Inspired by Charter's post sharing his collection of United Airlines models, I thought I would write this small essay in defense of the Continental Globe. The merger between United and Continental has been the subject of much debate and, surprisingly, a great deal of scorn. Most notably this scorn centers around the choice of the merged airline's livery, which maintained the full Continetal livery introduced in 1991 and the United name. Both airlines were founded by the same man, Walter T. Varney, which seems fitting that these two ventures created by the same founder would eventually come together into one entity.
So, why is there such controversy over the new airline's choice to retain the Continental livery? Personally, I was thrilled to see the new livery in 1991. I thought it was cleaner, simple, professional and more elegant than the old "Meatball" jetstream logo. However, aesthetics is subjective and we all have different opinions about what looks nice and what doesn't. So we must examine this question from a different angle. That angle can be summed up with the common phrase "to me, "said airline" will always be "that specific livery personally loved by said individual". It's a fair point, but is it universal? The answer is no.
On this board many members have shared with us that to them, United Airlines will always be "Saul Bass" or the "Battleship" or the "Rising Blue". That's a fair expression because our preferrences are defined by our experiences and most of our experiences happen to fall within the timeframe when United was indeed the "Saul Bass U" or the "Battleship". However, was it always this way? No, of course not.
That famous logo introduced in 1974 by Saul Bass, who also designed the aforementioned jetstream "Meatball" for Continental, was indeed a bit of artistic genius. Taking the old shield logo, blending it with the almightly "U" from the name of the airline and presto...we have an amazing logo. And it was cool...no argument there. However, where is it stated that from that moment onward the "tulip", as it came to be known, had to be the image that represented United Airlines in perpetuity? The Saul Bass "tulip" itself was at one point an entirely new logo that replaced several classic logos and liveries that represented United for many years prior to 1974.
For example, whenever my father looks over my vast collection of United Airlines models he enjoys seeing the old liveries and aircraft that he remembers from his early years. So his statement is also equally valid..."To me, that (as he points to a United Airlines Sud Aviation Caravelle in the classic "Mainliner" livery) is what I still think of as United Airlines. So then who's vision of classic United Airlines is more valid; the Saul Bass crowd or the crowd who remembers the airline before the "Tulip".
And what of the future? My daughter, age 9, has developed a very serious interest in aviation. Naturally United has become her favorite because it's the "Home Team" here and it's what she has flown on the most. She has seen all the other liveries of the past represented in my collection (Don't touch!) and knows that it could change in the future. However, she has stated that whatever the future holds, the current look of United will always be her favorite. Not surprising...it's all she's ever known.
Then we shift gears with the argument that the 1991 "Continental Globe" was never a United logo to begin with and seems offensive and even sacrilidge to put the United name on that logo and vice versa. How about the fact that the official story is that Jeff Smisek and one other top official simply decided to blend the name and the livery in the simplest way possible. There was no great, long, ehaustive search with proposals from graphics firms to come up with an entirely new sweeping brand...they just simply chose it.
Well, I suppose that's another valid point. However, how about this one...why spend a great deal of time and money coming up with a new logo when faced with the opportunity to very easily combine the two? Many would not have liked the new branding anyway and would have longed for something else! So why overcomplicate the process? Many did not like Smisek personally, but this is entirely beside the point. The point is, people liked the "Globe" livery when it was Continental so why does it become aesthetically displeasing simply because the airplane now has "United" titles?
The "Globe" was officially chosen due to United's leadership believing that unlike other airlines that have a national or regional identity, United didn't have either one. British Airways easily looks British, Hawaiian can look Hawaiian, etc. United is an airline that flies worldwide and the name denotes, well, unity. Therefore the image of the Globe seemed appropriate...and I wholeheartedly agree! Are some enthusiasts upset because whenever they see one of the airline's planes they only see Continental and not United? Perhaps...but we all still SAY United and that is equally important, if not more powerful, in terms of marketing.
If a new livery is in United Airline's future someday I will not be one of those that demands that the incorporation of one logo or the other must be included. Those old colors and logos are indeed significant and would be a lot of fun to place on aircraft as part of a "heritage" series...much like American Airlines does. The merging of the name and the livery of the two airlines involved was perhaps the best expression of the two airlines coming together that could have possibly been offered.
Obviously I hope this sparks an intersting discussion but I would ask that snarky comments about onboard experiences and services be avoided. That is not the subject of this piece...