Eastern Redux?

The two biggest surprises in the last week or so: The Super Bowl rout and Eastern Airlines may ride again.

Eastern—it is reported—may fly again, run/operated by a group that has no connection to the previous Eastern, but does own certain rights, including the right to use the Eastern logo and paint scheme.

Eastern was the airline of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous and much admired flying ace of WW I. Cap’n Eddie was rightly proud of the fact that under his management Eastern became the first airline in America to make a profit with no—repeat, no—guvmint subsidy.

But Cap’n Eddie wasn’t perfect. He could be a little slow to adapt to new things like autopilots and jet engines. When other airlines were switching to jets en masse, Cap’n Eddie said Eastern had plenty of perfectly good piston airplanes and there was no reason to buy new jets at that time.

Cap’n Eddie was wrong, and he retired in 1963. The airline moved to jets.

One often-heard story in the 1960s was that Eastern had to spend so much money buying jets belatedly and quickly, that they never recovered from the financial load. I dunno if I believed that myself, but a good friend who worked for Eastern had no doubt—to her it was Cap’n Eddie’s fault.

In any event, Cap’n Eddie retired in 1963, Eastern had problems—particularly after deregulation in 1978—and finally closed the hangar doors in 1991.

I’m kinda looking forward to them flying again. I made a speech for Eastern in the fall of 1990. Part of my pay for the speech came in the form of a card worth $500 on Eastern. For some reason, we didn’t use that card before they went under in 1991. Wife Gail and I are kinda wondering if the new Eastern will honor that card.

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