Deregulation killed both Eastern and Pan Am, when neither could compete in an unregulated environment. Their management was terrible. As another poster said, Pan Am started going downhill with the purchase of too many 747's, and then they made all of these abolutely terrible decisions, that exacerbated their decline. Selling the Pacific Routes, the LHR
routes, and Intercontinental Hotels, all profitable and valuable, while holding onto the rest of the Trans Atlantic system was deadly. Then they bought National Airlines, right at the beginning of deregulation. National had a point to point route structure (the NE to Florida and Florida to the West Coast via IAH
)and very little feed for Pan Am's International network. Lorenzo, then at Texas International, and Eastern bid up the price for National. Lorenzo made lots of money on the stock, and Pan Am got the booby prize. Lockerbie, as one poster put it, was just the final nail in the coffin. Pan Am's service could be the very best or terrible. Some of their employees remembered the days of Juan Trippe, and others treated you like they were doing you a favor to let you fly Pan Am.
Eastern is another story. From the inception of Jets, Eastern had a rocky financial existence. Before deregulation, they were burdened with a route structure with primarily short stage lengths. (Fares were based on mileage only, so the longer the route, the more profitable it was, since taking off and landing take more time, and burn more fuel). During the middle 60's, they still had too many props, and served many small markets. The 70's brought recession to the industry, and recovery only started about the time of deregulation in 1978. Then things really got tough, because low cost competitors, all of which eventually failed, like Peoples Express and Northeastern Air, started flying from the Northeast to Florida at very low fares. These routes were Eastern's bread and butter. They never had the east west business traffic. Even in the South, until deregulation, they didnt fly west of Ft. Worth. Out of Atlanta, they had to compete with Delta, and they just weren't up to it. Dirty airplanes, a lower quality of service, etc. Delta gained its reputation because they were competing with Eastern, not American or United, (except from Dallas to the West Coast). Then Eastern had union problems, primarily with Charlie Bryant, (the Martin Sheen character in Wall Street). Bryant was the poster boy for everything that Republicans say is wrong with unions. He didn't care about his employer, but only how much he and his members would get paid for as little work as possible. But Eastern's management was terrible too. Frank Borman was the head honcho. While he was not part of it, there was graft in their purchasing department like Food Service, in Miami. Quality was not king, but payoffs were.
Comedian Alan King started WHEALS (We Hate Eastern Air Lines) is the early 60's because of their lousy service. Eastern really never beat that reputation.