top of page

Eastern Air Lines # One pioneered of the "Big Four"

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Eastern Air Lines, also colloquially known as Eastern, was a major American airline from 1926 to 1991. Before its dissolution, it was headquartered at Miami International Airport in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Eastern was one of the "Big Four" domestic airlines created by the Spoils Conferences of 1930, and was headed by World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker in its early years. It had a near monopoly in air travel between New York and Florida from the 1930s until the 1950s and dominated this market for decades afterward.

History :

Eastern Air Lines was a composite of assorted air travel corporations, including Florida Airways and Pitcairn Aviation. In the late 1920s, Pitcairn Aviation won a contract to fly mail between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia on Mailwing single-engine aircraft. In 1929, Clement Keys, the owner of North American Aviation, purchased Pitcairn. In 1930, Keys changed the company's name to Eastern Air Transport. After being purchased by General Motors and experiencing a change in leadership after the Airmail Act of 1934, the airline became known as Eastern Air Lines. Eastern pioneered hourly air shuttle service between New York City, Washington, DC and Boston in 1961 as the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle. Just before Walt Disney World opened in 1971, Eastern became its "official airline". It took over the South American route network of Braniff International upon its shutdown in 1982 and also served London Gatwick in 1985 via its McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 "Golden Wings" service. Although Eastern announced on their March 2, 1986 timetable that it would serve Madrid, Spain effective May 1, 1986, the service did not commence. The only scheduled trans-Atlantic service Eastern provided was Miami to London Gatwick, commencing on July 15, 1985 and was discontinued in 1986 and replaced with codeshare flights from Atlanta via British Caledonian Airways.

The Jet Age

In November 1959, Eastern Air Lines opened its Chester L. Churchill-designed Terminal 1 at New York City's Idlewild International Airport (later renamed JFK Airport). In 1960, Eastern's first jets, Douglas DC-8-21s, started to take over the longer flights, like the non-stops from Chicago and New York to Miami. The DC-8s were joined in 1962 by the Boeing 720 and in 1964 by the Boeing 727-100, which Eastern (along with American Airlines and United Airlines) had helped Boeing to develop. On February 1, 1964, Eastern was the first airline to fly the 727. Shortly after that, "Captain Eddie" Rickenbacker retired and a new image was adopted, which included the now famous hockey stick design, officially Caribbean Blue over Ionosphere Blue. Eastern was also the first US carrier to fly the Airbus A300 and the launch customer for the Boeing 757.

Although Eastern had purchased four 747s, the delivery slots were sold to Trans World Airlines (TWA) when Eastern decided to purchase the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. But due to massive delays in the L-1011 program, mainly due to problems with the Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, Eastern leased two Boeing 747-100s from Pan Am between 1970 and 1972 and operated the aircraft between Chicago and San Juan as well as from New York to Miami and San Juan.


In 1975, Eastern was headquartered at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. After Frank Borman became president of Eastern Air Lines in late 1975, he moved Eastern's headquarters from Rockefeller Center to Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Eastern's massive Atlanta hub was in direct competition with Delta Air Lines, where the two carriers competed heavily to neither's benefit. Delta's less-unionized work force and slowly expanding international route network helped lead it through the turbulent period following deregulation in 1978.

In 1980, a Caribbean hub was started at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport near San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1982, Eastern acquired Braniff's South American route network. By 1985, Eastern was the largest IATA airline in terms of passengers and operated in 26 countries on three continents.

During this era, Eastern's fleet was split between their "silver-colored hockey stick" livery (the lack of paint reduced weight by 100 pounds) and their "white-colored hockey stick" livery (on its Airbus-manufactured planes, the metallurgy of which required paint to cover the aircraft's composite skin panels).

Sale to Texas Air and shutdown

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the deregulation, labor disputes and high debt loads strained the company under the leadership of former astronaut Frank Borman. Unable to keep up, Borman agreed to the sale of the airline in 1986 to Texas Air, led by Frank Lorenzo, which had already purchased Continental Airlines and lost a bidding war for TWA to Carl Icahn.

Frank Lorenzo acquired Eastern in 1985 and moved many of its assets to his other airlines, including Continental Airlines and Texas Air. In 1989, Lorenzo sold Eastern Air Lines Shuttle to real estate mogul Donald Trump (who named it the Trump Shuttle) while selling other parts of Eastern to his Texas Air holding company and its subsidiary, Continental Airlines, at terms disadvantageous to Eastern. As a result of the strike, a weakened airline structure, high fuel prices, an inability to compete after deregulation and other financial problems, Eastern filed for bankruptcy protection on March 9, 1989. After continued labor disputes and a crippling strike in 1989, Eastern tried to remain in business in an attempt to correct its cash flow, but Eastern ran out of money and ultimately, Easten Airlines stopped flying at midnight on Saturday, January 19, 1991. The previous evening, company agents, unaware of the decision, continued to take reservations and told callers that the airline was not closing. Following the announcement, 5,000 of the 18,000 employees immediately lost their jobs. Of the remaining employees, reservation agents were told to report to work at their regular times, while other employees were told not to report to work unless asked to do so. The Eastern shutdown eliminated many airline industry jobs in the Miami and New York City areas

American Airlines obtained many of Eastern's routes from Miami to Latin America and the Caribbean, while Delta Air Lines, Eastern's main competitor at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, acquired many of Eastern's Lockheed L-1011 aircraft. USAir acquired 11 of Eastern's 25 Boeing 757-225 aircraft.


Full gallery memories of Eastern Airlines


Eastern Air Lines était une importante compagnie aérienne américaine, qui exista de 1926 à 1991. Elle fut fondée le 19 avril 1926 sous le nom de Pitcairn Aviation. Pitcairn remporta un contrat fédéral pour acheminer le courrier entre New York et Atlanta. En 1929,  Clement Keys, le propriétaire de North American Aviation, achète  Pitcairn. L'année suivante, il change son nom en Eastern Air Transport,  bientôt connue sous le nom de Eastern Airlines. 
En 1938, la compagnie aérienne est rachetée par Eddie Rickenbacker, un as de la Première Guerre mondiale. Rickenbacker fait entrer Eastern dans une période de croissance prodigieuse. Durant les années 1940, des concurrents sont rachetés, des avions plus évolués acquis et des lignes internationales ouvertes. Pendant les années 1950, les hélices d’Eastern étaient les plus nombreuses sur la côte Est des États-Unis. 
Basée à Miami, la compagnie subit une concurrence redoutable des autres Majors sur le marché Floride-Nord/Est.  En 1960, Eastern prend livraison de ses premiers avions à réaction, des Douglas DC-8,  permettant à la compagnie de lancer des vols sans escale entre  l'aéroport Idlewild (actuel JFK) de New York et Los Angeles. Ils seront  rejoints en 1962 par des Boeing 727. 
En 1970, Frank Borman, ex-astronaute de la NASA, prend la direction de la compagnie. Les années 1970  verront la compagnie changer de dimension. La compagnie  s'internationalise avec l'ouverture de lignes vers le Mexique (Mexico)  et les Antilles, mais aussi l'Europe avec Londres et Madrid. 
En 1983, Eastern Air Lines devient la compagnie de lancement du Boeing 757. 
En 1978, alors que la société Airbus se heurte à d'insurmontables  difficultés pour pénétrer un marché américain ultra protectionniste,  Eastern Airlines bénéficie d'un prêt d'appareil gratuit (A-300)  pendant une période de 6 mois. Très satisfait à l'issue de cette  période probatoire, Eastern Airlines concrétise l'achat de 23 A-300. La réputation du PDG de la compagnie (Frank Borman)  et le fait qu'on ne puisse remettre en cause son patriotisme, permirent  à Airbus de vendre des appareils à d'autres compagnies américaines. 
En 1985, la concurrence acharnée d'autres compagnies, notamment Continental Airlines, font débuter un cycle infernal de réductions de coûts, suivies de grèves, et ainsi de suite. Après de longues difficultés financières et une banqueroute déclarée dès 1989, Eastern Air Lines cessa officiellement son activité le 18 janvier 1991. Elle appartenait alors au milliardiaire américain Donald Trump. 

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page