OK, please let me take you back to August 26th, 1989, which is exactly 20 years ago today. It was (and will always be) a special day to me, because, it was the day I flew on Eastern Airlines, my all-time favorite airline, for the very first time. I was barely 14 years old and traveling alone. I fell in love with Eastern that I wanted to work for them as an executive. I eventually became a Gold OnePass member a year later.
How did it begin with? Why Eastern Airlines, not other airline? Well, I went to Port Columbus International Airport earlier that month, just to watch airplanes and to socialize with airport workers. Port Columbus International Airport was one of the nicest airports to relax and make new friends.
Photo © Gary Chambers
It was on August the 1st. That day, I wandered around the airport and I noticed white and blue foil balloons in the air surrounding Eastern Airlines ticket counter area as well as a huge banner that read "Welcome Back to the New Eastern" on the back wall. The ticket counter was empty with no flight information all summer long so it was so obvious to me that they were celebrating their 1st flight - and the only flight of the day - out of Columbus since the strike that brought down Eastern for 6 months. The flight's destination, of course, was Atlanta, departing at noon, sharp.
I, for strange reason, felt the spirit for Eastern Airlines and decided that I should go down to Eastern's gate area to further witness what is taking place there. When I showed up in Eastern's gate area (it was Gate 16 back then), I again noticed white and blue foil balloons scraping the whole gate area. And there was a big cake and punch drinks on a table by the window. The cake was clever: it had 'Welcome Back to the New Eastern" in frosting on it. A pretty neat idea to celebrate the inaugural "new" Eastern flight. The DC-9-51 plane was already there, getting ready to leave for Atlanta and then on to Pensacola, Florida. The plane appeared to be highly polished - it was shiny that it hurt my eyes. The sunshine was so strong and blurring. It was a sight I will never forget. Eastern employees appeared happy and outgoing.
Photo © George W. Hamlin
While in the gate area, I told myself, I should fly on Eastern. No questions at all. I wasn't afraid to come to a gate agent and admit her that I have decided to fly on Eastern some day. To my surprise, the agent offered me a cake and drink. I gladly accepted her offer. I quickly grabbed a cake and drink and escaped. I was so shy but I was really excited to be part of the celebration. Eastern has finally resumed regular flying after the employee strike that grounded Eastern for 6 months.
I went home and immediately called Eastern toll-free on TDD (telecommunication device for the deaf). I was looking to fly to Eastern's base in Atlanta the following week or two. I was offered a low roundtrip fare of $158 from Columbus to Atlanta and back on same day. I made a reservation and, since I did not have a credit card to purchase the ticket on TTY, asked my mom to take me to the airport the next day and buy the 7-day advance ticket. After making the reservation, I rode on my bike to the bank and withdrew $158.00 in savings. How did I have the money? That summer of 1989, I worked at a bowling alley and saved money in my bank account. I was saving money in hopes to buy a plane ticket.
The next day, my mom took me to the airport. When I arrived at Eastern Airlines ticket counter to buy the ticket in cash, the lone employee expressed her concerns that I was traveling alone to Atlanta for just few hours. Her name was Carolyn Blankenship. I implied to her that I just wanted to fly and have lunch at the airport in Atlanta. She went on and put me on bulkhead row and flagged me as an unaccompanied minor on my reservation. I wasn't pleased about that I have to thank her for caring so much about me. After I received my plane ticket, I was too eager until the day I fly on Eastern for the first time. I kept reviewing my ticket and boarding passes everyday.
August 26th, 1989 was on a Friday. I was on a 8:30 am flight (EA #673, I think) to Atlanta, arriving in Atlanta at 10:00 am and returning to Columbus on a 4:00 pm flight (EA #676, I think), both on Boeing 727-200. The night before flying to Atlanta, I slept really well and woke up feeling fresh and ready to go to Atlanta and enjoy my time there.
Few days before traveling to Atlanta, Eastern had increased number of daily flights to Atlanta from Columbus, from one daily to three daily. In the morning of August 26th, my mom took me to the airport. When we arrived at the airport, I went up to the observation deck located on top level of parking garage and took a glance of my plane, a Boeing 727-200.
Photo © Brian Hill
The paint on my plane was peeling off. It was a dull looking plane with company name letter S and R hard to read (EAsTErN). I was dismayed but I was at least happy to get on it. Before checking in at the front counter, I saw two Eastern employees walking outside on curb side with sign saying "On Strike". I simply ignored them. I went inside the airport and checked-in a bag with just a blanket in it. I was testing to see if Eastern can deliver my bag on time both ways.
After checking in, I proceeded to the gate. While walking to the gate, I saw an airport worker that I knew. She was station manager for American Airlines. I got her attention and greeted her. My mom took picture of me holding my ticket holder with her. I still have the picture somewhere. She wished me a good day of flying. When I got to the boarding area, there weren't many passengers waiting to board the flight. The flight was very light, maybe 1/3 full.
I got on the plane. It was a great feeling, but, it felt so quiet. The plane departed the gate on time and took off.
Photo © Burger Collection
Few minutes later, muffin was offered onboard for breakfast. It was good and it gave me the energy to walk around the cabin for a good few minutes while in flight. And then the plane started to descend - it was my first time to Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. When approaching on runway in Atlanta, I did not spot many Eastern planes I had expected. My flight was little early. My plane parked at Concourse C. And then more Eastern planes arrived.
Photo © Frank C. Duarte Jr.
I loved Concourse C. Eastern's B concourse was not fully utilized at that time. I took the subway from Concourse C to the baggage claim. My bag had already arrived before I claimed it. I quickly checked in my bag for flight home later that day. Who does not want to carry the bag with just a blanket in it all day long? Eastern's ticket counter in Atlanta was long and spacious. Only about half of the space was in operation.
I can't remember what I did while I was in Atlanta, but, I basically looked at planes and trying to learn the way Eastern's operations in Atlanta works. I seem to remember spending most of the day in Concourse C. I got to see close up views of L-1011s, A-300s, and 757s. I really wanted to go to Eastern's hangar in Atlanta - I spotted a lot of planes parked there. They were little or no movement, the planes were just sitting in there.
Photo © Felix Goetting
Finally, it was time to board my flight back home, again, on a Boeing 727-200 but not the same aircraft I previously flew on. I boarded the plane and became little stressed that I couldn't see through my window very well. Who wants a window seat with severe scratches on the outside. Not one scratch but maybe 30 scratches. I wanted to move to a new seat but I was under the impression that the flight was full, so I remained in my original seat.
The flight back home went fast. It was a beverage-only flight. I think peanuts were provided onboard. The weather was cloudy from point to point. When deboarding in Columbus, I noticed same employee who took my boarding pass when I boarded the flight for Atlanta. She recognized my face and asked me how my day trip was. She smiled at me - it was the best smile I've ever seen. Her name is Mary McIntyre. Sadly, she passed away few months ago. My mom and I met at the gate and we went straight to the baggage claim. I was wondering if my bag made it home. It did! We left the airport and went home. When I got home, I became obsessed with Eastern's interior colors. Brown seats with red/orange strips. How lovely they are!
I sure miss Eastern Airlines! And many thanks to my mom for everything for making this day trip possible. Over time, I got real close to many Eastern employees in Columbus, especially Gypsyfied, Liz Kovach, Carolyn Blankenship, Nikki, and Dennis Gadda.
Thanks for reading my trip report!