Braniff International and the end of the plain plane...

Braniff's 'End of the plain plane' campaign began in the early 60s and led to its 'Jelly Bean' livery

Even via grainy old photos, Braniff's 'end of the plain plane' livery remains eye-catching half a century after its launch. It was part of a bold turnaround plan put in place by the airline's then boss, flambouyant Texan Harding Lawrence, and saw the airline adopt a cutting edge approach to its design, uniforms and cabins. And all this at a time when airline colour schemes - such as they were - left the fuselage as silver metal, or painted a stripe or two (called cheatlines) along the row of windows, complimented by drab interiors and dowdy uniforms.

The innovative Braniff branding introduced seven vivid colours to the airline's fleet - including Lemon Yellow, Chocolate Brown and Metallic Purple, and there were flambouyant cabins to match, imported Latin American furniture for its lounges, and avant-garde guard crew uniforms created by Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci.

Emilio Pucci designed Braniff uniforms. Note the 'raindomes' being sported by two of the women

These days hardly a week goes by without an airline announces a new celebtrity designed uniform or a designer endorsed 'look' - think Virgin Atlantic and Vivienne Westwood designed crew uniforms, Finnair and Marimekko designed tablewear, or Air France and it's tie up for its Paris Charles De Gaulle lounges and Alain Ducasse. But Braniff's approach was truly groundbreaking in its day.

Pucci created six complete uniform collections for Braniff between 1965 and 1974 and even designed a bizarre plastic helmet dubbed a 'rain dome'. It was in the days of very few jetties, and so the idea was for hostesses to sport the space-age helmet on the walk between the terminal and the aircraft to avoid wind and rain messing up their big 60s hairdos. But the helmets cracked, were surely impractical, and were quietly dropped. There were even a range of Barbie dolls sporting Braniff uniforms - rain domes included - and Ken was kitted out as a Braniff pilot.

Braniff BAC 1-11s and a Boeing 707 in its 'Jelly Bean' livery

Getting back to the livery, I'd always understood that it was the idea of Braniff's CEO's wife. The story always repeated to me as though she'd made a casual comment during a BBQ, but the real story isn't quite as folksy as it sounds. You see, the airline's CEO Harding Lawrence married Mary Wells, chairman of the Wells, Rich, Greene advertising agency in New York. At the time she was at the top of her game as an advertising guru and one of the best paid women in the US.

Incidentally, Braniff started life as Braniff Airways Inc. It was founded in 1930 by airline entrepreneur Paul Revere Braniff, who later sold it to his brother Tom. Tom died in a flying boat crash in 1954, and his brother of cancer six months later. Lawrence Harding was vice president of Continental Airlines before being appointed as the Braniff CEO. By this time Braniff International Airways was already flying across the US Midwest, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Harding set about growing it from America's 11th largest airline, to its would-be market leader.

A brace of Braniff Boeing 727s

The Braniff makeover that Harding initiated had real substance, and leading architect Alexander Girard was taken on to zhoosh up its materials. Eventually, Girard created some 17,000 Braniff-specific items), and the lounge and ticket office furniture was so desirable that some of the range went on sale in 1967.

Braniff also invested hugely in its 'Terminal of the Future' in its home base airport of Dallas Love Field. The space age terminal was connected to the parking areas by a futuristic 'Jetrail' monorail. The 10 gondolas were slung under rails and ran from the new Braniff terminal to the 'Braniff Remote Parking Terminal'. The system was shut down in 1974, some time after Braniff had relocated to Dallas Fort Worth Airport, and had a last lease of life as a disco, until it was dismantled in 1978.

A mock up of what a Braniff liveried Concorde might have looked like

Braniff even operated Concordes for a time in the late 70s, though the fact that the airline never actually owned a Concorde and that the plane couldn't fly supersonically over US air space, meant that the route from Washington to Dallas was more a gimmick than anything. However, the airline did order three Concorde's in 1966, though the order was cancelled a few years later.

The Big Orange, Braniff 747 takes to the skies, perhaps to the Big Apple

Braniff flew Jumbo Jets to and from London's Gatwick Airport. The route was generally operated by one of the company's orange 747's, and I think I recall adversing along the lines of 'Fly the Big Orange to the Big Apple'.

Crazily vivid interior of a Braniff 'Big Orange'

In case the Big Orange and the other Braniff planes weren't colour overloads in themselves, the airline's cabins echoed the end of the plain plane concept. There were at least seven matching cabin colours.

Braniff approcahed the modern artist Alexander Calder to produce the world's first and largest flying artwork. In fact Calder was comissioned to create three new one-off liveries. The first was painted onto a Douglas DC-8 and called the 'Flying Colorsof South America' in 1973, and this was followed in the USA's centenerry year 1976 by a Boeing 727-200 that Calder patriotically rendered into a red, white and blue 'Flying Colors of the United States'. Somewhat remarkably all Braniff markings - including even the name on the tailplane - were removed from the plane. Calder didn't get the opportunity of finishing the third plane, called the 'Spirit of Mexico', as the artist died in 1976.

Braniff DC-8 sporting its Alexander Calder 'Flying Colors of South America' livery

Braniff had an advert strap line and jingle in 1980 that proclaimed 'We better be better, We're Braniff'. Bold livery excepted, the airline was in some trouble by this time, caused by low load factors, high oil prices, a controversial boss, and an over ambitious expansion. It may sound childish, but then again I was a child at this time - when we played with it at the school bus stop in tones to imply that they were so utterly hopeless that they had 'better be better'.

The company went under on May 12th 1982, after which the ad line was changed at the school bus stop to 'We better be better, we're bankrupt'. But in a world of ever blander livieries - witness the recent unveiling of Lufthansa's new monumentally mediochre livery - pioneering and maverick Braniff made a bold and creative attempt to position the airline at the forefront of deisgn, fashion and art.


One more thing...


Thanks to its revolutionary style and arty execution, Braniff has its followers, even so long after its demise. For some more detailed history on the airline, see Braniff Pages. And for Braniff branded goods - from throws to Christmas tree baubles - yes really, see Braniff Boutique.