For the Braniff employes at National Airport yesterday, Flight 116 was the first sign that something was wrong. It never arrived.

The flight, which was scheduled to land at National from Dallas at 4:49 p.m. was first delayed by weather, said Steven Dunman, a Braniff customer service agent. "But then it was delayed and delayed and delayed and we called to find out what happened. That's how we got the word," Dunman said.

As the airline's employes waited at the airport last night for other Braniff flights that never arrived, Dunman said the carrier had yet to officially notify them that all flights had been suspended.

But Wil Budd, a supervisor, had a pretty good idea what was happening. Budd, who has worked at National for Braniff since November 1966, said the company had called him at his home and told him "to come in and shut down things."

Braniff employs approximately 50 people at National and Dulles airports.

Budd said, "It's hard to imagine this is happening, but apparently it has because they've cut the lights off."

"It's one of those things that had to happen with the economy and deregulation," Budd said, philosophically. But he added, "You don't spend that many years with a company without feelings. You've got to have feelings for it."

Walter Hutchinson, in charge of ground operations at the airport for Braniff, said he heard the news on television. "That's not the way we should have found out," Hutchinson said. "I thought it was not the way a business should be operated."

For the handful of Braniff employes who closed down the operation at National, the work was punctuated by telephone calls from people anxious to know if the airline had gone bankrupt. "People want to know have we folded," Dunman said. "I say we don't know. We've been suspended."

Hutchinson said he and the other Braniff employes at National had no contingency plans in the event of a company failure. "I'll have to find some way to get back home," Hutchinson said. "I'm from the West Coast. I had hoped to stay out here for awhile. It's over with now."

By 9 p.m., the only sign of life at the Braniff counter was a security guard.