The United Airlines of yesteryear had always been synonymous with one symbol, the tulip. Although not of Dutch origins where the tulip was once a highly valued and speculated upon commodity, United had sported the tulip, merely consisting of four lines with curved edges, for nearly 40 years on its Battleship, Blue Tulip and Rainbow liveries.
While United was flying the tulip across the globe, another airline was flying a globe across the globe, Continental Airlines. In 1991, Continental moved away from its colorful orange and gold livery to a more modern, Eurowhite livery, the globe livery. The livery was simple, white on top and gray on bottom separated by a gold cheatline, a holdover from its previous livery, with a blue tail showing a section of a gold globe, indicating the global reach of the airline.
The tulip and globe operated in co-existence and harmony for 19 years until 2010 when one began to disappear from the skies, leaving the other to remain. The 2010 merger between United Airlines and Continental Airlines, one of the largest of its kind in U.S. aviation at the time, saw the end of the tulip’s reign in favor of the globe, much to the dismay of the aviation community.
The move to favor the Continental livery over that of United, or adopt a new livery entirely, was met with great criticism, especially by United employees who felt robbed of an identity under the new Continental brand. All that remained, essentially, of the United brand was the name “United Airlines.” Once all the airplanes were painted in the new liveries, it was as if Continental had never left the skies, while there were noticeably missing United tulips.
Typically, airlines introduce a new livery when merging. The merger between America West and US Airways saw a new white livery for the newly-merged US Airways in 2005, Delta Air Lines and Northwest merger in 2007 saw a new livery for Delta that lives on today and American Airlines and US Airways’ merger in 2015 saw a new gray livery for American and the disappearance of the grey eagle logo.
While the tulip disappeared from the skies, it lived on in the hearts and minds of AvGeeks. The term “long live the tulip” is the battle cry of those who long for the red and blue logo, with a social media group of the same name dedicated to keep the history of the logo alive.
A long bone of contention from legacy-United employees, the globe has been the symbol for the integration issues surrounding the two airlines. Now, nine years later, it seems that United will be updating its livery sooner rather than later. As reported by FlightGlobal, United is planning an “evolution” for the globe livery, slated for reveal around April.
The livery will reportedly incorporate new colors currently seen on some of United’s aircraft, including the “Premium Purple” found in the airline’s new premium economy cabin, and will likely see less gold, FlightGlobal reported. It’s unclear at this time how other branding such as airport signage and advertisements will be affected.
Although details are still scarce, a repainting and branding effort of this size that would encompass United’s 700+ mainline aircraft would take at least 7-10 years, based on estimates from other airlines currently undergoing rebranding efforts. Painting would likely be done passively, when the aircraft enter routine maintenance and painting.
Fellow Star Alliance members Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines are also undergoing rebranding and repainting efforts along similar guidelines, though have smaller fleets than United.
While it’s unknown if the tulip will make an appearance or whether the globe’s dominance will be minimized, a refreshed livery will hopefully put a close to the post-merger era United has been in for the past nine years and serve as a unifier for legacy-United and legacy-Continental employees alike.