Eastern Airlines Operates Over 100 Relief Flights To South America

In the last few months, Eastern Airlines went from having its third resurrection to helping thousands of stranded passengers in South America return to the U.S. This month, the carrier plans to operate five relief flights to keep up the assistance during the crisis. Let’s investigate further. 

Eastern Airlines Getty
Eastern Airlines has operated over 100 repatriation flights to South America. Photo: Getty Images

From commercial relaunching to relief operations

At the beginning of the year, Eastern Airlines relaunched its services for the third time. The carrier did it with a rather odd route, connecting New York City with Guayaquil, Ecuador

Later on, the carrier looked to operate a new service between JFK and San Diego. But, at the moment, these plans are on hold due to the current pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Eastern Airlines has become the go-to airline for repatriation flights between South America and the U.S. 

According to the Outside Online, Eastern Airlines has operated 102 flights from 15 countries in Latin America to the U.S. It has safely returned home over 17,000 passengers to the US,  while also flying almost 3,500 non-American travelers to their home countries. 

The load factor of these repatriation flights has been 68%. While this load factor may not make up for the losses at Eastern Airlines, there’s another aim for these flights. 

Eastern Airlines
Easter Airlines is trying to operate for the third time. Photo: Cory W. Watts via Wikimedia Commons

It is good marketing

Steve Harfst is the president and CEO of Eastern Airlines. He graduated in 1986 from the University of Washington Foster School of Business. In its blog, Foster School wrote about the efforts of Eastern Airlines to rescue thousands of Americans. It said, 

“This improvised commercial airlift, coordinated with the State Department and local U.S. embassies, is a mission of mercy, first and foremost. But it’s also good marketing, a mettle-proving opportunity for a dynamic little airline with big aspirations.”

Between June 2nd and 24h, the airline intends to operate five more relief flights, according to its website

  • 6/2/20 Asunción, Paraguay (ASU) – Miami (MIA)
  • 6/4/20 Miami (MIA) – Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE)
  • 6/5/20 Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) – Miami (MIA)
  • 6/10/20 Lima, Peru (LIM) – Miami (MIA)
  • 6/24/20 Lima, Peru (LIM) – Miami (MIA)

Additionally, Eastern Airlines has operated rescue flights from eleven other countries in South America. The carrier has gone to Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, and Suriname to bring back Americans. 

How did Eastern do it?

In an interview with its University, Harfst said that he contacted the U.S. Department of State. He offered Eastern Airlines’ aid to repatriate US citizens in Central and South America. 

“We created this out of nothing. We had no infrastructure in any of these locations. So once we got the green light from an embassy, we were on the phone with the local airport coordinating with ground handlers, fuelers, caterers, cleaners to set up the support infrastructure,” he said. 

The airline relies intensely on Twitter for this coordination. In its feed, Eastern Airlines has maintained constant communication with US Embassies in South America. It posts recommendations, travel alerts, and messages reminding passengers where they should go and meet Eastern’s crew. 

Do you think this strategy will pan out in the future for Eastern Airlines? Let us know in the comments.