Several months back, I wrote a trip report about my last trip on Eastern Airlines from Pittsburgh to Miami by way of Atlanta. If you would like to read it, simply do a search under all dates using Eastern Airlines as the key word. So now I am going to write about the return portion of my trip. My parents and I spent the night of December 2, 1990 at the Doral in Miami. My dad was going to fly on a Goodyear corporate Challenger back to our home in Cumberland, MD. My mother, the wife of one of my dad's co-workers, and I were to ride Eastern from Miami to Pittsburgh (again connecting through ATL) and then ride the Goodyear SAAB 340 from PIT to Cumberland. Looking back to the morning of December 3, I recall turning on the television and literally hearing this headline as soon as the TV came to life..."Eastern Airlines is being indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly falsifying maintenance records." My mom looked at my dad and said she was staying Florida because she did not want to fly them. I argued with her. To me it was like an adventure. We met my dad's co-worker and his wife for breakfast downstairs. His wife looked pale. "I turned on the television this morning" she said. "Eastern Airlines was all over the news. I swear I think you are trying to get rid of me for the life insurance" she told her husband. My mother was also concerned. "But those violations were something that happened a while back and are now just coming out", my dad told them. Well after a lengthy discussion we were all off to the airport. The van dropped me, my mom, and dad's co-worker's wife off at the Eastern gates. "This might be the last time you ever see us" my mom yelled to my dad in the van.
So standing outside the terminal, the skycap asked us our destination. Yes Eastern still had their own skycaps. He directed us to our gate (I forget which gate it was). Now this part I do remember. In order to get inside, we first had to cross a picket line of striking mechanics. They were carrying signs that read "BOYCOTT EASTERN and CONTINENTAL." I figured it had been over a year and by now the strike was over, but I guess I was wrong. Either way, there were only about twelve of them. Not the hundreds you saw a year earlier.
The Eastern Concourse was bare. I remember they only had about 8 gates tops. By then the Miami hub had been dismantled, but I remember they still flew to ATL about twelve times daily, LAX, Toronto, West Palm Beach, DCA, LGA, San Juan and Cancun. Still a sizeable operation, but nothing compared to what it once was. Also I remember the Concourse was wide open and airy, not like a hallway. More like a big living room. Anyway our gate had about 50 people sitting around. When we checked in, the agent told us to expect a small delay. When we took our seats I overheard the agents all talking about how they couldn't find an airplane for us. "Maybe we should send them to Continental" an agent said. Just then the Flight Attendants arrived. There were five of them all wearing the retro, navy uniforms, big scarves, and pillbox hats. Most of them were mid 40's but one was probably late twenties and very attractive. "We cannot find a plane" one of the agents yelled across the crowd to them. "Good!!!!" the pretty Flight Attendant yelled back. My mom looked really concerned. "I think we should just drive and not fly Eastern" she said. Just then a 757 pulled up to the gate. It was being driven by a tug. The 757 was N512EA and was in the new wide hockey stick paint job. Most of the 757's still carried the skinny stripes below the windows along with 757 on the tail, but not this one. So the Flight Attendants boarded and about 20 minutes later they called for the passengers. This was my first 757 ride.
We boarded through door L1. First Class was refurbished in the new "Corporate Class" two-tone grey seats. The carpet was a purple-blue color. Coach class was still in the typical Eastern colors......brown, tan, orange, and red complete with a large Falcon across the bulkhead. The safety briefing was strange to say the least. While the pretty Flight Attendant was showing us how to use the oxygen mask, another FA came up behind her and said something into her ear. "What???? Are you serious" she replied to the other Flight Attendant. All the passengers looked at each other. Taxi and takeoff was normal and once airborne we were served cinnamon rolls with drippy white icing and whatever beverage you wanted. I chose orange juice. The plane was only about half full. After landing in ATL we disembarked from the 757 and entered the terminal. We had a five-hour sit before going to Pittsburgh so I got to see many EAL crew members and passengers walking through the terminal. I also started working on my driver's ed homework (I was 15 years old.) Outside, the rain was pouring. As the DC-9's and 727's used reverse to back out, two-foot high waves would blow across the tarmac. Finally it was time to board the Pittsburgh flight. Outside a DC-9-50 just arriving from Pensacola waited patiently for us to board. This plane was also about half full......or half empty. While boarding, just before going through the door I noticed a sign painted on the fuselage of the aircraft just aft of the door. "THE PEOPLE AT EASTERN THANK YOU FOR FLYING WITH US" it said. I think other airlines should do that now. Again, the new Corporate First Class had been installed on this aircraft. It extended from row 1 to about 4 rows before the first overwing exit in coach. So you can imagine it took up almost half the plane. My mom and I sat on the two-side of the plane at the first emergency exit. "Excuse me," the lady across from us asked us "Is your seat wet like water is coming through the exit?" Mom now looked pale, "Yes" she replied. A pretty, young Flight Attendant approached us "are you willing to sit in the emergency exit row and assist in an emergency?" she asked. "Yes" we replied. She asked the nervous lady across from us the same question. "Are you expecting an emergency?" the lady asked her. Then she told the Flight Attendant about the wet seats. The Flight Attendant went to the cockpit and told the Captain. From my seat I could see them all laughing up front. She came back and told her the plane was not pressurized so she shouldn't worry. During the taxi I noticed one Eastern DC-9 in Continental colors with Eastern titles and several Eastern DC-9's with "NY" and "TX" tail numbers. After takeoff we were served peanuts and drinks. The lady across from us asked us if our seat was still wet. It was and water was dripping through the exit still. I knew the water was just excess from inside the seal, but my mom and the lady were really nervous. "We will have something to laugh about when we land" the lady told us. As the FA's collected the trash, I had a nice conversation with one. She told me she was going back to ATL after we landed and that the rest of the crew was staying in PIT. She told me she hated L1011's because the galley lifts hardly ever worked and that 757's and A300's were her favorite. Also, she had worked trips to Costa Rica "before they stopped going there" she said sadly. After the approach (which took us down to minimums it seemed) we had a nice landing, helped by the water on the runway. We had been in solid clouds the whole ride. Now here is where my story gets twisted. When we arrived inside the gate a bunch of television camera men greeted us. Apparently a Northwest DC-9 had collided with a 727 in Detroit, but the DC-9 was bound for Pittsburgh. Well the plane was to have arrived a few gates down, so the camera guys were trying to interview family members. I think I have my dates right (12-3-1990) but I may be a few days off. Either way, whatever day the two planes collided in DTW, that was the day of this trip. What was strange was, when I got home, I checked the paper I had written all of my airfare quotes on when I was trying to get us to Florida cheap and had we flown Northwest we would have been on that one. Therefore, I saved the sheet. Here is a neat conclusion to the story. Last month I flew on USAirways 757 N606US..........The same aircraft that once was N512EA.