Braniff International Airways was an American airline that existed from 1928 until 1982. It operated in the central midwest, South America, Panama, Asia and Europe. The airline ceased operations on May 12, 1982, a victim of escalating fuel prices, aggressive expansion, and fierce competition.
The Braniff brothers started another 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, Illinois, 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 WWII, the airline leased a portion of its fleet to the United States military, and facilities at Dallas Love Field and throughout the country became training sites for pilots and mechanics. During the 1940s, Braniff was allowed by the Civil Aeronautics Board to serve the Caribbean, Latin America, and South America. These routes were served by the new and improved Douglas DC-6 aircraft.
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. On January 10, 1954, Thomas E. Braniff died in a United Gas plane, which, after icing up, crashed lakeside, on the shore of Wallace Lake, 15 miles outside of Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana.
According to information from Captain George A. Stevens: Mr Braniff was on a hunting expedition with a group of important citizens of Louisiana, (including Milton Weiss - brother to Seymour Weiss, of Huey Long Fame). 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 (including a number of Shreveport's most important civic leaders).
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 would lead Braniff into the jet-age, and would be instrumental in turning Braniff into a 95% jet carrier by 1965.
In 1959, Braniff entered the jet age with the introduction of the Boeing 707-227.
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, the Executive Vice President of Continental Airlines, to become the new president of Braniff International; at the time, Post was married to Lawrence's sister. Harding sold the press the idea that Braniff was a "backwater" airline — although the airline had routes from North Dakota to Argentina, and was already the 11th-largest airline in the world - and sought to give Braniff a new 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 performance, expanding earnings tenfold despite load factors of about 50%. However, the same ideas which made Braniff very well-known in the US eventually doomed it to bankruptcy.
To overhaul the Braniff image, Lawrence hired Jack Tinker Associates, who assigned advertising executive Mary Wells 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" (in reality, "The El Dorado Super Jet" Braniff livery from 1959 had won design awards). New Mexico architect Alexander Girard and Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, 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 colors. Girard wanted the planes painted from tail to nose in colors like "Chocolate Brown" and "Metallic Purple." He also favored a small "BI" 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. 15 colors were used by Braniff for plane exteriors during the 1960s (Harper & George modified Girard's original seven colors in 1968). 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 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. Stewardesses were called "hostesses" at Braniff & were attired with uniforms & 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 is valuable.
In 1968, Braniff expanded an advertising campaign that showed the likenesses of Andy Warhol, Sonny Liston, Salvador Dali, Whitey Ford, the Playboy Bunny, and other socialites 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!" Though 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 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 -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-111 twin jet. By 1965, Braniff had a 95% jet fleet. With Lawrence's arrival in late spring, 1965, the brash executive cancelled most of the remaining BAC-111 orders (placed under Charles Beard, Braniff President 1954-1965) in favor of the larger Boeing 727. Braniff eventually ordered several variants of the new Boeing type including the new "quick change" cargo/passenger variant, the stretched -200, and later the -200 Advanced. By 1969, the turboprop planes were all retired, making Braniff an "all jet" airline. By the mid-1970s, Braniff operated the largest fleet of Boeing 727s in the world, and pioneered the concept of fleet standardization and the efficiencies that a single type of aircraft could produce. Also during this period (1967), Braniff acquired Pan American-Grace Airways, which increased its already strong presence in South America.
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.
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 to be 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, with flights to 16 new cities. 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, Houston, and Dubai; these routes never entered service.
Unfortunately, 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, complete with a sprawling new headquarters just inside the new airport on the west side. 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 in addition to allegations of accounting fraud led to the removal of Harding Lawrence in 1980.
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 colors of British Airways and Air France throughout the operation.
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.
The day before on May 11, 1982, the airline's CEO, Howard Putnam, who was President of Southwest Airlines from 1978-1981, left a courtroom at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, 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.
In the days that followed, all the Braniff jets based at Dallas/Fort Worth sat idle on the apron by Terminal 2W.
Two other airlines were formed from the assets of Braniff:
The remains of the original Braniff (including Braniff Airways original Tax ID number) 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.