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.