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.

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

  1. missy says:

    The author of this website….it is obvious.
    Delta? Delta does not have a union….what do they know? They always copied Eastern Airlines. My choice was to fly with EAL. Delta was a puny airline like American and United. Put puts.
    And I am just a passenger…never worked for an airline but I have heard plenty.
    Let’s begin by booking on an American Airlines, United/Continental, or US Airways flight and get hammered with fees on a seat then another fee on where to sit, on bags, getting treated so nicely by the so rude ticket and gate agents, count on being the last to board and seeing everyones bag that they don’t want to pay for to take up all the overhead space, the dreadful unkept flight attendants and their please pay service if any is fit to be offered, dirty planes, the pilots that never turn off the seat belt sign and look like they need a make over, and hope your luggage arrives, makes it to it’s destination intact, or you don’t see your belongings being sold at some obscure warehouse after months and months of trying to track it down or even trying to get a hold of someone for service on locating your bag by phone, email, or even at the airport.
    The Eastern Airlines present disgruntled striking pilots and flight attendants that after 20 years of the airline closing continue to circulate a “scab” list, a list of employees who kept the airline flying while they, striking employees, made the intelligent choice of handing Eastern Airlines on a silver platter to their enemy Frank Lorenzo and left them jobless. They all had to find another job, start at the bottom at low pay, and they state that “they won”. Victory of being unemployed? Today Frank Lorenzo is living a very comfortable life and no one has threatened/harrassed/intimidated him. He doesn’t have to make a living like all the folks who woke up early every morning running the airline 24/7/365 at Eastern Airlines for many years to repair a plane or made sure the airplane is safe to fly, fly an aircraft and take responsibility to get from point A to point B, to smile and welcome customers keeping them safe while comforting them. Chances are that the airline they are working now, the CEO is not Frank Lorenzo, but the same calibre with another name. But the list has been complied by their unions to threaten/intimidate/harass any ex employee who tries to find any job and worse if it’s in the airline industry. Delta of who doesn’t have a union is guilty of this. Heard of it plenty.
    Every time I get near the airport, it doesn’t even need to be near an airport, there is talk about CEO or COO of X airline, how the employees need to make concessions, and so on. It’s becoming a nightmare to even live next to an airline employee because that’s all I hear. It’s disgusting what the airline industry has become…cut throats, biggots, greedy..antichrist.
    Eastern Airlines was a great airline and will continue to be one of the greats. My hats off for every Eastern employee who worked for many years and stayed to keep that airline from being destroyed by Frank Lorenzo or their peers.

    • Thank you for the kind words about Eastern Air Lines. However, you don’t know the true intent of Frank Lorenzo. It was not his intent to destroy Eastern, but streamline it into a carrier that would survive. The unions fought for years, not only to keep what they had, but to take more. Lorenzo did have the intent to break the unions because Eastern would not survive if union contracts were not renegociated into something survivable. Unions rejected all concessions and in attempt to take over the airline through the courts, they went on strike. Which was actually a good thing as now Lorenzo had an opportunity to use none contract employees (these were the most hard working nicest people you could have ever known, a total contrast to union mentality). However, the nail in the coffin wouldn’t be the unions, but the 1991 Gulf War that drove up fuel prices. IMHO Eastern would have survived if not for the war. Lorenzo sought to bust unions yes, for survivability, so unions played dirty and called a strike as payback. Unions are nasty people, they believe that they are entitled to everything and will fight tooth and nail to get what they want, pure evil.

  2. My comment to you is you don’t know what you are talking about. I was with Eastern Airlines for nearly 25 years, starting with Capt Rickenbucker and ending with that that union buster frank Lorenzo. That scum bag should be shot. My opinion of your comments tells me that you haven’t worked for an airline and Eastern was once a great carrier. Eastern was my livelyhood and I worked very hard for this company and it hurt me to see eastern shut down. Lorenzo wanted to break our unions and fly Eastern under Continentals wing but we didn’t win nor lose, it was a heading banging battle with that scum bucket. So there you have it. If eastern does fly again. The employees of the yestayear Eastern will make Eastern an excellent carrier and kick Southwests ass.

    • 30 years @ Eastern says:

      Lorenzo busted the unions only after the unions would not concede anything to help the airline survive. How can one justify having a worker paid $20/hr, which was a lot in the 80′s, for an 8 hour work day, but they only really worked 3 or 4? Once a ramp man did his “union” defined job he was done only to go and sit in the lounge until the next flight. How pathetic is that to think that someone was “entitled” to have a job like that and bitch when the airline sank because the unions drove up the operating costs so high that Eastern could not compete in the new age of deregulation. Sometimes unions are good, but at Eastern, the unions sucked. BTW, a real Eastern employee would know that it is EASTERN AIR LINES. Not airlines.

      • JanG says:

        The Flight Attendants & Pilot’s unions did conceed . It was the Machinest’s Union that wouldn’t budge: thus causing a strike that lasted way too long. The other unions went on strike in sympathy and unity, hoping to get rid of Frank Lorenzo and his corporate raiding way. I was a F/A for 18 years with Eastern and it was a great airline with great people. The author doen’t know what he’s talking about!

  3. Ansley Park says:

    I was working for Piedmont Airlines in CLT during 1982. The differences I observed from the ramp could not have been more opposite for the two airlines. Piedmont’s operations and customer service agents were young 20 somethings, many ex-Vietnam vets, and were eager to work for peanuts. There was no union, but at Thanksgiving each employee received a turkey. Not a coupon for a turkey but the actual frozen bird. On the ramp those not driving a tug would run to meet the plane as soon as the chocks were set. Eastern by contrast had way to much equipment sitting idle on the ground and their operations agents were “old” and slow. They would stroll over to the plane. After deregulation the legacy carriers couldn’t compete with low frills start ups. They needed to bring their costs down. Why Eastern didn’t realize that early on is a mystery. I wonder if they had been able to read the tea leaves and embraced becoming a discount carrier if things would have turned out differently.

    Still, I loved EAL and continued to fly them until the very end.

  4. CF says:

    30 years @ Eastern – I will not tolerate personal attacks on other commenters. I have deleted the comments that you have already tried to post with those attacks. You are welcome to disagree with commenters and have plenty of snark in the process. But calling people names and not providing any useful information will result in the deletion of your comment.

  5. Chris says:

    It is amazing the amount of animosity and intense feelings that continues to exist more than 20 years after the demise of EAL. I was lucky enough to work them for 13 years, then another 20 years with other carriers until recently retiring from Delta after its merger with Northwest. There was certainly enough blame and short-sightedness on both sides to make the end inevitable. Eastern existed during what can now be referred as the “golden age” of flight. The fact that feelings are still so raw after such a long time is indicative of the love/hate relationship employees had with the company, the union, and each other.

  6. We used to fly Eastern all the time from Boston Logan in the 1980s and never had any problem with service. Flight attendants were great and always treated us kids well. They had a pretty good breakfast back then, yes remember when you used to get served meals on planes? and yeah there were delays but there are delays on any aircraft. Eastern was top notch in my experience.

  7. Mike says:

    You don’t what the hell your talking about, was working there for ten years, saw first hand what that scumbag Frank Lorenzo, Eastern Airlines was a great airline who people wanted to fly with them, also the people who worked for them,pilots, flight attendants and mechanics were the best both on the clock and off. If it wasn’t for that big headed Frank Borman and his cronies which he brought in as VPs of misc areas of the company it sti might be flying today. As for Lorenzo that lowlife which was brought In by Borman to scare the unions, he should be feathered and tarred, and that would be to good for him!!!

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