Eastern Air Lines Died 20 Years Ago … today

In January 1991 I was in the 10th grade, living in my parents house just down the road from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. From my window growing up I watched all the airlines fly by, Pan Am, Braniff, TWA, National, Eastern, and woke up to both the British Airways and Air France Concordes’ many mornings.

But January 18, 1991 is one of those dates that will always stay in my mind … it’s the last day Eastern Air Lines’ big silver jets stopped flying over my house. I spent many hours over many years looking out my parent’s windows and sitting on the roof of their garage watching for Eastern Air Lines L-1011s fly by and can remember when I caught my first glimpse of my first Boeing 757 … an Eastern Air Lines silver jet with “757” painted vertically up the tail.

But 20 years ago today that all came to a halt as the airline ceased to exist, liquidated and faded into just a memory.

While National Airlines was folded into Pan Am when I was only 5 (and I have memories of flying on National Airlines’ DC-10s) and Braniff disappeared when I was 7 … Eastern Air Lines was the first major airline to close down where I fully understood everything that was happening. I had closely followed the news stories of the labour disputes, the financial woes and read everything I could on Frank Lorenzo and everything else about the airline’s restructuring.

I remember watching the news on the 18th of January 1991 and listening to reports that the airline would continue to operate and that the airline would continue to fly.  This was all reported as the airline was putting everything into place to cease operations at 12:00 Midnight (technically the 19th of January). The next morning, January 19th, I woke up to find out that Eastern Air Lines had shut down at midnight and the airline was to be liquidated.

Less than a year later Pan Am would cease to exist, followed by TWA ten years later … for me the closing of Eastern Air Lines 20 years ago was the start of a series of dominos that still seems to be falling as Northwest ceased to exist and now Continental on its way out as well.

If this was an episode of The Wonder Years I guess this would be the moment I would say, “This is the moment when my childhood fascination with airlines turned into my first real adult moment  fascinated with airlines, and nothing would be the same again.”

So long Eastern Air Lines … its been 20 years, but I still carry a piece of you with me … an Eastern baggage tag on my briefcase.

Happy Flying!


  1. […] Eastern Airlines ceased operation 20 years ago. If we recognize a birthday on Jan 18th I suppose we also ought to have a moment of silence for a death, too. Eastern Airlines ceased operation at midnight on Jan 19, 1991. Steve Frischling (FlyingWithFish) recounts the event in his column. Here area some comments about the event on the airliners.net forum. […]


  1. Great article. I was an Eastern employee and very few of us knew EA was closing on that day. I had heard rumor but told it was not happening by airport staff. I was in front of TV ironing when Brokaw reported an airline closing down and I knew it had to be EA. Thankfully, I was with the computer arm System One and did not loose a day of work. I, too, have many EA mementos. It was a great company to work for — like a big family.

  2. I worked for Pan Am for 22 years and for Eastern for 25, and was coowner of Miami Air for 11. My last job in Eastern was Vice President of International Operations and had been responsible for the total integration of the Braniff routes into the Eastern System. At Eastern’s dissolution, I can tell you that there was not a more disappointed group of employees than the international bunch who had quickly assimilated into the Eastern family after the purchase of the Braniff routes. Eastern was not only a fabulous place to work but the friendliest of places to spend 12 hours a day! The people of Eastern were really the greatest!!

  3. Dear Mr. Frischling,

    My first flight on a commercial airliner was on an Eastern Boeing 720, from BOS- ATL. Over the years I flew several more times on B-727s and DC-9s. When the company folded it was like a family had died. Many times over the years I have thought about the blue hockey stick livery and wondered what kind of airline it would be today had it not ceased to exist. From age thirteen, my first flight until today, I will always remember EA. Thanks for bringing back strong wonderful memories with this piece.

  4. Dear Steve,
    Thank you for your fond memories of Eastern Airlines I also was an employee of Eastern for fifteen years. I loved my job and also my company and I still meet people who tell me their fine recollections of my airline that ceased to be twenty years ago. They gave me a passport to the world and I used it well. Travelling enriched my life just as your travels are your livelyhood. Nothing beats the sound of a jet engine reving up and the rumble of the plane as it reaches take off speed.
    May your future travels be filled with wonder and may your family see this beautiful planet while they still can.Fly safely and thank you for reminding me what I lost so long ago. Peace be with you. milena

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