Eastern Airlines Comeback Continues, Wants to Start Scheduled International Service From New York JFK

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 owned, 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 later it 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 in 2017. Swift Air shares a common partial owner with Dynamic International Airways and now that Dynamic has exited bankruptcy has taken over the Eastern name.

I’m not sure that ‘Dynamic International Airways’ resonates with consumers. However it’s also 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).

So what is next for Eastern Airlines? They have applied to the Department of Transportation to serve New York JFK – Guayaquil in Ecuador.

They would like to start service in May using a Boeing 767-300 aircraft.

New York JFK – Guayaquil, 11:30 a.m. – 5:48 p.m.
Guayaquil – New York JFK, 3:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

LATAM currently operates the route non-stop. TAME failed to make it work. And don’t worry they plan to offer basic economy on the route if they’re permitted to offer scheduled service.

My guess is these folks should stick to charter and wet lease operations, but we’ll see if the route can work for them.

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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Comments

  1. AA has run a route from MIA to GYE for many years. What magic powder will the new Eastern Airlines have to make this route profitable?

  2. “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.“ I’m not sure I agree with this statement. Other than purchasing some used L-1011s and taking over gates (especially at ATL), and maybe some landing slots at constrained airports, I’m not sure what Delta “absorbed”. Much of what Delta achieved as a result of the liquidation of Eastern was through organic growth. The true victor and key beneficiary in the long-term demise of Eastern was American, who p8cked up a massive hub (in scope and profitability) at Miami as well as other assets that gave them the presence in Latin America they have today. Also, lest we forget, the Eastern Shuttle became the Trump shuttle, which became the Us Air Shuttle, which ultimately became whatever American calls it today.

  3. 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.

    Correction:
    Much of Eastern’s TRAFFIC AND ATLANTA GATES WERE absorbed by Delta as a result of the airline’s bankruptcy that followed labor unrest in the late 1980s and into 1991.

  4. The big 3 are American, United, and Delta.
    The real big 3 are America West, Continental, and Delta.
    I wish the names used (and has some logic, not random) were TWA, United, Northwest or PanAm.

    I don’t care for the Delta name much. The American name is a bit blah, too. Even Eastern is better. The Braniff, PSA, Piedmont names have some value, too, in my opinion.

  5. I agree – “Dynamic International Airways” sounds like a fictional airline one would see on a TV show like Lost or Manifest. Sounds like a badly named private charter at best.

  6. Wait a minute now! You are free to bash Eastern if you like, of course, but if by some magic I could choose to fly the Eastern of yesteryear or the current American, United, or yes, Delta, it would be Eastern every time.
    I served my time on America West and USAir. I have had my fill of the current/legacy American and United; my one recent trip on Delta was business cl. to South America and it was bloody awful. Eastern is not the airline I miss the most, but I certainly found it a better experience than anything else I am offered now until I get out of the US. And on that recent dreadful South American flight I thought fondly of my past flights around the continent on Eastern.

  7. I second @Mfb 123! Most of what is American in South America, Caribbean, and Miami came from Eastern. Delta received very little from the Eastern Airlines demise. Maybe the official airline of Walt Disney World.

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