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US Airways: A Heritage Story

By William Lehman - US Airways Flight Attendant

Part VII - Trump Shuttle

In July 1959, a trip by South American Airlines; Varig, VASP, and Cruzeiro do Sul formed the worlds first no-reservation, high frequency air shuttle between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo known as the Air Bridge.

Meanwhile, in the United States, in October 1959, Allegheny Airlines started a no reservation, high frequency service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Thus, the concept of what would develop into the air shuttle was born.

Eastern Airlines had carefully looked at and reviewed what was happening in both Brazil and Pennsylvania. The one problem that continued to stand out was at times, more people showed up than there were seats on the airplane. This resulted in upset passengers who couldn’t take the flight they had booked.

Eastern had lots of experience in offering high frequency service which dated back to the 1930s, when hourly service was provided between key northeast corridor cities including Washington D.C., Newark, and Philadelphia. In 1936 the hourly service expanded to Washington D.C. and New York City.

In 1958, Bill Morrisette wrote an internal memo to aviation pioneer Eddie Rickenbacker suggesting a shuttle concept. Rickenbacker firmly turned down the idea.

In 1959, with Malcolm Macintyre, as the new Eastern president, resurrected the shuttle concept and tasked Paul Quigley with making the shuttle work. In fact, Quigley would play an instrumental role in the development and early operation of the Eastern Shuttle.

To make the air shuttle concept come to life, Eastern decided to employ ingenuity. Eastern would guarantee a seat for every passenger who showed up for a specific air shuttle flight, even if it meant than an aircraft would take off with only one paying passenger. This was possible by using the four-engine Lockheed Constellation 1049 aircraft. The planes had long since been paid for and as they were being phased out of mainline flights due to delivery of the new Lockheed Electra, Douglas DC-8, and Boeing 720s, they were the perfect aircraft for the air shuttle. Eastern also decided that the Eastern Air Shuttle would be an airline within an airline- with dedicated pilots and flight attendants that would strictly fly the shuttle routes.

On April 30, 1961, Eastern inaugurated the Air Shuttle flights every two hours between LaGuardia and Washington National and Boston. As promised, the Eastern Air Shuttle maintained back-up crews and aircraft to ensure every passenger had a seat. On June 12th, Eastern Air Shuttle completed conversion of a hangar at LaGuardia into a terminal specifically designed for the shuttle operation. On August 1, hourly service was added between New York La Guardia and Boston. On September 15, hourly flights started between New York LaGuardia and Washington National. Passenger bookings exploded as Eastern Air Shuttle passengers knew they could simply go to the airport, be issued a boarding pass and pay for the ticket during the flight. Although Eastern Air Shuttle was carrying thousands of passengers, it would take a few years before it would become profitable. Eastern Air Shuttle added two-engine Martin 404s as back-up aircraft for the Lockheed Constellations to ensure that all flights would operate as advertised, promising a seat for every passenger that showed up.

In February 1962, the Washington National – Boston route was added using five Douglas DC-7 aircraft. On March 1, Eastern Air Shuttle operated modified shuttle flights without the back-up aircraft between New York and Miami using Douglas DC-8s, but the service would not last long. On April 29, Newark to Washington National was added.

On October 1, 1964, The Air Shuttle was renamed “Executive Shuttle” with complimentary meals and beverages, but would be discontinued by the spring of 1965.

As the Eastern Air Shuttle was known for using old and outdated equipment, another change occurred on August 1, 1965. Four-engine turboprop Lockheed Electras became the primary aircraft on shuttle flights, while Lockheed Constellations served as back-up aircraft. Both the DC-7s and Martin 404s were phased out of the fleet completely.

On April 24, 1966, the jet age came to the Eastern Air Shuttle as Boeing 727-100 “Whisperjets” became the primary aircraft used on shuttle flights, Lockheed Electras became the main back-up aircraft, although the Lockheed Constellations would serve in a stand by role flying only extra shuttle sections once in a while.

On February 1, 1967, Eastern (who was the launch customer for the stretch DC-9) inaugurated Douglas DC-9 Series 30 on the Air Shuttle flights. Named the “Whisperjet II,” it became very popular with crews and passengers alike. The Lockheed Electras would continue to serve as back-up aircraft as needed. The Air Shuttle DC-9s competed well against the non-shuttle American Airlines BAC One-Elevens and Boeing 707s that were trying to compete with the Eastern Air Shuttle on similar routes. But the traditional airline method of purchasing tickets ahead of time and having no back-up aircraft was the operational model.

On February 14, 1968, the Lockheed Super Constellation flew the last Eastern Air Shuttle flight between New York LaGuardia and Washington National. On August 1, 1968, Newark to both Washington National and Boston shuttle flights were added.

Over the next nine years, the Eastern Air Shuttle continued to carry record number of passengers as businessmen flocked to the no-reservation walk-up service between the nation’s busiest northeast business markets.

In mid 1977, Eastern moved two wide-body Lockheed L-1011Tri-Star aircraft from the mainline operation to the Air Shuttle market. A problem quickly developed as the boarding process was taking longer than the flight, plus it was impossible to achieve the quick turnaround needed to make the wide body work. (PSA in California found this out a few years earlier.) By late summer, the L-1011s were pulled from the Air Shuttle operation, as the operation reverted back to DC-9 series 30 aircraft. The final Lockheed Electra operating as an extra section occurred on October 30, 1977. The Lockheed Electra had faithfully flown Eastern routes for 18 years. The Eastern Air Shuttle controlled the majority of the New York LaGuardia to Washington National and Boston Logan air traffic.

In 1979, as traffic continued to grow, the 107-seat DC-9 series 30 became too small for the Air Shuttle markets. Eastern moved the DC-9s back to the mainline operation and placed the Boeing 727-200 aircraft into the Air Shuttle markets. Eastern reconfigured the 727’s into a 177-seat all coach configuration. This allowed less extra section flights except during peak times.

In 1980, Eastern added the 280-seat, wide body Airbus A300 flights between New York LaGuardia and Boston; however as had happened earlier with the L-1011, the experiment was short lived. On December 19, 1980 after months of careful review including having employees stand by the gates and count passengers, Texas Air Corporation’s Frank Lorenzo launched a new non-union airline called New York Air. Initially using DC-9 series 30, (and later larger DC-9 Super 80s) painted all red with a white apple on the tail, New York Air launched service directly into Eastern Air Shuttle markets.

In spring 1981, another upstart non-union airline called People Express (which was started by Lorenzo protégé Donald Burr) also jumped into the Eastern Air Shuttle markets, although Burr would quickly shift his focus over to Newark. People Express would over expand and Burr would be forced to sell his company to his former boss Frank Lorenzo. By early 1983, with People Express, New York Air, and Frontier Airlines all operating under the umbrella of Continental, Texas Air Corporation would become a force to be reckoned with, as Eastern would soon find out.

By the mid 1980s, after years of protracted labor negotiations and very poor labor relations between management and the employees, Eastern and the Eastern Air Shuttle were becoming a venerable airline. Another airline had been watching from the sidelines and decided the time was ripe for another shuttle operation. Pan-Am decided to copy the successful Eastern Shuttle operation.

On October 1, 1986, using Boeing 727-200 aircraft with dedicated aircraft and crew, Pan Am inaugurated the Pan Am Shuttle. Pan Am, like Eastern had back-up aircraft ready to fly extra sections on a moments notice to guarantee that everyone who showed up would be guaranteed a seat. Pan Am Shuttle reoccupied the old Marine Air Terminal that Eastern had used in the early years. This cut airport congestion dramatically and helped to keep the flights on schedule. Pan Am Shuttle teamed up with a ferry service to provide passengers the ability to get directly into downtown Manhattan by taking a short walk from the plane to the ferry. This gave Pan Am Shuttle a huge advantage over the Eastern Shuttle.

As Pan Am continued to gain market share and take business away from the Eastern Air Shuttle, Eastern was going into a tailspin. President Frank Borman was unable to settle the long-standing feud as protracted labor negotiations continued. The machinists union especially was involved in a bitter dispute and Borman refused to give in. In March 1989, Texas Air Corporation Frank Lorenzo stepped back into the picture and bought Eastern Airlines, while absorbing New York Air into Continental Airlines. Lorenzo took on the machinist’s union head on and refused to negotiate. On March 4th, the pilots joined the mechanics as a strike was declared. Lorenzo immediately took Eastern Airlines into bankruptcy and started draining money and assets from Eastern while starting the process of dismantling the labor contracts, just as he had done at Continental earlier in the decade.

Pan Am immediately took advantage of Eastern’s strike by redeploying additional Boeing 727-200 aircraft from the mainline fleet to the Shuttle.

Lorenzo placed the Eastern Air Shuttle on the auction block to be brought by the highest bidder. Phoenix-based America West Airlines placed the first bid to purchase the Eastern Air Shuttle outright. TWA’s Carl Icahn also placed a bid for the Shuttle, but a high profile businessman, Donald Trump, came forward with the highest offer financed through 22 banks and a $380 million loan.

On June 7, 1989, the Eastern Air Shuttle formally became the Trump Shuttle. Trump immediately refurbished the interiors of the former Eastern Boeing 727’s by adding maple wood veneer, chrome seat belts, and gold lavatory fixtures. The fleet was painted with a red, gold, and black stripe with a large “T” on the tail. Trump also had all the registration numbers changed to end with TS, standing for the Trump Shuttle. The Trump Shuttle was also an early leader in check in technologies, introducing the first self-service passenger check-in kiosks. Trump also partnered with LapStop, a new company that rented laptops to passengers. All the upgrades at the airport and aircraft were done as Trump was marketing his shuttle as a luxury service and thought that would bring back customers who had defected to the Pan Am Shuttle or Amtraks Metroliner train service. Trump was wrong, as passengers were only interested in the price of the ticket. An economic recession that caused big corporations to cut back on air travel and Middle East tension as Iraq invaded Kuwait (causing jet fuel to double), placed enormous pressure on the Trump Shuttle.

On March 14, 1990, Trump Shuttle started offering an unconditional guarantee that all hourly flights would arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time or all passengers would be compensated. With the Northeastern corridor having some of the worst air traffic congestion in the country, this proved to be a bad move. Pan Am refused to match Trumps offer, knowing that there were several outside factors that no airline could control. By July 1, Trump Shuttle was losing lots of money. Trump started cutting back schedules in the LaGuardia to Boston and Washington National routes. Pan Am Shuttle continued to offer a full schedule putting even more pressure on Trump. On September 1, Trump Shuttle defaulted on the loan and having lost millions of dollars, the lead bank Citicorp took control as ownership reverted to the banks. Citicorp immediately placed Trump Shuttle back on the auction block. Three airlines expressed interest in acquiring Trump Shuttle, including Northwest Airlines, American Airlines and USAir. However, with the United States heavily involved in the Gulf War and the overall instability in the airline industry, the banks were unable to sell Trump Shuttle for the desired asking price, despite extensive and lengthy negotiations with both Northwest and American. However, USAir approached the banks and successfully negotiated an extremely complex arrangement, where USAir Group (the holding company of USAir) would take over and assume 40% ownership and agreed to manage the shuttle operation for ten years. USAir would set all airfares, provide advertising and promotion, and keep track of all financial records while maintaining the Boeing 727-100s and Boeing 727-200s in the fleet.

On April 12, 1992, The Trump Shuttle flew off into the proverbial sunset as the USAir Shuttle officially began flying all the former Trump Shuttle routes.

On November 19, 1997, US Airways purchased the remaining 90% of Shuttle, Inc. and continued to operate the US Airways Shuttle separately from the rest of the airline. Employees of the Shuttle also operated on a separate seniority list, since the company operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways Group.

On July 1, 2000, the US Airways Shuttle merged into the mainline operation of US Airways. At the same time, the Boeing 727s started being withdrawn from the fleet initially replacing them with DC-9 series 30s and Boeing 737-300s until the brand new Airbus A320s started arriving.

In late 2003, US Airways considered selling off the Shuttle operation, retaining the firm of Morgan Stanley to handle the transaction, however with the state of the airline industry still being very uncertain, US Airways wisely made the decision to not sell off the profitable Shuttle.

Today, many employees who started their careers working or flying for the Eastern Shuttle continue the proud tradition by being part of US Airways.

EASTERN AIR SHUTTLE FLEET
Lockheed Constellation 1049 12 1961-1967
Lockheed Super G Constellation 10 1961-1968
Douglas DC-8-21 2 1962
Martin 404 4 1962-1965
Douglas DC-7 5 1964-1965
Lockheed Electra 14 1965-1977
Boeing 727-100 7 1966-1989
Douglas DC-9-30 10 1967-1980
Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star 2 1975
Boeing 727-200 12 1981-1989
Airbus A-300 2 1983


TRUMP SHUTTLE FLEET
Boeing 727-100 7 1989-1992
Boeing 727-200 10 1989-1992