Choosing an airline name? Go easy

·2-min read
First mover: Stelios Haji-Ioannou and the maiden flight of easyJet from Luton to Glasgow in November 1995 (Tony Anderson)
First mover: Stelios Haji-Ioannou and the maiden flight of easyJet from Luton to Glasgow in November 1995 (Tony Anderson)

What do you want from air travel? A safe, affordable and hopefully on-time journey from A to B will do for me.

The Ryanair passengers travelling from Amman in Jordan and the Romanian capital, Bucharest, have zero interest in knowing that the founder of Europe’s biggest budget airline was an Irish businessman, Tony Ryan. They, like me and you, simply choose the airline with the best combination of fares and schedule. And that happens to be the Dublin-based airline with a “vanilla” name (though nothing to do with Vanilla Air, the short-lived Japanese carrier).

Ryanair’s big rival, easyJet, has a stronger name which includes its proposition in those seven letters. But that did not work for The Lord’s Airline, which flew a single Douglas DC-8 between Miami and Tel Aviv for pilgrims in the 1980s. “All flights were no smoking and no drinking, though entertainment was offered in the form of free copies of the Bible and Jewish Torah,” recalls reader Bob Logan.

Another airline no longer with us is the worst-named carrier of the first decade of the 21st century: a small Ukrainian outfit called Kyiv Aircraft Repair Plant 410. I flew happily on it from Kiev to Simferopol in the Crimea. Its unfortunate demise in 2007 might have been averted had a branding consultant been summoned in time.

This week I flew from the dusty Saudi city of Tabuk to the capital, Riyadh, on an airline called Flyadeal. While the flight was fine, the name would be unappealing in an Anglophone nation, let alone an Arabic one.

A series of great brands have been swallowed up in American mergers, including Trans World Airlines (TWA) and US Air (both subsumed into American Airlines). People Express was consumed by Continental, itself now part of United. Continental was, in its later years, highly intercontinental. In contrast, a dodgy Colombian outfit called itself Intercontinental, even though it went no further than short hops from its Bogota base.

Some large, successful carriers do not have ideal brands: Alaska Airlines is odd title for an airline mostly serving the states of California, Oregon and Washington.

But the 2020s now have a clear contender: the Mumbai-based no-frills airline Go First. I was astonished to spot this carrier at Riyadh airport on Monday night.

“The Airline Where You Come First,” is the slogan. What could possibly, er, go wrong? First, passengers may have inflated expectations of the likely onboard comfort.

Next, I hope the airline’s call sign – as used to contact air-traffic controllers – is not its name. Imagine the confusion if two planes are queuing: “Go first, go second…”

Go First does not yet serve Nepal, a nation that Faye Harland remembers fondly from an airline brand perspective. She says she “very much enjoyed flying Yeti Airlines from Pokhara to Kathmandu”.

To which Adrian Brown responded: “But surely the service was abominable?”

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