Forgotten Airlines

As you probably know by now, I inherited a collection of ephemera—old postcards, photos, negatives, maps, etc.—from my grandparents that they’d collected on their travels. Some items are interesting, others weird and some are mundane. Falling into this last category is this particularly-boring postcard:

The reverse of which tells us that this is a DC-8 belonging to World Airways:

As to why this postcard was in their possession, I can only assume that they once flew World Airways and this was a freebie—my grandfather wasn’t one to pass up on something free and would’ve taken it without intent to send it.

As for World Airways, I wasn’t familiar with it…which is weird, because I’m somewhat of a commercial aviation buff.

So a little research led me to find out that World Airways was still in existence as recently as 2014, though the reason I probably wasn’t familiar with them is that for most of my lifetime, they didn’t offer scheduled passenger service, but instead offered charter and leasing services to other airlines and the government. 

But that made me think of other airlines that are long gone. I previously talked about Braniff, but there were others that I dredged up from memory:


Everyone remembers TWA. Whether it’s that they were once passengers on a TWA flight or because of the airline’s many crashes or hijackings, this airline is part of American history. It was founded in 1930, once controlled by crazed billionaire Howard Hughes, and was put of out its misery by then-owner American Airlines in 2001 (thanks 9/11!).

Hughes Airwest

Known for their “flying banana” livery, this airline was formed in 1968 former TWA owner Howard Hughes and was absorbed into Republic Airlines in 1980.

Which leads us to 

Republic Airlines

Formed in 1979 by the merger of North Central Airlines, based in Minneapolis, and Southern Airways, from Atlanta, they bought out AirWest a year later. And then in 1986, were in-turn bought by Northwest.

of course, Northwest was eaten by Delta in 2008, but not before bestowing on the world a livery that looked like a bowling shoe:

Air Florida

I have to admit that I only knew this airline because of their crash into the Potomac in Washington in 1982 (and I only remember that crash because I vaguely-remember watching the made-for-TV movie, “Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac” as a kid). They only lasted from 1971-84, but that livery is striking:

Swinging 70s

I recently came across an article about a 1943 exhibition of Alexander Calder‘s work at MoMA that jumpstarted his career and had a massive impact on the America art scene. 

If you’re not familiar with Calder, you’ve probably seen some of his well-known work throughout the years without even knowing it, such as in the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which features his 1974 sculpture, Flamingo:


*note to whoever posted this video: it’s “Bueller”, not “Buller”. Also, the apostrophe is unnecessary

This reminded me of long-gone Dallas-based airline Braniff International Airways.

The connection probably sounds tenuous at best, but that’s probably because Braniff has long-since-faded from your memory (or, if you’re on the younger-side, you’ve never even heard of it). But the connection is real.

In the mid-60s, Braniff began to undertake a decade-long rebranding, embracing the spirit of the times (space age, swinging, cocaine) and commissioned a few well-known designers to bring their image out of the staid 50s and into the modern era. 

Fashion designer Emilio Pucci was hired to design new uniforms for the flight crews:

Space Age Helmet Mod! Both Groovy and Far Out!

And the (in retrospect, sexist) AirStrip was introduced, in which flight attendants (or, in keeping with the times, “stewardesses”) would, over the course of the flight, remove their Pucci uniforms in favor of something more-comfortable.



In addition, Braniff built a swanky “Hostess College” adjacent to their home airport, Dallas’ Love Field.

Braniff Hostess College

It featured this of-the-times conversation pit:


Noted architect and designer Alexander Girard was hired to completely rebrand the airline, from sugar packets, to airport gates to jet interiors, as part of the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign.

Colors of the 60s

Too bright!

And, finally, getting back to Calder, he was invited to use Braniff jets as giant canvasses for his art, resulting in some of the most bold, exciting jet liveries to ever grace the sky:

Boeing 707

Boeing 727

Boeing 727

Unfortunately for Braniff, these undertakings were not enough to keep the airline alive. Due to mounting debt and a threatened pilots strike, the airline ceased operations on May 12, 1982. The daily nonstop from Honolulu to DFW, was the airline’s last flight, undertaken by the 747SP named “747 Braniff Place”, but more affectionately-known as “Big Orange”:

Flying Pumpkin - Boeing 747SP

The designs of the 60s and 70s had a certain optimism to them, no doubt inspired by unease over the Vietnam War and the Cold War, and percolated by men walking on the Moon, that it gives me hope that great art will emerge from the current coronavirus-stricken world.