A formline salmon Alaska Airlines plane makes its inaugural flight

Crystal Worl
Juneau artist Crystal Worl stands in front of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 named Xáat Kwáani (Salmon People), which bears her design. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

An Alaska Airlines plane now features formline art depicting salmon by Juneau artist Crystal Worl.

On Friday, it will make its inaugural flight from Anchorage to Juneau, landing at 9:23 a.m. before continuing on to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle.

Worl has imagined designing plane art for years – in 2020, she tagged Alaska Airlines in an Instagram post sharing an idea.

Now her blue, white and pink design — depicting salmon in Northwest Coast formline — completely covers a passenger jet. The Boeing 737 was formally unveiled Thursday at an Anchorage hangar, in an event featuring Tsimshian dancers.

“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,” she told the airline in a press release. “I can’t help but look at things and see how to Indigenize them.”

The art on the plane features four salmon, painted to look like fish in flight, representing the salmon’s life cycle with its eggs on the tail. Worl says she hopes the design will help people understand the salmon’s environment and the need to protect them.

Worl says she had dreamed for years of putting a Northwest Coast form line design on an Alaska Airlines jet, a vision that finally came to fruition after she and her team spent an intense 12 days in Texas, painting the plane. But it wasn’t until she saw it displayed in the hangar in Anchorage that reality set in.

“Looking at my art at this scale after seeing it on a tiny little screen for so long, it’s different,” she said Thursday. “I think I was in awe, disbelief. Breath was taken away.”

The plane is named Xáat Kwáani, or Salmon People. Lance Twitchell, a Lingít language expert, came up with the name, which is meant to describe the sacred relationship Southeast Natives have with the salmon.

According to Alaska Airlines, it’s the first time they’ve featured a language besides English on the main door of an aircraft.

a Boeing 737 winglet
A detail on the plane’s wing. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

“For me, this plane is confirmation that the art, language and culture that our Ancestors practiced and hoped to pass on to future generations is not only alive and well but is thriving,” Dawn Smith, co-chair of Alaska Airlines’ Native Employee Network, said in a statement. “It is a statement for all Indigenous people that we are still here.”

Earlier this year, Worl designed a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. She painted the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in Juneau, and her art appears on a Juneau ambulance. Last year, she replaced an Anchorage mural depicting local history with one featuring a colorful formline nature scene

Alaska Airlines’ Salmon Thirty Salmon II, which flew the Milk Run from Seattle through Southeast Alaska for more than a decade, took its last flight in April.

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