airline logos

Airline Logos – A Color Theory

Airline logos and plane livery are an exciting part of plane spotting. The colors used by the airlines to represent their company has always fascinated me and this led me to develop the color theory.

The Color Theory

My color theory is not complicated however it works.

The color theory is based on the thought that a customers first impression is vital to an airlines success. Therefore the colors used in airline logos need to help the airline identify with its targeted customer base, be appealing to these customers and easily remembered.

As a simple man I have a simple theory that each color fits into one of two market types.

  • The Low Cost Airlines use the Warm Colors (reds, oranges and yellows)

Warm colors are exciting, energetic and bold as well as being friendly & cheerful. Does this remind you of a typical low-cost airline logos?

  • The Full Service or Luxury Airlines use the Cool Colors (greens, blues and purples)

Cool colors offer a feeling of reliability and stability, are calm and generous, providing you with a sense of loyalty & luxury. This should remind you of the full service airline logos.

I am lucky as my nearest airport is Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport. As a major gateway to Australia it welcomes airlines from all corners of the world including Asia, Europe, North & South America, Africa, Indian and the Middle East nations. Watching these planes has helped me develop the color theory.

What is the accuracy of the Color Theory?

After reviewing my collection of aircraft photos, the color theory proved correct 74% of the time. Not too bad right? Concerned that my sample of airlines was too limited, I looked for a list of airlines that could be used to test the theory even further. I settled on two lists from the World Airline Awards website. These airline logos are below.

Airline Logos: Top 10 All Services Airlines

2014 RankAirline Logos
1Airline Logos
2Airline Logos
3Airline Logos
4Airline Logos
5Airline Logos
6Airline Logos
7Airline Logos
8Airline Logos
9Airline Logos
10Airline Logos

Airline Logos: Top 10 Low Cost Carriers

2014 RankAirline Logos
1Airline Logos
2Airline Logos
3Airline Logos
4Airline Logos
5Airline Logos
6Airline Logos
7Airline Logos
8Airline Logos
9Airline Logos
10Airline Logos

Based on the color theory, 14 of the 20 (70%) airline logos align with the correct color type. This is consistent with my photo collection.

My color theory holds water! Impressive but………..

…………..there are still 30% of airlines that do not follow my color theory. Why? Let’s go through the six airlines below to find out why.

Exceptions to the Color Theory

Exceptions occur where there is a stronger reason for the branding than color alone. Any good theory will always have acceptable exceptions. The color theory, being good of course, has several exceptions noted below.

Logo vs Livery


The Logo is yellow with blue – not too far away from Scoot which is a Low Cost Airline. Lufthansa changes the livery around on their aircraft with the blue (a cool color) dominating over the yellow. The yellow even takes on a golden look in this configuration.

Gold is a common color in the top airlines list. This is not surprising as gold exudes value, quality and luxury and certainly fits the brand of an all services airline. Airlines using gold include Etihad, Emirates, Thai Airlines, Singapore Airlines and of course Lufthansa.

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Cultural Influence

Indigo Airlines

Blue airline logos are normally associated with the full service airlines. Indigo is an Indian low-cost airline with a blue logo and livery. Why? Well, India’s largest airline, Air India has used Saffron, the most symbolic color in India. This color is important to the three major religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

With color such a big part of Indian Culture, Indigo needed to find an alternative color with as much appeal and acceptance as Saffron. They chose blue or as the name suggests Indigo. The color blue also has a significant cultural importance in India. In Indian culture, blue associates with India’s supreme Hindu deity Krishnu. With hundreds of millions of Indian Hindu’s as potential customers, the choice is a smart one and far outweighs the color theory.

Asiana Airlines

Asiana’s aircraft livery of red, blue and yellow was a little mysterious at first as I could only link the airline logo colors to their description of first (yellow), business (blue) and travel (red) class. The mystery was solved when I found a post in the forums of where the colors are described as representative of a traditional female Korean dress, and are very traditional colors. A Google search quickly confirmed the claim and the photos below make it very clear that the livery is closely linked to Korean culture.

National Colors


The logo is a bold red making it an obvious candidate for a low-cost airline. That is , until you spot the livery on their aircraft. The Emirates livery includes the colors Red, Black and Green reflecting the United Arab Emirates National Flag. There are also large gold letters used to represent the quality of the Emirates brand.

Turkish Airlines

Another candidate for a low-cost airline is Turkish Airlines. It uses a red and blue logo with red being the dominant color on their aircraft livery. Ranked number five in the airlines of the world list, Turkish Airways, as the national carrier of Turkey is using its national colors to represent its brand.

The use of national colors by Emirates an Turkish Airlines is a sound marketing  choice and is also one used by many airlines around the world including Swiss, British Airways, Qatar Airways and Air France just to name a few.

 WestJet – No Obvious Exception

Airline LogosWestJet is the only airline in the sample that does not follow the color theory or have a valid reason for not conforming with it. Maybe they just want to stand out in the low-cost crowd? That would be a valid reason however I have no information to support it. I did find the name of WestJet’s logo that according to Wikipedia is “the Ever-Expanding Horizon”.

Iconic Airline Logos

There is one more class airline logos not covered by the airlines in this list – “the Iconic Logo” – according to the Macmillan Dictionary the definition of iconic is very famous and well-known.

Iconic airline logos are priceless and the color theory would not even be a consideration given the advantage that these logos offer. Several iconic airline logos are included below.

What other airline logos or livery do you think fit the iconic definition?

Color Theory – In Conclusion

The color theory works in practice, being correct more than 70% of the time. When the valid exceptions including Livery vs Logo, Cultural influence, National Colors and Iconic Logos are considered only one airline of the twenty in this sample has no obvious reason for ignoring the color theory.

I would love to find a reason for WestJet, a low-cost airline, using the cooler color of blue and not any of the warmer colors. Can anyone help me out?

Happy Spotting


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