The U.S. Department of State has tapped the upstart carrier — that shares a name with a famous Jet Age airline — to help ferry Americans home.


Around the world, travel bans and quarantines have made it difficult for Americans to get home. And while many airlines have grounded planes and canceled flights, they do continue to help in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In recent days, a number of carriers have helped ferry medical workers to places where they’re most needed.

But one airline in particular stands out for its efforts to bring people from overseas back home. Eastern Airlines has already carried home 8,167 Americans from 13 countries, according to the company. Not bad for an outfit with just eight planes and fewer than 200 employees.

Eastern Airlines plane
Credit: Courtesy of Eastern Airlines

If the name sounds familiar, it should: Eastern Air Lines, with a slightly different spelling, was one of the titans of the Jet Age, a competitor of carriers like Braniff, Pan Am, and TWA. The original Eastern went bust in 1991, but the brand was reborn earlier this year: The first flight of the new Eastern — from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to New York City — took off on Jan. 12. Now, less than three months later, the airline is coming to the rescue of Americans across Latin America.

“We got our first call from the embassy in the country of Guayana, needing to get American citizens home,” CEO Steve Harfst said in an interview with Fox News. “And after we operated that flight, from Georgetown, Guayana, we reached out to the repatriation task force. They put an email blast out to all the embassies and posts in Central and South America, and then our phones started ringing.”

Flight crew in PPE on Eastern Airlines
Credit: Courtesy of Eastern Airlines

Since early March, Eastern has coordinated with the U.S. Department of State to ferry people home from Asuncion, Paraguay; Buenos Aires; Georgetown, Guayana; Guayaquil; Paramaribo, Suriname; and a number of other countries in the Caribbean and Central America. More flights are scheduled for the coming days, an Eastern representative told Travel + Leisure.

Eastern Airlines passenger gate, Americans wait for flights home during Covid-19 Pandemic
Credit: Courtesy of Eastern Airlines

“We’ll do everything we can to bring them home,” Harfst said.

Passengers and crew on the flights are observing social distancing measures and using masks and other personal protection equipment, including Eastern-branded hand sanitizer, photos from the flights provided by the airline show. Upon arrival in the U.S., passengers aboard the repatriation flights experience "the same screening protocols put in place by customs and CDC that any passenger arriving in the U.S. faces on any airline," a spokesperson for Eastern said by email.