Braniff: From a Garage to the World


Braniff Airlines: A Comprehensive History

Image Credit

Part One: Small Town Oklahoma

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The very first airplane registered in the Braniff name, a Stinson Detroiter pictures in Tulsa
On May 29, 1928, insurance banker Thomas Elmer Braniff financed and founded a small air company with his brother, Paul Braniff, in the latter’s garage. Braniff Airways Inc. operated its first flight on June 28th of the same year, under the catchy name “Tulsa-Oklahoma City Airline.” The inaugural flight carried 5 passengers, each ticket costing $5 (

In the early 1930s, Braniff began offering more varied passenger services in addition to its airmail operations. It’s expansion out of the state of Oklahoma, into Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1931, was a huge step in the airline’s success story.

Much to the pleasure of the passengers, the airline’s open-cockpit planes gave way to more advanced and enclosed aircraft, providing passengers with a safer and more comfortable flying experience. Still, it wasn’t exactly a luxurious experience. Planes were bumpy, loud, cold, and it generally was uncomfortable. Tickets were expensive, making it an experience only for the wealthy.

The airline rebranded to Braniff Airways once again, as it launched flights to Kansas City, Saint Louis, and, eventually, Chicago. It shut down briefly in 1933, for an “internal reorganization,” and delays in said reorganization including a pilot strike forced the airline out of business until the following year. 1934 was a momentous year for the company, marking its first flight across the border into Mexico, from Galveston.

Growing and Expanding

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A Braniff DC-3
The airline acquired Bowen Airlines (based in Fort Worth) in 1937. With its newfound aircraft, they were able to rapidly scale up their operations in the Midwest particularly. Soon, the Lockheed Vega became the carrier’s backbone, sporting an increased range and capacity from their older planes.

World War II hit Braniff unexpectedly hard, as 21 of their relatively new DC-3s, as well as all of it’s DC-2s, were remanded to the United States Air Force for use in the war. Operations had to be scaled back as they scrambled to assemble a new temporary fleet.

Despite these growing pains, on May 19th, 1946, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded Braniff routes to places all across Latin America, including in Mexico and the Caribbean. Flights to Panama, Guayaquil, Lima, La Paz, Asuncion, and Buenos Aires soon began, with stopovers on the way in places like Havana, Aruba, and Brazil. This expansion cemented Braniff International Airlines as a key player in the global airline market.

Further US Growth

A Braniff plane pictured at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International
As Braniff expanded its route network south of the border, it continued to grow in the United States as well. Multiple acquisitions of smaller carriers, fueled its expansion across the country, as it added flights particularly in the Midwest. It established an operating base in none other then Minneapolis, from which it operated to smaller airports in the region like Sioux Falls, Madison, and Eau Claire.

By 1955, it was America’s 10th largest carrier, the pack which was led by Northwest Airlines. With a fleet of 55 aircraft, and over 1,000 employees, it entered the Golden Age of aviation in a good place.

Dark Times for Braniff

Shreveport Police investigate the crash scene where Thomas Braniff’s life was tragically cut short

On January 10th, 1954, Thomas Braniff was killed in a flying boat crash, near Shreveport, Louisiana. At the time, he was returning from a duck hunting trip in Lake Charles, with some of his friends. One of the craft’s wings hit a cypress tree, which caused a crash that killed all 12 occupants.

This was a shock to Braniff Airlines and was only perpetuated by the death of Paul Braniff later that same year, to pancreatic cancer.

A new management team, led by Charles Beard took over following the brother’s deaths.

Braniff Into the Jet Age

Braniff 747 taking off from Amsterdam
The new management led Braniff into the jet age, purchasing 5 Boeing 707-227s, only 4 of which were delivered. The 5th crashed on a test flight while still under Boeing’s control. This was a big embarrassment for Boeing and Braniff alike, a tarnish on the new aircraft’s safety record.

In February of 1958, Braniff built a massive new headquarters at Exchange Park, just a stone’s throw away from Dallas-Love Field. They also pioneered booking “technology,” if you’d call it that. The new system made it easier for customers to call and book a flight themselves, rather than hire a pricy travel agent.

One of Braniff’s most iconic contributions to the Jet Age was its innovative approach to aircraft design and marketing. During the 1960s, the airline hired renowned designer Alexander Girard to create a vibrant and colorful livery for its aircraft. The “End of the Plain Plane” campaign was launched, and Braniff’s aircraft became instantly recognizable with their bold and distinctive paint schemes.

Braniff’s commitment to style extended beyond the aircraft itself. Flight attendants wore designer uniforms, and the airline’s advertising campaigns emphasized luxury, fashion, and a stylish travel experience. The airline’s image became synonymous with the excitement and glamour of the Jet Age.

In addition to the Boeing 707, Braniff continued to modernize its fleet with the acquisition of other jetliners, including the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC-8. These aircraft were more fuel-efficient and could cover longer distances, expanding Braniff’s route network both domestically and internationally.

The airline’s expansion during this period included destinations in Europe and South America. Braniff’s emphasis on style and comfort remained a central theme in its marketing and service offerings.

In 1971, the carrier onboarded the 747-200, which was a major factor in their long haul success, especially across the Pacific, to places like Seoul, Tokyo, and Guam.

This success, however, was relatively short lived.

The Fall of Braniff

3 Braniff 747s at KDFW
As the 1970s progressed, Braniff faced several challenges, including rising fuel costs, increased competition, and changing market dynamics. The airline went through leadership changes and attempted various strategies to regain profitability, including rebranding efforts like the “Braniff Ultra” phase.

In protest of their wages, pilots went on strike in the early 80s, dealing a fatal blow to the airline. This, on top of fuel prices and competition, was slowly choking Braniff, and the strike was the nail in the coffin.

The airline’s final flight was Braniff 502, on May 11, 1982, from Honolulu to Dallas/Forth, operated by a 747-200. The carrier filed for bankruptcy, and was liquidated over time.

Its fleet of over 150 planes sat dormant for a while, at its hubs scattered across three continents, while lessors and buyers went through the processes to buy them up.

Future Endeavors

Sun Country received most of its fleet from Braniff
In 1983, some ex-Braniff employees, based in Minneapolis, started Sun Country Airlines, which is currently America’s 11th largest carrier, operating a fleet of 60+ 737NG aircraft. The properties of Braniff, including their headquarters and 300,000 foot MRO facility at KDFW were auctioned off, mostly to American Airlines.

Sources & Further Reading

en.m.wikipedia.org

History of Braniff International Airways

This is the history of Braniff International Airways. On April 26, 1926, Paul Revere Braniff incorporated Braniff Air Lines, Inc., with the Oklahoma Secretary of State but it was not used for airline operations and was eventually dissolved. On May 29, 1928, insurance magnate Thomas Elmer Braniff financed and founded an aviation company with his brother Paul, called Paul R. Braniff, Inc., doing business as Tulsa-Oklahoma City Airline. On June 20, 1928, service began from Oklahoma City to Tulsa us…

Braniff International

Braniff International - Promoting Braniff History through Licensing

Braniff is spearheading the efforts to preserve the history of Braniff International, Braniff boutique, Braniff airways Inc., Braniff Airways Foundation, and Braniff International Hotels, and providing, Licensing Opportunities by collecting,…

How Braniff Went Bust: The Collapse Of The Fastest-Growing Airline In America

Encyclopedia Britannica

Braniff | Innovative Airline, Luxury Flights & International Expansion

Braniff, American airline and one of the world’s major airlines from 1930 to 1982. The airline can be traced to June 1928, when Thomas E. Braniff (1883–1954) and other investors sponsored the Tulsa-Oklahoma City Airline, flying oilmen between…

Oklahoma Historical Society | OHS

Braniff International Airways | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

The idea for this topic is from @DJW

This is part of my ongoing deep dives into the past, present, and future of airlines. Check out the other topics linked below.

Northwest Airlines
Sun Country

What airline should I do next?


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Very interesting! I really enjoy your history topics. I know who isn’t failing History!

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@Mort amazing like always!!

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Thank you! And you are correct, I am not failing history :)

Thank you Mr. Wyoming Man. I think Braniff served KJAC, right?

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@Mort I’ve never heard they did, but I could be wrong.
I’ll do some research

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Yet another fire topic from mort

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Why does that livery look like I took shrooms?

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Interesting! I always love reading these topics.

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It does, doesn’t it?

Thanks!

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there have been multiple Braniffs, could you do the other braniffs?

Here’s some even further reading on some unique operations they undertook!

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I heard a test flight there was one of the reasons that the concorde only flew supersonic on water

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The majority of people just didn’t want to be startled by these loud booms

The braniff concorde flights I mentioned above never went supersonic, just high transonic due to noise regulations that included not going supersonic

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