Today in Transportation History – 1961: A New Way to Get Up and Down the East Coast Debuts

Eastern Airlines began its Eastern Airlines Shuttle service between LaGuardia Airport in New York and Washington, DC, and Boston.

Lockheed 1049C Super Constellation

Initially, the service provided flights on Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation aircraft every two hours from 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. However, this soon proved to be inadequate to passenger demand, so the hours were extended to begin at 7:00 a.m. with flights on the hour. Passengers could essentially walk right onto the plane as reservations were not required, check-in wasn’t available, and no boarding passes were issued. Cash for the $10.95 fare to Boston and $12.75 fare to Washington was accepted on board. Even seat assignments were not given out. (Hard to fathom in today’s travel environment!)

Eastern guaranteed everyone a seat: even if the first plane was filled, another aircraft was waiting to take additional passengers. This was amply proved when, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 1961, 623 travelers took the 10 p.m. flight requiring seven Super Constellations.

The Shuttle continued to grow during 1961 and 1962 to a peak of weekday service in January 1963 with a rounded-up fare of $12 and $14. Eastern modernized its fleet of shuttles, gradually replacing the Super Constellations with Lockheed Electras and Boeing 727s and DC-9s in later years.

But, all good things must come to an end. Competition arrived in the form of New York Air (a subsidiary of Texas Air Corporation) in 1980, eventually buying Eastern Airlines altogether in 1986 – ironically forcing New York Air’s own shuttle service to be sold to Pan American World Airways. Subsequent legal battles and mergers left American Airlines and Delta Air Lines as today’s heirs to these very lucrative routes.

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