Here’s Why Frontier Airlines Paints Animals On Its Aircraft Tails

Frontier Airlines is well known for its animal livery on its fuselages and tails. The Denver based low-cost carrier has 98 aircraft in its fleet and animals of varying degrees of cuteness adorn many of them.

Champ the Bronco on a Frontier Airlines tail. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons.

Driving brand recognition

Why does the airline paint animals onto its planes? In a nutshell, brand recognition. Like most clever marketing ideas, this one is both reasonably simple and inexpensive to execute. When a plane passes by with a dolphin painted on it, people take note. Kids ask questions. Folks quickly learn to associate the imagery with the brand. It’s marketing 101.

The idea of the animal livery was born in the mid-1990s. The airline has changed hands and management several times since then, but the animal livery has lived on. This suggests that, regardless of who was running the airline, they liked the concept.

The idea of the animals dates back to the mid-1990s

Initially, the animal images were straight wildlife imagery painted on the aircraft tails. Back in the 1990s, Frontier Airlines was running Boeing 737-200s and 737-300s. In the early 2000s, Frontier Airlines began transitioning to Airbus aircraft and the animal imagery was retained.

During that time, the airline ran a TV advertising campaign that had the animals on their aircraft’s tails talking to each other. Brand recognition soared.

In 2013, the then owners of Frontier Airlines sold the business to private equity outfit Indigo Partners. In 2014, Frontier Airlines rebranded and the airline transitioned from a full-service airline to the low-cost carrier we know today.

Ferndale the owl on a Frontier Airlines tail. Photo: Frontier Airlines.

As part of the exercise, the airline updated the livery on its aircraft. But the animals stayed. The thinking behind the animal livery became more strategic. Each aircraft would have the imagery of only one animal and that animal’s name would be written on the aircraft’s tail. That had the dual purpose of both identifying the animal and the aircraft.

The animals also crept off the tails and onto the fuselage.

Animals used in other areas of marketing and promotion

Concurrently, the animals stepped off the aircraft and into other areas of Frontier’s marketing efforts. The rise of the Internet in the last 20 years has opened up a raft of new marketing and promotional avenues for businesses. Online marketing and promotion have the advantage of being agile, responsive and inexpensive.

The inexpensive part, at least, was music to the ears of Frontier Airlines and its new owners.

Advertising, both online and offline, gave the animals names and backstories. They transitioned from straight wildlife into cartoon-like characters – Foxy the Fox and Flip the Dolphin, who in a Groundhog Day-esque storyline, was perennially destined for Chicago.

Frontier Airlines has used animal imagery on its aircraft since the mid 1990s. Photo: Frontier Airlines.

After some 25 years, Frontier’s use of animals has become a defining part of its brand identity. Since becoming a low-cost carrier, the airline has pushed the low-cost carrier boundaries to new heights (or depths, depending on your viewpoint), but the animal imagery keeps the brand alive and fresh.

It is an odd combination – cute and personable animals contrast sharply with Frontier’s often less than personable service and product offering in 2020. But Frontier Airlines shows no signs of dropping the animals. The concept is as cheap as chips to execute and helps the airline stand out from the pack. That’s as relevant now as it was in 1994.