Airlines use special liveries to celebrate or promote their history or a worthy cause. Alaska Airlines has been flying a special salmon livery to celebrate this tasty catch from the state of Alaska. Last year, Alaska Airlines made it known that the “salmon-thirty-seven” aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 (registration N559AS) would be making its last run. This unique livery was the aircraft that would bring the first salmon catch from the Copper River to the lower 48 states. Alaska Airlines brought the salmon back to N559AS as it just came out of the paint shop.
A tribute to Xáat Kwáani (Salmon People) of Alaska
Alaska Airlines unveiled its newest aircraft paint theme yesterday – Xáat Kwáani –
designed by the talented Alaska Native artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl. Xáat
Kwáani means “Salmon People” in the Alaskan Tlingit (pronounced Klink-it) language and refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and all of us who benefit from their stewardship of the environment.
Using Northwest Coast formline art, the salmon design by Worl is a one-of-a-kind work that
honors salmon, culture, artistic expression, and language. Traditional formline art dates back
thousands of years and is a two-dimensional design style of the Northwest Coast.
“Every time I looked at an Alaska plane, I couldn’t help but visualize the salmon being in
formline, or having some sort of design that represents identity. I can’t help but look at things
and see how to Indigenize them,” said Worl. “I have high hopes this project will encourage
people to learn and embrace Indigenous culture and values.”
Through her art, Worl aims to bring attention to Indigenous culture and to pass on ancestral
values to a new generation.
A Tribute To Strength and Resilience
As a tribute to salmon and its ancestral importance, this aircraft is the first in the country to be named in an Alaska Native language and the first time Alaska Airlines has featured a language besides English on the main door of an aircraft.
“This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” says Crystal. “People will see it, they’ll read it, they’ll try to say ‘Xáat Kwáani’ (Salmon People), and they’ll want to know more and be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it. I think that’s significant in terms of the relationship we need to make between our languages that need speakers. So, I’m excited to be part of this.”
“Crystal Worl has a love of monumental art — most recently murals gracing the sides of
buildings in Juneau and Anchorage for locals and visitors to enjoy. And we had a large blank
canvas — a 737-800,” said Marilyn Romano, regional vice president, Alaska Airlines. “During
our first conversation, Crystal shared her desire to paint an Alaska Airlines plane — she has
flown with us most of her life. Salmon as a focus was intentional and Crystal shares the
relationship between salmon and Native people through storytelling and artistic design.”
Salmon has a special meaning and significance in the state of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and
along the West Coast. Some travel as far as 600 miles each way, each uniquely adapted to its
particular river system, ocean and watershed environment.
The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 is the first livery of a U.S. airline fleet to have the name of
the plane in an Alaska Native language and the first time Alaska Airlines has featured a
language besides English on the main door of an aircraft.
“This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” said Worl. “People will see
it, they’ll read it, they’ll try to say ‘Xáat Kwáani’ (Salmon People), and they’ll want to know more
and be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it. I’m excited to be part of this.”
The aircraft will begin flying on May 12, 2023, with an inaugural flight from Anchorage through
Southeast Alaska. First stop of Alaska Airlines flight 62 will be through Crystal’s hometown of
Juneau, the state’s capital, before it continues through Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle.
What It Took To Create ‘X’aat Kw’aani
Painting a special livery is a delicate job that begins with removing the old paint. For this special livery, required:
- 117 gallons of paint,
- Four main colors were used: Midnight Blue, Atlas Blue, White and Pink,
- The paint shop was able to complete the entire job in just 12 days and
- To keep the livery protected, a protective coat was applied over the base coats to keep this salmon looking fresh for years.
Here is how the paint shop created this flying mural:
About Crystal Worl
Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven moiety, Lukaax̱.ádi
Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House and is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks, Alaska,
and Filipino. Worl has created several public art installations in Alaska including a design on the
side of Juneau’s Capitol City Fire Rescue ambulance, a steel cut medallion installed in
downtown Juneau, and a 60-foot by 25-foot mural of Tlingit activist Elizabeth Peratrovich on
Juneau’s downtown library building, and last year, painted a mural 125-foot by 48-foot in
Anchorage. In March 2023, Worl designed “The Art of Skateboarding” stamps for the United
States Postal Service that laud the sport of skateboarding — and what Indigenous groups have
brought to the skating culture. Today, Worl lives in Juneau, Alaska, as a co-owner and codesigner of Trickster Company with her brother Rico Worl. Trickster Company promotes
innovative Indigenous design focused on Northwest Coast art and exploring themes and
issues in Native culture.
Crystal’s expressive designs purposefully blend the old and new. Her work, whether it’s printmaking, painting or public art, recreates and modernizes her ancestors’ stories and explores the relationships and bonds that her people, the land and the animals share with Alaska so that generations learn its importance through traditional formline design, which dates back thousands of years. She says this aircraft will serve as a gateway to represent Alaska Natives, and she’s incredibly proud.
Her grandmother, Rosita Worl, remembers how even as a young toddler, Crystal couldn’t sit still, “The only thing that would slow her down were bright, bold, contrasting colors or patterns. I knew then she was going to be an artist,” she said.
Back in 1932, Harvey Barnhill and Linious “Mac” McGee founded Barnhill & McGee Airways. It became McGee Airways a few months later, solely owned and operated by Mac McGee. Over the past 90 years, Alaska Airlines has gone beyond flying bush planes in Alaska to becoming the fifth-largest airline based in North America. The airline has never forgotten its Alaskan roots and celebrates the native Tlingit people and the importance of salmon in their lives. The choice of Alaskan native artist Crystal Worl put the whole thing together in Alaskan style for this tribute aircraft.