The Coolest Airplane Paint Jobs in the Sky
Discussion of airline design tends to focus on technological innovations, passenger comfort, or even stylish flight attendant fashions. However, a lot thought and effort also goes into the design of an airline’s livery — the branding of everything from its logos and insignias to the graphics of its website and the paint jobs on its planes. While the goal tends to be to standardize the livery so passengers can easily recognize an airline’s products and personnel, some carriers occasionally deck out a plane or two with special themes in order to showcase their corporate personality or cultural heritage.
In fact, you are likely to see everything from hometown sports teams and movie tie-ins to artistic masterpieces and natural phenomena emblazoned on the fuselage of jets these days. While you won’t spot Air France’s Pepsi Concorde, Western Pacific’s The Simpson plane, or SWISS’s San Francisco-themed Summer of Love jet on the tarmac anymore, here are 10 specially painted planes you might see flying today.
Air New Zealand
The Kiwi carrier set a new standard of cool in aviation when it revealed an Airbus A320 it had painted in all black in 2011 as a nod of support to the country’s national rugby team, the All Blacks. Since then, Air New Zealand has painted four other planes black — a Boeing 777-300ER and 787-9 Dreamliner, and an ATR72 and Q300 flown on short domestic routes.
All Nippon Airways (ANA)
The force is strong with Japanese airline ANA, which launched its Star Wars Project in April 2015 after signing a five-year licensing contract with Disney. Today, the airline flies four themed jets – one Star Wars plane, and three based on beloved droids from the movies: R2-D2, BB-8 and C-3PO, the last of which has special amenities like themed paper cups, headrest covers, and cabin crew aprons. Though the routes are subject to change, if these are the droids you’re looking for, you might find them on routes between Tokyo and Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Bangkok, Munich, Paris and Singapore, among other destinations.
Belgium’s flag carrier takes pride in the nation’s cultural achievements both large and small. The airline serves Belgian chocolates and beers on board and its crew uniforms were created by Belgian designers. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the airline just started flying a jet adorned with some of the country’s most iconic characters…the Smurfs. Dubbed Aerosmurf, the plane features 19 Smurf characters along the fuselage, including Smurfette as the captain with Papa Smurf as her co-pilot. The plane is the latest in the airline’s Belgian Icons series, which includes other jets honoring Magritte, the Belgian Red Devils soccer team, and others.
Upping the ante of airborne adorability, Taiwanese airline EVA partnered with Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, to embellish its jets with the popular characters. The airline recently put the “Hand-in-Hand” design featuring Hello Kitty and 18 of her friends along the fuselage back on its route from Taipei to Los Angeles in March. Passengers on board are also treated to Hello Kitty-themed boarding passes, snacks, napkins, utensils, pillows, and even air fresheners and toilet paper in the lavatories. EVA currently flies its other Hello Kitty planes within Asia and on long-haul routes to Chicago, Paris, and Seoul. You can find the current flight schedule here.
You might recognize storied Finnish fashion brand Marimekko’s vivid floral prints on everything from dresses to plates these days, but some of its most famous patterns also brighten up a pair of Finnair’s planes. The airline currently flies an Airbus A330 with the classic Unikko “poppy” print and an Airbus A350 decorated with designer Maija Isola’s 1956 Kivet pattern, which is also featured on amenity kits, cups, napkins, slippers, and blankets in Finnair’s business class and economy comfort cabins. If you want to fly either Marimekko jet, the A350 has the tail identification OH-LWL, while the A330 is OH-LTO. You can check their latest routes on a site like FlightAware. Lately, they’ve been flying from Helsinki to Asian destinations including Bangkok, Phuket, Beijing, and Osaka.
As part of its 2015 ‘Icelandair Stopover’ campaign, Iceland’s flag carrier decided to make one of its airplanes a flying advertisement for the natural phenomenon for which the country is most famous, the Northern Lights. The airline painted one of its Boeing 757s in vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow, and named it Hekla Aurora, which is the combination of a traditional Icelandic girl’s name and a nod to the Aurora Borealis. Icelandair also installed one-of-a-kind interior LED lighting that simulates the Northern Lights for passengers to enjoy during their flight. Hekla Aurora has recently flown to Frankfurt, Paris, Tampa, Denver, Seattle, and Orlando. But if you want the chance to see it yourself, you can actually put in a request asking the airline to fly it to an airport near you.
You can’t miss this South African airline’s lime-green planes on the tarmac in Johannesburg or Cape Town. But the bright coat the airline’s Boeing 737s sport is just the beginning. Kulula’s in-house graphic design team has come up with a series of the cleverest decals in aviation. The “Flying 101” concept is covered with quirky messaging that is equal parts informative and impish, with signs indicating various parts of the plane like “the big cheese (captain, my captain!)” beneath the cockpit and even one pointing to “the loo” in the aft. Another of the airline’s designs has a simple but massive sign with two arrows on either side of it saying “THIS WAY UP.” According to Kulula, it is a nod to the precious cargo its planes carry…namely, the passengers.
Norwegian might get more buzz for the ultra-low airfares it uses to undercut competition on flights within Europe and to the U.S., but the airline also undertakes some noteworthy social responsibility operations. In 2017, the airline stocked the entire cargo hold of one of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with 28 tons of aid supplies and flew the jet to Djibouti so they could be delivered to Yemen. For the special service, the airline painted its jet with a UNICEF livery that, though understated, underscores the agency’s work around the world.
Australia’s largest airline has painted five of its aircraft with Indigenous designs in its nearly 100-year history, including a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The design is based on a painting called "Yam Dreaming" by the late Northern Territory artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Like Qantas’s other Dreamliners, it will be in service on the airline’s non-stop route from Perth to London, as well as flights from Brisbane to Los Angeles and New York, and from Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco.