Aviation News

September 8, 2014

The Detailed Changes of Southwest’s New Scheme and Their Historic Past Paints

heartone_print005Southwest Airlines introduced the elements of its new branding on Monday morning, in an unveiling attended by employees and the media. The event followed a weekend that was filled with speculation and leaked photos all over social media. The branding elements are based upon an updated color scheme centered on a new “Bold Blue” color. In addition to a new livery for Southwest’s aircraft, a new take on the airline’s heart-shaped logo was unveiled. The airline plans to introduce this new branding to the airports across its network in the coming months. New uniforms for the airline’s employees are also planned.

Over the years, Southwest Airlines has not been known for making drastic changes to its image. This is most evident in the airline’s choice of airplane over the years. Southwest has historically operated a fleet that was almost exclusively made up of Boeing 737s. Southwest launched with a fleet of 737-200s in the early 1970s, a type which it flew until 2005. The 1980s saw the introduction of the 737-300 and -500 to the fleet, some of which are still flying today. Southwest was the launch customer for the 737-700, and today it forms the backbone of the fleet with over 400 in service. The 737-800 was added to the fleet in 2012, bringing increased capacity to routes that are busy or face slot constraints. The future sees Southwest as the launch customer for both the 737 MAX 7 and Max 8, with 200 firm aircraft orders and another 191 options.

The Desert Gold Livery. Image courtesy Mark Lawrence.

The Desert Gold livery. Image courtesy Mark Lawrence.

Southwest’s livery has similarly seen a series of evolutionary updates over the years. The airline launched and rose to its position as a domestic powerhouse wearing the classic ‘Desert Gold’ livery. The livery consisted of gold, red, and orange stripes on the tail, with the gold and red stripes transitioning onto the top and bottom of the fuselage respectively. Thin white lines between each stripe added definition. The word ‘Southwest’ in all capital letters was written in white over the gold tail stripe. Desert Gold was so integral to the brand’s identity over 30 years that the iconic livery remains painted on three aircraft in the fleet to this day as a retrojet livery.



The Spirit or Canyon Blue livery. Image courtesy Mark Lawrence.

In 2001, Southwest unveiled its Canyon Blue ‘Spirit livery’ for the airline’s 30th anniversary. Spirit replaced the classic gold color that was dominant in the Desert Gold scheme with a vibrant blue. the line between the blue top of the fuselage and the red bottom became a smoothly curving line. The thin white stripes between the colors were replaced with yellow and made slightly wider. The ‘Southwest’ titles on the tail remained as before, though now they were yellow instead of white. The winglets, on aircraft so equipped, mimicked the tail design. The Spirit livery was a bold departure from Desert Gold in terms of the dominant color, however in most other respects, the livery remained very similar to the original. It was more an evolution in livery than a revolution.

heartone_print012With today’s rebranding announcement comes a brand new livery for the company’s aircraft, the Heart livery. While the Heart livery is boldly different in some ways, it remains an evolution of the original design. The core tail design of three dominant tail stripes remains, now in Sunrise Yellow, Warm Red and Bold Blue. The thinner, separating stripes have become wider still and the color become a shiny Summit Silver. While the initial two aircraft in the new livery are equipped with new split scimitar winglets, the use of a design similar to the tail is retained on the upper portion of these.

There are a few significant changes that have been made to the livery in this redesign. No longer does the center tail stripe form the bottom color for the fuselage. Instead, each tail stripe now wraps around the underside of the rear fuselage but does not continue forward. The dominant fuselage color, both top and bottom, is what the airline has named ‘Bold Blue’. Another, more noticeable change, is in the placement and style of the titles. They have moved from the tail to the forward fuselage, and have taken on the popular large ‘billboard’ styling used by many airlines including American, JetBlue, Frontier, and Ryanair. These titles continue to use the highlight color, just as they always have, making them silver in the new design.

Heart One. Stephen M. Keller Less noticeable, and yet an important part of the new design, is the inclusion of the airline’s new Heart logo. The new logo uses a design similar to the tail with diagonal stripes of yellow, red, and blue, each separated by thin silver stripes. The new logo is found in five locations on each aircraft’s exterior: as the ‘dot’ in Southwest.com on each engine, next to the forward doors on each side of the fuselage, and most prominently on the belly of each aircraft forward of the engines.

New Lone Star OneIn keeping with Southwest’s practice of naming special aircraft in its fleet, the first two aircraft in the fleet to bear the new livery (both are brand new 737-800s) have been named HeartOne and HeartTwo. Southwest is an airline that has become well known for its many eye-catching special schemes, and those will continue.  Aircraft bearing special schemes will have a modified tail design that does not extend onto the fuselage, while maintaining the overall appearance of the new design. The titles will also be placed horizontally across the base of the tail, instead of on the forward fuselage. Southwest has also announced that Warrior One, the airline’s first 737-800, will retain the classic Spirit livery as a retrojet.

heartone_print008So how long will it take Southwest to put all of this branding in place? The facilities at the airline’s Dallas Love Field base were converted to the new colors overnight. An additional two airports will receive it by the end of 2014. The remaining airports in the network should be fully rebranded by the end of 2016. Aircraft will take significantly longer to receive the new paint. The airline’s goals to keep the costs of rebranding as low as possible means that Southwest expects that it will take seven years to fully repaint the fleet. Meanwhile, the redesign of employee uniforms is just beginning. Those will be rolled out later on in the conversion process.

As with any time an airline receives a new livery, plane spotters should enjoy the opportunities a new livery brings. Be it searching for their first shot of the new paint, trying to capture each special livery with its new tail, or trying to catch a few final shots of the Spirit livery, the hunt has begun.

Steve Paduchak contributed to this story. Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy Southwest Airlines.

Ben Granucci, Associate Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and planespotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached on Twitter at @BLGranucci or through his blog at Landing-Lights.com

About the Author

Ben Granucci
Ben Granucci, Senior Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.



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  • Chris Bidlack

    Thanks, great article. What design firm is responsible for the new brand identity?

  • Daveabbey

    Great and thorough article Ben and Steve.

  • Gordon Werner

    FYI … I asked, the font is a custom sans-serif font called “Southwest Sans”

  • Kevin

    As usual I hate change, it’s always been an issue for me. I thought the old American Airlines livery was timeless. The last livery change I actually liked was TWA’s final one, the old one was getting old. All and all this change isn’t too bad IMHO>

  • Christopher di Spirito

    I really like the new SWA markings. Freshens up the fleet.