Braniff International Airways may have died in 1982 when the Dallas carrier went out of business, but its image is getting a second life on purses, pillows, an office building and soon on a boutique hotel at the site of its former flight attendant dormitory.
Centurion American, which developed downtown Dallas’ swanky hotspot Statler Hotel, bought the former Braniff “hostess college” in 2019 and has worked a deal to put the Braniff name on a new boutique hotel, along with other nods to the defunct company and aviation history.
Braniff, the Texas airline that grew into an international competitor in the wild early days of commercial aviation before a pilot strike pushed it into bankruptcy, is getting a second life as travel enthusiasts look to recapture the yesteryears of flying and marketers turn to bygone brands.
Developers decided to keep the name on the old Braniff Centre building at Dallas Love Field for a new retail, office and restaurant development that reopened earlier this year. Braniff joined a list of former airlines enjoying a recent revival.
A TWA Hotel at JFK International Airport in New York opened last year in the former airlines’ retro-futuristic headquarters building.
At a shop at SeaTac International Airport south of Seattle, the Pan Am Airlines logo is featured on T-shirts and purses for sale to travelers looking to show their love for airline history. A short-lived drama series on ABC called Pan Am showed there was popular interest in the aviation era, even if the program only survived 14 episodes.
“Airlines like Braniff and Pan Am had a very important connection to people,” said David Banmiller, who was CEO of Pan Am for a short time during an attempted reincarnation of the brand that originally ceased operations in 1991. “Pan Am connected the world. People had images of seeing their grandparents for the first time coming off a Pan Am flight or seeing their parents after years apart.”
Along with mega-carriers American Airlines and Southwest Airlines based in North Texas, Braniff was a major contributor to the aviation world during the early deregulated era when there were dozens of competitors. In time, many of those airlines went out of business or merged with larger competitors to make way for the consolidated handful of carriers available to flyers today.
For the most part, the new group of airlines is a vast improvement for flyers. Today’s airlines are more reliable, cheaper and much safer than older carriers and planes, not to mention smoother to ride on.
Braniff was started in 1928 and grew from a Texas-centric carrier to an airline with worldwide reach, including flights to Europe and South America on one of the industry’s newest and most modern fleets of Boeing 727s, 747s and McDonnell Douglas DC-8s. But in the late 1970s and 1980s, the company started losing money and sold off parts until 1982, when it couldn’t survive any longer.
But there is still a nostalgia for the glory years of flying, said David Cass, a former cargo airline pilot whose family spent years acquiring the Braniff trademark after the company’s bankruptcy. People would dress up to fly, passengers could smoke and on Braniff and other airlines, female flight attendants would wear stylish uniforms that featured the short dresses growing in popularity in the 1960s.
“In those days, flying on an airplane wasn’t such a rush,” Cass said. “It seemed more glamorous, and service was more important than price.”
Cass said there has been a flurry of interest in the Braniff name for everything from movie cameos to T-shirts and there are now 227 licensing deals for the former airlines’ name and imaging. Since last year, he has been working to get the Braniff name back on the old hostess college.
Centurion American is set to start construction on the hostess college revamp in March or April, turning it into a 75-room boutique hotel that will feature a restaurant and a shop with Braniff merchandise. Centurion American CEO Mehrdad Moayedi said other aviation nods are being considered, such as tables made out of jet plane engine cowling and maybe even a flight simulator for a Boeing 737 that guests can use.
That’s all in addition to 12,000 square feet of restaurant and bar space, a pool area and plenty of Braniff history, he said.
“A lot of people still have good, fond memories of Braniff,” Moayedi said. “So we want to have some of the same components, and we have been looking at historical pictures to try to match some of the things that used to be there.”
Moayedi said it has taken time to gain a historic designation for the building at Wycliff Avenue and the North Texas Tollway. The building has been vacant for five years and, since Braniff’s bankruptcy, has been used as a corporate training facility and senior apartments.
But before that, it was a swinging ’60s stopping spot for flight attendants and employees visiting Braniff’s Dallas headquarters near Love Field or later near DFW International Airport. The building featured a ’60s-era sunken floor with a tear-dropped shaped fireplace nicknamed “the dream parlor” and bright orange, red and yellow colors.
That all matched Braniff’s outgoing branding campaign, with brightly painted airplanes and funky designs by avant-garde artists such as Italy’s Emilio Pucci.
Moayedi said the building can be a destination boutique hotel, appealing to both aviation buffs and fans of the era’s architecture and style.
For Cass, it’s a major triumph in the effort to keep the Braniff name alive. Cass fell in love with the Braniff image as a boy and started collecting merchandise. His father bought some of the trademarks at a bankruptcy auction in the early 1980s and then set out collecting the archive of photos, marketing material and training catalogs.
Braniff International Airways now has an online store where it sells pillows, purses, T-shirts and other merchandise and a licensing arm for featuring the brand in movies and on television.
The Braniff Airways Foundation recently struck a deal to host the archives at the University of Texas at Dallas, where it can showcase the airlines’ colorful history.
Nelda Ireland, who was a customer service agent for Braniff until it went out of business in 1982, said there are still more than 1,000 living former Braniff employees, and many meet annually in Dallas. There are plenty of former customers who were fans, too, she said.
“I think people loved Braniff,” said the 86-year-old Dallas resident who heads the Braniff retirement club. “There is a real interest from people in going back to what airline service used to be like. Airline service today is like herding cattle.”