Eastern Air Lines Redux

by John Delach

On October 27, 2016, a Boeing 737-700 had a close call while landing at LaGuardia Airport. The jet had been chartered to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Mike Pence, now Mr. Trump’s vice president-elect was on board at the time of this event.


A preliminary report that appeared in Newsday several days later stated that the engine spoilers had failed to automatically deploy as soon as the airplane hit the ground and the flight crew took four seconds to manually deploy them. In that short space of time, they also hit the brakes so hard that the 737 skidded off the runway and into the soft concrete slurry arrester bed. The report also noted that this aircraft had been chartered from Eastern Air Lines.


On reading this, I looked up the airplane to check its markings. It had two big names stenciled on both sides, TRUMP and PENCE, but it was a blue band that ran along both sides of the fuselage and up the tail that attracted my attention. Sure enough these markings were a double band of blue, light on top dark blue below; the same markings that the old Eastern Air Lines used in their many years of flying jets. That era lasted until January 19, 1991 when Eastern closed it doors and ceased all operations. Eastern was my domestic carrier of record for most of my business career and I previously wrote in 2014  about my many experiences flying on board that defunct carrier as part of a piece with the title: “Why I Hate Airlines:”


Once upon a time it seemed that I lived on Eastern Air Lines because they flew to all of the places where I peddled insurance; Richmond, Boston, DC, Miami, Atlanta, Mobile, Houston, San Juan and Bermuda. I was one of their Executive Travelers and a member of the Ionosphere Club when it mattered. That combination was so powerful that I knew the receptionist at the club in their JFK terminal on a first name basis. Her name was Helen and she always upgraded me to First Class. In fact, one morning back in the 1980s I arrived for Flight 807, the morning airplane to Bermuda, without my passport or even my driver’s license. Helen, asked, “What are you going to do Mr. Delach?”


“Well, Helen, I do have my company ID that has my photo and we have an office in Bermuda so I think that will work.”


“Okay, good luck but I’ll put you in first class as that could help.”


Imagine that encounter today. Long story short: It did work with a minimum of fuss both ways; getting past Bermuda Immigration onto the island and U.S. Customs and Immigration getting off.


But I watched Eastern go down under Frank Borman’s stewardship. In fact we had a running joke to describe how bad things became before Eastern went out of business: “Eastern is run by Frank Borman, but the way it is run you’d think it was being run by Martin Bormann.”


This new Eastern Air Lines began flying in 2015 as a charter operation based at the Miami International Airport. That Boeing 737-700 with the close call had been chartered to the Florida Panthers for use as their team plane before being chartered by the Trump organization. Eastern replaced it with a 737-800 for the rest of the campaign. That aircraft was the San Francisco Giants team plane.


But here’s the thing. The report in Newsday noted that the failure of the spoilers to automatically engage was a known problem and had not been working during the last three flights before the LaGuardia landing. The story noted that it was unknown at that time whether the flight crew was aware of this problem prior to the bad landing.


Sad to say, but it should be noted if maintenance is that slip-shod, the new Eastern Air Lines isn’t any better than the old Eastern Air Lines, perhaps worse…flyer beware!