Swiss International Air Lines Unveils The “Hippie Express”

As Swiss International Air Lines prepares to launch its non-stop service from Zurich to San Francisco the airline has unveiled a new special aircraft livery to commemorate the route.

As much as I enjoy special airline liveries being introduced by airlines, I have to wonder if the new paint scheme chosen by Swiss International Air Lines is a big mistake, on two fronts.

The somewhat minor marketing error in the airline’s new aircraft livery is the term “direct” when in fact the route is “non-stop.”  An airline generally markets flights as “direct” if there is one stop in the middle, whereas a “non-stop” flight has … well … no-stops.  Swiss International Air Lines painting the word “direct” on the side of the Airbus A340-313x is a marketing gaff that should be corrected before the aircraft is put into service.

The larger issue with Swiss International Air Lines’ new San Francisco paint job is that it would have been appropriate for the Summer of Love, which occurred 42 years ago…8 years before I was born, 24 years before the first Airbus A340 ever flew and 35 years before Swiss International Air Lines was created.

Granted, many people around the world associate San Francisco with hippies, peace symbols, psychedelic images and tie-dye, but in 2010, The San Francisco Bay Area’s tie to Zurich is advanced technology, science and global finance.  The high yield business traffic linking San Francisco and Zurich should be at the forefront of the marketing scheme for this route, not an outdated image that while cute, has nothing to do with the current relationship between San Francisco and Zurich.

…what is the current relationship between San Francisco and Zurich? Well on the 13th of November 2003 the two cities became “Sister Cities” and created a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Sister City Relationship Between The Cities of San Francisco and Zurich.

In this Sister City relationship the number one clause was for the two cities to establish a non-stop airline link between the two airports on a year round basis, linking the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Zurich Area, to create a link between the two “growing gateways.”

The second clause in the Sister City relationship is to establish an artist in residence program, followed by environmental sustainability, biotechnology and life science, government personnel exchange and exchange of highly successful students.

None of the reasons that Zurich and San Francisco sought to become Sister Cities is depicted in the new Swiss International Air Lines’ “Hippie Express” livery.

Granted some people like the new Swiss International Air Lines livery … namely my nine-year-old daughter (who is sitting next to me at the moment telling me how cool this new plane looks).

Give the significance of the Zurich-San Francisco route for Swiss International Air Lines; I would have expected a livery that represented some part of why the two cities are linked … or if the airline was deadest on a “cute” livery, at least a depiction of the Alps being linked to the Hills of San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge.

What is your opinion of the new San Francisco livery from Swiss International Air Lines?

Below is an image of the soon to be launched Airbus A340-313x that will fly the inaugural Zurich-San Francisco route on the 2nd of June 2010.

Happy Flying!

(Click For Larger Image)


  1. To most people who aren’t aviation geeks, direct means non-stop.

  2. Kiwi,

    The term is not really an aviation geek term, it is a term known by many frequent travellers, and I think overall the livery is a marketing error on the part of SWISS.

    Happy Flying … wherever in the world you might be at the moment.


  3. In Europe (certainly from when I worked for an airline in the 80s) direct meant “direct to, as in “no stops””, the term non-stop was never used IMO. I never heard that term until I came to the USA. If the flight was not direct, it meant there was a stop (i.e. muti-leg)

    Just like we buy return flights but you buy round-trip flights.

    We have hand luggage and you have carry-ons.

    it’s all semantics

  4. Just as skippy mentioned, I just hit the comments to remind you that Swiss is a European airline and in Europe “direct” means the same as “non-stop” to the majority of people.

    As much as I agree with you on your view of the livery being a bit too focused on the hippie theme, I think it will probably go down quite well in the European market. Most people here still have the image of San Fran as the “hippie town” of the US. Only fellow technologists have connotations of technology and science.

  5. Skippy,

    The term non-stop & direct are actual terms within the proper lexicon of the airline travel industry, which is why I mentioned the wording was a minor error, but also felt it was a marketing mistake.

    The terms ‘return flight’ vs ’round trip’ and ‘hand luggage’ vs ‘carry on’ are terms generally understood around the world.

    For a European Airline using non-stop vs direct, look at British Airways’ JFK-LCY route. Flying JFK-LCY the route is noted as “non-stop” while the LCY-JFK route is noted as “direct” as it has a refueling stop in Shannon (SNN).

    Happy Flying!


  6. I suppose it will only be perceived as ‘minor error’ when it is operating between ZRH and SFO and whether it says “non-stop” or “direct” it will still publicize the new service to SFO when it is operating to other destinations.

  7. Hi FlyingFish

    I don’t know which nationality you have, but Swiss (as in people) really like spending holidays in the US, especially in the west coast and SFO area. Furthermore this new livery proves that the Swiss marketing team has more courage than many other boring airiners…personally I like it very much (as a business and private traveler) and I am convinced that so do most of the other people.

    As for the non-stop vs direct discussion: who cares?

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