The story behind the Alaska Airlines ‘Our Commitment’ plane

Feb 5, 2022

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It’s been part of Alaska Airlines’ fleet since April last year, so you may have already spotted the unusual artwork on the carrier’s “Our Commitment” plane as its taxis to or from an airport gate. But as we head into Black History Month, it’s a good time to learn more about this special livery and how it came to be.

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(Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Like other carriers, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has an assortment of themed and commemorative aircraft. In addition to Disney-, sports- and regional college-themed planes, Alaska passengers might spot the “Pride in the Skies” Airbus A320, the “Honoring Those Who Serve” 737-800 and Embraer 175 and the “Salmon Thirty Salmon II” 737-800, among others.

The Our Commitment livery was introduced in late April 2021 on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER. It sports a 138-foot-long, 41-foot-high design featuring profiles of 14 black and brown faces of young people — all children, grandchildren or mentees of some of the airline’s Black employees.

In large type on one side of the plane is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The time is always right to do what is right.” On the other side is a quote from Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

(Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

The livery was created after the events of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd. It “speaks to our commitment to social justice and racial equity and inclusion,” James Thomas, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Alaska Airlines, told TPG. “Employees wanted some visible symbol of how we were really going to show our commitment,” he said, “and at same time our longtime partner UNCF [the United Negro College Fund] challenged us to really elevate and amplify the work we’ve been doing” to support education and equity.

Sarah Keimig, a DEI specialist with Alaska Airlines, was on the planning committee for the aircraft, and she spent months talking about what the plane would mean, what the message would be and what it would look like.

“We talked about whether or not the plane would take on the blue and green branding of Alaska Airlines,” Keimig told TPG, or be something that looks very different. “And how we got there is interesting and cool because it was a bold move on our part to make a black plane with brown images on the side.”

The committee decided that the images would not be just generic profiles of people, but images of real people — children, grandchildren or mentees of Alaska employees — all with real stories. That’s how Keimig’s daughter Jade, an accomplished linguistics major at the University of Washington, and 13 others ended up as models for the faces on the side of the plane.

(Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

“It’s a huge billboard, or representation, of the commitment we have to creating equity and actually creating an environment where everybody feels that they belong,” says Keimig.

Jonny Mack, manager of brand and creative for Alaska Airlines, was the creative director for the project and helped nail down the overall design and look of the airplane. He drew the silhouettes of the young people whose faces are portrayed on the plane, including that of his own son, Micah Mackaly, a 2020 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy who is on his way to becoming a pilot.

Mack brought on Adé Hogue, a Chicago-based artist and designer (who has since passed away) to design the typography for the quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. and by Nelson Mandela on the side of the plane.

“At the beginning, my mind went to protest posters from the ’60s and the shape of the design slowly shifted into what you see today,” Hogue said when the Our Commitment livery was first revealed last year.

In addition to the imagery on the outside of the plane, there is a seatback card that profiles each of the young people featured on the plane, including their accomplishments and life goals.

(Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

“We don’t typically do a full seatback card for every special livery we do,” said Mack. “But we felt that for this one we had a story to tell about our partnership with UNCF, the stories about each one of these children, and a story about me and Adé as the designers. And we were able to give it that real estate on the airplane so anyone on the plane can pull out the seatback card and read about it.”

Travelers who want to see Alaska Airlines’ Our Commitment plane in action can track it via its tail number: N492AS. For those who would like a version of it for home, there are scale models of the plane in two different sizes for sale in the Alaska Airlines online shop.

“I really feel like this plane is something for us to be proud of,” says James Thomas, Alaska’s DEI director. “It really is a representation of our commitment.”

Featured photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

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