Star Wars Airplane
© Raycatcher

As early as the 1990s, aircraft liveries have included a wide range of familiar faces and characters from popular culture.

Aircraft liveries serve a dual function of promoting airlines’ insignia and branding and allowing aircraft to serve as “flying billboards” to promote tv shows, film franchises and more.

Here are a few examples of some of the most eye-catching themed airplanes from airlines around the world.

Star Wars – All Nippon Airways

Star Wars-Inspired Airplanes and Interiors
Droid-inspired liveries – Coming to you from a galaxy far, far away © All Nippon Airways

If there were a prize for the coolest aircraft liveries in the galaxy, airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) would win. Han’s down.

In 2015, the Japanese carrier launched the first of its three exclusive “Star Wars”-themed planes, with the first plane, a B787-9, being based on trusty droid R2D2. The launch of the exclusive aircraft was part of a partnership between ANA and the Walt Disney Company to promote the first film of the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, with its release scheduled for later that year.

Two further planes followed in the years after, including C-3PO, featured on a Boeing 777-200, and newcomer BB-8, featured on a B777-381(ER).

Features of the aircraft’s cabin area include R2D2-themed covers on seats and aisle lights in both heroic Jedi blue and dark side red.

During the period of autumn 2022 to spring 2023, the C-3PO jet will operate primarily on domestic flights to and from Haneda Airport (HND), Japan.

Passengers hoping to roll on board the BB-8 jet will be left disappointed as the aircraft commenced its final flight in Japan in March 2022. The aircraft’s final flight was scheduled to depart from Haneda Airport to Naha Airport (OKA); however, owing to mechanical issues, the plane’s final flight in fact covered its journey from New Chitose Airport (CTS) to Haneda Airport (HND).

International passengers hoping to take a flight on board ANA’s R2D2 jet are in luck though. For the autumn 2022–spring 2023 period, flights are scheduled to depart from Japan’s Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND) to destinations including Washington, D.C., Houston, Texas, and San Francisco, California, in the United States, Mumbai, India, Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris, France.

Flights to Alderaan, however, are on hold. Indefinitely.

Disney Magic – WestJet

Disney Magic Airplane
Fall under Mickey’s spell on board this magical airplane © BriYYZ

Canadian airline WestJet cast a spell over passengers in 2013 with the unveiling of their magic-themed B737-800. The Disney Magic Plane was the cumulation of the airline’s collaboration with the Walt Disney Company and its purpose was to transport Canadian passengers to the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World Resort (WDW), Florida, in the United States.

The custom-painted livery included Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia” and WDW’s Cinderella Castle. The aircraft’s transformation took a team of 26-strong team 24 days to complete.

The plane’s inaugural flight took it from Calgary International Airport (YYC), Alberta, Canada, to Orlando International Airport (MCO), Florida, in the United States.

The plane serves the airline’s domestic and international network with flights from several Canadian cities to Orlando, Florida.

Hello Kitty – EVA Airways

Hello-Kitty-themed airplanes
Hello Kitty and friends are among the best fellow passengers you could ask for © byeangel (top image) and Nathan Walkowiak (bottom image)

Hello Kitty and friends have been featured on a number of planes belonging to Taiwan’s EVA Air.
The airline launched its first Hello Kitty livery in 2005, on an A330-200 aircraft, in collaboration with the Japanese company Sanrio. The aircraft exclusively served Japanese destinations.

The carrier has since launched a number of themed planes referred to as EVA Special Livery Jets and their titles include Shining Star, Joyful Dream, Bad Badtz Maru Travel Fun, Celebration Flight, and Friendship Bows.

The planes’ interior areas feature themed seat covers and pillows, exclusive in-flight meals and even toiletries and toilet paper featuring Hello Kitty herself!

In-flight services on board EVA Special Livery Jets and the planes’ usual travel routes have been suspended since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Flights previously operated, among others, between Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) and Okinawa, Fukuoka, and Sapporo in Japan, Seoul, South Korea, Bali, Indonesia, Chicago, the United States, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Bonus Fact: In 2017, Hello Kitty was appointed as a Special Ambassador by the United Nations for the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development” with the task of promoting safe and responsible travel.

The Simpsons – Western Pacific

"The Simpsons"-themed airplanes
FOX’s “The Simpsons” advertisement cost the broadcaster an incredible amount of d’oh © Aero Icarus

In 1996, America’s famous family “The Simpsons” appeared on the livery of a Western Pacific Airlines B737-300 plane as part of a marketing promotion for the animated sitcom. Television broadcaster FOX is said to have paid a substantial amount of money, reportedly around $1,000,000 for the decal as a part of an advertising blitz.

The now-defunct Western Pacific Airlines launched in 1995 as a budget airline serving the west coast of America. The company was the first airline in the world to sell advertising space on its aircraft’s liveries, with the carrier’s fleet subsequently being dubbed as “flying billboards”.

Operations ceased in 1998 after just three years, following the airline’s declaration of bankruptcy.

Given that “The Simpsons” is known for being able to predict future events with disturbingly eerie accuracy, it would seem that this is one of the occasions that the show’s writers missed the mark.

The Hobbit – New Zealand Air

"Hobbit"-themed airplanes
Two planes to soar above them all © Chasen Richardson (top image) and Ken Koller (bottom image)

Air New Zealand, the country’s flag carrier, has been involved in the creation of not one but two special airplane liveries to promote the film adaptions of J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic “The Hobbit”.

In 2012, New Zealand Air unveiled a special film tie-in livery on one of its B777-300 aircraft to promote the first instalment of “The Hobbit” film series, entitled “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. At 830 sq. metres, the magnificent decal is one of the largest decals ever made and is reported to have taken six days and 400 man-hours to install. The decal was designed in director Sir Peter Jackson’s Wētā Workshop.

The aircraft took its maiden flight from New Zealand to Los Angeles, California, United States, before flying on to London, England, and then heading back to New Zealand just in time for the film’s premiere in Wellington.

The following year the airline marked the second film in the series, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, with a 177 ft decal of the titular character stretching the full length of a B777-300 aircraft. The decal’s unveiling also provided fans with the first glimpse of villainous Smaug.

Both “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” film series are heralded as significantly boosting New Zealand’s tourism sector. Fans of the films—shot entirely in New Zealand—are able to visit numerous locations featured in the films and walk in the footsteps of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and others.

Toy Story – Alaska Airlines

"Toy Story"-themed livery
To Infinity and Beyond with Woody and pals © Mark Bess

In 2019, Alaska Airlines generated a huge buzz around the unveiling of their B737-800 aircraft, featuring characters familiar and new from Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4”.

The aircraft’s decal featured Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Bo Peep dashing across the fuselage, with the new character Forky appearing on the winglet. The plane was unveiled to guests at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) by American football quarterback Russell Wilson.

The aircraft’s route network included transcontinental routes and flights to Hawai’i.

This was not the only time Woody and pals have appeared on the livery of an Alaska Airlines aircraft, with a further appearance later on in the year on the carrier’s plane “Friendship and Beyond at Disneyland Resort”.

With the release of “Toy Story 5” this year, it will be interesting to see whether Alaska Airlines or perhaps any other airlines will mark the release of the latest film in the series.

Pokémon – All Nippon Airways

Pokémon themed airplanes
Gotta Catch ‘Em All! Best of luck trying to catch up with all of ANA’s Pokémon-themed liveries © Yoshiharu Mohri (all images)

All Air Nippon (ANA) truly extended their reach to the stars/sky above with a series of colourful Pokémon-themed liveries on their aircraft from 1998 to 2016 as a part of their Pokémon Jet series.

The first Pokémon livery, featured on a B747-400D aircraft, was unveiled in 1998 to coincide with the release of “Pokémon: The First Movie”. In the same year, two further designs appeared on B767-300 aircraft. All three liveries featured first-generation favourites including Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Psyduck and Jigglypuff.

The three initial aircraft operated on domestic routes in Japan. The first aircraft to fly on an international route, a B747-400, debuted in 1999 and flew from Tokyo, Japan, to New York City in the United States.

During operations, ANA’s jets incorporated 10 different designs spanning multiple generations of Pokémon. The planes’ interior areas featured themed headrests, food containers and in-flight entertainment, and passengers were given special souvenir bags to keep. The flight attendants on board even wore specially designed apparel.

As of 2016, the airline has removed all of its Pokémon-themed liveries and retired a number of the jets on which they featured.

Although ANA’s aircraft no longer feature Pokémon designs on their liveries, as of the end of 2020, other airlines have taken over this concept including Skymark Airlines, China Airlines, T’way Air, Scoot, Air Do and Solaseed Air as a part of collaborations with Japan’s tourist board and numerous prefectures.

Which themed airplane is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!