Pittsburgh International Airport sees its fair share of cool planes, and you may have spotted a rather unique one over the Pittsburgh area a few weeks ago.
Severe weather on the East Coast unexpectedly brought a KLM Airbus A330-300 to PIT on the afternoon of July 19. The aircraft was operating a flight from Amsterdam to Washington-Dulles International Airport when storms forced the aircraft to land at PIT to refuel and wait out the weather.
Why did the KLM flight choose Pittsburgh? PIT is a popular choice for flights that need to use an alternate airfield in the event of severe weather. It is a short flight away from major East Coast hubs (New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., etc.) but far enough away to not be impacted by the same storm systems. In addition, PIT boasts an airfield layout capable of handling almost any aircraft type in service today.
KLM joins a list of unique diversions to make stops at PIT over the years, which includes appearances from Airbus A380 superjumbos operated by Air France and Emirates.
KLM is not only the oldest airline to touch down at PIT, it’s the world’s oldest airline, period: KLM was established in 1919 to connect the Netherlands and its Dutch East India territories.
While not the world’s oldest airline, United Airlines is another global carrier with a rich history. It was once Boeing’s in-house airline and was a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s first airline alliance.
United is known for the many liveries it has sported throughout its 94-year history, from its famous “Tulip” logo to the present day “Globe” livery, refreshed in 2019.
United’s A320 Friend Ship livery taxis to the gate at PIT after landing from Newark on May 29. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)
Paying homage to its storied past, United flies an Airbus A320 in the airline’s “Friend Ship,” or “Stars and Bars,” livery from the early 1970s. The aircraft features the classic United logo on the fuselage and tail, a metallic grey belly depicting the metal polish from old jetliners and “A320 Friend Ship” on the side denoting the aircraft type.
United unveiled the Stars and Bars retrojet in 2011 for its 85th anniversary. The livery was voted on by employees and chosen from five options.
Additionally, United inherited Continental’s retro livery when the two carriers merged. Featured on a Boeing 737-900ER, the Continental livery dates back to the 1950s when piston-powered planes gave way to the jet age. United still operates this aircraft in its fleet today.
United’s Continental retrojet arrives at PIT from San Francisco on June 24. United inherited the aircraft following its merger with Continental in 2010. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)
With United’s 100th anniversary set to take place in 2026, another retrojet could be on the horizon, joining the Friend Ship and Continental special liveries.
Passengers at PIT have the chance to score a lucky ride on both retrojets, as United regularly operates the A320 and 737 at the airport to some of its hubs.
While United operates the Stars and Bars on one aircraft, Alaska Airlines proudly flies the Star and Stripes on several of its aircraft.
Alaska operates three aircraft—two Boeing 737s and an Embraer E175—in the airline’s “Honoring Those Who Serve” livery as a tribute to members of the U.S. military and their families.
Alaska’s “Honoring Those Who Serve” 737-900ER pulls into the gate from Seattle at PIT on June 27. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)
The livery, according to the airline, was conceived by a group of Alaska maintenance technicians and was painted through Alaska’s partnership with Boeing. The first aircraft, a 737-900ER model, was unveiled in 2016.
In addition, the aircraft incorporates design elements from the American flag on its winglets and “Honoring Those Who Serve” text on the fuselage. The rear portion of the fuselage has decals of Alaska’s Fallen Soldier Program. Near the nose is an emblem with five stars representing the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Alaska operates the Boeing 737 on its two daily flights between Pittsburgh and Seattle, which offers travelers and avgeeks a chance to see this special paint scheme.