Eastern Air Lines: Wikis


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Eastern Air Lines
Founded 1926 (as Pitcairn Aviation)
Ceased operations January 18, 1991
Hubs Miami International Airport
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Kansas City International Airport

JFK International Airport
LaGuardia Airport
San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport
Charlotte/Douglas International Airport

Focus cities Orlando International Airport
Tampa International Airport
Frequent flyer program OnePass
Member lounge Ionosphere Club
Fleet size 304
Destinations 140
Parent company Eastern Air Lines, Inc. (Texas Air Corporation)
Headquarters New York City
Miami-Dade County, Florida
Key people Eddie Rickenbacker (First CEO), Floyd Hall, Frank Borman, Frank Lorenzo (Final CEO)

Eastern Air Lines was a major United States airline that existed from 1926 to 1991. Before its dissolution it was headquartered at Miami International Airport in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, Florida.[1]



The Great Silver Fleet (1939)

Eastern Air Lines was a composite of assorted air travel corporations, including Florida Air Ways and Pitcairn Aviation, the latter of which was established on April 19, 1926, by Harold Frederick Pitcairn, son of Pittsburgh Plate Glass founder John Pitcairn, Jr.[citation needed]

In the late 1920s, Pitcairn Aviation won a government contract to fly mail between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia, using Mailwing single-engine aircraft. In 1929 Clement Keys, the owner of North American Aviation, purchased Pitcairn. In 1930, Keys changed the company's name to Eastern Air Transport, soon to be known as Eastern Air Lines after being purchased by General Motors and experiencing a change in corporate leadership brought on by the Airmail Act of 1934.[citation needed]

In 1938, the airline was purchased by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker from General Motors. This very complex deal was concluded when Rickenbacker presented Alfred P. Sloan with a certified check for $3.5 million. Rickenbacker pushed Eastern into a period of prodigious growth and innovation. For a time, Eastern was the most profitable airline in the post-war era, never needing state subsidy. In the late 1950s, Eastern's position was eroded by state subsidies to rival airlines, increasing industry regulation and the arrival of the jet age. Rickenbacker's position as CEO was taken over by Malcolm A. MacIntyre, 'a brilliant lawyer but a man inexperienced in airline operations'.[2] on October 1, 1959. His ouster was due largely to his reluctance to acquire jets, feeling that they were unnecessary and expensive. A new management team headed by Floyd B. Hall took over the operation on 16 December 1963, and Rickenbacker left his position as Director and Chairman of the Board on December 31, 1963 aged 73.[3]

During the beginnings of World War II, military aviation equipment had not been widely produced in the United States. The United States war effort required civilian resources. Due to the efforts of Eddie Rickenbacker, Eastern Air Lines provided the United States with aircraft and personnel.[citation needed]

Throughout the 1940s, competitors were acquired, more advanced planes were purchased and international routes were opened.

By the 1950s, Eastern's aircraft were very prominent up and down the East Coast of the United States. In 1956, they purchased Canadian airline Colonial Airlines, which gave the airline their first service to Canada.[4]

In November 1959, Eastern Airlines opened its Chester L. Churchill-designed Terminal 1 at New York City's Idlewild International Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport). In 1960 Eastern's first jets, Douglas DC-8s arrived, allowing Eastern to open non-stop service from New York to Miami. The DC-8s were joined in 1962 by the Boeing 720, then in 1964 by the Boeing 727, which Eastern (and United) helped Boeing develop beginning in 1956. Eastern was the first airline to fly the 727 on February 3, 1964 (The 727 became the fastest selling airliner in the world). Shortly after that "Captain Eddie" Rickenbacker retired and a new image was adopted, which included the now famous hockey stick design which is officially Caribbean Blue over Bahama Blue. Eastern was also the first US carrier to fly the Airbus A300 and the launch customer for the Boeing 757.[citation needed]

An Eastern Air Lines DC-3, on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

In 1961 Eastern inaugurated the Eastern Air Shuttle, featuring hourly flights of Lockheed Constellations and Electras between New York-LaGuardia, Washington, D.C.-National, and Boston-Logan airports.[citation needed]

The groundbreaking service emphasized convenience and simplicity—revolutionary in an era when air travel was both considered and expected to be a luxury. Not only were seat reservations not required, seat assignments were not given, and initially no check-in was required and no boarding passes were issued. Eastern guaranteed availability, however, and planes flew hourly whether empty or full. In the event of a full flight, Eastern simply added another aircraft. Jet airliners were added in 1967 and the shuttle became all-jet in 1978 with a fleet of dedicated Boeing 727s.[citation needed]

The shuttle proved one of Eastern's most successful ventures. Other airlines, including Pan American World Airways, eventually set up competing services.[citation needed]

Eastern Air Shuttle's landing rights and some aircraft were bought by Trump Airlines to run the Trump Shuttle. US Airways later bought the service from Trump Airlines, and respectively named it US Airways Shuttle. Pan Am's shuttle service was bought by Delta Air Lines to become the Delta Shuttle, which directly competes with the US Airways Shuttle.[citation needed]

Internationalization began as Eastern opened routes to new markets such as Madrid, Mexico City, Santo Domingo, Nassau, Bahamas and London. Services from San Juan, Puerto Rico's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport were expanded.[citation needed]

Eastern bought the Lockheed L-1011 and Airbus A300 widebody jets; the former would become known in the Caribbean as El Grandote (the huge one). Boeing 747s, leased from Pan Am in 1970/71 operated between Chicago and San Juan as well as New York to Miami and San Juan. Although Eastern purchased four 747s, they were sold to Trans World Airlines (TWA), before delivery.[citation needed]

Logo on an Eastern Air Lines DC-3

Just before Walt Disney World opened in 1971, Eastern established service at Orlando and became the official airline of Walt Disney World. This proved to be extremely beneficial for Eastern as well as Disney. It remained the official airline of Walt Disney World, which even had an Eastern-themed ride at its park (If You Had Wings in Tomorrowland where Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin is currently located), until its contracting route network forced Disney to switch to Delta shortly before Eastern's 1989 bankruptcy filing. The ride was subsequently rethemed.[citation needed]

The famous "Wings of Man" campaign, which began in the late 1960s, was created by advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, and restored Eastern's tarnished image until the late 1970s, when former astronaut Frank Borman became president and it was replaced by a new campaign, "We Have To Earn Our Wings Every Day". The new campaign, which featured Borman as a spokesperson, was used until the mid-to-late 1980s.[citation needed]

Under bankruptcy Eastern launched a "100 Days" campaign, in which it promised to "become a little bit better every day".

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 aggravated its position, forcing Eastern into a competitive low-fare environment in which its high cost of operation put the airline at a decided disadvantage.[citation needed]

In 1975 Eastern was headquartered at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.[5] After Frank Borman became president of Eastern Airlines in 1975, he moved Eastern's headquarters from Rockefeller Center to Miami-Dade County, Florida.[6]

Eastern's massive Atlanta hub placed it in direct competition with Delta Air Lines, where both carriers competed heavily with one another to neither's benefit. Delta's less-unionized work force and slowly expanding international route network helped lead it through the turbulent period following deregulation in 1978.[citation needed]

Eastern Airbus A300 at Sint Maarten in 1986.

In 1980, a Caribbean hub was inaugurated at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (known at the time as "Isla Verde International Airport") near San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1982, Eastern acquired Braniff International Airways' South American route network. By 1985 Eastern was the largest airline in the world in terms of passengers enplaned and operated in 26 countries on three continents.[citation needed]

During this era, Eastern's fleet was split between their "silver-colored hockey stick" livery (the lack of paint reduced weight by 100 pounds) and their "white-colored hockey stick" livery (on its Airbus-manufactured planes, the metallurgy of which required paint to cover the aircraft's composite skin panels).[citation needed]

In 1983, Eastern became the launch customer of Boeing's new aircraft, the Boeing 757, which was ordered in 1978. Borman felt that its low cost of operation would make it an invaluable asset to the airline in the years to come. However, higher oil prices failed to materialize and the debt created by this purchase coupled with the Airbus A300 purchases made in 1977 proved to be a millstone around Eastern's neck, contributing to the February 1986 sale to Frank Lorenzo's Texas Air. At that time, Eastern was paying over $700,000 in interest each day before they sold a ticket, fueled or boarded a single aircraft.[citation needed]

In the 1980s, Eastern needed an aircraft for the Miami-London Route. They were to purchase two Boeing 747-238 aircraft from the Australian airline Qantas. The two aircraft, N371EA and N372EA, were painted and were subsequently reinstated in the Qantas fleet after Eastern instead leased them for a time.[citation needed]

An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-1011 "Whisperliner"

In that same year, Eastern reintroduced service to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, using de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter planes under the name Eastern Metro Express. The Eastern Metro Express operation wasn't limited to Mayagüez, however, as, under that name, Eastern Metro Express began service from its San Juan hub to Borinquen and several other smaller Caribbean communities. Also, from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport it served numerous feeder cities. Bar Harbor Airlines serving as Eastern Express spoked from Miami International Airport to many cities around the southeast.[citation needed]

Eastern began losing money as it faced competition from no-frills airlines, such as People Express, which offered drastically reduced air fares. In an attempt to differentiate itself from its bargain competitors, Eastern began a marketing campaign stressing its quality of service and its rank of highly experienced pilots.[citation needed]

Unable to keep up, Borman agreed to the sale of the airline in 1986 to Texas Air, led by Frank Lorenzo. Lorenzo (who was named as one of Time Magazine's 10 "worst bosses of the century") was known as a ruthless corporate raider and union buster. He had already purchased Continental and lost a bidding war for TWA to Carl Icahn.[citation needed]

In February of 1987, the FAA imposed a $9.5 Million fine against Eastern Airlines for safety violations, what is still to this day, the largest fine ever assessed against an airline.[7]

In 1988 Phil Bakes, the president of Eastern Airlines, announced plans to lay off 4,000 employees and eliminate and reduce service to airports in the Western United States; he said that the airline was going "back to our roots" in the East Coast of the United States. At the time Eastern was the largest corporate employer in the Miami area, and remained so after the cuts. John Nordheimer wrote in a The New York Times article that the prominence of Eastern in the Miami area decreased as the city became a finance and trade center and as the area had a population increase-based economic growth, instead of a purely tourism-based growth.[8]

Although Eastern's employees saw Lorenzo at the time as a savior, he would prove to be anything but a hero to the employees by the end of the decade. This event is widely seen as the beginning of the unwinding of the company, and the beginning of a steep decline into a period that saw strikes, empty planes, mass layoffs, bankruptcy, and eventually a ceasing of operations.[citation needed]

During Lorenzo's tenure, Eastern was crippled by severe labor unrest. Asked to accept deep cuts in pay and benefits, Eastern's mechanics and ramp service employees, represented by the IAM (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers), walked out on March 4, 1989. A sympathy strike called by the pilots represented by ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) and flight attendants represented by TWU (Transport Workers Union) effectively shut down the airline's domestic operations. Non-contract employees, including airport gate and ticket counter agents and reservation sales agents, did not honor the strike. Due to the strike, flights were canceled, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.[citation needed]

According to Jack E. Robinson's book "Free Fall" about Eastern and it's bankruptcy, Lorenzo seriously considered a sale of Eastern to Peter Ueberroth immediately following the strike. Issues over interim management while the sale was being processed eventually caused the deal to fall through. Although other buyers, such as Jay Pritzker expressed interest in the airline, Lorenzo eventually declared Eastern as being "not for sale".[9]

Lorenzo sold Eastern's shuttle service to real estate magnate Donald Trump in 1989, under whom it became the Trump Shuttle, while selling other parts of Eastern to his Texas Air holding company and its major subsidiary, Continental Airlines, on disadvantageous terms to Eastern.[citation needed] In 1989, George Berry, the Georgia Industry and Trade Commissioner, asked Eastern to consider moving its headquarters from the Miami area to the Atlanta area.[10]

As a result of the strike, weakened airline structure, inability to compete after deregulation and other financial problems, Eastern filed for bankruptcy protection on March 9, 1989. This gave Lorenzo breathing room, and allowed him to continue operating the airline with non-union employees. When control of the airline was taken away from Lorenzo by the courts and given to Marty Shugrue, it continued operations in an attempt to correct its cash flow, but to no avail.[citation needed]

The management in the Miami-Dade county headquarters agreed to shut down Eastern; the airline stopped flying on midnight Saturday, January 19, 1991. During the previous evening reservation agents continued to take reservations and told callers that the airline was not closing; they were unaware of the shutdown decision. After the announcement, 5,000 of the 18,000 employees immediately lost their jobs. Of the remaining employees, reservation agents were told to report to work at their regular times, while other employees were told not to report to work unless specifically asked to do so. At the time many of Eastern's employees lived in the Atlanta, Miami, and New York City areas.[11]

As a result of the Eastern shutdown, many airline industry jobs were eliminated in the Miami and New York City areas.[12]

An asset liquidation sale was commenced later that year and provided Eastern's creditors with a payout.[citation needed]

From 1991 to present, Airline Acquisition Corporation of Atlanta, Ga., led by former Eastern pilots Milton Shlapak and John Ruths, plan to re-start Eastern Airlines and locate its headquarters in Philadelphia. This was planned with the aid of the son of the founder of Eastern, Stephen Pitcairn, who has since passed away.[13] This has not happened yet, and the Eastern name is not used for any airline around the world.


Eastern Airlines flew many different types of aircraft throughout its history:

Martin 4-0-4

Notable accidents

Eastern weathered crashes over the years of varying damage to the company and passenger injuries and deaths. Some of the crashes contributed to the future safety of American air transportation, such as Eastern's first accident caused by the construction of temporary utility poles at the end of a runway.[citation needed]

  • In 1941, Eastern Air Lines Flight 21 crashed near Atlanta, almost killing Eddie Rickenbacker, who was traveling on airline business. His recovery in the hospital received broad press coverage; during his initial recovery several news reports claimed that he had died.
  • On 12 July 1945, a US Army Air Forces A-26C-35-DT Invader, 44-35553, on a training flight had mid-air collision with Eastern Airlines Flight 45 from Washington, D.C. to Columbia, S.C., a DC-3-201C, NC25647, c/n 2235, at ~3100 feet, 11.9 miles WNW of Florence, South Carolina at 1436 hrs. A-26 vertical fin struck the port wing of the airliner, displacing engine of DC-3 which cut into fuselage; A-26 tail sheared off, two crew parachuted but only one survived . DC-3 pilot belly landed in a cornfield, one passenger, an infant, of 24 total on board killed.[14]
Flight 601
  • On 19 July 1951, Eastern Airlines Flight 601, operated by Lockheed L-749A Constellation N119A suffered severe buffeting after an access door opened in flight. A flapless wheels-up landing was made at Curles Neck Farm, Virginia. The aircraft was later repaired and returned to service.[15]
  • On June 24, 1975, Eastern Air Lines Flight 66 (a Boeing 727) crashed into the runway approach lights, as it penetrated a thunderstorm which was astride the ILS localizer course line to that runway, at JFK in New York City, killing 113 people. The official cause of the accident was a sudden high rate of descent, caused by severe downdrafts from the thunderstorm, and the continued use of that runway by both flight crews and ATC, after they became aware of the location of that hazardous weather. The aircraft hit a motorcyclist on impact, and ABA basketball star Wendell Ladner was one of the passengers killed in the crash. Most of the deceased were killed by fire after impact rather than the crash itself. The two flight attendants in the rear of the plane survived the fire because they were doused with the liquid contents of the rear lavatories, which kept them alive. The aircraft that landed on the same runway just prior to EAL Flight 66 was another Eastern aircraft, an L-1011, that managed to fight through the wind shear by having both pilots put their feet on the instrument panel and pulling back on the wheel with all of their strength.[citation needed] After landing, they radioed the tower to close that runway, but it was too late for EAL Flight 66.


  1. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 30, 1985. 72." Retrieved on June 17, 2009.
  2. ^ Rickenbacker, 1967
  3. ^ Rickenbacker, 1967
  4. ^ Eastern Air Lines History
  5. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 20, 1975. "484. Retrieved on October 3, 2009.
  6. ^ Bernstein, Aaron. Grounded: Frank Lorenzo and the Destruction of Eastern Airlines. Beard Books, 1999. p. 22. 22. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  7. ^ "EASTERN WILL PAY $9.5M FINEg", Associated Press, Washington D.C., 11 February 1987. Retrieved on 2010-03-16.
  8. ^ Nordheimer, John. "Cuts by Eastern Shaking Miami In Many Ways." The New York Times. Sunday July 24, 1988. New York Edition Section 1, Page 14. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  9. ^ Robinson, Jack E. Freefall: The Needless Destruction Of Eastern Airlines. 
  10. ^ "Stock market pulls out of dive Series: Business Digest." St. Petersburg Times. June 23, 1989. Business 1E. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  11. ^ Salpukas, Agis. "Eastern Airlines Is Shutting Down And Plans to Liquidate Its Assets." The New York Times. Saturday January 19, 1991. 1. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  12. ^ Salpukas, Agis. "Its Cash Depleted, Pan Am Shuts." The New York Times. Thursday December 5, 1991. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  13. ^ "EASTERN MAKING COMEBACK NEW HEADQUARTERS IN CITY COULD BRING 1,000 JOBS." Philadelphia Daily News. June 24, 1994. 53 Business Moneytalk. Retrieved on August 28, 2009.
  14. ^ http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19450712-0
  15. ^ "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19510719-0. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  16. ^ "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19531019-0. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "Stephen Colbert On Insincerity", 60 Minutes, April 27, 2006
  • Rickenbacker, Edward V. Rickenbacker: An Autobiography. New York: Prentice Hall, 1967.

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