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Eastern Airlines

Early history

Eastern Airlines began its history as Pitcairn Airways in 1929. As time went by, competitors were acquired, international routes opened, and the name of the airline was changed from Pitcairn to Eastern.

Eastern's propellers were very prominent during the 1950s around the Eastern coast of the United States.

The 1960s

In 1960 Eastern's first jets, Douglas DC-8s arrived, allowing Eastern to open non-stop service from New York City's Idlewild International Airport to Los Angeles, California. The DC-8s were joined in 1962 by a brand new sister, the Boeing 727. Around this time, Eastern started changing their plane's livery colors to include the dark blue hockey stick design that is now famous in the airline industry.

The 1970s

The 1970s brought dramatic changes in the configuration of Eastern Airlines. Internationalization was begun, and Eastern opened routes to new markets such as Madrid, Mexico City, Santo Domingo, Nassau and London. Services from San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport were expanded, and Eastern bought the Lockheed L-1011 jet, which would become known in the Caribbean as El Grandote (the huge one).

Boeing 747s were also introduced for a short time during that period, and Eastern became the official airline of Walt Disney World.

During the 1970s, Eastern Airlines suffered a few crashes, one of which became a subject for a Hollywood movie. Eastern Arlines Flight 411 had to try to land in less than favorable weather conditions in Miami, Florida in 1972, crashing in the Everglades, the same site of the ValuJet Flight 592 DC-9 crash 22 years later. In Eastern's flight 411 case, it was rumored that the ghost of the pilot who flew that night was later seen on some Eastern planes that carried parts of the doomed plane. While this was largely an unproven legend, it was the subject of the movie The Ghost Of Flight 411.

The 1980s

Eastern was rolling along when the 1980s started, under its new president, former astronaut Frank Borman. In 1983, a Caribbean hub was inaugurated at San Juan (then still named Isla Verde International Airport). In 1985, Eastern acquired all of Pan Am's South American routes, gaining access to communities like Lima, Bogota, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. And while this all was going on, Eastern enjoyed splitting their fleet between their "silver colored hockey stick" livery and their "white colored hockey stick" livery.

In 1983, Eastern became the launch customer of Boeing's new aircraft, the Boeing 757. It would become an invaluable asset to the airline until its later days. In that same year, Eastern re-introduced services to Ponce, Puerto Rico, using Fairchild Swearinger planes under the name Eastern Metro Express. The Eastern Metro Express operation wasn't limited to Ponce, however, as, under that name, Eastern began services from its San Juan hub to Mayaguez and several other smaller Caribbean communities, from New York's JFK International Airport to several northeastern cities, and from Miami to many cities around the South.


Unfortunately, three things happened for Eastern that stopped all that progress on its track. In 1985, an Eastern 727 from Peru crashed in the mountains, leaving all its passengers and crew dead and straining the trust the citizens of that new destination had in the airline. Then in 1988, the airline was bought by Frank Lorenzo, whose ownership proved disastrous. Then in 1989, there was a long pilots' strike. This adversely affected the airline because many flights were cancelled and Eastern lost money as a consequence. As a result of the strike and other financial problems, Eastern filed for bankruptcy protection on March 9.

The coup de grace for Eastern, it can be said, was the 1990 Gulf War. With the higher oil prices and the public's fear of flying at the time, Eastern's sales kept suffering, and Eastern had their last flight in January 1991, officially shuting down on January 18. Lorenzo had suffered the same luck he suffered as chairman of the board in his previous airline company, Texas International.

Attempts at revival

An airline entrepreneur, Martin Shugrue, considered reviving Eastern in 1995. Eventually, however, he decided to revive Pan Am.

Other facts of interest