The Great Airline War

Flying the not-so-friendly skies of Texas.

Russell Thayer held the world between his outstretched hands. “This, over here, is Hawaii,” he said, jiggling his right hand, “and this,” jiggling his left, “is Dallas. We fly a 747 between them, the only 747 we’ve got. To make a 747 pay off, you have to have a long haul with a lot of people on board. Now, it turns out that the distance between Dallas and Honolulu is exactly right. If it were any shorter, you couldn’t fly it as efficiently. And if it were any longer, you couldn’t turn it around for the daily round trip.”

Thayer lowered his hands and leaned across the desk. “I decided that the islands were in the right place, and I didn’t move ’em an inch.”

Russell Thayer laughed, a hearty, warm-natured laugh that rumbled up out of his football player’s body. He was sitting in his office on the ninth floor of the Braniff Tower on the west side of Dallas. Around the airlines industry, Thayer is known as a genius, as the man who has helped turn Branifif into one of the most efficient money makers the business has ever seen. Five days a week he works in Dallas as Braniff’s executive vice-president for Corporate and Market Planning The other two-days—this is the beauty of working for an airline—he spends at home in Princeton, New Jersey. Word is that he hates Texas.

One floor above Thayer, Harding Lawrence—with studied informality—came from behind his desk and gestured his visitor to the coffee table at the opposite end of the room. Perched on the table was a model of the supersonic Concorde jet, painted in bright Braniff colors. At Lawrence’s elbow was a matching model of the Boeing 747.

When he became chairman and chief executive officer of Braniff ten years ago, Lawrence was often described as “dashing” and “romantic.” Now, his silver hair and deeply creased face make him look ten years older than 55; his appearance hovers on the line between “distinguished” and “tired.” A smile on his face, Lawrence offered his visitor an expensive cigar, then began chewing on an unlighted one himself as he talked about his airline.

We have our creeds, our objectives. We know what we stand for. Our job is to promote the foreign and domestic commerce of the United States, the national defense, the postal service—and

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