American's New Logo Grounded by Critics

Last week, American Airlines unveiled a new logo in an effort to revitalize the struggling Chapter 11 airline. The new branding has since ignited backlash from passengers, designers and branding experts.

AA's iconic brand identity had the longest run of any US airline by far. Developed by designer Massimo Vignelli in 1968, people were accustomed to the look, which many felt stood up over the course of time. The change replaces "American" in big Helvetica letters atop the stripes and "AA" with a new stylized eagle without talons, transforming it into the "Flight Symbol." The tail was also updated with abstraction of the American flag to make aircraft appear like it's flying, even when grounded.

CEO Tom Horton said, "Our changes on the outside reflect how we're evolving on the inside. Our new logo and the refreshed exterior of our planes represent more than a change of symbol, but a symbol of change in our path to modernize and innovate."

Many people are taking issue with the rebranding during a time when they feel AA should focus more on its issues with labor unions, passengers, customer service and competitors. People are also noting a feeling of déjà vu with brands that try to update themselves, which already have historic brand equity in place.

The old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is reminiscent of an example from two years ago, as reported by our first Hot Sheet. The Gap learned this lesson when it changed the logo that their customers embraced for two decades for a more "modern" one, resembling something from Apple, creating such condemnation, not only from a visual standpoint, but because people didn't see the need for the update. In a few short days, The Gap recanted and returned to their beloved logo.

Only time will tell if American will find the same conclusion as the The Gap. Brand equity is an integral part of an iconic brand. If AA changes its look - does it make the airline any less iconic?

We ask our Hot Sheet Panel:

  • How do you feel about the rebranding effort?
  • Is this an opportunity for AA to engage with consumers?


Clearly, American Airlines is setting the stage for its emergence as a premier global carrier. While the company continues to invest in products and services that they believe will elevate and modernize the travel experience, the new brand elements incorporate the symbols and colors people have come to associate with American Airlines - the eagle, the star, the "A," and red, white and blue. The modern and clean logo invites customers - old and new - to shed their perceptions of an 'old-fashioned' airline and discover the new American.
Nancy Rabstejnek Nichols
Senior Vice President, External Affairs, Weber Shandwick
New York Women in Communications President, 2008-2009
New York Women in Communications Foundation President, 2006-2007



In a day and age where things become obsolete very quickly the majority of people do not take well to change. American Airlines made too drastic a change to their logo all at once. Other organizations such as Starbucks have updated their logo many times however they have been very subtle with it. I believe the timing is the bigger issue than the logo itself.  In the midst of filing for bankruptcy and other labor issues American Airline’s first priority should not be external but internal. Like the old saying goes “it’s not what’s on the outside that counts.”

Simone Baptiste
Founder, Beverly B. Media and Communications, LLC
Marketing consultant, The Multi Cultural Cooking Network