On April 26, 1926, Paul Revere Braniff incorporated Braniff Air Lines, Inc., with the Oklahoma Secretary of State but it was not used for airline operations and was eventually dissolved. On May 29, 1928, insurance magnate Thomas Elmer Braniff financed and founded an aviation company with his brother Paul, called Paul R. Braniff, Inc., doing business as Tulsa-Oklahoma City Airline. On June 20, 1928, service began from Oklahoma City to Tulsa using a single-engine 5 passenger Stinson Detroiter registered as NC1929 on June 20, 1928. Paul Braniff acted as pilot of the first flight with one passenger on board. The flight operated normally to Tulsa but was delayed for the return trip by thunderstorms in the Tulsa area.
The Braniff brothers remained a part of the company as the ownership was transferred to Universal Aviation Corporation in April 1929. With the purchase of the company by Universal, the entity began operating as Braniff Air Lines, Inc. Universal was a conglomerate of smaller airlines and railways that planned a southern US coast-to-coast air and rail service. In early 1930, the company was purchased by the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) holding company, which other holdings included the predecessors of American Airlines.
Unable to remain out of the airline business for very long and with the new possibility of an air mail contract, the Braniff brothers started a new airline in November 1930 named Braniff Airways, Inc. Braniff Airways began service among Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Wichita Falls, Texas, with 5 passenger Lockheed Vega single-engine prop aircraft. Service expanded throughout 1931 to include Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago, but the company briefly shut down to reorganize in 1933. With the help of its employees, who agreed to work without pay, the company was airborne again and in less than a year their hard work would pay off.
Braniff's survival was assured when Paul Braniff, then general manager, flew to Washington, DC, to petition for the Chicago-Dallas airmail route 9. The United States Post Office granted Braniff its first airmail route in the wake of the 1934 Air Mail scandal. In 1935, Braniff became the first airline to fly from Chicago to the U.S.–Mexico border. Paul Braniff left the airline in 1935 to pursue other interests and to tour South America for Braniff's eventual service to the region, but Tom Braniff retained control of the carrier and hired Charles Edmund Beard to run day-to-day operations. Beard became President and CEO of Braniff in 1954, and Fred Jones of Oklahoma City became Chairman of the Board.
Until 1980 Braniff was one of the fastest-growing and most-profitable airlines in the United States. However, deregulation of the airline industry was introduced in October 1978, and Braniff – as well as many of the United States' major air carriers – misjudged this unprecedented change in airline business.
On May 11, 1982 Howard Putnam left a courtroom at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York after failing to gain a court injunction to stop a threatened pilot strike. However, Putnam was successful in obtaining an extension of time from Braniff's principal creditors until October 1982. The next day, on May 12, Braniff Airways ceased all operations, ending 54 years of service. Braniff flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that morning were suddenly grounded, and passengers were forced to disembark, being told that Braniff no longer existed. A thunderstorm provided an excuse to cancel many afternoon flights that day, although Braniff's legendary Boeing 747 Flight 501 to Honolulu departed as scheduled, with the crew later refusing to divert the flight to Los Angeles International Airport. The flight returned to DFW the following morning, the last scheduled Braniff flight.
In the following days Braniff jets at Dallas-Fort Worth sat idle on the apron by Terminal 2W. The Douglas DC-8-62 fleet was flown from Miami to Dallas Love Field and stored until new owners could be found.
With an approved bankruptcy reorganization agreement with Hyatt Corporation a new Braniff, Inc., would be created from the assets of Braniff Airways, Inc. and Braniff International Corporation and would begin operations on March 1, 1984. Braniff Place World Headquarters, which the carrier occupied until December 15, 1983, on the west side of DFW Airport eventually became GTE Place, and then Verizon Place.
Three airlines were formed after the shutdown of Braniff.
Former Braniff employees founded Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines in 1983. It operated a fleet of Boeing 727–200s and wide body McDonnell Douglas DC-10s until 2001 when it filed for bankruptcy.
Two airlines were formed from the assets of Braniff:
Braniff, Inc, founded in 1983 by the Hyatt Corporation under the umbrella corporation Dalfort. Ceased operations in December, 1989.
Braniff International Airlines, Inc., founded in 1991 by financier Jeffrey Chodorow who had bought Braniff, Inc. from Hyatt Corporation in 1988. The assets of Braniff, Inc., which were bought from bankruptcy auctions, were used to found Braniff International Airlines, Inc. The company failed due to malfeasance in 1992.