EVA Air’s distinctive Hello Kitty jets have temporarily ceased flying. The airline is attributing this to the coronavirus led travel downturn. EVA Air posted a tweet confirming the news late last week. The grounding of the seven Hello Kitty jets with their Sanrio-themed inflight service is yet another aviation casualty, as people everywhere stop flying and stay home.
Getting onboard the USD$80 billion Hello Kitty juggernaut
For those of you, like me, not entirely into the Hello Kitty phenomenon, Hello Kitty is a fictional anthropomorphic character out of Japan that looks like a two-legged cat with no mouth. Like Lisa Simpson, she never grows old. But you shouldn’t diss Kitty. She is the world’s second highest-grossing media franchise, having turned over a crazy USD$80 billion in sales. The cat does theme parks, clothing lines, music, toys, airlines, and a whole lot besides.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, We are temporarily suspending our Hello Kitty Jet service until further notice. The special livery aircraft are subject to route adjustment and do not provide Sanrio-themed inflight service items. pic.twitter.com/Q6QA1FCdzz
— EVA Air (@EVAAirUS) April 17, 2020
The people behind Hello Kitty signed up EVA Air fifteen years ago to re-brand an A330-200 the Hello Kitty Jet. In 2005, the jet was re-done with a Hello Kitty paint job, and the cabin restyled to feature Hello Kitty motifs on fixtures and furnishings. It sounds revolting, but what do I know? EVA Air flew the plane between Taiwan and Japan, and it was so popular they laid on a second Hello Kitty jet the following year.
These two planes buzzed around North Asia until 2009 when that incarnation of Hello Kitty was put to bed. The reprieve only lasted two years. In 2011, EVA Air decided to get back into the cat in a big way. EVA Air bought three new A330-300s and gave them the full Hello Kitty treatment.
The first of the planes was B-16331. It was christened ‘Hello Kitty with Magic Stars’. It has since been renamed ‘Bad Badtz-Maru Travel Fun’. The second A330 was named ‘Hello Kitty Loves Apples,’ since renamed to ‘Joyful Dream.’ The third aircraft was B-16333. This plane was called ‘Hello Kitty Around the World.’ It was later renamed ‘Celebration Flight.’
Naturally, Simple Flying has photos.
It didn’t stop there in the following years. EVA Air has rolled out another four Hello Kitty planes, bringing the total to seven. They weren’t all A330s; there were some A321s and a Boeing 777-300ER thrown into the mix too. The 777-300ER is B-16722 and named ‘Hello Kitty Shining Star.’
A Method in the madness
There’s a method in this seeming madness. Hello Kitty is huge with teenage and adult female consumers in Japan, and EVA Air’s Hello Kitty flights regularly have 85% loads.
If you think this whole thing is simply a matter of EVA Air painting pictures of a mouthless cat in a bow tie onto its aircraft’s exteriors, think again. Product placement is all through the cabin – cushions, headrests, flight attendant’s aprons, food, and amenity packs. You’ve got to admire the thoroughness of the licensing deal that was done here.
While I clearly don’t appreciate the whole Hello Kitty thing enough, I do understand the severe impact of grounding planes and the broader consequences of what’s happening to aviation in 2020. Like airlines elsewhere, Taiwanese airlines have been hit hard, canceling services, suspending routes, grounding planes, and receiving government loans.
As much as the colors might hurt my eyeballs, getting those Hello Kitty planes back in the air again can only be a good thing.