Alaska Airlines unveils new plane design honoring salmon by Juneau artist Crystal Worl
Weeks after retiring its “Salmon Thirty Salmon,” Alaska Airlines unveiled a new plane this month with an original design, displaying Juneau artist Crystal Worl’s tribute to salmon.
The striking blue, white and pink plane features images of sockeye salmon using traditional formline design specific to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes, according to Worl. The aircraft is named Xáat Kwáani — a Tlingit phrase that translates to “Salmon People.” The Boeing 737-800 is the first plane from a domestic airline to be named in an Alaska Native language, according to Alaska Airlines.
An excerpt painted on the side of the plane says that the name “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.”
Worl, a Tlingit, Athabaskan, Yup’ik and Filipino artist, has designed murals in downtown Anchorage and Juneau. Her latest work, which honors salmon’s ancestral importance, used 117 gallons of paint.
Worl said she saw the aircraft for the first time on May 10.
“Seeing it in person, especially at this scale because I’ve just been looking at it on this dinky little computer screen, it’s amazing. It really knocks the wind out of me,” she said.
Worl said in her design, a pink line goes into the mouths of the salmon and wraps around the nose of the plane, representing a breathing line or lifeline — the beginning of oxygen, water and elements that flow and absorb into the salmon as they migrate. The salmon on the tail and tips of the wings have salmon eggs in them, which represent learning from the salmon about the next generation, she said.
Back in 2020, Worl downloaded a template of the Boeing 737, superimposed her artwork on it and posted the image to Instagram. She tagged Alaska Airlines and asked her friends and family to share it.
“I feel like a part of it is manifesting what I want to see in the world,” she said.
Alaska Airlines Regional Vice President Marilyn Romano said in a statement that Worl’s background made her a natural fit to design a livery.
“Having read about Crystal, seen her murals in Juneau and Anchorage and knowing her love of monumental art, she came to mind when we had the opportunity to paint a very large canvas — a 737-800,” Romano said. “Only this time, instead of remaining stationary and having viewers come to the art, we will take the art everywhere this plane flies, inviting guests to learn more about Alaska Native and Native American history, art, culture and language.”
Alaska Airlines flies a number of other aircraft with unique designs, including one with an orca design, three paying tribute to U.S. military members, and a Star Wars and Disney-themed plane.
Xáat Kwáani will embark on its inaugural flight May 12 from Anchorage to Juneau, where it will then continue on to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle. From there, it will fly other routes in the Alaska Airlines network in Alaska and on the West Coast.
Worl and her family were on board the plane’s first passenger flight, Flight 62, to Juneau.