Featured/All images: Braniff Airways Foundation

For Them, the Braniff Colors Still Fly

While many other extinct airlines have long since flown into faded memory, the original Braniff International Airways (BN, often referred to as BI) still enjoys a prominent place in aviation lore, a full 42 years after its final approach in 1982. The famous Flying Colors no longer soar across the skies but very much continue to do so, not just in the past but very much in the present, thanks to a small corps of passionate people dedicated to keeping the story alive.

The original Braniff International introduced a groundbreaking panache to the then very traditional image of the air transport business, shocking the industry and propelling the low-key Texas-based carrier to worldwide fame.

When Harding Lawrence assumed control of Braniff in 1965, the company was little known outside the United States heartland and Latin America. To make a splash, the airline transformed—literally—from conservative to colorful and couture. Lawrence famously hired the New York advertising agency Jack Tinker and Partners, an employer of Mary Wells, who had made a name for herself in Madison Avenue’s all-male ‘Mad Men’ era.

Wells created the legendary ‘The End of the Plain Plane’ campaign and injected sex appeal into the heretofore staid skies. Most notably, Braniff commissioned Alexander Girard to paint jets like jellybeans with palettes of bright and vibrant colors. Militaristic liveries gave way
to a rainbow of beige, ochre, orange, turquoise, blue, yellow, and lavender fuselages. Cabin seats, sidewalls, and bulkheads became awash in vibrant fabrics and pastel sidewalls.

Italian high fashion designer Emilio Pucci designed space-age uniforms for ground and flight personnel, including astronaut helmet domes for flight attendants, who would famously present a fashion show of their uniforms in flight in a presentation called “The Air Strip” (now known as Art Fashion Design). Girard designed over 17,000 public-contact items, from service items to signage to furniture. This created an immediate sensation that was not only copied by other airlines but also crossed over into pop culture.

Beyond all the buzz was a shrewd business calculation, according to Braniff Airways, Incorporated President and Archives Curator Ben Cass. “The End of the Plain Plane is our claim to absolute fame,” Cass says. “Braniff was ill-equipped to come into the era. If Braniff had not reinvented itself, it would not have had the impact and would have been merged pretty quickly.”

Cass posits that the campaign literally generated the money the company...

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