Does the Design Scheme of Your Aircraft Say Something About Your Travel Mood?

The sky is predominantly blue – and red. Not just because blue light travels more efficiently than other colours in the spectrum. Or because the sun briefly turns the sky red at night, much to a sailor’s delight. Blue and red also happen to be the preferred pigments of airlines and the travel industry at large. Consider the traveller: Most will flash a burgundy or navy passport as they step aboard a blue– or red–painted plane, bound for a destination that waves a red and/or blue flag. There are only 10 national flags without one of the two hues. Why are airlines primed to paint the sky red and blue? A recent study provides some answers.

Published last year in the Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, the report examines passengers’ preferences in aircraft colours and designs. In the first exercise, participants were divided into two categories: business and vacation travellers. Each group was asked to rank 34 tail–fin designs based on their trip’s purpose. The business–oriented crew were drawn to primary blues and reds and straightforward geometric lines. By contrast, the leisure lot leapt for technicolour scenes, with splashes of yellow, pink, green, orange and aquamarine, and curvy shapes.

August 28, 2019
An illustration of the Air Canada wing tip amongst the many colours of other airplanes

For the second experiment, four of the top designs from each category, plus four neutral designs, were shown to a separate group. Without being primed with a travel purpose, participants were asked to rate the best descriptions of the fictional airlines based on branding alone. Fins that were favoured by suits and collars scored high on descriptions such as punctual, efficient and classy, while those approved by the shorts–and–sandals set received high ratings on their friendly, fun and exotic labels.

The report’s authors concede that livery paint jobs likely matter less than price, schedule or service, but still argue that tail–fin esthetics can have lasting emotional impact. “Colour has a major influence on mood,” concurs Paul Wylde, a branding and design expert who has worked with Air Canada. Inside the cabin, research has found that coloured light can also have a physical effect, even reducing jet lag. A 2014 study conducted at the German Aerospace Center found that yellow light makes passengers warmer and sleepier, while blue light leads to alertness and a higher perception of air quality. In other words, there may be something more to the rhymes “true blue” and “mellow yellow.”



Studies in Red


Some psychological effects of the crimson tinge.

  1. Sporting Red Anthropologists at Durham University in England found that athletes who wore red instead of blue outfits for combat events at the 2004 Olympics were five percent more likely to win their matches. Another study of English football games since World War II reports that red–jerseyed teams are most likely to be champs.

  2. Notifying Red Facebook is famously blue because its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is red–green colour blind. But the social network has members seeing red for every notification they receive. These badges were originally blue, but no one used them until they switched to red. According to Tristan Harris, cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology, red works because it’s a “trigger” colour.

  3. Raising Red A 2012 experiment published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that even though colour does not confer value, playing with red poker chips, “renders competitors more intimidating.” Those holding red chips were more inclined to raise the stakes and their opponents were more likely to withdraw.