Braniff and BA – do the similarities run deeper than just a paint scheme?

I can see why Michael Wolff is described as “head of imagination” in his letter about British Airways (Letters, DW 13 August). A giant leap would be required to convince me that Braniff was a successful airline on which to model British Airways.

I had the misfortune to run an investor relations programme for Braniff. Press releases would often arrive from the Braniff marketing department announcing a new campaign, followed by the figures from the finance department with the latest dire results.

It is true that Braniff created a profitable network flying from the US to South America. But at the time this was in a competitive environment where it was miraculous if the South American airlines got off the ground.

Extending its network to the US, Braniff soon started to founder when exposed to the ruthless efficiency of airlines like Delta, Eastern, United and Continental, with their focus on keen pricing, on-time service delivery and marketing consistency.

Braniff’s service developed a kind of banana republic indolence. When Braniff staged a huge extravaganza to launch its London to Dallas service, the multimedia show kit went barmy, the caterer showed up late, the champagne was flat and the bar ran out of drinks. The London-Dallas service lasted less than a year.

Braniff’s president called in his wife’s ad agency to sort things out, but by this time no amount of leather cabin seats, stewardesses in Gucci hotpants or fancy paint jobs could save them.

The end came shortly after Braniff hired Alexander Calder to design new liveries for its planes and a demoralised workforce mounted a series of damaging strikes over job cuts, reduced pay and working conditions.

This week BA has announced a thousand job cuts and a giddying fall in profits, so Wolff is correct in one respect in making comparisons between BA and Braniff.

As for the comment about David Bernstein and Marcello Minale, I have little doubt that as “accomplished international professionals” they have occupied many an airline seat and know a good airline when they use one.

What drives them so nutty is BA’s trumpeting of gimmicks in the face of all that is sound practice in running an airline.

BA’s identity may be “ingenious, original, generous, enriching and beautiful”, according to Wolff. But in the airline world, you can always spot the pioneer – he’s the guy lying face-down in the desert with arrows in his back.

Incidentally, I really do like some of the BA tailfins. The Aborigine design would look fantastic painted on the rusty pick-up truck I use to haul around my mountain bikes and surf boards. But on a world class airline? Never!

Charles Shand

Kingston-upon-Thames

Surrey KT5 8BG

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