Sep. 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM ET
Hello Kitty fans are purring over the fact that Taiwan-based EVA Air now has a Hello Kitty-themed plane flying to and from the United States.
On Wednesday, K.W. Chang, the chairman of EVA Air (who is also a pilot) flew a Boeing 777 painted with the brand-new “Hello Kitty Hand-in-Hand” livery from Taipei, Taiwan to Los Angeles. The scene shows 19 Hello Kitty characters marketed by the Sanrio company, which has made Hello Kitty famous worldwide.
The design stretches along the entire length of the aircraft and “has been designed to bridge cultural barriers and invite new friendships from around the world," the airline said.
The jet will now be used on three of the carrier's 17 weekly flights between Taipei and L.A.
EVA Air currently has five shorter range Airbus 330 Hello Kitty Jets servicing routes within Asia and to Guam. Each has its own theme: Hello Kitty Magic, Apple, Global, Happy Music and Speed Puff. The new 777 jet is the first Hello Kitty jet to fly to the U.S.
EVA Air’s chairman said he originally came up with the idea of Hello Kitty-themed planes “to make flying fun,” but the airline said it chose Los Angeles as its first long-range Hello Kitty Jet route “to not only attract more passengers from the United States but also to demonstrate the importance of the route.”
For the 777, EVA used a painting process for the livery that was different and more detailed than the process it used to illustrate its A330s. Because the 777 flies at higher altitude and over longer distances than the shorter range jets, a crew of 35 engineers spent almost two weeks painting the aircraft livery instead of using aviation-grade adhesive to put the characters in place.
On each plane, though, the Hello Kitty Jet “experience” goes beyond what is painted on the outside of the plane.
Before boarding a Hello Kitty plane, passengers get Hello Kitty boarding passes and baggage stickers. In the plane, the cabin crew wears pink aprons that have Hello Kitty designs and during the flights, passengers use more than 100 in-flight service items, including Hello Kitty headrest covers, pillows, tissue, hand cream, hand-washing liquid, napkins, paper cups, utensils, snacks and meals.
The concept isn't cheap, but it is profitable. The airline pays licensing fees to use the Hello Kitty image on the plane and on in-flight items but, according to the March 2013 EVA Air in-flight magazine, when the Hello Kitty jets were first launched in Asia, load factors on the routes flown went up 3 percent and duty free sales were six times higher than on others.
“You either love it or hate it,” said Raymond Kollau of Airlinetrends.com. “EVA Air has tapped into this cultural phenomenon in a clever way in order to get noticed.” As an added bonus, “many parents looking to book a ticket will be happy to book a flight on the Hello Kitty express as it will keep the kids occupied during the flight.”
Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You, and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.