paint (just like how Northwest did it) would be the only way to go. Maybe I can try to mock it up if I can find some extra time…

  2. This is just a random nitpick but, on the classic 68-13 livery the Eagle between the double A’s always is in flight. Much like flags reverse on planes like ships do, AA actually had the Eagle always face the nose, so while in print the Eagle faced the right (blue) A, on the tails it was dependent on the side of the aircraft. (the same is true for American Eagle during this time, the Eagles fly into the wind)

    1. Interesting! I didn’t even notice that. It makes total sense given how they do the same thing for flags. Thanks for letting me know! I’ll have to go back and update that eventually…

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