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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bran Flakes and Fibber McGee

Because of our old call sign, Flexair and we always abbreviated it to Flex, the Braniff folks called us Bran Flakes.  We thought it was funny too.  Some times you have to have a sense of humor in this bidness.

Soon after the merger, it was announced that Braniff, Inc. was being sold.  For the first five years after the reorganization, Dalfort, the parent company had been owned by the Pritzker family.  They owned the Hyatt Hotel chain.  We got to stay at Hyatt hotels on our layovers in cities where they were available.  This was a definite upgrade from the Florida Express days.

One of the Braniff captains had told me the Pritzkers became involved in reorganizing Braniff and restarting the airline for tax purposes.  I am not an expert on this, but at the time, there was an advantage for them to own the airline for 5 years, then it ended.  We were approaching 5 years since the rebirth of the airline.

Part of the tax situation required that the airline did not make much profit.  For 4 of the 5 years, it just broke even, paying its own way, but not really being profitable.  There was that exceptional year, when United went on strike and Braniff couldn't help itself, it did very well.  

At any rate, the Pritzkers had helped the Braniff employees get the company back on its feet, it had established itself with a small hub in Orlando and it was moving its major hub from Dallas to Kansas City.  It was now time for them to move on.

The buyer was Jeffrey Chodorow.  If you follow that hyperlink, you will get a little preview into where we are headed here.

Chodorow had a reputation of being someone who bought businesses in distress, sucked out all the valuable assets, then dumped the company, including its investors and employees.  At least, that is what was going around at this time among the employees.  He was kind of a mini Frank Lorenzo.  There was a lot of that going on in the airline industry at that time.

In 1987, my old employer, USAir, acquired Piedmont Airlines.  USAir top management survived, Piedmont top management moved to Orlando as the new managers of Braniff, Inc.  The new CEO was William McGee, who had "retired" from Piedmont in 1988.  If you follow the hyperlink on his name, you will see that his obituary there does not mention his association with Braniff, Inc.  Not his proudest moment, I guess.

Mr. McGee came around for a meet and greet with the employees in the crew room in Orlando.  I was standing there in the front row, close enough to touch him, when I mentioned the rumored history of the new owners and asked him point blank if we were in for a similar treatment.  He said, "Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah."  It wasn't long before we started calling him Fibber McGee.  (You gotta be a real geezer to make that connection.  We did not own a TV in our house, until I was 10.) 

I hope my fellow airline employees don't spit on the picture of Francisco when they see this.  It might mess up their computers.

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