Trip Report: Eastern Airlines Repatriation Flight From Buenos Aires

by Giovanni

With so many airlines around the world grounded and downsizing, Eastern Airlines has stayed busy and is expanding. The fledgling airline which just launched in January has become the leading carrier working in partnership with the State Department to bring Americans home using its fleet of 767 aircraft.

Gautam Agarwal, a digital nomad who found himself stuck in Argentina at the start of the crisis, took one of these flights to return home to the US. He was kind enough to share thoughts and photos from his experience on the flight from Buenos Aires to Miami so we could put together this detailed trip report.

What is Eastern Airlines?

Before diving into this trip report, we should probably get something out of the way. What is Eastern Airlines?

This is not Eastern Air Lines, the legacy US carrier the operated until 1991. The modern iteration of Eastern relaunched in January and was intended as a lifestyle brand offering low-cost flights aimed at adventurous travelers to up and coming South American destinations.

When the Coronavirus crisis hit, Eastern was only operating one route: two weekly flights New York JFK and Guayaquil, Ecuador. But they had plans to add new routes to other niche destinations in Latin America.

Instead, the Coronavirus crisis hit and the revived brand has found itself thrust into a new role.

The new Eastern Airlines launched in January and shouldn't be confused with the legacy Eastern Air Lines that liquidated in 1991.

The new Eastern Airlines is a niche carrier that launched in January and shouldn’t be confused with the legacy Eastern Air Lines that liquidated in 1991. Photo by Torsten Maiwald.

In partnership with the State Department, Eastern has brought home thousands of Americans. Its small fleet of eight 767 aircraft have operated repatriation flights from across Latin America including Ecuador, Grenada, Guyana, Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, and Paraguay. It’s become one of the primary carriers operating repatriation flights.

The flight Gautam booked was one of these on a Boeing 767-300 aircraft.

Booking with Eastern Airlines

Gautam booked his ticket after receiving a notification from the US Embassy that Eastern would be operating the flight.

Tickets were sold on the carrier’s website. A fare from Buenos Aires to Miami was $1,947 for Eastern’s “premium” lie-flat product.

Eastern Airlines website

Eastern sells seats on repatriation flights for set prices. In this case, upgrading from an economy class ticket was just $300 more. An easy decision for Gautam. He notes that “you get significantly more space, a lie-flat seat, get to board peacefully and disembark first. Your exposure to people is also very limited which is helpful given the current times.”

Check-in & Boarding at Buenos Aires Airport

The airport experience was surreal. While demand for travel and flights has begun to recover in the United States and Europe, Argentina is still largely grounded.

With almost no flights, the usually hectic Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires was a ghost town. Practically everything closed.

Buenos Aires Airport is almost completely empty

Even as demand for travel begins to recover in the United States and Europe, Argentina is still largely grounded. The surreal scene as a usually bustling airport is almost completely empty. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

There was only one counter open for check-in so the process took a while. There were two lines separating coach and premium passengers. Gautam waited about 10 minutes in the premium line to check-in.

In a sign of the times, temperatures were checked before entering the check-in area. “Main security was a breeze. They didn’t care, didn’t have to take out computers or anything.”

Eastern Airlines check-in line at Buenos Aires Airport

There was only one check-in counter so check-in moved slowly, taking about 10 minutes in the premium line. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Of course, with the airport nearly deserted and very few passengers, practically everything was closed including lounges. McDonald’s and Starbucks were open landside. After security, the only refreshments available airside were for purchase from vending machines.

Buenos Aires Airport was a ghost town airside with vending machines as the only options for food and refreshment

Buenos Aires Airport was a ghost town airside with vending machines as the only option for food and refreshment. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Eastern Airlines Cabin and Seat

The plane was boarded through the front-center doors meaning premium class passengers turned left to board.

The business “premium class” cabin had lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Out of 30 business seats, 27 were taken.

Premium class seating was split across two cabins with a larger 18 seat cabin ahead of a smaller 12 seat cabin. Gautam was seated in seat 1B in the larger cabin which he notes was quite comfortable: “The first row was by far the best because it had significantly more legroom. I am 5’9” and I could not come close to maxing out my legroom.”

The first row of premium class had the best leg room the Eastern Airlines 767.

The first row of premium class had the best legroom on Eastern Airlines’ 767. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Eastern Airlines "premium class" seat on the Boeing 767-300

The “premium class” seat on Eastern Airlines’ Boeing 767-300. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

The larger cabin was more spacious and airy, and plenty of room was available in the overhead bins. Additional space was provided below the armrest in the seat which was enough to store a phone, wallet, and passport.

The seats were comfortable enough and allowed Gautam to get some rest in angled lie-flat mode. But given the lack of direct-aisle access from every seat, those in window seats could have trouble going to the bathroom when needed. “If you go into lie-flat mode, it’s a bit tricky for the person sitting on the window seat to get out. They have to either climb over you (which isn’t easy given the angle) or get the seat lowered.”

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Economy class was in a 2-3-2 configuration and looks significantly less comfortable. It was about 90% full for the flight with little room for social distancing.

Eastern Airlines Business Class Cabin Service

Service onboard the flight left a lot to be desired, but let’s remember this was a repatriation flight. Gautam describes it as “basic” with the flight attendants “doing the bare minimum.”

Mediocre service on Eastern Airlines premium class

The onboard service was mediocre with disinterested flight attendants ranging “from not caring at all to doing the bare minimum.” Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

However, about 30 minutes after takeoff, an older man felt sick onboard. The crew took care of him including administering oxygen and moving him from economy to business while physically supporting him despite fears of the virus.

No in-flight entertainment, wifi, or amenity kits were provided.

Eastern Airlines Food Service

If you’re flying Eastern Airlines, you should definitely plan to pack your own food even in business. Gautam describes it as “probably the worst food I have been served on a long haul.”

Eastern Airlines Business Sandwich

The ham sandwich served as lunch to business class passengers by Eastern Airlines on the nine-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Miami. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Lunch was served after takeoff, consisting of a tiny ham and cheese sandwich in saran wrap with a choice of Doritos or Lays chips. No trays, plates, or flatware of any kind were provided.

Gautam reports that he didn’t even receive a napkin with his meal and had to request one. He declined the chips and ended up not even eating the sandwich.

Dinner Eastern Airlines Business Class

The dinner served to business class passengers was a redux of the ham sandwich from lunch served alongside a snack box. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Dinner was more of the same. They served the same ham sandwich along with a snack box. The snack box contained crackers, almonds, fruit gummies, and some sauce.

Eastern Airlines business class snack box

Contents of the snack box served as dinner to business class passengers. Photo by Gautam Agarwal for Point Me To The Plane

Gautam notes that he understands the flights exist purely to get American citizens back home safely.

“I was not expecting business class service but the food service was comically basic. They don’t even give paper napkins along with the food. I was told to expect basic service so I had packed my lunch, but I was still surprised by how subpar the food and the service was.”

The Upshot

The Eastern Airlines flights are being operated in the context of repatriation. There’s a paucity of flight options and other carriers have been unwilling to operate flights.

Despite accusations of “price-gouging desperate Americans”, Gautum doesn’t feel that the $1,947 for a lie-flat seat was unreasonable. The added cost of only $300 to fly business instead of economy was a no-brainer for him that provided “significantly more space, a lie-flat seat, get to board peacefully and disembark first. Your exposure to people is also very limited which is helpful given the current times.”

The product is clearly rough around the edges and the company is still gaining its footing during a difficult time for the global industry. Eastern Airlines planned to launch as an “adventure lifestyle” brand with limited, low-cost flights to destinations appealing to young travelers. Instead, they’re operating repatriation flights during a global pandemic.

Given that context, even the unpolished service seems acceptable for now. But we’d probably never choose to fly ‘the new Eastern’ during normal times.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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7 comments

Marc June 5, 2020 - 1:15 pm

We also flew Eastern Airlines from Buenos Aires to Miami. It was horrible!
People waited over 3 1/2 hours to check in because there was only 1 person checking in passengers.
The service was terrible and we had to bring our own food and water. We did have a sandwhich as described in the article but nothing more.

For the price, we should have ALL been in first class. We have been traveling in South America for 2 years. I will never, ever fly Eastern!

Reply
David M June 27, 2020 - 11:22 am

It is truly incredible watching people who were irresponsible enough to remain abroad during a pandemic whine about not being treated like kings on the emergency repatriation flights intended to get their sorry irresponsible asses home.

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Arnold S September 1, 2020 - 2:33 pm

Just keep your mouth shut. Nobody knew that countries in South America were going to completely shut down flights with practically no notice (24 hours notice in Peru).

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Leah June 5, 2020 - 11:07 pm

I flew May 20 and paid $3444.54 total for myself and my 3 year old (tickets were $1697.27 each + 1 bag and tax) A week later they offered the same flight more than $500 less. We were packed like sardines as they sold EVERY seat- very unsafe during a pandemic and there were several dogs- disgusting in such cramped quarters. We were delayed 3/12 hours as they had 1 person checking every single passenger in and that person was hired from a third party company. Definitely feels like they are profiting from creating “last flight!’ panic during a time when we have little choices. Very disappointing.

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marco td June 8, 2020 - 3:00 am

it’s a rescue flight in full coronavirus emergency. Service and food is reduced to minimum for ssafety reasons. for example turkish airlines will ban its sumptous buniness class service and in the next months will serve only packed lunches, with jotsesses service reduced to minimun. So i think it’sout of place lamenting of service and food in these special flights

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Joshua Mackey June 12, 2020 - 11:12 pm

Kind of mind boggling that some peope are complaining over the food service. First of all it’s a rescue flight and 2nd the whole food service should be understood for SAFETY reasons. The whole flight crew is literally risking themselves each time they embark on these flights. People need to be more thankful they’re being taken back home. Complaining over food services give me break! There’s a ton of people out in the world who have it a lot worse and some of these passengers are complaining over a sandwich! A sandwich that someone hungry who hasn’t ate in days or even weeks who would be grateful to have a little meal. Give me a fricking break! I applaud Eastern for what they’re doing.

Reply
Everything You Need To Know About (The Third) Eastern Airlines - Air Travel Analysis September 7, 2020 - 7:33 pm

[…] other review I was able to find was from Point Me To The Plane, which reviewed a repatriation flight which they did from Buenos Aires to Miami earlier this year. […]

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