Rhapsody and United Airlines’ Blues

A symbol of freedom. We love to fly, and it shows. Something special in the air. Fly the friendly skies. We’ll take more care of you. Life is a journey, travel it well. Fly with friends. We never forget you have a choice.

These are taglines from an assortment of domestic and international carriers, in order of customer attachment to airlines. See below for the taglines’ brand match.

Not long ago, air travel was luxurious. When commercial air travel ramped up after World War II and into the 1950s, airlines brought a level of service and luxury to travelers. Travelers dressed up, full meals were served, seats were spacious, and leg room was substantial. With a steady increase of passengers, however, the level of personal service available to passengers diminished. Air travel quickly went from being an adventure to a necessity.

When I first heard about the man who was removed from the overbooked United flight recently, I thought “well that’s not the friendly skies!” And judging from the thousands of memes quickly made available online, I was not alone in associating the slogan with the carrier.

United has used the slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies” for more than 50 years. The tagline was first used in 1965, and remained their lead messaging until 1996 when the airline and agency parted ways. It was replaced by “It’s time to fly”, which stayed in place for about 15 years.

According to the New York Times, the Leo Burnett agency used “Fly the Friendly Skies” in their pitch for the business, which they won. One of Burnett’s early spots from the 1960s show wives urging their husbands – some of whom are smoking as they walk to the gate! –  to “take me along” on business trips, and fly the friendly skies of United.

After the merger of United and Continental in October 2010, the airline’s slogan changed to “Let’s fly together”. A short time later, in September 2013, United announced a return of “Fly the Friendly Skies”. The resurrected slogan was accompanied by the 1924 George Gershwin song “Rhapsody in Blue”, with a voiceover by Matt Damon.

When “friendly skies” came back, the new agency, McGarryBowen, worked to make it contemporary and relevant to the needs to the modern traveler. “We realized we couldn’t just resurrect it,” said Gordon Bowen, chairman-chief creative officer at  McGarryBowen, told Ad Age. “We had to reinvent it. Today’s air travelers require more, so we redefined the tagline through the lens of what customers nowadays are expecting.” Benefits and features included a “flyer-friendly” airline that has more destinations and more non stop flights than anyone else.

Despite being a one-time United voiceover, Damon joined the fan backlash against United in this spoof from the Jimmy Kimmel show:



Key to airlines and their taglines:

Southwest: A symbol of freedom
Delta: We love to fly. And it shows
American: Something special in the air
United: Fly the friendly skies
British Airlines: We’ll take more care of you
Austrian Airlines: Fly with friends
British Caledonian: We never forget you have a choice


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