Whoa: Eastern Airlines Adds Chicago To Sarajevo Route

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Update: Eastern Airlines canceled this route within days of putting tickets on sale.

Eastern Airlines, American’s strangest real airline (I don’t want it to be confused with American’s strangest fake airlines, after all), has just announced a fascinating new route.

Eastern Airlines will fly to Europe!

Between May 28 and September 5, 2021, Eastern Airlines will launch a once weekly flight between Chicago and Sarajevo. The flight will operate eastbound on Fridays and westbound on Sundays, as follows:

2D972 Chicago to Sarajevo departing 7:05PM arriving 11:05AM (+1 day)
2D973 Sarajevo to Chicago departing 8:00AM arriving 12:00PM

The nearly 5,000 mile flight is blocked at 9hr eastbound and 11hr westbound. It will be operated by a Boeing 767-200ER in a two class configuration. Eastern Airlines’ most common 767-200 configuration features 238 seats, including 18 premium seats and 220 economy seats.

However, the airline acquired all of its planes secondhand, and it’s my understanding that configurations aren’t very consistent, so only time will tell what’s actually offered.

There’s a lot that makes this route cool:

  • This will be Eastern Airlines’ first route out of Chicago
  • This will be Eastern Airlines’ first transatlantic route
  • This will be the only nonstop flight between the US and Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • The plane will spend a night in Sarajevo, presumably so that the same crew can work the return flight

What I can’t make sense of

Let me start by acknowledging that there’s a huge Eastern European population in Chicago, including people with ties to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city has the second most Bosnians in the US, after St. Louis. On the surface I can totally see how there’s demand for this route.

What I can’t wrap my head around is how Eastern Airlines fits into the equation here. For those of you not familiar with Eastern, it’s without a doubt the most random airline in the US. The airline operates a fleet of over a dozen used 767s and 777s, and has a rather disjointed route network.

It flies routes like New York to Anchorage, Philadelphia to Mexico City, Los Angeles to Guayaquil, and Miami to Asuncion, as one does. Unfortunately the airline never launched its planned Alaska to China flight, which sure would have been fun.

What I can’t make sense of is Eastern Airlines’ strategy here:

  • Eastern Airlines doesn’t operate any other flights to Chicago, so will the airline add a domestic flight to position the aircraft to Chicago, or how will the plane get there? Won’t this be extremely inefficient in terms of crewing a once weekly flight with the amount of deadheading going on?
  • Eastern Airlines’ pricing is delusional, as the airline is charging ~$2,000 for roundtrip economy tickets, while competitors with a connection are charging less than half as much; does the airline think people are willing to pay that much of a premium for a nonstop flight on an airline they’ve never heard of, or what?
  • While we’ve seen more of this during coronavirus, Eastern Airlines’ strategy of launching flights with just weeks notice seems to exclude a large portion of the potential customer base, especially when you add in the fact that this is an airline most people haven’t ever heard of, making marketing this flight even more challenging

Can someone explain the economics here? Did Eastern Airlines get some sort of a lucrative cargo contract for this once weekly flight, does the airline really think people will pay $2,000 to fly economy across the Atlantic over a “name-brand” competitor with a connection, and how exactly is this plane going to be positioned?

That being said…

You guys know that I love “random” and new airlines, and Eastern Airlines has interested me for so long. Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a country that I’ve been wanting to visit.

I’m so tempted to book this as a post-vaccination trip, because the country is open with a pre-travel testing requirement, and this seems like a pretty cool flying experience. Anyone have feedback on Sarajevo?

Bottom line

Eastern Airlines has historically been focused on flights to Latin America, but the airline is now expanding to Europe, with a once weekly seasonal Chicago to Sarajevo flight.

While I can theoretically see where the market is for that, I still don’t understand how this route is supposed to work for Eastern, between the outrageous fares, and the fact that the airline doesn’t currently have a presence in Chicago.

What do you make of Eastern Airlines’ new transatlantic route?

(Tip of the hat to @IshrionA)

  1. Most of the seats on heavily VFR routes like this are marketed via consolidators, so the pricing available to public isn’t actually reflective of market reality. Knowing the guys at Eastern, they are unlikely to have committed to this route without sufficient guarantees on those blocks to cover their DOCs.

  2. Haven’t been to Sarajevo, but other parts of the country are really beautiful. Lots of waterfalls, caves, etc. Go explore!

  3. @Ben:
    Quote: “Eastern Airlines, American’s strangest real airline (I don’t want it to be confused with American’s strangest fake airlines, after all),…”
    As you twice wrote “American’s … airline…”: is this a typo and you meant “America’s” or is this in any way associated with American (Airlines)?

  4. Eastern route strategy is all over the place. For the route examples you mentioned the last I seen they are not even operating or will operate for now. They constantly announce routes then pull them either before they start or right after they start. This route might be subject to the same treatment. They are simply inconsistent.

  5. I truly hope this works out and invites some competition. As you noted, Chicago has a large BH population (another maybe unexpected city like that is Louisville, KY). I visit Sarajevo every summer as I make the rounds visiting family in the region, and it is one of my absolute favorite cities in the entire world. Vibrant, diverse, extremely walkable, full of events during the summer, and some of the most delicious food you will ever have. I missed visiting it last year due to *gestures widely* and remain hopeful I’ll be able to visit this year again.

  6. Sarajevo is one of the most interesting capitals in Europe IMO, steeped in history. You must at least also visit Mostar if you go 🙂 as others have said the country has amazing nature and would be a shame to miss this with just seeing Sarajevo

  7. Getting to Bosnia and Sarajevo is actually a real pain from the US other than via *A. It usually requires flying into Zabreb/Dubrovnik or Belgrade and driving 5-6 hours. Getting to anywhere in ex-Yugoslavia seems to require at least two flights even from massive hub cities.

    As someone married to a Bosnian, its a neat place with nice people though at least for me, the language barrier has been very difficult. I’ve been to Bosnia four times yet have never actually flown into Sarajevo. That being said, given that I don’t live in Chicago, I would still probably want to stick with using OW to get there or Air Serbia to Belgrade and or take a short flight from BEG->SJJ

  8. As a Chicagoan, I’d love to see this succeed. Getting most places ex-Yu is a HUGE pain and as commented above, Star Alliance is the only meaningful option as MUC, FRA, and VIE have more flights to the region than any other airports. But, that being said, the logistics here are awful. I’d be much more excited about a JU flight to BEG. BiH is beautiful – Mostar and Trebinje well worth a visit and without the crowds and high prices of neighboring Dalmatia.

  9. Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are beautiful places to visit. You’ll enjoy the food (ćevapi, ajvar, amazing bread, coffee, rakija), the culture, people are really warm and welcoming. Most folks under 40 speak English. I would strongly recommend learning about the history and ethno-nationalist differences that fuel the more recent history. And be aware that it is deeply politically broken, corrupt, and economically tough place. And the U.S. has played a significant hand in making it so (as has the EU). If you ski, it has great places to do that near the city (it did host the ‘84 winter Olympics.). I prefer summer and the film festival in August. The days are hot, but because of the mountains, night is always cool.

    My partner is based there, I’m in DC (though my family is in Chicago), and I’m not sure the advantage of this flight. I just booked the Lufthansa flight through Frankfurt for July and August and it was something like $1000 and 12 hours each way. To fly from Chicago direct would be the same for me. And with one flight a week, and the potential of it being cancelled, not sure why.

  10. I will say that Sarajevo is an absolutely wonderful city. My family and I spent time there a few summers ago, pre-COVID, and loved it. The mountains around it are beautiful and the old town is gorgeous. For someone who likes hiking like yourself I think you’d find plenty to do. Everyone we met was friendly and, frankly, surprised to see us. As another poster mentioned, the food is great too. Only warning: Google maps is horrible with directions there (all right, that’s probably obvious). Oh, also, while the drive down there is beautiful, Mostar is really overrated and too touristy for me. The Kravica waterfalls, near(ish) Mostar, on the other hand, are worth a visit.

  11. I wonder if commercial/cargo plays a role. How much mix of non baggage can a 767-200ER handle? I imagine Sean M is probably right regarding ticket sales I was thinking that as well that a high % if not a most of the tickets will be code shares consolidators and through specific travel channels. I imagine a fair amount of connections since its easier to do your connections in the US and arrive at your destination than change planes overseas. IIRC, BH currency is pegged to the Euro. I know BH is a candidate for EU membership and Croatia is right next door. BH is something of a condominium between the various entities that make up the demographics of the country.

  12. “For those of you not familiar with Eastern, it’s without a doubt the most random airline in the US. ”

    Baltia’s mysterious investors just blushed.

  13. Loved Sarajevo. If you go to Croatia, drive there via Mostar. It’s a really pretty drive. Really fun place.

  14. How ’bout trying out Eastern’s Miami to Asunción route. Who knew there was a direct flight from the USA to Paraguay?

  15. I’ve been to Sarajevo. It’s a nice “small town” capital. Very interesting based on its checkered past. Muslims, Christians and Catholics all living in seemingly peaceful harmony now after years of strife. Big apartment building with holes still in the side from the war, then brand new multi million dollar mosques nearby. Interesting contrast.

  16. I am an American living in Sarajevo and we really believe that the potential for this city and country is untapped. It’s a phenomenal place to visit.

  17. This is a surprise. I’ve visited Bosnia twice (great place) in the past 5 years, and even just flying from and to other European countries, there weren’t many options for me!

  18. Absolutely loved Sarajevo. I was going to suggest tacking that on to the Croatia trip but I guess crossing the land borders is not so easy these days. We also tacked on a few nights in Montenegro and Serbia before leaving through Zagreb (loved that city too). September a few years back. When in Bosnia if it’s warm you could do a side trip to the Kravice Falls as well as Mostar.

  19. Another BIG fan of Sarajevo and BiH here. Fascinating blend of cultures, amazing food, unspoiled traditions, and out of this world scenery nearby. One of my very favorite places.

    There was NO chain hotel in the capital when I visited. I wish they’d keep it that way.

  20. I’m guessing this is a money laundering operation operating as an airline. All the connections are from South America to major financial centres in the USA. Everyone involved is probably being overpaid. Now add Eastern Europe to the mix. Makes perfect sense if you’ve got a few hundred million that need cleaning.

  21. most of the routes you mentioned were announced but never started, typical with the new Eastern

  22. @Sean M hit the nail on the head. Most tickets will be sold via consolidators to ethnic travel agencies and probably offering some very nice excess luggage rates. Paraguayan, Peruvian and Bosnian markets are all markets with huge personal cargo opportunities.

  23. You should book and fly from Chicago to Sarajevo, use the opportunity before it disappears. I guess they are also hoping that there will be more EU citizens who right now need to spend 14 days in non EU country, many fly to Mexico Belgrade to be able to enter the USA. So some who need to get to Chicago will probably spend now 14 days in Sarajevo and then fly to the States. This goes especially separated from their loved ones.

  24. AA once offered Asunción to Miami on a 757-200, I flew it northbound in February of 2014. AA operated it as an overnight southbound and a day flight northbound. Paraguay is a super weird place, maybe the Bosnia of South America (shrugs)?

  25. How on earth can you write any article about an Eastern Airlines without so much as a mention of historical context to the original once great Eastern Airlines??!!!

  26. Anyone else notice that you can’t buy JFK-ANC tickets on Eastern? Thought it’d be cool to try the airline on a domestic flight, but not a single date is available for sale …

  27. This AIrline, EASTERN is a Mad Man’s attempt at throwing Pasta at a Wall and waiting to see what Sticks. I would highly advise AGAINST booking Any travel plans with a flim flam operation that EASTERN represents…..I see them taking Your Money, discontinuing routes and closing down the Operation as soon as the Owner’s fill their Pockets. NWH would I book with them.

  28. Their marketing strategy is very weird. I don’t think this route will work as well, but I guess we’ll have to see.

    @Surya N. I can’t seem to find it either on their schedule and you can’t book it? I’m guessing they removed it since Delta will start flying the route.

  29. At the moment Bosnia is probably the worst place to visit in Europe .
    Covid is on rampage there with minimal vaccination .
    People are even queueing up at the border to get into neighbouring Serbia which vaccinates foreigners for free …

  30. @Mickey and yet Serbia has a lot more infected than Bosnia. The truth is that in vaccination it is real disaster, but that doesn’t have to do anything with going there as a tourist even now. It is not like you will socialize with local people and hug and kiss. You can go to beautiful mountains, to the sea, lakes…Also I would say it is much safer to go there because there are not so many tourists like in the rest of Europe. Serbia, Croatia, UK, France, Germany, Italy etc. most of other european countries have more people visiting during pandemic then Bosnia.

  31. Hello, if you decide to come to Sarajevo I will get you all the tips you need 🙂 A friend of mine is a tour guide and he will give you a best tour of the city – my treat! He is the best tour guide in the country. There are mire cities to visit, hikes, waterfalls, lakes…you name it – we have it! Cevapi, baklava, and coffee on me as well! Welcome!

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