Eastern Air Lines - A Brief History

I’m old enough to remember Eastern Air Lines, one of the original legacy carriers in the US, along with American, Delta, Pan Am, TWA and United. For the younger generation of aviation enthusiasts, my goal is to give you a little bit of history, and hopefully some appreciation, for this once proud airline.


(Photo Credit: Sunshine Skies)

Eastern had its beginnings as a mail carrier in 1926, connecting New York to Atlanta. Eight years later, the airline was purchased by General Motors. In 1938, famed WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker bought Eastern from General Motors for US $3.5 million. With Rickenbacker’s pioneering leadership, Eastern experienced a period of growth, becoming the fourth largest airline in the country.


(Photo Credit: George W. Hamlin)

In 1960, Eastern’s first jets, Douglas DC-8s, entered service on nonstop routes to Miami from both New York and Chicago. In 1964, Eastern became a launch customer for the Boeing 727, along with American and United. Taking a chance on a then unproven aircraft, in 1977, Eastern became the first US carrier to order the Airbus A300. In 1983, Eastern led the industry again by being a launch customer for the Boeing 757, the most advanced, fuel efficient aircraft of its day.


(Photo Credit: Aero Icarus)

Eastern introduced widebody service with the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar in 1972. The first aircraft were put into service between New York, Miami and San Juan. Service between Chicago and San Juan was also added. The L-1011 would become known in the Caribbean as El Grandote (the huge one). Eastern called these aircraft “whisperliners” due to the relatively low noise levels inside their cabins.


(Photo Credit: Bob Garrard)

In 1971, Eastern became the official airline of Walt Disney World, and sponsored an attraction at the Magic Kingdom called, If You Had Wings. Eastern held this title until 1987 when Delta became Disney’s official airline.


(Photo Credit: Big Florida Country)

At the height of its success, Eastern flew to 140 destinations, and operated hubs in Atlanta, Miami, New York, and San Juan. Focus cities were also maintained in Chicago and Orlando. During that time, Eastern’s fleet consisted mainly of A300, B727, B757, DC-9 and L-1011 aircraft.


(Photo Credit: Marc Hasenbein)

In the mid 1980s, Eastern began losing money when faced with competition from new no-frills, low cost carriers. Eastern filed for bankruptcy in 1991, and immediately began laying off the first of its 18,000 employees. Fans of the airline vowed that, one day, Eastern would fly again.


(Photo Credit: José Santiago)

In 2009, a group of investors purchased the rights and trademarks of Eastern, and in 2014, filed an application for a transportation certificate with the Federal Aviation Administration. The new airline began charter service out of Miami in 2015, using Boeing 737 aircraft painted in Eastern’s classic livery. In 2017, Eastern conducted its last flight, with all assets being purchased by charter airline Swift Air.


(Photo Credit: Dennis Sanders)

Eastern was always one of my favorite airlines, As their once popular slogan stated, “We have to earn our wings every day.” They certainly succeeded in doing that. The great silver fleet has earned its place in aviation history.

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Thank you for this aviation history! Eastern is a very unique airline!

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Eastern Airlines was the first aircraft I flew on as a kid

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I just learned that Eastern Airlines (2016) merged with Swift Air. I thought they would continue on to do commercial flights. I guess not

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Sounds like a great airline! It really kept up to date with its planes

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You should include the 747. Also here’s a map of all there routes:

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Due to delays in the L-1011 program, Eastern leased two 747-100s from Pan Am between 1970 and 1972.

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