Resurrecting Eastern Airlines Belongs in the “Awful Idea” Hall of Fame

The rumors are flying that a plan to bring the Eastern Airlines name back is under way. This is easily one of the worst ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Bringing back a defunct airline’s name has rarely been a Bringing Eastern Back to Lifesuccessful move for airlines in the past, and the fact that Eastern had a pretty awful reputation among customers makes this even worse. Why the heck would you want that baggage?

Quick, what do you think of when you think of Eastern? Chance are it’s not good. Maybe one of the airline’s high-profile accounts sticks out for you? The one that comes to mind for me is Eastern 401. That’s the one where the pilots plowed into the Everglades after getting distracted by a landing gear issue.

But even more likely is that you think of a bad airline with horrendous labor relations, poor service, and really, not much good at all. The story of Eastern’s disastrous labor relations are legendary. The standoffs between Charlie Bryan and the final two CEO’s of the airline, Frank Borman and then Frank Lorenzo, were full of animosity and eventually, failed brinkmanship. Though they all lost in the end, in the meantime, the passengers suffered terribly.

But don’t think this was just a decline at the end of the airline’s life. Eastern was never known for its stellar service. This was an airline that was often known for making bad decisions under its first true leader, Eddie Rickenbacker, and I imagine that very few, other than employees or those with rose-colored glasses, will have fond memories. (Yes, I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.) So why the heck would someone want to resurrect this name?

Well, Ed Wegel, the man trying to bring Eastern back, says that the plan “leverages off of Eastern’s core strengths while using all of the lessons we have learned from all of the start up airlines and the restructuring of all of the legacy carriers over the past 18 years.” Hmm, I can’t really think of many core strengths of Eastern’s except for maybe cost control efforts. Rickenbacker was a known tightwad, so in that sense, he was ahead of his time. Maybe this will be a Skybus clone.

A look at much of Ed Wegel’s bio is like walking through a cemetery. True, he left most of these companies long before they failed, but it’s still a depressing list.

  • CEO, SunTrips (hired 2005) – Shut down 2006
  • President, BWIA (1994-1996) – Airline shut down and replaced with Caribbean Airlines in 2007
  • SVP, Atlantic Coast Airlines (1991-1996) – Became Independence Air in 2004 and quickly failed
  • AVP, Shearson Lehman (1987-1991) – Went bankrupt in 2008
  • Manager, Pan American World Airways (1985-1988) – Shut down in 1991
  • Manager, Eastern Airlines (1985-1987) – Shut down in 1991

It hasn’t been all gloom and doom. He did work with both Chautauqua and Mesa during the 1990s and they’re both still around (though with a four cent share price, the latter is treading on thin ice).

But let’s get back to the point. Eastern does not invoke the same fuzzy, happy memories that other airline names like Piedmont may bring. But I wouldn’t even bring back a name like Piedmont’s. All you’re doing is setting expectations for something that probably won’t be matched.

And do I even need to discuss the ridiculousness of starting an airline at all right now? I think not.

If you’d like to learn more about the nasty history of Eastern Airlines, there are plenty of books around. The latter years are covered very well in the industry bible, Hard Landing. But you don’t need a book to get a good idea. Even this short article in Time magazine will give you enough background to know that there is no point is bringing this airline back to life.

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74 Comments on "Resurrecting Eastern Airlines Belongs in the “Awful Idea” Hall of Fame"

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The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

Seems this song was sung for Braniff 2 and 3, not to mention a dismally depressing version of Pan Am that went from widebodies out of Miami to Skeeter Birds across Cape Cod. Please.
No customer base, no frequent flyer program, no wide-open, massive hub market begging for new business (Palmdale, maybe?) and no national or international demand going unserved (vs under-served. I mean not being tapped at all).
I see a flawed attempt at creating new jobs based on sentiment but not much else.

j.mothena
Member
I do have a fond memory of Eastern. The Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1979 my mother, niece and I were scheduled to fly Braniff from JFK to Washington Dulles after spending the weekend in NYC. When we got to JFK at 4PM we were told that the plane had a mechanical issue and never left Dallas so the flight was cancelled. The ticket agent gave us passes for the bus to LaGuardia and told us that the Eastern Shuttle would accept our Braniff tickets, and that it was our only option since all other flights going to DC airports were… Read more »
swish71
Member

There is a subsidiary of USAirways called Piedmont Airlines

http://www.piedmont-airlines.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cat&cat_id=43

Zach
Guest

Echoing The Traveling Optimist, can we please not revert to the trend of reviving failed airline brands for updated (bit idiotic) business models?

That being said, if this must happen, then I want to see Eastern, Republic, Laker, Braniff, Pan Am, TWA, and Air Florida all resurrected with turboprop-only service and destinations limited to secondary markets in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Thanks in advance.

A
Guest
Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the Frontier of today a completely different company than the old Frontier? I’d say the current re-incarnation has been a relative success and coincidently the old one was also owned by Texas Air. Hmmm. As for Eastern, I think it’s completely unfair to bring up flight 401. Yes, it was pilot error, but only because of a design flaw that Lockheed quickly fixed after. People still fly American after the 191 disaster that was caused because of a mechanics shortcut and completely preventable. Also it’s fair to note that Eastern’s ultimate demise was… Read more »
Jared
Guest
The real issue is that there’s no room for Eastern where they used to play – the world doesn’t need anymore cheap capacity to Florida, and their Latin American routemap has been more than filled up. Sadly, the world is not clamoring for middle-of-the-night transcons with stops in Kansas City, so even that niche won’t work. Sure, bringing back a brand that only has horrible associations with it is a terrible idea; but the fact of the matter is, other airlines moved in on their turf, and there’s nowhere left for them to play even if people loved Eastern (which… Read more »
Frank
Guest

I may still have my old IHEALS button somewhere in a box in the garage.

(I Hate Eastern AirLineS)

Wonder if it is worth anything on E-BAY?

A
Guest

I see your point about flight 401, but it is worth noting the real fame of that accident are the “hauntings” on other Eastern tristars fitted with salvage parts from the doomed plane. A big TV movie probably didn’t help the matter much either.

Had forgotten about the reservation system. I lived in Houston while Lorenzo was running Eastern and faintly remember rumors of a merger between Eastern & Continental. One could probably argue Continental survives today at Eastern’s expense. Airline history is fascinating, that’s for sure.

Nick Barnard
Member

CF any clue why US Airways no longer has the Allegheny name tied up somehow? Does the Heritage plane count?

james
Guest

I think I may have flown down to Florida from Michigan on Eastern when I was four, but other than that my only memories of Eastern are from the Simpsons episode where they visit Epcot Center, and it’s sponsored by “Eastern Airlines” in keeping with it’s dated 80s appearance.

PF
Guest

Granted, the in flight product was not top tier, but I always found EA reservations (in the pre .com age) to be outstanding, and staff at smaller stations were very helpful.

David SF eastbay
Member
I flew Eastern a number of times between California and Kansas City, Miami, and the Caribbean and never had anything to say bad about them. The only thing I remember is getting off the plane in Miami and you always noticed this mildew smell in their gate area. One of the best breakfast meals I ever had on a domestic flight was on a EA night flight between LAX and MIA. But I agree that using an old airline name is not the smartest thing to do. Guess people who do this think the public will flock to the airline… Read more »
Joshua Inflight for AA
Guest
Joshua Inflight for AA

Im actually excited to see someone start Eastern again! Ill go work for them. My great grandfather started with Eddy Rikenbacher to start Eastern and my grandfather was a mechanic from 1937 until they went out of business! Bring eastern back and Ill be there to work for them.

happythey'reback
Guest

my father was a Captain with them for twenty years so yes of course I have plenty of fond memories of them. Regardless of what some twits say, there WAS a time when it was a good and proud airline.

Yo
Guest

Screw Eastern, (though I love the Hockey Stick logo)

I want Hughes AirWest back! Bright banana planes, flight attendants wearing tight yellow plastic boots and short yellow polyester uniforms!

Yes!

Hughes AirWest!

The banana in the west!

Tom
Guest

Screw YOU!!! Asshole!

Nick Barnard
Member

I can see it now! Delta is going to repurpose NW’s DC-9s under the Hughes AirWest brand and run them as a bright yellow airline within an airline!

Nick Barnard
Member

CF – Allegheny was in some type of use on a express airline from either 1979 or 1993 (sources are unclear) through 2004, when it got merged into Piedmont. (Their planes all got transfered over on 1/7/2004.)

Scott
Guest
Not counting the name, has anyone thought about the fact that Eastern’s old stomping ground is perhaps the most saturated, mature air travel market in the US? I mean, who *ISN’T* duking it out (and for the most part) losing their shorts between the Northeast and Florida these days? Or does the *new* Eastern think to find greener pastures by re-entering their Atlanta “hub” (always pale in the shadow of Delta at that one, even in it’s heyday), and step into the bloodbath that is Delta and Air Tran? Or not possibly the wide open, unrestricted slot-available havens of LaGuardia,… Read more »
John
Guest
I have fond memories of Eastern Airlines as the family traveled on vacations to Florida. Was a great airline until those who’s intent was to dis assemble and sell off for personal gain. This was a key airline which was brought down by corporate greed. This was a catchy name, It would work again. As for all those pointing out crashes, there is not one major airline out there that has not had their share, so save it. I hope he can get this together, competition is needed and many cities have been locked up with high fares with no… Read more »
Dave
Guest

Hard Landing was awesome. Thanks for recommending it.

Axelsarki
Guest

What the hell are they thinking!? I a terrible economy, starting an airline that was terrible. If the surviving legacy carriers (US airways, United) Have filed Chap. 11, i cant imagine how bad Eastern #2 would do.

Ed
Guest

There are sometimes unintended consequences of one’s actions. Many years ago Eastern had a fare of $49 from Puerto Rico to New York. This created an incredible migration which formed the basis of the many Puerto Rican communities in New York City.

Jim
Guest

I had been wondering why Wegel backed out of the running for the Air Jamaica CEO spot.

Jay
Guest

I remember plane watching once while waiting to catch a connection through Heartsfield. On that day, I saw the filthiest winged-behemoth ever!! Can you guess what logo was on that plane?

Although the cleanliness of the outside of the plane may not have anything to do with the quality of the flight (or of the safety of the plane), it just made me feel uneasy.

I was in Jr. High at the time but that image and feeling still stick with me. That’s the Eastern I remember.

Nick Barnard
Member

Actually Allegheny was placed in use on a US Air Express airline in 1989:
http://web.archive.org/web/20040402001550/www.alleghenyairlines.com/history.htm

Nancy
Guest
USAirways Express happens to be Piedmont. I work for them. BUT….they work under the umbrella of USAIRWAYS. All rules and regs come thru USAIRWAYs which we call “mainline”. Eastern had a much better dealings with their employees and treated them with more respect than any airline now. I would be more than happy to work for whatever Company revived EAL because the employees that would return to work for them would give 100%. We have known the pain of seeing our Co. close it’s doors. The travel industry has changed over the years and flying is not a “save for… Read more »
JM
Guest
As a native Floridian and current Atlanta resident, I feel the need to chime in that there are quite a few people in places like Miami and Atlanta who have fond memories of Eastern. EAL employed many in these cities, of course. And who can forget “If You Had Wings”, the ride/attraction at Walt Disney World during the 1970s and early 1980s?: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_You_Had_Wings Time and tide might just have helped to replace memories of “the bad Eastern” with nostalgia for “the good Eastern” in the minds of others. Further, one can argue that Eastern at its worst was better than… Read more »
Steven Frischling
Guest

CF,

Can this group bring back the L-1011 with hockey-stick livery and have them depart from JFK T1? If so…I’m in for old time sake!

-Fish

Rob
Guest

Perhaps the “New Eastern” will retrofit those stinky old planes that were grounded (thankfully) years ago.

The Eastern of old makes UAL of today look like a highly respected, service-oriented organization. I can’t think of a lower brand name than Eastern Airlines.

Tom
Guest

Screw YOU!!! Asshole!!!

SB
Guest

This is the article about the original idea last year, when the name was sold.

http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/stories/2008/04/14/story1.html

Dotty
Guest

Eastern Airlines was a great Airline. I flew with them based out of Miami for many years. I and many many others loved that Airline. So stop bashing Eastern

airplane guy
Guest

Eastern probably has pretty good brand recognition in NY, Boston and Miami as well as much of Latin America. I wouldn’t count it out all together.

I know that Delta considered buying the rights to Eastern for their Song subsidiary at one point.

And re: Flight 401, check out eastern401.googlepages.com

Duane
Guest

I remember Eastern very well. I would fly them quite often to Atlanta up until they closed the doors. I do hope this airline returns. I know I would surely give them a try.

Rob
Guest

Sorry, Dotty.
I am entitled to my opinion. There are many reasons they are no longer in business. Lousy service, filthy planes and food not fit for a slug, just to name a few.

JT
Guest

Lets not forget another Coffin that Wegel has burried. OTV Acquisitions (One Travel.com) He cam e in to save it and then ran it into the ground just like he will Eastern.

a fan
Guest

I hear they are buying into USA 3000 Airlines (apple vacations owened) that may give them a leg up with built in travel agency, a big one at that

Tony K
Guest
I worked for EAL as a A&P technician for a little over nine years. I was hired at a time when most other airlines were laying off. We were one of the first to use the L1011 Tristar, the A300 Airbus and the Boeing 757. Mr. Borman always tried to keep the fleet up to date and well maintained. He was always looking to expand and improve the company. (Routes to South America and London) He routinely addressed the employees and tried to keep them informed. But the costs started to add up and with deregulation taking more and more… Read more »
happythey'reback
Guest

one problem is that Wegel himself is not an aviator, but a bean counter….

Joey
Guest

Ed Wegel is a sick twisted nut job. He screams like a lunatic to get what he wants like a baby in the end like a baby he gets a good spaniking and goes to his room crying and screaming some more.

An arrogant man is Ed Wegel very arrogant and this POS scam will end soon enough

Tom
Guest

LOL….sorry, I’m laughing because you were describing yourself.

Biagio Ambrosino
Guest
NO FOND MEMORIES?!?!??!?!!? Are you out of your mind? Get your facts straight. I’m a former Eastern Airlines employee, and I still get raves over the service we provided the passengers. Passengers have fond memories of Eastern. Speaking with people, I always smile when they recall the steak dinner they used to get in COACH. I also remember the overbooked flights, and the mechanical delays on the L1011 fleet. I remember when the battles between Charlie and the Franks. CF- Let me tell you the union was not COMPLETELY at fault. The IAM had offered to take a paycut in… Read more »
Biagio Ambrosino
Guest

I apologize. I made a typo. The year I meant to type was 1988, not 1998. Eastern was gone in 1991.

Kim Anderson (Phelps-nee)
Guest
Kim Anderson (Phelps-nee)
The writer of this article doesn’t have a clue. This company that had such fine, dedicated, professional employees, deserves a comeback. This airline separated itself from the others, due to their employees. They made this company and I know they would love to see it return. I would be a faithful customer, refusing to fly any other, if this were to happen. My father was employed for many years, beginning his career at DCA, and ending at TPA. Today, there is no such thing as customer service. You are lucky to get anything other than rudeness and avoidance from employees… Read more »
Tom
Guest

Who ever wrote this article is a real ASS. Probably the same Delta employee that told my dad in 1991 as he walked out the terminal for the last time as an Eastern employee that he was glad Eastern was finally gone. Interesting how the arrogance of some even have the nerve to write an article such as this. He doesn’t insult an air line. He insults its people. To hell with him.

geojet
Guest

Bad idea??? You know its people like you, Mr. Writer/Reporter that infected an industry that pioneered aviation. Why don’t you just go Greyhound next time ass wipe!

Nancy
Guest

If an airline came back named Eastern Airlines, I would run to jump on the band wagon! I was a flight attendanr for EAL from the 60s to the 80s and it’s very dear to my heat! I loved the company, loved the services and worked proudly. Today, the airlines do not offer services. I work for Piedmont (USAirys Express) so I still have a hand in the industry but see it from the ground.

Mike
Guest
I’d work for them in a heart beat if they came back. Hell, when I first heard about it I went digging around trying to find anyone that knew anything about the prospect to get onboard at the ground level… I’ve worked for a number of other airlines these last few years and the more I do, the more I realize that the ones that are actually worth a crap are eaten by larger ones that only care about stock holders and making their CEO’s fatter. Sides, they couldn’t be any worse than USair… And I doubt they would be… Read more »
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