BA didn’t go far enough with ‘ethnic’ tailfin idea

Both David Bernstein and Marcello Minale are accomplished, international professionals. What on earth drives them so nutty about BA’s tailfins? That they can talk about them with such passion means that the tailfins have already established a presence.

Bernstein says that identity is about consistency (Private View, DW 30 July). He also talks about individuality. He says that a visual identity should be distinctive. Well, he can’t fault BA on that score. No other airline yet, other than Braniff in the US, has fulfilled his criteria. Each Braniff plane was a different colour. It was a success because it broke the mould. That’s what BA is setting out to do, but I don’t think it has gone far enough yet.

Bernstein’s piece concludes with characteristic humour. He calls the tailfins a smorgasbord. What’s wrong with that? It’s a delicious variety, a single-minded idea, and everyone knows what it is.

Maybe BA should have changed its name. “British” flies in the face of becoming a global brand and “Airways”, well that’s pretty obvious. National names and what you do are increasingly irrelevant in the world. Can you imagine Sony being called Japan Electronics Co or Coca-Cola being the American Soft Drink Corporation?

The current weakness of BA’s new identity isn’t really in the graphics at all. It’s in the experience it gives its passengers. Still tangled up in the old-fashioned ideas of pre-devolution, pre-European, pre-Internet British-ness, the BA experience doesn’t yet embody the reaching-out spirit of its tailfins.

Today it’s no longer Britishness that counts the most. It’s giving each individual passenger a definable quality of experience. The tailfins are a part of the whole. They are magnificent and each one is especially significant to some people of the world. Together they form a great recognisable collection. A celebration. I think they’re an ingenious, original, generous, enriching and beautiful idea.

Bernstein wants to take the flag out of the discussion. So do I. I want to remove everything the flag represents. I don’t want the pilots to look like Rear Admirals or South American dictators. I don’t want “pursers”. I don’t want “aft” or “cabins”. I don’t want corporate uniforms and regalia that make customs, immigration and airline folk all melt into one another. I don’t want “my” BA to be any part of the old style of the state.

I’d like professional, modern, world-class performance from a modern global company and I think BA could potentially provide it. It’s nearly there.

Airline planes are not military equipment. They don’t need military insignia and uniformity. This is simply an old convention of corporate identity. I think the Newell and Sorrell tailfins were a superb and courageous breakthrough for BA and an example of the very best of UK design.

I disagree with Bernstein that travellers don’t want them. It’s just a vocal, stuffy, angry minority of old-fashioned, establishment-orientated Brits and the views of a handful of narrow-minded “designers” that has caused BA to compromise its solution.

I hope, as time goes by, that BA reclaims its courage and individual style and moves away from both the tiresome generic of airline self-expression and traces of the history of the Royal Navy.

Michael Wolff

Head of imagination

The Fourth Room

London WC1

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