When designing the new look for US Airways, America West executives turned their back on high-salaried Madison Avenue image consultants.

Instead, they interviewed employees from both of the merged airlines: flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and executives.

The result: a look that's neither too corporate nor too casual, according to Travis Christ, America West's vice president of marketing who oversaw the new US Airways design.

Christ said the merged airline's style would best be described as "right down the middle between American and Southwest [airlines]."

The newly redesigned planes, which make their debut today, aspire to a brighter appearance than US Airways' current fleet. America West has scrapped the dark blue paint at the top of the aircraft, replacing it with white. The change was partly to keep the interior of the planes cooler during layovers in the Phoenix and Las Vegas heat. The dark blue now runs along the belly of the aircraft.

The plane also sports what America West executives call a heritage circle near the cabin door representing US Airways' history. The circle contains the logos of airlines now part of US Airways: Piedmont, Allegheny, PSA and America West. The purpose of the circle is to give current US Airways employees who worked for the former airlines a sense of "pride and respect," Christ said.

The airline kept the U.S. flag that is emblazoned on the tail and side of the current US Airways aircraft. The flag has also been added to the tips of the winglets. The new aircraft also will have a red stripe along the length of the belly. Airline executives said the design creates a woosh-like effect of a waving flag.

America West will take the first newly painted aircraft around the country to show off to its employees. BizClass was among the first to get an early peek.

"We tried to add a little bit of style to it," Christ said. "We think that US Airways today is known for being a little too button-down business. And if you look at America West, we're a little too casual. So we wanted something that was the best representation of the new company, that is a business-casual theme."

The new look is part of a rebranding of Arlington-based US Airways as it heads toward its merger with America West, expected to be completed by the end of September, barring any objections from America West's shareholders and US Airways' creditors. America West is spending more than $18 million to paint the 200 planes in the combined airlines' fleet. It will take 18 months to complete the redesign, which is the first for US Airways since 1997 when it changed its name from USAir.

The US Airways-America West union was billed as a merger, although the new airline will be based in Tempe, Ariz., America West's home town, and will be overseen primarily by America West executives.

Executives portray the new US Airways as a hybrid -- a low-cost carrier in its cost structure and fares but also a traditional airline with features such as international routes and first-class cabins.

The new look isn't so much of a departure from the current appearance that it will require massive redesign inside the terminals. Executives wanted to keep the changes to a minimum to save costs on redoing ticket counters, airport gates and other facilities.

The redesign does not extend to inside the cabin, where the configuration and legroom will remain unchanged, said Scott Kirby, America West's executive vice president of marketing and sales.

While the new airline will offer East Coast travelers more flights to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Hawaii, don't expect additional transcontinental flights to San Francisco or the Los Angeles area. The airline plans to focus mainly on cities where it has hubs or major operations such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Washington's Reagan National Airport.

"Other destinations have become intensively competitive and fuel prices make them uncomfortable," Kirby said. "We are going to concentrate on our core strengths and areas where we think we will be profitable even with high fuel prices."

Northwest Update: Northwest Airlines said it continued to operate under normal conditions yesterday after its 4,400 mechanics and aircraft cleaners walked off their jobs Saturday.

Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch declined to comment on the number of delays and canceled flights, but said the airline's operations were "consistent" with other days this month.

The airline spent about 18 months preparing for the walkout and is using workers laid off from other airlines to replace the strikers.

The Federal Aviation Administration is not "seeing anything unusual in regards to delays or cancellations," agency spokesman Paul Takemoto said. "Things are running smoothly and the planes are in air-worthy condition."

Takemoto said Northwest's replacement workers were taking a "little bit longer" to work on the aircraft, but the FAA was not seeing a spike in delayed or canceled flights.

On Sunday, the FAA said Northwest's planes were about 78 percent full, which is about normal for this time of year.

Question of the Week: Have you flown Northwest during the strike? Do you have plans to do so in coming days? If so, we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the airline's operations? Has it improved, worsened or remained the same during the strike? Send your comments to alexanderk@washpost.com. And don't forget to include your name and a daytime telephone number.

US Airways planes will change from buttoned-down blue and gray, left, to colors closer to America West's casual look. Lighter colors also will keep the planes' cabins cooler during Las Vegas and Phoenix layovers.