The Shuttle Shuffle

September 30, 2016

NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE remember that Donald Trump once owned an airline.

Say what you want of the man — there’s plenty to say — but the Trump Shuttle, which flew hourly between Boston, New York-LaGuardia, and Washington-National, from 1989 until 1992, was a dependable product that I, for one, have fond memories of.

Trump had purchased the operation from the dying (or sabotaged; see Lorenzo, below) Eastern Air Lines, which had been running its own Shuttle on the busy BOS-LGA-DCA routes for nearly thirty years. Trump used Boeing 727s — a mix of -100 and -200 variants. The interiors were done up in his signature style, with lots of faux-wood veneer, gold fixtures, leather and chrome. His Vegas-Arabia aesthetic presaged the cabins used by Emirates many years later.

I flew the Trump Shuttle between Boston and LaGuardia approximately one zillion times between 1990 and 1992. Those garish interiors weren’t to my taste, but the planes were comfortable and on-time. The staff, including the flight crews, were always friendly.

My first-ever ride in a jetliner cockpit, on the morning of February 2, 1991 — an unseasonably warm Saturday, I remember — was on the flight deck jumpseat of a Trump 727. The airplane carried the registration N918TS, and you can see it in the photo below. The jet was originally built for Eastern in 1970. It was scrapped in 1997.

Trump Shuttle N918TS

It was comfortable and reliable, but the Trump Shuttle never made a profit — something many blame on mismanagement and poor decision-making on the part of the owner, but let’s not go there right now. If he’d had some success, and a bit of a longer run, the Donald might be up there with some of the better-known, flamboyantly outsize airline execs: Freddie Laker, Richard Branson, et al.

As it was, his foray into the aviation business was brief and fruitless. The Trump Shuttle was sold to USAir — later named US Airways — in the spring of 1992. US Airways eventually merged with American, and today it’s known as the American Airlines Shuttle. Here’s that same plane on which I’d made my inaugural jumpseat voyage, a few years afterward…

US Airways N918TS

The Pan Am Shuttle, which competed in the same BOS-LGA-DCA markets, was sold to Delta in 1991, and continues today as the Delta Shuttle. Pan Am had bought the operation from the infamous Frank Lorenzo, whose controversial New York Air flew the routes (plus others), for about six years.

We capitalize “Shuttle.” In the old days these were nearly separate entities, like an airline-within-an-airline, with dedicated fleets outfitted differently from the rest of the carriers’ planes. Flights rarely canceled and seats were guaranteed. Standby aircraft were on hand in case of mechanical issues or overbooking.

I flew all of the different Shuttles at one point or another. On the Eastern Shuttle, you could show up without a ticket and pay on the plane. One weekend in the spring of 1979, when I was in seventh grade, my friend Patrick Graham and I traveled from Boston to LaGuardia on the Eastern Shuttle. Our parents had no idea. (From LGA we would take the Carey bus over to Kennedy, and spend a day planespotting atop the roof-deck parking lot of the old Pan Am Worldport.) It was a 727 both ways, I remember, and we paid on board. I remember a flight attendant coming down the aisle with a sort of cash register on wheels.

For a while, a bit later on, Eastern used widebody Airbus A300s on select BOS-LGA flights. Eastern was the first American carrier to fly an Airbus, and it dedicated two A300s to the Shuttle, with all-economy cabins outfitted with 265 seats!

New York Air, I remember, gave out brown-bagged snacks dubbed “The Flying Nosh,” with cream cheese, a bagel, and, yeah, an apple.

Nowadays it’s a “shuttle” mostly in name only. There are still hourly flights, but not as many, especially on weekends. You get a few frills, like newspapers and free drinks, but the planes are smaller — in some cases operated by second-party regional jets — with cabins and ticketing protocols more or less identical to those on mainline routes. Delays and cancellations are more common.

 

The east coast Shuttles genealogy:

Eastern (1961-1989); to Trump (1989-1992); to US Airways (1992-2015); to American (2015 — )

New York Air (1980-1986); to Pan Am (1986-1991); to Delta (1991— )

 

At Eastern and Pan Am, 727s became the workhorses of the Shuttle fleet.

At Eastern and Pan Am, 727s became the workhorses of the Shuttle fleet.

New York Air's radio call sign was "Apple."

New York Air’s radio call sign was “Apple.”

Souvenir wet-nap, from the author's collection of airline crap.

Souvenir wet-nap, from the author’s collection of airline crap.

Aircraft used on Shuttle services:

Eastern: DC-7, Electra, Constellation, DC-9, A300, 727
New York Air: DC-9 (standard and MD-80)
Pan Am: 727
Trump: 727
USAir/US Airways: 727, A320, Embraer 190
American: Embraer 190
Delta: 727, 737-300, MD-88, A320 (A319), Embraer 175, Boeing 717 (MD-95)

 

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32 Responses to “The Shuttle Shuffle”
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  1. Tim Collins says:

    I think these “Shuttles” are now operated by regional subcontractors and not Delta and American per se

  2. Mike Escudié says:

    No plastic pilot’s wings, Patrick? Like the Logan tower story, what vivid (and startling) memories your flashback provides! I flew on EAL passes (“SA2”) and space-A on Lan Chile 707s to/from Miami and NYC and it was strictly coat & tie for this unaccompanied, non-revving 13 year old. I think kids traveling on flights back then were treated more as avoidable nuisances. And widebodies at LGA? I saw on Phil’s NYC Aviation site that DC-10s and L-1011s flew into LGA too.

  3. Jack Wild says:

    A friend and I cut class one day to fly the Electra to LGA. Didn’t Northeast attempt an hourly shuttle type service between BOS and LGA in the late 60’s?

  4. Sheila Hartney says:

    I worked at DCA 1969-79 for a predecessor or two of USAir.

    Eastern’s policy of rolling out a back-up Shuttle lasted well into the 70’s.

    I knew a woman (we had some class or other together at Northern Virginia Community College in 1977 or ’78) who was a flight attendant for Eastern. She was reasonably senior, and her schedule bid was for the back-up Shuttle DCA-LGA. She told me that basically all she did was sit in the crew lounge for however many hours were legal, and rarely had to work a trip. Got a lot of homework and reading done.

    Eastern also had a DCA-EWR Shuttle that operated every other hour on the odd half hour. Meaning 7:30am, 9:30 am, etc. I kind of think they didn’t guarantee the back up Shuttle for overflow on that route, but it’s hard to remember after all these years.

    The Eastern Shuttle was an absolute Godsend whenever our flight to White Plains cancelled, as we could put the passengers on the Shuttle to LGA and book a limousine or a bus or give them cab vouchers to get to White Plains. Every hour on the hour was wonderful.

  5. Marc Erickson says:

    @ Matt D: I’d like to see that. Can you post it to Airliners.net?

  6. Marc Erickson says:

    I’d like to see that. Can you post it to Airliners.net?

  7. alain henon says:

    in the 60s Eastern had a program whereby if the hourly flight was full and you were on time, they would bring a second plane to the gate to accommodate the extra people. I once flew from DC to NYC on Eastern’s Constellation (wonderful plane!) all by myself — well, there was a crew on board who thought this was a great joke.!

  8. PSimpson says:

    I blame the media with all their sensational stories. They distort the perceived liklihood of Bad Things happening to us. But, “if it bleeds, it leads” is alive and well in today’s media. Shock value is the only way they can get viewers, because all the other stations do it.

    When I was 12, I used to take the bus and the Green Line trolley into Boston for the day, either alone or with friends. My parents didn’t worry in the least. Mom used to kick us out in the morning and remind us to let her know if we went anywhere out of earshot.

    I practiced a similar philosophy with my kids (now 31 and 34). They managed to live through it. Apparently, Patrick and his friend did, too. But I want to know where a 12-yo gets the $100 for a shuttle ticket?

  9. Ken Moore says:

    Back in the late 60’s Eastern Airlines promised a back-up airplane if the regularly scheduled plane was full. On one occasion, I flew BOS-LGA on one of those back-up planes – an Electra. I think there were 10 of us passengers on board.

    It was during the fall foliage season and the pilot banked the airplane left, then right so the passengers could get a good view of the Connecticut foliage.

  10. Alex says:

    Good thing you didn’t crash! I wouldn’t expect ‘ole Teddy to help pull you out of the wreckage…LOL

  11. Kevin T says:

    The US Airways Shuttle was a handsome livery, always loved the ‘box and bars’ flags on their tail.

  12. Jody Davis says:

    Great article! I also took both the Trump and Pan Am Shuttles a zillion times back in the late 80s/early 90s. Two memories:

    1. The Trump Shuttle sold tickets in 10-packs, and you could just rip one when you wanted to go. Like taking the bus.

    2. Pan Am had great mileage bonuses for the shuttle, at one point offering something like 2,000 miles per trip. Earned enough for several tickets to Paris.

    JD

  13. marintrek says:

    I was on an USAir 320 Shuttle BOS-LGA in early September 2001 (I remember the date for obvious reasons). NB, sharing the plane with none other than Ted Kennedy. This flight is – for me – memorable because it was by far the longest taxi and wait for takeoff ever. We went from one runway end to another at least three times, then waited for about an hour for takeoff. The trip took three hours gate-to-gate. Talking about delays.

  14. Nathan says:

    A couple of my favorite childhood/youth memories were of two short trips with my best friend from DFW to MSP and CLE, respectively. His dad worked for 30 plus years on the ramp at American at DFW, and back in the mid 1990s, his son and a guest (me) could fly standby fairly easily. So we did – twice. Once to see the Mall of America in Minneapolis, and the second time to see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Of course our parents were aware of and approved of what we were doing, and while I can’t remember all the details of how we got from the respective airports to our destinations, I do seem to recall that no one seemed bothered by two young teenagers flying someplace without parents. One of those trips was also the closest I have ever come in my life to flying first class. We were originally given two seats in row 1, from DFW to MSP, but right at the last minute, right before they closed the door, the 2 “real” first class passengers ran onto the plane, claimed their seats, and my friend and I were booted back to coach. But sitting in first class was nice while it lasted!

  15. JamesP says:

    “…from the author’s collection of airline crap.”

    LOL, no pretensions there!

    Speaking of kids having fun, one time, pre-deregulation and wayyyy pre-TSA, I flew under an assumed name. Why? I haven’t a clue, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. I bought the ticket with cash, gave my name as Jack Daniels or some such, and flew from Philly PHL to Stumptown PDX (with a stop in DENver). It was an otherwise uneventful flight.

    At least now I can say I’ve flown under an alias, ha.

  16. mitch says:

    p.s. “anonymous” was me replying to Patrick

  17. Anonymous says:

    Imagine starting at the NYC Intrepid Museum on the Hudson at 45th St and ending at the Air & Space Museum in Wash DC. How long by train vs by air?
    Taxi to Penn Sta = 15 min vs taxi to LGA = 1 hr

    Security line at Penn Sta = none
    TSA at LGA = 30 min if you’re lucky

    Wait for departure: assume 15 min for both

    Travel time:
    by air, gate to gate = 1 hr IF no long line to the runway or no weather or traffic hold at DCA. Never mind the possibility of a diversion to Dulles or Baltimore
    by train = approx. 3 hrs by Acela, including stops en route

    Arrival:
    approx. 10 min by cab from Union Station to Air & Space Museum
    approx. 30 min taxi from DCA

    add it up:
    by train approx. 3:40
    by air approx. 3:15

    Not much of a time saving by air [these are estimates, but actuals won’t be much different when added up]

    Now imagine Amtrak running real high speed trains on a dedicated right of way, like Europe’s TGV’s, Thalys’s or Eurostars.

    Jet airliners are a wonderful way to travel, but not for short distances over land.

  18. 1979-You were in the 7th grade and allowed to be “out in the world” with a friend. Imagine the furor now, if a 12 year old showed up at an airport unaccompanied by an adult and tried to get on a flight? Your parents would probably be in jail for letting you out of their sight for more than 30 seconds.

    Love that you got on the plane, and had a day’s adventure, but it is such a sad reminder about how things have changed. Kids are no longer allowed to think for themselves.

    • Patrick says:

      When we landed in New York, the Eastern people did pull aside and ask what the hell we were doing. They brought us into a room, I remember, and called my parents. My mother answered the phone and, upon learning what we’d done, was perfectly okay with it. “Sure,” she told the guy, “Let the kids go over to JFK and watch planes, if they want.”

  19. Matt D says:

    Depending on how detailed you want, I also have a picture I took at LGA in 1999 or 2000 with a DC-9 painted in a mess of a hybrid livery. It had the USAir red/blue stripe, the US AIRWAYS tail, and “Shuttle” titles slapped on it. It was probably just the one plane and I only saw it once. But it existed.

  20. Mitch says:

    My one and only shuttle trip was in August of 1966, towards the end of The Great Airline Strike of ought-sixty-six. Single, living in Seattle, Boeing engineer. Wanted to visit family in NYC, but both transcon airlines [NW and UA] were on strike. I hitched a ride on a Flight Test 707 to Wallops Island VA. Split the cost of a rental car to DCA then an Eastern Super Constellation to LGA. Last-ever ride on a piston-engine airliner.

    What people don’t realize is that today downtown-to-downtown Amtrak is very competitive between NY and Washington DC, much more comfortable without any TSA hassles, plus the scenery is a helluva lot more interesting

    • Patrick says:

      Many people have switched to Amtrak on the BOS-NYC sector as well. It’s a much longer trip by train * if * the sun is shining and everything is running smoothly, but throw in any sort of weather wrinkle and the Shuttles go bonkers with delays.

      It didn’t used to be this way. The airlines have hurt themselves by allowing the operation to become less reliable and more time-consuming.

  21. Mike says:

    I took those DCA-LGA shuttles a few times. I remember New York Air’s promotion: Our bag (held a bagel) vs their bag (airsick bag).

  22. Daniel says:

    USAir ran dedicated A320s when I used to take it in the early 2000s

  23. Dan Prall says:

    OK, I gotta admit that my insider info came from inside my head, but as Peggy Noonan once wrote in the WSJ, “Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to.” So feel free to spread the rumor even tho for once, you know where it started.

    And feel free to smell that Trump La Trine Air.

  24. Dan Ullman says:

    The Eastern Shuttle was sold to Trump when Eastern and its unions were busily trying to cut each others throat without being blamed for it. They were eventually successful.

    The Trump Shuttle never had anything gold or gold plated. They were, at best, gold painted. The only “luxury” Trump added was veneer and some thick carpeting. This meant that snack carts did not roll well.

    The Eastern crews where happy that Trump brought the airline at the start. All were low airtime employees so they didn’t have much of bone in the Eastern/Union fights. When The Trump Shuttle went into bankruptcy, almost all of them lost their jobs. The banks were not required to keep staff and US AIRWAYS saw a cheap to way to train their folks.

  25. propwash says:

    “…trump’s three kids were going to start a new airline…it will be Trump La Trine Air.”

    Wow! Dan Prall must be privy to some inside information to get this scoop.

  26. Narwhal says:

    Ménage a trois?

  27. Dan Prall says:

    I heard a rumor that trump’s three kids were going to start a new airline, named for themselves in the family tradition of course, as The Triune, but to make it seem classier, they’d give it a French translation, so it will be Trump La Trine Air.

  28. Tom G. says:

    I flew all of the above Shuttles at one time or another. Loved New York Air’s “Flying Nosh” — brown bag with bagel and cream cheese.
    I had seen some economic analysis on the Trump Shuttle. Apparently the Donald overpaid bigtime — instead of paying what it was actually worth, he paid what he figured it would be worth [more] with his name on the planes. For me, the best feature was the connecting Trump Shuttle Helicopter that whisked me from LaGuardia to midtown or downtown in just a few minutes, and at a cost that was only a few dollars more than taxi fare plus tolls.