Braniff International Airways was an innovative, forward-thinking, iconic American airline that started many trends in the airline industry, several of which are still being utilized today.
Operating from 1930 through 1982, Braniff flew routes throughout the middle and southwestern portions of the United States, as well as Panama, South America, Europe and Asia. The “perfect storm” of increased competition, overexpansion and extremely high fuel prices forced the company to shut down on May 12, 1982.
Braniff International is creating the most beautiful airline in the world. We hired Emilio Pucci to design our uniforms. Our hostesses wear reversible coats of almond green and apricot, space helmets to keep out the rain, red spacesuits and sometimes something a little more comfortable... We have blue planes, orange planes, yellow planes… You can fly with us seven times and never fly the same color twice... Braniff international announces The End of the Plain Plane. We won't get you where you're going any faster, but it'll seem that way. - 1960s Braniff TV Commercial
The original Braniff airline operation was known as Tulsa–Oklahoma City Airways. It was started by Thomas E. Braniff, an insurance salesman and financial executive. Teaming up with his brother, Paul Revere Braniff, they offered passenger service throughout Oklahoma. Ultimately, ownership in the company was given up and it was purchased by aviation Corporation (AVCO) holding company. AVCO also owned other airline assets including what was to become eventually American Airlines.
Free of the burden of their original venture, Thomas and Paul Braniff started up a new airline called Braniff Airways, Incorporated. They slowly expanded through the Midwest. In a bid to get the Chicago – Dallas airmail route, Paul Braniff presented the airline's case in Washington DC. With the blowback from the famous 1934 Airmail Scandal fresh on their minds, the United States Post Office gave them the Chicago – Dallas route in 1935. Paul Braniff left the company later that year while Tom Braniff stayed to run the company. He hired Charles "Chuck" Beard to take over the daily tasks of running a growing airline. Beard eventually was named President And Chief Executive Officer of the company in 1954.
Braniff absorbed several smaller airlines as it grew. In addition, they purchased new aircraft including Douglas DC–2s and Douglas DC–3s. They concentrated their routes in the Midwest. During the Second World War they leased airplanes to the military and offered their facilities in Dallas to help train pilots. In the 40s, the company began to serve routes in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America, often flying Douglas DC-6s on these flights.
The company began to expand nationwide in the 1950s. They purchased Midcontinent Airlines which added several cities to their primarily North-South system. Along with their added routes, in 1957 the company christened a new building close to Dallas Love Field. It served as their headquarters until they moved to Braniff Place in 1978.
Braniff at Love Field
In 1954, Thomas Braniff was killed when the “flying boat” he was in crashed near Wallace Lake in Louisiana. His hunting party was leaving the lake when the wings iced over and the pilot attempted to bring the plane back down. Unfortunately, one of the wings hit tree stumps which caused the plane to crash and catch fire. All 12 passengers were lost.
1954 was not a great year for Braniff. Paul Braniff died that year from cancer. After Tom's death, Chuck Beard became the president, the first non-Braniff family member to hold that position. He was instrumental in steering the company into the modern age: By 1965 he transitioned almost the entire fleet to jets.
Great America Corporation
Braniff was acquired by the Great America Corporation in 1965. C. Edward Acker, Chief Financial Officer of Great America claimed that Braniff was a poorly managed company, and he stepped into the role of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.
Also in 1965, the airline hired Harding L. Lawrence, at the time an Executive VP of Continental Airlines. He became the new President of Braniff international. He felt that the airline was somewhat backwards and wanted to give them a new, modern image. Over the next decade and half he expanded the company into new markets and tried unorthodox ideas. The result was significant financial gains: The airline multiplied its earnings 10 times in that time period.
As part of the modernization effort, the company enlisted the help of Jack Tinker Associates, who put fast rising advertising whiz kid Mary Wells on the case. She is better known as Mary Wells Lawrence, having married Lawrence in 1967 in Paris.
Their first goal was to change Braniff’s image. The Airlines livery consisted of traditional red, white and blue colorings which the advertising firm thought was boring. They called on the talents of fashion designer Emilio Pucci, shoe designer Beth Levine and architect Alexander Girard to make a wholesale change in the companies branding. This was called the "End of the Plain Plane."
One of the more dramatic changes was based on Girard's suggestion that they use a single bright color on each aircraft. His goal was to cover each plane in exotic colors like "metallic purple." The company modified this design with white wings and tails, which recalled a paint profile from the 1930s called the Braniff Vegas scheme. Nicknamed the "jellybean" fleet, the new colors included turquoise, lemon yellow and lavender. Interestingly, lavender was discontinued as it is a bad luck color in Mexico.
The interiors received as dramatic a change as the exteriors. Girard covered the seats with Herman Miller fabrics. He also created a new line of furniture for the ticket areas and lounges. Braniff offered the same furniture for sale to the public in 1967 for that year only. The exotic color schemes were carried from the airplane exteriors to the gate areas, ticket offices and the company headquarters as well. The walls featured complementary art from around the world.
Not to be outdone, Pucci made major changes in the crew uniforms. Beth Levine came up with two tone boots and shoes. The moniker "stewardess" was changed in favor of the word "hostess."
The creativity of the new designs infiltrated the next batch of advertising as well. Mary Wells brought in celebrities like Sonny Liston, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol in a stylish, some say "arrogant" campaign that was unlike any other marketing effort of the era. One tagline read, "if you've got it – flaunt it!"
Hostesses began a tradition of removing outerwear on board, calling it the "Air Strip," which was featured in one of their commercials (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKiVCkE0dDw). The airline loved the new campaigns, but many corporate accounts were outraged and ended their relationship with Braniff.
In 1959 Braniff used Boeing 707-227's as well as the 707-200. In 1971, they sold off the 707-227s and 720s were purchased. In 1964, they acquired a BAC One-Eleven twin jet. By the middle of the decade, they had a fleet comprised of almost all jets. When Lawrence took over the company, he stopped buying BACs, instead selecting bigger Boeing 727s.
After that, they ordered several Boeing 727s including the elongated B727-200, and the 727-200 Advanced. Near the end of the 1960s, the company had ceased operation of all their Lockheed L-188 Elektra turboprops, which made them an "all jet" airline. In the 1970s, they concentrated on the Boeing 727. The inventory consisted of 70 B727s, a single B747 and a clutch of 11 DC-8s.
Braniff offered Concorde service in 1979, flying out of the United States from Dallas to Washington DC, and then on to London and Paris, with interchange flights offered by partners British Airways and Air France. American crews handled all the flights from Dallas to Washington, DC, and British and French staff handled the Washington to Europe leg. Over the United States, the government limited the Concorde to Mach 0.95. Once they had open water however, they cranked it up to Mach 2.
The Braniff Branded Concorde.
Ultimately, the Concorde was a financial noose around the neck of the airline. Although Braniff offered extremely reasonable rates, they were usually only able to fill 15 of the 100 seats on the Concorde. At the same time, they flew Boeing 727s over similar routes that were filled to capacity. As a result, the Concorde experiment only lasted about a year. Many postcards from the era depict a Concorde with Braniff livery. However, this never took place in reality, as the Concorde only featured liveries from Air France and British Airways during its lifetime.
Terminal of the Future
In the mid-60s, Braniff took over the operations of Pan-American Grace Airways (PANAGRA), which strengthened their operations in South America. The company was also active in taking Vietnam military to Hawaii for their furloughs during the war. The company's commitment to cutting-edge thinking continued when they opened their "Terminal of the Future."
The Braniff Jetrail System
Other modern concepts the company was involved in included Jet Rail, a fully automated monorail system. Braniff executives also made significant contributions to the planning and design of the new Dallas-Fort Worth international Airport, providing many creative new ideas never seen before in the airline industry.
Another example of their cutting-edge thinking was in 1973 when the airline asked Alexander Calder to create a specially commissioned paint scheme. His "Flying Colors" Douglas DC-8 was immediately controversial. Showcased at Paris Air Show, it featured very bright colors common to Latin countries. As such, it was primarily used in South America. Two years later, he created "Flying Colors of the United States," a Boeing 727-200 which was commissioned to help celebrate the United States Bicentennial. A year later, Calder died as he was finishing another livery called "Flying Colors of Mexico," which was ultimately not used on any aircraft.
Calder's "Flying Colors" DC-8
In the late 1970s, the company ended their relationship with Pucci as the uniform designer. Instead, they enlisted the help of fashion icon Halston, who returned the company's designs to a more American-influenced style. Known for his all-leather designs, they were used for uniforms and airplane interiors alike, including new Boeing 727 – 200s. His simple fashions were a hit with both the flying public and industry pundits.
"747 Braniff Place"
The company had the honor of taking delivery of the 100th Boeing 747 ever made. It was a 747 -127, which kicked off the "jumbo jet" era. Marketing campaigns called the aircraft "747 Braniff Place" or "The Most Exclusive Address In The Sky." It was used in the first flight out of Dallas to London. Other 747s, like the 747 SP were used to fly to Europe and Asia. The old Douglas DC-8s were beginning to show their age. The company debated whether to buy McDonnell Douglas MD-80s to replace them, or opt for Boeing 757s or 767s. Financial difficulties later made the debate mute.
Through the 1970s, Braniff was one of the most successful airlines. It was hit hard by the regulation of the American airline business in the late 70s. Company leadership chose to expand in response to the regulation. They added several new cities and routes-- it was believed to be the biggest single day expansion by any airline ever. They created international hubs in both Los Angeles and Boston to take on increased loads on the international front. They had plans to establish routes to Tokyo as well as an "energy run" in between the oil capitals of Dallas, Houston and Dubai. Ultimately, these international routes never came to fruition.
Things went downhill from there. Despite many new routes and destinations, Braniff was unable to develop much new business. The 747 flights out of international hubs were not going according to plan, often flying almost empty. The cost of acquiring the goods and equipment needed to support all of the new hubs added significant debt to company balance sheets. In addition, the move of flight operations to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport added even more debt. Then they moved their headquarters to the brand-new Braniff Place. The combination of rapid expansion, seriously increased debt and a debilitating recession resulted in Harding Lawrence being removed from his position in late 1980.
In 1982, Howard Putnam made an unsuccessful attempt to get relief from creditors and gain an extension on outstanding debts that had grown tremendously while Harding Lawrence was in power. After failing to get an extension, the company stopped all business, which marked the end of 54 years of continual operation. Flights out of Dallas never left the ground, and passengers already sitting on jets ready to depart were asked to leave the aircraft. In a last show of independence and defiance, Braniff Flight 501 departed without authorization to Honolulu, and did not listen to further orders to land in Los Angeles.
Out of the Ruins
Several airlines were born from the ruins of Braniff Airlines. Some employees created Sun Country Airlines which featured a collection of Boeing 727-200s and DC-10s. The airline lasted from 1983 through 2001, at which point it had to reorganize and now offers flights on Boeing 737-800s.
The Hyatt Corporation founded Braniff Incorporated in 1983 but its finances ran out at the beginning of the 1990s and it ended operations. Financial executive Jeffrey Chodorow started Braniff International Airlines, Incorporated in 1991 using the assets of the failed Braniff Incorporated (which was under the corporate name of "Dalfort.") That initiative ended in 1992 due to malfeasance.
Two other attempts were made to start an airline operation using the Braniff name in some capacity. One concern had the goal of using Boeing 757s and another outfit wanted to offer discount tickets to an exclusive "Braniff club." Neither of these ideas gained any steam.
Any assets of the original Braniff are handled by a firm called "Asworth," created out of what was left of the original "Dalfort" Corporation. At exists mainly to make sure pilot pensions are paid.
Legions of Fans
Braniff Airlines continues to capture the imagination of aviation, marketing, design and innovation enthusiasts around the world. Appreciation sites like Braniff International Historical Site celebrate the independent spirit of the airline.
There are also several videos on YouTube detailing the history of the company in images and music (https://www.youtube.com/user/BraniffPages).
The book "Splash of Colors-the Self-Destruction of Braniff International" has a 4.8 out of 5 stars rating at Amazon.com. It sells “new” for almost $100, a reflection of the continuing interest and appreciation for Braniff's contribution to the aviation industry. The book details the drama and intrigue behind the scenes as the company over expanded and then tried to correct itself after deregulation.
Braniff captures people's imagination much like the Concorde does. Both represent a time in the airline industry when everything seemed possible. Braniff evolved along with America itself, moving from the homogenization of the 1950s to a new world of experimentation and innovation in the 1960s.
Looking back, many of the designs and ideas seem too "far out," even in today's world. It doesn't matter. The joy and energy of the liveries, interiors, and crew uniforms was a perfect match for the increasing profitability and efficiency of the airline operation. For many, Braniff represents the fun of air travel in a much simpler time.
Flight Simulator Models
There have been many creations of Braniff aircraft for FSX, FS2004 and even as early as FS98. Some of the best include this Braniff 727-200 for FSX and a great 747-SP for FS2004 (it may also work in FSX). If you prefer earlier prop aircraft, the 1950s Lockheed L-049 is a stunning model.
Let's hear your comments below discussing this airline, sharing your memories and flights you may have had with Braniff.