An airline’s livery is the core of its brand identity, with colors and icons that define a carrier’s image for years, or even decades – such as Qantas’s kangaroo, Lufthansa’s crane, or the oryx that graces the tails of Qatar Airways’ jets. Airlines sometimes commission one-off airplane liveries to promote a specific event, anniversary, partnership, or the launch of a new type of aircraft. Today, Alaska Airlines plotted a route toward more inclusivity with the reveal of a specially painted plane that highlights diversity, equity, and education.
Designed in partnership with UNCF, which provides funding for scholarships for Black students to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the eye-catching Boeing 737 is, “a symbol of our commitment to education and advancing racial equity at Alaska Airlines, and we hope it inspires others as well,” according to an announcement from the airline.
“As a company, we know we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to diversity, but we are inspired and guided by our value to do the right thing,” said Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci. “With this aircraft, we are doing the right thing by amplifying the conversation around education, equity and belonging and taking it to the skies.”
The plane bears the name, “Our Commitment,” and takes the airline’s newly delineated racial equity commitments as its watchwords, including representation of racial diversity, creating an inclusive company culture, and providing public leadership by working with community-based organizations to foster education and career opportunities for young people.
The jet has three inspirational quotes emblazoned across its fuselage. The first declares, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and was penned by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Attributed to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, the second quote states, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change to the world.” Signaling a call to action, the third quote by Dr. Maya Angelou urges, “When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”
Alaska Airlines asked for input from UNCF, as well as members of its own Alaska Air Group Black Employees, Allies & Advocates resource group in the design. The aircraft’s base coat is a jet black – a stark departure from Alaska’s usual white and blue hues. The typography and palette were specially created by Chicago-based artist Adé Hogue, who took inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement era. “At the beginning, my mind went to protest posters from the ’60s and the shape of the design slowly shifted to what you see today,” explained Hogue.
As for the series of faces that adorn each side of the plane, they are artistic renderings of 14 students connected to Alaska Airlines employees, providing a personal touch. According to Jonny Mack, who has designed 10 of the airline’s other specially liveried aircraft in the past, “We knew we wanted to illustrate actual people instead of generic profiles that didn’t mean anything – we decided, ‘let’s feature real people and have a real story to tell.’” Passengers will even be able to learn more about the singular jet thanks to a custom seatback information card, as well as digital resources that detail the bios of the students whose profiles adorn its exterior.
Alaska also plans to donate one million frequent-flier miles annually to help students visit HBCUs for various UNCF programs, as well as career development forums, and college tours. Mileage Plan members may donate their own miles to the purse as well. Since UNCF became one of Alaska Airlines’ LIFT Miles partners in 2017, the airline’s customers have donated more than 13.4 million of their miles to UNCF.
Fliers can look for “Our Commitment” to take to the skies starting tomorrow, April 27, 2021. Among its first routes will be between the airline’s hub in Seattle and Washington Reagan National Airport in the nation’s capital.
Alaska is not the only company in the travel sector foregrounding a new focus on diversity in its efforts to recruit not just new customers, but also future employees. Earlier this month, United set a goal of training 5,000 new pilots by 2030 including at least half of whom will be women and people of color. Scholarships for the program will be underwritten by United Airlines itself, as well as United Aviate Academy, and JPMorgan Chase.
In February, Marriott International announced the establishment and $20 million endowment of the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership in partnership with Howard University, one of the nation’s most prominent HBCUs. The center and its programing is intended to help create a pipeline for more diverse leadership in the hospitality industry in the coming years.
As the United States reckons with its history of racial inequality as well as its ongoing treatment of minorities, hopefully more companies both within the travel industry and beyond will begin to place a new, and long-overdue emphasis on inclusivity and equity. In the meantime, travelers can take heart from Alaska Airlines’ new jet and the message of equality it will promote across the country’s skies.