“Designing a national airline is the closest you can come to branding a country.”

By Marisa Garcia
February 23, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

The delicious anticipation of a journey to a new country is perhaps only matched by the return to familiar surroundings at the end of a trip.

While all airlines will take you home, flagship carriers bring home onboard, offering fliers a design tour of their country and culture.

“Designing a national airline is the closest you can come to branding a country, so from a designer's point of view, it's an ideal project to work on,” said Luke Hawes, Director and Designer at PriestmanGoode, London. “Airlines will fly both domestic and international passengers, so it's important to design something that on the one hand, gives domestic passengers a sense of home, of the familiar, and for international passengers offers them a glimpse of what awaits them.”

PriestmanGoode has helped a number of airlines “fly the flag” by incorporating colors, textures, and materials which reflect the landscape and traditions of their country of origin. Their most recent flagship design project is the new interiors program for South African Airways’ Airbus A330s.

“We look at art, architecture, fashion, and crafts to create a color and materials palette that acts as a contemporary representation of the country,” Hawes said.

Kim Thipe, head of marketing at South African Airways, says this approach was important to help the airline stand out among competitors flying to the home market.

“We wanted to create a strong identity that was both reflective of South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and designed to appeal to both domestic and international passengers,” Thipe said. “As a flag carrying airline, we understand that we represent people’s first and lasting impressions of South Africa, so investing in our passenger experience represents a commitment to our travelers.”

Other airlines have applied this philosophy in their cabin design, with iconic flight attendant uniforms, and with details like in-flight menus, entertainment, music, and even signature scents.

South African Airways

The new South African Airways color palette brings out the contrasts between the dark anthracite of contemporary South African architecture and the rich, saturated golden tones of its earthen landscapes. Vibrant yet subtle notes of burnt red and blues are used in details throughout the cabin as an ode to the sea, blue skies, and sun of the nation.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Patterns, textures, finishes, and bespoke prints inspired by traditional African crafts and textiles decorate entrance areas, class divider panels, bulkheads, and literature pockets throughout the plane.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Thai Airways

The design of Thai Airways’ premium cabin blends the flagship’s branded purple tones with natural finishes including Thai teak wood, silk foil, and rattan.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

A signature orchid vase adds a fresh, soothing touch, and traditional textile art by Thai artist Panya Vijnthanasarn decorates wall panels.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Thai Airways’ economy class blends the brand’s signature purple with orange and hot pink, reflecting the vibrant flavors and scents of Thailand. The gradation of purple to orange in the fabric weave is reminiscent of warm sunsets, and metallic threads shimmer to reflect the iridescence of Thai silks.


SWISS Airlines’ international welcome reflects the nation’s multicultural identity. First and business class seats and suites focus on the country’s modernity and hospitality, designed with purpose and precision, including dedicated storage space.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Wood finishes and a clean and neutral palette used in trim and textiles reflect the simplistic luxuries of Swiss design. Cabin bulkheads feature a subtle print of the Matterhorn.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Clean and tidy Swiss design carries through to the SWISS economy cabin. Seats are versatile, with power outlets and shelves for personal electronic devices, folding tray tables, and a cup holder. A self-service kiosk in Economy class offers hospitality on-demand.

Air France

The luxurious Air France La Première suite embodies French elegance. Light leather and suede with wood and metal trim add sophistication. A bright red blanket warms the calming, soft colors of the suite.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Each suite makes room for Paris-worthy style, with a private wardrobe. A drawer under the ottoman is ideal storage for high-fashion shoes and handbags and features a bright red lining, reminiscent of famed French shoe designer Christian Louboutin's signature red soles.


With the merger of Chilean airline LAN and Brazilian airline TAM, which created Latin America’s largest airline group, LATAM, designers pulled inspiration from the diverse scenery, culture, and heritage of South America. The result is an eye-catching blend of neutral tones and lively colors.

Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode, London

Wooden floors reflect the Amazon and the prominence of natural materials in South American design.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways’ brand revolves around the luxury and service which characterize the State of Qatar.


Its cabin design incorporates variations on the colors of the national flag, with patterns, trim, and intricate details inspired by Middle Eastern cultural heritage.