It was the airline that was destroyed by infighting and a soft economy. The airline headed was by World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker. For a time, Eastern Airlines was known for high quality service with innovative technology. The airline was the first to fly the L1011 and the Boeing 757. Over 60 years, the airline went from one of the ‘big four’ airlines in the US to a failure. On January 18th, 1991, Eastern Airlines suspended service permanently.
What happened to Eastern?
By early 1991, Eastern Airlines had been flailing for a few years.As we previously chronicled, labor relations at the airline were toxic– a combination of challenging management and labor unions that didn’t see eye to eye. CEO Frank Lorenzo was despised by most employees. The labor disputes led to a strike in 1989. This CBS video from 1989 covered the event. Although the airline resumed flying after the strike, the airline never recovered.
Labor and Cash Pressures Doomed Eastern
In addition to difficult labor relations, Eastern also struggled with high debt. The airline flew in markets where competition was intense. The airline also had a mixed fleet of gas guzzling DC-9, 727s and L1011s. When you added in a softening economy brought on by high oil prices due to the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it was a recipe for disaster.
When the airline originally shut down, some people held on to false hope that the airline would somehow resume service with an additional investment of capital. That wasn’t to be. The airline that Eddie founded never flew again. Below is a news report from the day the airline shutdown.
Eastern Returned sorta…Twice
Although the original Eastern Airlines never flew again, a second incarnation flew with the same name beginning in 2015. The famed hockey stick took to the skies on a Boeing 737-800. The airline mostly flew charters with scheduled service from a few US markets to Central American destinations. The airline never rose to the level of success as its predecessor. The most notable aspect of the airline was that it flew Vice President Pence when he was campaigning for office. This second version also ceased service in 2017. Its assets were acquired by Swift Air. Swift then sold the rights to the Eastern name to Dynamic Aviation.
The third iteration of Eastern Airlines took to the skies in 2018. The airline flies a small eclectic mixed fleet of 767-200, 767-300s, and 777s. Today, the airline mostly serves destinations from Miami to the Caribbean and Central America. The airline continues to fly today.
Editor correction: We incorrectly referred to Eddie Rickenbacker as the founder in the first version of the article. He was actually the CEO of Eastern Airlines.