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My Braniff Dove

February 9, 2021

I began collecting airline memorabilia for almost as long as I’ve been interested in airplanes. I think I was in the 2nd grade.

I liked collecting this esoteric corner of the vintage world because it harkened back to a romance, an adventure, an elegance. Travel meant taking chances, discovering new places, experiencing a world completely different than the one we knew. It was exciting.

As a boy, my dad started and eventually fed my hunger for almost anything associated with flight. Back then, his job as a salesman with an electronics company required him to travel frequently by air. He would often bring back little trinkets from his flights that might have the airline name on them. Playing cards from TWA. Little sets of plastic wings from American Airlines. Stir sticks from Ozark (I had no idea what a ‘stir stick’ was for). And, in the days before computers and electronic boarding passes, little rectangular paper folders called ticket jackets which organized a traveler’s tickets.

The best of these were from an airline called Braniff International Airways. Often using the slogan “Flying Colors,” Braniff pioneered the use of bold color in the branding of their company to set themselves apart from other airlines with more traditional (read that as ‘boring’) liveries. It certainly caught my eye. Aircraft were painted almost every color of the rainbow. Flight attendant uniforms were equally colorful and distinctive. Airport gate space was appointed with sleek furniture and other modern design touches that coordinated seamlessly into a very distinctive, memorable whole.

Honestly, I had no idea of advertising or marketing until I got much older. It all looked really cool to me.

But there was one simple stylistic image that Braniff used on just about everything. It was the shape of a bird with a slender head and body and a big, broad wing that just dazzled me. Called ‘the Braniff Dove,’ and designed by famed architect Alexander Girard, this totem adorned ticket counters, gate areas, company buildings, uniforms, even bars of soap in the aircraft lavatories. From a design standpoint, it was the epitome of that modern, mid-century, jet-set ethos that captivated the traveling public back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Braniff’s heyday.

Unfortunately, Braniff International Airways suffered mightily from the changing landscape that rocked the airline industry in the United States after the airlines were deregulated in 1978. Braniff went bankrupt.

Gone were all of the colorful airplanes and beautiful Braniff doves. Even my collection of Braniff ticket jackets never followed me out of my teen years.

It was at least 20 years later, after I had established myself as an airline pilot, that I even knew other people actually collected stuff like airline memorabilia. So much so that conventions of like minded individuals would be held in various locations all over the world, usually near big airports. There, collectors would display vast collections of all manner of airline ephemera: china dinner place settings, glasses that said “TWA”, cutlery stamped “Pan Am” or “Sabena”, all airlines that no longer exist. You could find books of matches, cloth napkins, color posters that one might see in a travel agency, aircraft models for sure–even little mini bottles of alcohol stamped with the airline name–still unopened and full. All of it for sale.

One day about 8 years ago, one of these conventions was near my home. Knowing that “the good stuff” is always the first to go, I walked in the room right as the convention was getting underway. I made my way towards to back of the conference room and finally found what I had been pining for ever since I knew I might find one one lucky day: a bright red, pristine original Braniff Dove.

Probably hung on a wall behind a ticket counter at some midwest airport, its’ condition was excellent. It had likely found a charitable owner who stored it carefully during those dark years after the company folded. Now that I found one for sale, it followed me home without me even haggling over the price.

It adorns a wall in my home today. It is my most treasured and delightful airline collectable, the one that I had always wanted.

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