Insanity: Eastern Airlines Wants To Fly From Alaska To China

One of things that I love about living in Miami is that it’s probably the only airport in the country that challenges me as an aviation geek. I’m obsessed with planes and usually can identify any airline or plane in my sleep, but every time I’m at MIA I see airlines that catch me off guard.

“Huh, what airline is that?”
“Wait, I thought that airline went out of business?”

While I personally know the backstory, a lot of people are surprised to see Eastern planes still flying.

Eastern’s long history

Eastern was a major US airline from 1926 to 1991.

Then in 2015 the airline relaunched (or more accurately, rights to the name were purchased), as the airline started flying 737s to the Caribbean, including Cuba. Less than two years later their air operator certificate was taken away, and they went out of business.


Image courtesy of Cory W. Watts

Then in-mid 2017, charter airline Swift Air acquired Eastern.

But then in April 2018, when Dynamic International Airways exited bankruptcy, they acquired the Eastern name, and have now branded themselves as Eastern.

Featured image courtesy of formulanone

To summarize — the airline went out of business decades ago, then the name was acquired for an airline that ended up flying for less than two years, then the name was acquired again by another airline, and then another airline acquired their name and rebranded as them. Makes perfect sense, eh?

The current Dynamic/Eastern fleet has up to six Boeing 767s (I say “up to” because some of them are stored).

Eastern’s international expansion plans

Rather than focusing on charter flights (which seems like the only way this airline has any potential), Eastern is now planning scheduled international flights.

A couple of weeks ago the airline filed with the US DOT to request permission to operate daily nonstop flights between New York and Guayaquil as of May 1, 2019. Okay, that won’t be easy, but I can sort of see how there might be a case for this, and how it could work.

Well, now Eastern has filed with the DOT requesting a completely insane route, there’s simply no other way to put it.

Eastern wants to launch 2x weekly flights from New York to Anchorage to Jinan, China. They want the right to sell the domestic flight as well, so that passengers could travel exclusively between New York and Anchorage.

But seriously, what on earth? I love their explanation for this route in their filing:

Jinan is the capital of Shandong Province with a population of approximately 7 million – almost twice the population of Los Angeles. It currently has no non-stop service to the US. There are currently no non-stop flights from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City JFK. These flights will open up new markets to both foreign and domestic travelers. We understand there is substantial Chinese tourism interest in Alaska.

Alrighty then…

Jinan has one nonstop flight to the US as it stands, as Sichuan Airlines flies to Los Angeles. However, that route relies heavily on connecting traffic, and for that matter I’d be surprised if the route makes money.

At least when I took the flight, it was also 99% Chinese passengers.

With this new route:

  • Eastern will have no connecting traffic in China
  • Eastern will have zero name recognition in China for the purpose of selling tickets, and very little name recognition in the US
  • Fares between the US and China are outrageously low as it stands; pulling up random dates, you can fly China Southern from New York to Jinan for less than the cost of most US transcon flights
  • Eastern’s 767s are really bare bones, so these planes will provide an awful onboard experience for this long of a flight

As an aviation geek there’s something that seems really cool about a nonstop flight between Alaska and China, as it has been a long time since we’ve seen a scheduled year-round flight between those two regions. However, there’s probably a reason such a flight doesn’t exist, because there simply isn’t demand for it.

Is Eastern forreal?

(Featured image courtesy to SymphonicPoet)

Comments

  1. Do any of your older readers remember Eastern’s brown and gold ET (Executive Traveler) card? They handed them out like candy to kids (I was 16 when a lounge matron offered me one). They guaranteed you an upgrade to first class if a seat was available. On any flight. On any fare. I thought to myself, “How can an airline afford to do this?”. What a wonderful 4 years to travel!

  2. Can you think of any examples when an attempt to revive a storied name from the past succeeded?

    I can think only of failures….such as Pan Am and Peope Express.

  3. Airline stated there’s substantial Chinese tourism interest in Alaska. I’m guessing they’ll cater to Chinese tour groups to fill up the plane.

  4. I could possibly see a seasonal charter flight from China to Alaska but a scheduled flight that (presumably) would operate year-round definitely wouldn’t work. Plus, it isn’t even true that no airline offers flights from Anchorage to the New York area. United has a seasonal flight from Newark to Anchorage on a 757-200. Maybe they see the logic of making this route primarily for people traveling between Jinan and NYC, but as this isn’t a nonstop flight, people would probably much rather take an established airline as mentioned in the article like China Southern Airlines via Guangzhou or Air China via Beijing.

  5. Actually, insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

  6. I honestly don’t see this as being absurd. If using a 767 they have to refuel in Anchorage anyway I assume. As well they have the benefit of carrying passengers to Anchorage to and from NYC. Finally, there is some traffic between Anchorage and China and it’s a difficult pairing to fly “in a straight line” as you would normally ( I believe) have to route through Seattle adding many hours in connection and flight time.

    I actually see this as an out of the box interesting play. The only irrational expense will be to maintain a staff at Anchorage for a just two days a week flight – but one would imagine they are going to contract out all ground services to another carrier and might just need one full time staff member that could also do local marketing on the non-flying days.

  7. @ Stuart — Oh, I get the strategy of stopping in Anchorage if they’re going to operate this, since the 767 can’t do it nonstop. What I don’t get is the strategy of wanting to start service from New York to Jinan to begin with, given that fares are regularly $400 roundtrip.

  8. Jinan is a large city but not exactly a economic hob. Qingdao is much more economic active in Shandong. Matter of fact, Jinan is a shameful third within Shandong behind also Yantai while has all the privilege as a provincial capital. But even Qingdao wouldn’t give you enough demand to fly transpacific, or there is no city other than Beijing does in the northern China.

  9. @John

    Don’t forget Frontier. The most successful relaunch of an airline brand I can think of.

  10. Currently, Eastern is flying a weekly flight from Caracas (CCS) to New York (JFK), and twice weekly to Miami (MIA) from Caracas (CCS) and Maracaibo (MAR), operating in behalf of Venezuelan carrier Estelar Latinoamerica, using one of their 767s on all the routes. So they are a usual spot in Venezuela. Flights are operating as Eastern (EA), but tickets can only be purchased through Estelar.

  11. Contrary to what they say , Jian has a population of just under 5 million in an area 2 x greater Los Angeles County which has a population of almost 10.5 million ..

  12. Frontier! I flew them as a kid in Wyoming. I flew Frontier’s Convair 580’s “milk run” from LAR-RIV-COD-BIL. Service actually originated in DEN and then on to CYS before reaching my home in LAR. Cudos to anyone who can deceiver this “mike run”. Talk about thermals and flying in high winds and snow. What a great intro into flying for a 7 year old. Flew this route for years for family in BIL.

  13. Shandong is the oil refining capital of China. I suspect this flight will be filled with Petrochina workers going between Caracas and Jinan . . . the hard way. There is also an endless demand of Chinese nationals living in New York who will travel home the absolute cheapest way possible and happy to trade comfort and convenience for a few bucks.

  14. I live in Anchorage and right now we have a basically abandoned very nice international terminal. Despite ANC being one of the worlds busiest cargo hubs we have very few international psssenger flights coming here. Condor flies in once in awhile and we get the occasional charter. China airlines and I believe EVA used to fly here but no longer do at least on the passenger side. Would love to see ANC get some new passenger carriers. Shame to see this nice terminal sitting mostly empty.

  15. One of my cherished travel memorabilia is an Eastern Airlines- Continental Airlines One Pass Frequent Flyer Card which is in pristine condition.
    I often think of showing it when I check into my United flights as my United frequent flyer number is my old Eastern Airlines FF number.
    In its heyday, Eastern was a great airline famous for its air passes.

  16. It is my guess that Eastern plans to capture Chinese package tours to Alaska and New York, 2 popular destinations. The Chinese package tour market is enormous, growing rapidly and with a good travel agent in China to sell packages , some good Chinese food on the flights , cheap fares and cheap hotel deals in USA, they will fill the planes. Whether they make a profit is another question. I am currently travelling in Asia and in the last few weeks I have traveled Eva, Bangkok Airways, and Emirates. All had many mainland Chinese tourists as passengers, both short haul and long haul .

  17. @ John German Wings comes to mind. They challenged Lufthansa with all business class cabins and hot meals on German domestic flights in the late 1980s.
    When they went out of Business LH bought the brand and made it available to an eurowings subsidiary in 1996. Germanwings operated untill Octobre 2015 under its own brand and was actually a really pleasant airline.

  18. I think it is not that insane. Currently Chinese Airports are desperate to get international flights and are willing to pay huge amounts of money to carriers, up to those sums that you at least cover your cost with 0 passengers on board. So maybe this is the case with Eastern as well.

  19. This is just what Alaska’s pristine beautiful wilderness needs – millions of Chinese pissing and shitting everywhere. Wonderful.

  20. When I saw the title I was thinking China Eastern, and I thought it was quite reasonable for MU to start a flight between Alaska and Shanghai. But Easter Airlines, well… For starter MU is not going to be happy because in China it’s not recognized as “China Eastern” but only “Eastern”…

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