The History of American Airlines Liveries: Astrojet, Bare Metal & More

There are few airline liveries that are as iconic as American Airlines’ bare metal one that the airline used for over 40 years. Unfortunately, the livery is a thing of the past now as the airline went through a rebranding during which it had to take into account the fact that the latest aircraft types are largely made out of composite materials that cannot be polished.

In this article, I take a detailed look at the liveries that American Airlines used throughout its history starting with its “Flagships” and ending with the current “Flight and Flag” livery.

American Airlines Liveries History

Early American Airlines Liveries (1934 – 1964)

American Airlines Flagship Livery

Initially named American Airways, the airline was renamed to American Air Lines in 1934 when it was acquired by E. L. Cord, the founder of Cord Corporation which controlled companies like New York Shipbuilding and Stinson Aircraft.

Two years later, the airline started operating Douglas DC-3 aircraft that it called “Flagships.” The DC-3s featured large “Flagship” titles on their fuselages. The term “Flagship” is also perhaps the second oldest part of American’s brand after “American” itself. It remains in use even today – among other things, the airline’s lounges are Flagship Lounges and its international business class is Flagship Business.

During this period, American Airlines operated variety of bare metal liveries with “American Airlines” titles (just “American” in the case of the DC-3) and blue and orange accents. The liveries also initially featured the airline’s first logo which – with an eagle standing on top of the world – was quite complex. Later on, they featured a simplified logo with just the eagle tucked between a pair of As.

American Airlines Logo History

“Astrojet” Livery (1964 – 1968)

American Airlines Astrojet Livery
Photo credit: Bill Larkins (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In 1962, American Airlines went through a rebrand suggested by Doyle Dane Bernbach, a New York-based agency that has worked with Volkswagen on popularizing the Beetle and on Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy” campaign. Among other things, the rebrand resulted in a new logo and in calling the airline’s aircraft “Astrojets.”

While American Airlines started using its new logo and its Convair 990s and Boeing 707s started to feature “Astrojet” titles on their liveries in 1962, it wasn’t until 1964 that the overall livery was updated.

The most noticeable change compared to the previous liveries was the appearance of the airline’s new logo on the tail. In the center of the new logo was a slightly simplified version of American’s previous logo featuring an eagle and “AA” titles. The airline added “American” title under the eagle and surrounded the entire logo with a red oval.

The first aircraft to wear the new livery was the airline’s first Boeing 727-100 delivered in January 1964. Some of its 727-200s featured the “Astrojet” livery too, but with their deliveries starting in 1968, most were in the tri-color livery that followed. Other aircraft to wear the “Astrojet” livery included 707s and BAC 1-11s.

While the livery is long-gone from regular use now, one aircraft – a 737-800 registered N905NN – carries its heritage in the form of a retro livery.

One “fun fact” worth mentioning here before diving into the next livery is that when, in 1964, United Airlines started sponsoring one of the attractions at a Disney park, it required Disney to change the name of one of its attractions from AstroJets to Tomorrowland Jets as it didn’t like the name’s overlap with American’s brand.

“Tri-Color Bare Metal” Livery (1968 – 2013)

American Airlines Bare Metal Livery

In 1968, American Airlines did a major brand overhaul that resulted in one of the most iconic airline liveries ever.

The airline got rid of the red circle around its previous logo, simplified the eagle even further, and turned the first “A” in “AA” red. In terms of livery, it kept the logo on the tail and the fuselage bare metal. However, it simplified the text on the fuselage from “American Airlines” to “American.” It also added a blue, white, and red tri-color line across the fuselage.

Having lasted for nearly five decades, this livery could be seen on a wide variety of aircraft types including 707s, 727s, 737s, 747s, 757s, 767s, and 777-200ERs. It even made an appearance on the Airbus A300.

Interestingly, American’s A300 fuselages weren’t in the bare metal livery at first as the type of skin panels Airbus provided didn’t allow for polishing. At some point, however, Airbus provided Boeing with polishable skin panels and so the A300 livery could be made consistent with the rest of the fleet.

American Airlines’ MD-80s and MD-90s that it got through acquiring Reno Air in 1999 could be seen wearing a non-bare metal, white-base variation of the tri-color livery too.

The last aircraft type to wear the legendary bare metal livery was the MD-80. As such, while a version of the livery remains in service even today on a Boeing 737-800 “retro jet,” the bare metal livery was retired from regular use on September 4, 2019, when American Airlines operated its last MD-80 revenue flight. The flight with a very fitting AA80 flight number took passengers from Dallas to Chicago.

“Flight and Flag” Livery (2013 – Present)

American Airlines Flight and Flag Livery

On January 31, 2013, American Airlines put its first Boeing 777-300ER into service, starting with a flight from Dallas to Sao Paulo. The aircraft, registered N718AN, was not only the first of the type in American Airlines’ fleet but also the first 777-300ER to be operated by a US airline (United Airlines followed four years later). More importantly for this article, however, the aircraft was the first one in American Airlines’ fleet to wear its latest livery.

The consultancy FutureBrand helped American Airlines with designing a new look that was drastically different from the airline’s previous liveries. Being used to the iconic bare metal livery, I wasn’t too excited about the new livery at first. Over time, however, it has become one of my favorite liveries.

Two reasons contributed to the radical overhaul. First, having modern aircraft made largely out of composites on order at the time meant that polishing aluminum for a bare metal look was no longer an option. Second, the airline’s nearing emergence from bankruptcy protection provided a good reason for a major brand overhaul.

Instead of the bare metal base, the current American Airlines livery is based on a body painted in silver. The original version of the livery uses mica paint, however, going forward, the airline will be using a mica-free Silver Eagle paint developed specifically for the airline. “By removing the mica layer, the airline is expected to save nearly 300,000 gallons of fuel annually in this fleet type alone,” said Jill Naden, an American Airlines 787 Engineer.

The current livery maintains the tri-color theme of the previous one. That said, as Virasb Vahidi, the airline’s Chief Commercial Officer noted, “Our core colors — red, white and blue — have been updated to reflect a more vibrant and welcoming spirit.” In other words, the colors are brighter.

On the tail, instead of the airline’s logo, it features a depiction of the US flag. On each side of the fuselage, a large “American” title next to the airline’s new logo – “The Flight Symbol” – can be found.

American Airlines finished repainting its entire fleet (excluding MD-80s which remained in the bare metal livery until their retirement and a 737-800 wearing the bare metal livery as a “retro jet”) in December 2017.

Special Liveries

In addition to the standard liveries I talk about above, American Airlines also operated a decent number of aircraft in special liveries. These can be roughly broken down into three distinct categories:

  • Aircraft in the Oneworld Alliance livery: In 1999, American Airlines together with a number of other airlines founded the alliance. Since then, it has been painting some of its aircraft in a livery promoting the alliance. First, the livery was based on the bare metal tri-color livery; now it’s based on the “Flight and Flag” livery.
  • Heritage Jets: Some of these aircraft were mentioned throughout the article above. They are meant to keep old American Airlines liveries – as well as the liveries of the airlines it acquired throughout the year – flying.
  • Other special livery aircraft: In addition to the two types of special liveries above, American Airlines also occasionally decorates its aircraft for other purposes such as to promote various initiatives. Some of such aircraft include its “Stand Up to Cancer” and “Flagship Valor” jets.

American Airlines Special Liveries

American Eagle Livery

Lastly, American Airlines’ regional feeder airlines operate under the American Eagle brand first launched in 1984. The aircraft operated by these airlines wear the American Eagle livery based on the standard American Airlines livery.

When the bare metal tri-color livery was used by mainline American Airlines aircraft, American Eagle aircraft featured its variation.

That said, instead of being bare metal, the livery was painted on a white base. It also featured a red and blue variation of American’s eagle logo without the “AA” text on its tail. The “American” text on the fuselage was supplemented with “Eagle” in a different, script-like font.

With the current “Flight and Flag” livery, the differences between the American Airlines and American Eagle liveries are less pronounced. In fact, the only difference is that the “American” text on the fuselage reads “American Eagle” in the same font instead.

American Eagle Livery


Between its founding and today, American Airlines has gone through four different groups of liveries. While without a doubt, it is best known for the tri-color bare metal livery it used for decades, the other liveries are fairly nice as well.

In addition to the standard American Airlines liveries, the airline also flew a variety of aircraft in special liveries and its regional brand – American Eagle – uses a variation of the mainline livery.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Get Your FREE "Four Ways to Try Business Class Without Breaking the Bank" Guide

No, I am not going to tell you how to fly in first class and sip Dom Perignon for free…

But, I am going to introduce you to a couple of ways you can experiment with to try a business class flight without having to spend thousands of dollars.

How Can I Help You?