United Airlines & Barbie: The 1970s Partnership You Never Knew About

by SharonKurheg

Different entities have been co-branding since the 1950s. The first such partnership was said to be when Renault joined forces with luxury jeweler Van Cleef and Arpels. They offered consumers the Renault Ondine with a specialty feature of a dashboard and steering wheel that was said to be inlaid with precious stones.

Fast forward to the mid-1960s, when Kellogg’s was one of the sponsors of The Monkees’ TV show. Not only did the show say “sponsored by Kellogg’s,” but the “Pre-Fab Four” made several commercials for the brand.

Star Wars has been a particular master of co-branding. Over the years, they’ve had partnerships with the likes of Lego, Sears (they sold a handful of Sears-exclusive Star Wars play sets in the mid-late 70s), Duracell, General Mills, Campbell’s, Verizon, Kraft, Bose, Covergirl, Crocs, Dole Fruit, Coca Cola, Le Creuset, GE, Jeep, HP, Gillette, Subway, Porsche, Toms, Fortnite, Samsung, Dodge, Disney (even before the franchise was bought by Disney), United Airlines, and the list goes on and on.

a group of small pots on sanda box with a toy seta magazine cover with a group of women

a plane flying in the skyAnd speaking of United Airlines, does anyone remember the partnership United had with Barbie?

I’m not talking about the Barbie Dreamplane airplane play set that Mattel released a few years ago (complete with a puppy, snack cart, and 15+ accessories!).

a girl looking at a toy planea girl playing with a toy airplanea barbie doll in a pink airplanea hand holding a toy food cart

Nope, I’m talking about the actual United-branded plane Barbie toy, called Barbie’s Friend Ship, that was released in 1972.

Y’see, from 1972 to 1974, United featured what was called their “Friend Ship” livery. This is how Norebbo.com described it:

This was an evolution of the wedge livery. It featured a thicker red stripe, four blue stars on both the vertical stabilizer and fuselage (near the titles), and a modified “United” typeface. This was the last United livery before the iconic Saul Bass design was unveiled in 1974.

Here’s what the livery looked like (PC: Clinton H. Groves collection via Wikimedia Commons // GNU Free Documentation License):

an airplane on the runway

And some way, some how, United and Barbie teamed up together in 1972 to make Barbie’s Friend Ship, a vinyl fold-out toy plane. It was a sort of Barbie-esque version of the United plane.

a doll house with a couple of dolls

                                                                           PC: Pinterest

The plane was released in the early 1970s, during a time when there were lots and LOTS of fold-out vinyl play sets out there:

So why NOT a vinyl fold-out plane that opens to over 4 feet long?

Anyway, here’s a 1972 ad for Barbie’s Friend Ship:

a advertisement for a toy1. A Great Gift Value — Barbie’s Friend Ship
It’s over 4 ft. long and has seats, lounge, table, service area. Plus printed tail section, pilot’s cabin, plastic serving cart, accessories, smock. Folds into vinyl case with handle. Dolls not included. (“Friend Ship” and other United Airline service marks used with permission from United Airlines)
X 921-5617 A — Easy assembly. Mailable: weight 6.40 lbs. $9.99

2. Stewardess outfit
Jumpsuit, apron, hand bag, flight bag, 4-pc. uniform, shoes. Fits 11-1/2 in. fashion doll — doll not included
X 921-5633 A — Mailable: weight 0.40 lb.  $2.33

3. Pilot Outfit
Jumpsuit, jacket, 4-pc. uniform, flight bag, hat, shoes. Fits 12 in. high doll — doll not included.
X 921-5658 A — Mailable: weight 0/40 lb. $2.33

Save 66c when you buy both outfits (2) and (3) as a 2-pc. set.
State both catalog numbers and pay only $4.00

(As a comparison, $10 in 1972 is the equivalent of a little over $73 today.)

Here’s a 1974 commercial for the play set:

And a woman’s homemade “tour” of the toy that gives some close ups of the vintage play set:

The Barbie Friend Ship was only produced from 1972 to 1974. During that time frame, there were some small changes made in the product; the decoration on the box were refreshed, the plastic seats changed colors and the advertised price apparently jumped to a whopping $11.88 (as a comparison, $11.88 in today’s money would be just shy $77).

a advertisement for a toyBut in 1974, the Barbie Friend Ship was discontinued. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that 1974 was the same year United’s Friend Ship livery also ended, before they switched to the Saul Bass design.

By the way, if you thought that was the only time Barbie has partnered with an airline, you’d be incorrect. She has also been known to partner with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Pan Am, TWA, and perhaps other airlines over the years. But United was the only partnership that included a plane; all the rest were just fashion costumes of Barbie as a “stewardess,” flight attendant and, in more recent years, a pilot.

***Many thanks to Sue Ellen K., of DreamFinder Travel, for inadvertently suggesting this topic!

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.

Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary, or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

Leave a Comment