Braniff International Airways was an American airline that operated from 1930 until 1982, primarily in the midwestern and southwestern United States, South America, Panama, and, in its later years, Asia and Europe. The airline ceased operations on May 12, 1982, due to factors including escalating fuel prices, aggressive and unsustainable expansion, and fierce competition following changes that resulted from the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
Founding and first decades
In 1928 insurance salesman and financier Thomas E. Braniff financed an aviation company named Paul R. Braniff, Inc. with his brother Paul Revere Braniff. The airline was initially named Tulsa-Oklahoma City Airways. It operated passenger service between most of the major cities in Oklahoma. The original Braniff brothers remained a part of the company even as the ownership was repeatedly transferred. Eventually the airline was purchased by the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) holding company, whose other holdings included the predecessors of American Airlines.
The Braniff brothers started a new airline in 1930 as Braniff Airways, Inc. During the 1930s, Braniff Airways expanded its service throughout the Midwest. Braniff's long-term survival was assured when Paul Braniff, then general manager, flew to Washington, D.C. to petition for the Chicago-Dallas airmail route. The United States Post Office granted Braniff its first airmail route in the wake of the 1934 Air Mail scandal. In 1935 Braniff became the first airline to fly from Chicago, to the U.S.-Mexico border. Paul Braniff left the airline in 1935 to pursue other interests but Tom Braniff retained control of the carrier and hired Charles "Chuck" Beard to run the airline's day-to-day operations. Beard became President and CEO of Braniff in 1954.
Over the years Braniff acquired a number of other airlines, as well as new Douglas DC-2 and Douglas DC-3 aircraft to fuel its expansion. Most of its operational network remained focused on the midwestern north-south portion of the United States. During World War II the airline leased a portion of its fleet to the United States military, and its facilities at Dallas Love Field and throughout the country became training sites for pilots and mechanics. During the 1940s Braniff was approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board to serve the Caribbean, Central and South America competing in these regions with Panagra. These routes were served by the new Douglas DC-6 aircraft.
Thomas E. Braniff Paul R. Braniff
With backing of Argentine businessmen, Braniff also played a major role in the formation of Aerolíneas Argentinas.
During the 1950s the airline expanded nationwide. The acquisition of Mid-Continent Airlines in 1952 allowed Braniff to add several more domestic cities to its already established north-south route system. To accommodate the airlines' growth, Braniff opened its new headquarters building at Exchange Bank Park, a high-rise office development within sight of Dallas Love Field in the Fall of 1957. They remained there until the opening of Braniff Place at DFW Airport in 1978.
On January 10, 1954, Thomas E. Braniff died when a flying boat owned by United Gas crash-landed on the shore of Wallace Lake, 15 miles outside of Shreveport, Louisiana due to icing. According to information from Captain George A. Stevens: Mr Braniff was on a hunting expedition with a group of important citizens of Louisiana. They were departing from a small duck hunting lake out of Shreveport in a Grumman Mallard aircraft with no deicing system. The wings iced up and they attempted to land. One of the wings hit cypress stumps and the plane crashed against the shore. It caught fire and all 12 lives aboard were lost.
Paul R. Braniff died later that year of cancer. Charles "Chuck" Beard became the first non-Braniff President of the carrier after Tom's death. He led Braniff into the jet age, and he was instrumental in turning Braniff into a 95 percent jet carrier by 1965, less than a decade after the 1959 introduction of Braniff's first jet, a Boeing 707-227.
The End of the Plain Plane
In 1965, Troy Post — then the chairman of Greatamerica Corporation, an insurance holding company based in Dallas, Texas — purchased Braniff as part of an expansion of holdings which also included National Car Rental. Both Braniff and National were chosen after Greatamerica CFO C. Edward Acker identified them as "poorly managed" companies. As part of the acquisition, Acker became Executive Vice President and CFO of Braniff.
In 1965 Post hired Harding L. Lawrence, then the Executive Vice President of Continental Airlines, as the new president of Braniff International. Lawrence sold the press on the idea that Braniff was a "backwater" airline — although the airline had routes from North Dakota to Argentina, and was by then the 11th-largest airline in the world (in RPM). Harding Lawrence was determined to give Braniff a glossy, modern and attention-getting image. Over the next 15 years, Lawrence's aggressive expansion into new markets - combined with ideas unorthodox for the airline industry - led Braniff to record industry financial and operating performance, expanding its earnings tenfold despite typical passenger load factors of only about 50 percent.
To overhaul the Braniff image Lawrence hired Jack Tinker Associates, who assigned advertising executive Mary Wells — later known as Mary Wells Lawrence after her 1967 marriage to Lawrence in Paris — as account leader. First on the agenda was to overhaul Braniff's public image — including the red, white, and blue livery which they perceived as "staid" (although, "The El Dorado Super Jet" Braniff livery from 1959 had won design awards). New Mexico architect Alexander Girard, Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, and shoe designer Beth Levine were called in, and with this new creative talent, Braniff began the "End of the Plain Plane" campaign.
At Girard's recommendation, the old livery was dropped in favor of planes painted in a single color, selected from a wide palette of bright hues. Girard wanted the planes painted from tail to nose in colors like "Chocolate Brown" and "Metallic Purple." He also favored a small "BI" distinctive logo and small titles. Braniff engineering and Braniff's advertising department modified Girard's colors, enlarged the "BI" logo, and added white wings and tails. This, ironically, was based on the 1930s Braniff "Vega" Schemes, which also carried colorful aircraft paint with white wings and tails. The new "jelly bean" fleet consisted of such bold colors as beige, ochre, orange, turquoise, baby blue, medium blue, lemon yellow, and lavender (lavender was dropped after one month, as lavender and black were considered bad luck in Mexico). Girard also outfitted the interiors with 57 different variations of Herman Miller fabrics. Fifteen colors were used by Braniff for plane exteriors during the 1960s (Harper & George modified Girard's original seven colors in 1968). Girard also designed an extensive line of furniture for Braniff's ticket offices and customer lounges. This furniture was also available to the public by Herman Miller in 1967 and was available for one year only. Many of the color schemes were applied to aircraft interiors, gate lounges, ticket offices, and even the corporate headquarters. Art to complement the color schemes was flown in from Mexico, Latin America, and South America.
Pucci used a series of nautical themes in overhauling the crew's uniforms. For the stewardesses, Pucci used "space age" themes, including plastic "space bubbles" (resembling Captain Video helmets) which the stewardesses could wear between the terminal and the plane to prevent hairstyles from being disturbed. However, the "space bubble" was dropped after about a month because the helmets cracked easily, there was no place to store them on the aircraft, and jetways at many airports made them unnecessary. For the footwear, Beth Levine created plastic boots and designed two-tone calfskin boots and shoes. Stewardesses were called "hostesses" at Braniff and were attired with uniforms and accessories composed of interchangeable parts which could be removed and added as needed. In 1969, Pucci designed "Pucci IV", for the intro of "747 Braniff Place" (1971). The collection was debuted at the Dallas Hilton by Pucci himself, in 1970. Today, all of the vintage Pucci attire designed for Braniff are valuable.
In 1968, under the leadership of Mary Wells and Jack Tinker, Braniff expanded the advertising campaign that showed the likenesses of Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Salvador Dalí, Whitey Ford, the Playboy Bunny, and other celebrities of the time, all flying Braniff. It became one of the most celebrated marketing efforts Madison Avenue had ever produced, blending style and arrogance. One advertising slogan was "if you've got it — flaunt it!" Although management considered the campaign a success, Braniff's core customers were outraged by the grandiose behavior and perceived "bragging", causing many corporate accounts to leave Braniff.
Operationally, Braniff entered the jet-age in 1959 with the Boeing 707-227. Braniff took delivery of four of these; one other crashed while still owned by Boeing. Braniff was the only airline to order the B707-200 series from Boeing. In 1971, these 707-227s were sold to BWIA. Boeing 720s were added shortly after. In 1964, Braniff became the launch U.S. customer for the British-built BAC One-Eleven twin jet. By 1965 Braniff's fleet was 95 percent jets. After his arrival at Braniff in late spring 1965, Lawrence cancelled most of the remaining British Aircraft Corp. BAC One-Eleven twinjets on order (from orders placed under Charles Beard, President from 1954 to 1965) in favor of the larger Boeing 727 trijet. Braniff eventually ordered several variants of the new 727 type including the new "quick change" cargo/passenger variant, the stretched B727-200, and later the 727-200 Advanced. By 1969 the Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop aircraft had all been retired, thus making Braniff an "all jet" airline. By the mid-1970s Braniff's fleet of Boeing 727s showed the efficiencies that a single type of aircraft could produce; in 1975 Braniff had one (1) B747, eleven (11) DC-8s, and seventy (70) B727s.
In 1965–1967 Braniff purchased Pan American-Grace Airways (PANAGRA), buying it from shareholders Pan American Airlines and W.R. Grace. The purchase increased Braniff's already strong presence in South America. Post, by now a regular at the Johnson White House, obtained a government contract to transport military personnel from Vietnam to Hawaii for their R&R furloughs during the Vietnam War.
Braniff opened the "Terminal of the Future" at its home base at Dallas Love Field. The airline also operated Jetrail from 1969 to 1974, the world's first fully automated monorail system. Braniff was a key partner in the planning of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and contributed many innovations to the airline industry during this time.
1970s redesigns, and the 747 comes to Braniff
In 1973, Alexander Calder was commissioned by Braniff to paint an aircraft. His contribution was a Douglas DC-8 known simply as "Flying Colors." In 1975, it was showcased at the Paris Air Show in Paris, France. Its designs reflected the bright colors and simple designs of South America and Latin America, and was used mainly on South American flights. Later in 1975, he debuted "Flying Colors of the United States" to commemorate the Bicentennial of the United States. This time, the aircraft was a Boeing 727-200. First Lady Betty Ford dedicated "Flying Colors of the United States" in Washington, D.C.. Calder died in 1976 as he was finalizing a third livery, termed "Flying Colors of Mexico"; this livery was not used on any plane.
In 1977, Braniff dropped Pucci as its designer of uniforms. American fashion and couture designer Halston was then brought on to bring a more American look back to Braniff. His all-leather looks—dubbed the "Ultra" look—were applied to uniforms and the fleet, including Braniff's new Boeing 727-200s (and the "Flying Colors" planes as well). His uniforms and simplistic design were praised by critics and passengers.
In 1970, Braniff accepted delivery of the 100th Boeing 747 built—a 747-127 model, N601BN—and began "jumbo jet" service to Hawaii on January 15, 1971. This plane, dubbed "747 Braniff Place" and "The Most Exclusive Address In The Sky", became the flagship of the airline. In 1978, N601BN flew the inaugural flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to London. Additional 747s, including the 747SP, were acquired for service to Asia and Europe. The Douglas DC-8s were aging toward the end of the 70s, and there was speculation whether new McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, Boeing 757s, or Boeing 767s would be purchased to replace the DC-8-62s (which flew the South American routes). However, financial problems at the airline soon made this question irrelevant.
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
(Sched Service Only)
Braniff Panagra Mid-Continent
Up to 1978, Braniff remained one of the fastest-growing and most-profitable airlines in the United States. But deregulation of the airline industry was introduced in 1978, and Braniff under Lawrence misjudged this change.
Lawrence believed that the answer to deregulation was to expand Braniff's route system dramatically; consequently, the domestic system became 50% larger. On December 15, 1978, Braniff added 16 new cities and 32 new routes, which it stated to be the "largest single-day increase by any airline in history".  International hubs were created in Boston and Los Angeles to handle expected increases in travel outside North America. This would have included flights to Tokyo, as well as an "oil run" between Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and Dubai; these routes never entered service.
Little of the expected new business materialized; 747 service from the new Boston hub proceeded particularly poorly, with the huge planes flying nearly empty. The expense of the new equipment and the new hubs increased Braniff's debt tremendously. More debt was incurred in shifting Braniff's main base of flight operations from Love Field in Dallas to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Simultaneous with the move to a new airport, Braniff moved to a sprawling new world headquarters, Braniff Place, just inside the western grounds of the airport. Braniff's sub-par load factors, which were especially intolerable on the expensive-to-run 747s, and the large debts combined to produce massive financial shortfalls. The rising debts caused by fuel costs, debt service, and a nationwide recession led to creditors requesting the removal of Harding Lawrence in December of 1980.
The airline started service with Concorde in 1979 between Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington, D.C., to Paris and London on interchange flights with Air France and British Airways. Flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington Dulles airports were commanded by Braniff cockpit and cabin crews while British or French crews would take over for the remaining segment to Europe. Over U.S. soil, Concorde was limited to Mach 0.95, though crews often flew just above Mach 1; the planes flew at Mach 2 over open water. Transfer of ownership took place in Washington each time Concorde flew in the U.S. Braniff actually owned the planes while on U.S. domestic service, and the planes were re-registered with temporary tape. Ownership was then re-transferred to Air France or British Airways on the Trans-Atlantic leg.
The Concorde service proved a fiscal disaster for Braniff. Though Braniff charged only a 10% premium over standard first-class fare to fly Concorde - and later removed the surcharge altogether - the 100-seat plane often flew with no more than 15 passengers. Meanwhile, Boeing 727s flying the same route were filled routinely. Consequently, Concorde service ended little more than a year after it began.
Although many postcards show a Braniff Concorde, the Braniff livery was never applied to the left side of any Concorde, and the aircraft remained in the colours of British Airways and Air France throughout the operation.
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On May 11, 1982, the airline's CEO, Howard Putnam, who was President of Southwest Airlines from 1978 to 1981, left a courtroom at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York City, after he failed to gain an extension from the airline's principal creditors because of the massive debt built up under the Harding Lawrence regime. The next day, on May 12, 1982, Braniff Airways ceased all operations, thus ending 54 years of service in the American airline industry. Braniff flights at DFW that morning were suddenly grounded, and passengers on the jets were forced to disembark, being told that Braniff now ceased to exist. According to the book Splash Of Colors, an afternoon thunderstorm was used as cover to cancel many afternoon flights that day, although Braniff flight 501 to Honolulu departed anyway with the crew subsequently refusing to divert the flight to Los Angeles International Airport.
In the days that followed, all the Braniff jets based at Dallas/Fort Worth sat idle on the apron by Terminal 2W.
With the demise of Braniff, Braniff Place became GTE Place, and then Verizon Place.
Three airlines were formed following the shutdown of Braniff. Former Braniff employees founded Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines in 1983. It flew a fleet of Boeing 727-200s and DC-10s until 2001. It reorganized and currently flies a modern fleet of Boeing 737-800 series aircraft.
Two other airlines were formed from the assets of Braniff:
Braniff, Inc, founded in 1983 by the Hyatt Corporation under the umbrella corporation "Dalfort." Failed financially in 1990.
Braniff International Airlines, Inc., founded in 1991 by financier Jeffrey Chodorow from the assets of the Dalfort Braniff. Failed due to malfeasance in 1992.
The book "Deregulation Knockouts, Round 2" documents at least two attempts to use the Braniff name in operations subsequent to the above attempts: one would have based the company again at Dallas-Ft.Worth Airport utilizing Boeing 757 aircraft. Another operation would have been based at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and would have offered discounted fares to members of a "Braniff Club".
The remains of the original Braniff—including Braniff Airways original Tax ID number (FEIN)—are retained by a company named "Asworth" in Dallas. Asworth was formed out of the old "Dalfort" corporation and is responsible for paying pilot pensions according to the Braniff Retired Pilots Group, B.I.S.E.