Eastern Airlines Makes a Comeback, Because Version 3 is Just What No One Needed

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was a World War I flying ace who led Eastern Airlines in its early years. Eastern was one of the big four airlines created by the “Spoils Conference,” where airlines colluded with the federal government to carve up the market by allocating air mail subsidies. Eastern became a dominant carrier up and down the East Coast.

    Eastern Air Lines L-188 Electra N5512 by Piergiuliano Chesi. CC BY-SA 3.0

Eastern struggled in the 1980s under the leadership of former astronaut Frank Borman as the carrier faced lower cost competition post-deregulation from airlines like People Express (whose Newark hub formed the basis for what’s now United’s operating base there). Eventually in the mid-80s Eastern sold to Frank Lorenzo’s Texas Air, which acquired Continental and People Express which had acquired Frontier and also owned New York Air.

A key to Lorenzo’s desire for Eastern was the SystemOne reservation system Eastern owns, a decision we all live with today because it’s how Continental wound up owning its own system and why their management decided to keep SHARES rather than utilizing the superior United Airlines software after taking over that larger airline.

Much of Eastern was absorbed by Delta as a result of the airline’s bankruptcy that followed labor unrest in the late 1980s and into 1991. The Eastern brand, however, was retired — temporarily.

The Eastern intellectual property was purchased in 2011, and three years laterit began charter service out of Miami using Boeing 737-800s. They focused on flights to Cuba and the Caribbean, and they had an aircraft painted in Star Trek: Beyond livery that became the campaign plane for Vice President Mike Pence. (The Obama administration’s liberalizing of travel restrictions to Cuba led to competition on Eastern’s Cuba routes and financial struggles.)

Source: Eastern Airlines

They were acquired by Swift Air last summer. Swift Air shares a common partial owner with Dynamic International Airways and now that Dynamic has exited bankruptcy they’re going to rebrand with the Eastern name.

The third version of Eastern is proposing to operate its Boeing 767s under the Eastern brand. The company wants to grow the 767 fleet to around 10 aircraft.

The first Eastern-branded 767 is expected soon once all approvals have been obtained.

I’m not sure that ‘Dynamic International Airways’ resonates with consumers. However it’s alno not obvious that there’s more than a few dozen people that would choose an airline based on the name Eastern. It’s been nearly 30 years since the ‘real’ Eastern flew, and it didn’t have a good reputation even then — for reliability, for service, or even for safety (having received the largest fine in aviation history for safety-related violations, until a larger one was leveled on American 19 years after Eastern’s collapse).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yeah, Gary may be correct…there are far more failed resurrections of some the industry’s most notable names, with glorious and storied pasts like Eastern’s such as Pan Am (at least twice tried & failed since the OG died in early 1990s), Braniff (also at least twice tried & failed since the OG died more than three decades ago), or even “Famous for 15 minutes” Deregulation “Babies” like PeopleExpress, whose resurrection lasted less than a “NY Minute” earlier this decade…or another Deregulation “Baby”, Midway Airlines, whose second time at the dance had a pretty decent run, but, alas, also ultimately failed…

    In fact, Frontier 2.0 (or maybe now 2.5 after its new owners changed it to an “Ultra Low Cost Carrier” [that’s anything but once all those obnoxious nuisance…er “only what you want ‘options’…fees are tallied up after the last credit card bill arrives Hehehe]) may be among the few success stories of a once beloved airline brand rising up from its ashes!!!

    But hey, our now very sick, arrogant and abusive Oligopolist airlines DESPERATELY NEED ANY & ALL the new competition they can get!

    …so here’s wishing Eastern 3.0 gets it right, offers a desperately needed SUPERIOR PRODUCT that’s more OG JetBlue’s “Bringing Humanity Back to Flying” than the despicable and odious “Go ‘Eff’ Yourself” with the “you should be grateful you even get a teeny tiny, IFE-less seat and a loo so small you have to pee standing or sitting sideways…” like most of our current batch of crappy airlines are!!!

    *Fingers crossed…for something better than we have now…and if so, for nothing but success!!! 🙂

    (*one can dream of a future with more airlines offering better & friendlier skies anyway now that JetBlue has joined the race to the bottom and just seeks to be a small step or two behind the rest of the crap out there…)

  2. I would happily trade the Eastern-that-was for any of the USA3 legacy carriers that are. Trash it if you will, but many, many times it got me in and out of NYC — both LGA and NYC — safely, reasonably, and more or less on time.
    Oh yes, it also served me with courtesy, left me with whatever amount of dignity I arrived with, never made me stand in line longer than 3 minutes nor charged for extras.
    Of course, PeoplesExpress was also better than the current United, American and Delta.

  3. As a travel agent who used System One for some years, as well as other reservation systems to a lesser degree, I can tell you that it was a really good CRS. It was pretty intuitive and very easy to learn. It even lives on today as Amadeus.

  4. Lorenzo was attracted to the assets of Eastern, of which dwarfed CO
    System One which was EA’s internal reservation system and department (of which I worked) was transferred in 87 to create a new subsidiary under the Texas Air umbrella which consisted 5 subsidiaries if I remember
    EASTERN, Continental, System One, EA SHUTTLE and EA/CO Sales
    Funny money transactions netted Lorenzo several hundreds of millions and was later bought by Amadeus in mid 90s or so.
    The res systems of EA and CO remained separate because he wasn’t planning on keeping the better system knowing he could sell it.
    Lorenzo also wanted fast money from the former Braniff central and South America routes instead of retaining the revenue from them, selling to AA for 400+ million
    Those 2 major sales by Greedy Lorenzo were huge revenue stream losses for EA.

    The hard working employees of Eastern where union or non contract never deserved the mismanagement, greed and destruction brought on by
    FRANK BORMAN who was an idiot and didnt have any business sense
    Both only lining their own pockets while destroying generations of dedication, love of their employer and their livelihoods.

    Those 2 Frank’s should have been in jail a long time ago.

  5. @Penelope

    As someone who also flew Eastern often on its “bread & butter” routes from NYC to cities in Florida, plus a whole bunch of routes it tried for a while, including the brief period of JFK-LAX transcons, or those few years when
    Eastern set up a late night hub at Chicago (ORD) using all wide-body Airbus A300s while I lived in Chicago, I have to agree, even at its worst, Eastern was better than much of we have now, and especially ANY of the so called fee happy “low cost carriers” and/or American Airlines (an airline so awful it’s on our “No Fly List” along with Spirit, Frontier or that other ultra low cost carrier with the widely reported spotty safety record I won’t name here) or even United, which notwithstanding its latest widely reported epic fails with pets, has been a bit better on the flights we took in the post Dr. Dao dragging incident last year – even if its still miles behind the Eastern of yore that in its day, was much villified and scorned for offering a product then that if we had that now it would be considered first rate!

    Go figure!

    But hey, back in the day when Eastern was around, we had something called COMPETITION, too, where others were even better than Eastern, so people chose to fly those better airlines like American USED to be, or United USED to be, or Delta USED to be…

    …now we basically have Aeroflot…circa 1975…with planes that still bear the names on the outside of once proud brands that have morphed into our country’s answer to the bad old days of the cold war, the Soviet Union, and a large airline network spanning a continent, serving a large network of cities without any competition, with a reputation for awful service, crappy planes, and an arrogance and indifference, called Aeroflot, that our airlines today, sadly bear an uncanny resemblance to, and even seek to emulate its service and business models!

    Now who wouldda thunk that would’ve ever been possible?

    Oh, of course, I would be remiss if I forgot to note the irony of just as our airlines have turned to crap and become the Aeroflot of yore…

    …Aeroflot has become a respected, world class airline!

    Again, go figure!

  6. @Scott, your first sentence reads like a pilot explaining how to land a plane, but you nailed it. Never underestimate the greediness and selfishness of a CEO of a publicly held corporation. Board of directors too. They are empowered to hold a corrupt CEO in check, and a CEO has a voice to keep the BOD honest.
    We are probably watching the equivalent happen in the 21st century (well, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, AIG, Lehman, etc, etc, etc, were 21st century, but those are well documented) and will only put 2 and 2 together in the aftermath.
    Could Eastern’s and similar airlines demise be attributed to high MGMT salaries after deregulation, compared to SWA normal fares due to normal salaries and higher volumes? Combine that with a CEO with ulterior motives, and no matter how good the service is, the company is doomed, but not the CEO and select insiders.

  7. If Eastern 3 gets off the ground…They should be based in Greensboro,N C….Flying to small
    community’s flying EMB 170 aircraft..Major cities they should fly to ORD,DCA,MIA,TPA,CLE,MCO,


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