Posted on: February 10, 2014
So far as we know, nobody in modern times has tried to revive a long-dead car brand like Packard, DeSoto or Plymouth. And we're pretty sure Oldsmobile is gone for good.
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But in the airline business, one never knows. When you least expect it, somebody will pop up with the legal rights to a name from the past and the belief that its echo is the magic missing ingredient in a business plan. They're usually wrong.
The buyer of the old Pan Am logo, that big blue meatball that still tugs at the heartstrings of travelers of a certain age, was wrong -- at least as far as air travel was concerned. The people who just couldn't leave the word "Braniff" alone were also wrong. National Airlines? Wrong. People Express? Wrong again.
The most successful attempt at this game we know of involves Frontier. The current holder of that name has hung on for 20 years, making one trip to bankruptcy court and several changes of ownership and strategy, which isn't bad for a new-entrant airline. We're going to call it the exception that proves the rule.
Which brings us to Eastern.
Back in the day it was one of the mighty "Big Four." For nearly three decades it was piloted by a living legend, World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Working with IBM, it was one of the early pioneers in automating passenger reservations, and it reinvented East Coast air travel with its walk-on hourly shuttle services linking New York with Boston and Washington.
But it could not reinvent itself in the era after deregulation, and it faded out in 1991.
Successful startups these days tend to have names like Zynga, Skype, Yelp. We have ride-share startups called Wingz and Lyft.
Wannabe airline companies should take the hint and go for originality rather than nostalgia.