Eastern Air Lines is back. Hoping they do better than Pan Am part II

The 'new' Eastern Air Lines' first plane, a Boeing

A current reincarnation of the iconic U.S. airline brand flew its first flight with paying passengers Thursday afternoon, operating a charter flight from Miami to Havana, Cuba, The Miami Herald reports.

That marked the first revenue flight for the “new” Eastern, which is flying Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The company purchased the rights to the old Eastern name and logo earlier this decade. It plans a base in Miami, just as the old Eastern had done.

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But customers hoping to buy tickets for traditional commercial airline service are out of luck – at least for now. Eastern is getting its start by operating Cuba charters in partnership with the HavanaAir charter company.

U.S. airlines can fly on routes between the U.S. and Cuba, but they must do so in conjunction with tour companies that are authorized by the U.S. to sell travel on U.S.-Cuba itineraries. Similarly, since travel must be sold by authorized tour companies, flights by U.S. airlines operate as charter flights sold via the tour-company.

Eastern plans to move into regularly scheduled commercial service that most U.S. passengers are familiar with. Ed Wegel, the CEO heading Eastern’s start-up effort,told the Herald earlier this year he hoped to position Eastern “somewhere in between” the ultra-low-cost carrier niche — which includes airlines like Spirit and Frontier — and the traditional legacy carriers, such as American, United and Delta.

TODAY IN THE SKY: Eastern Air Lines hopes to launch flights in mid-March(January 2015)
TODAY IN THE SKY: Eastern Airlines returns to Miami with first Boeing 737(December 2014)

For now, though, Eastern will focus on charter operations. Wegel tells the Herald that non-charter flights are likely at least a year off.

Starting slowly could help Eastern succeed where many others have failed, saysChris Sloan, editor in chief and publisher of Airways News.

“They’re going to get their operations straight, generate revenue on charters before venturing to scheduled service,” Sloan says to the Herald. “That, to me, is encouraging that they’re not leaping with both feet in. Virtually everyone else who has resurrected a name has failed at it. They’ve all done it completely differently than Eastern is.”

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