When Eastern Airlines announced it would cease flying operations at midnight Friday, about 800 Utahns faced unemployment, according to Allen Holton, an Eastern Airline reservation agent.
The reservation agents will continue to work until the end of the month to help Eastern customers with information about alternative flights and aid them in arriving at their destinations.Holton said most passengers have been sympathetic and patient. He added that most airlines are cooperating in assisting Eastern passengers.Eastern ceased operations in a surprise move that was expected to inconvenience thousands of people at airports across the United States, in Canada and the Caribbean.
An Eastern spokesman estimated that up to 36,000 passengers had been ticketed to fly Saturday on Eastern's 800 scheduled flights. All were canceled.
Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner predicted the shutdown would cause "some difficulties," but said he did not expect a significant disruption of the nation's air-traffic system.
Eastern, which has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since March 1989, said other major airlines, especially American and Continental, were taking steps to accommodate displaced passengers.
In Miami, the airline's court-appointed trustee, Martin Shugrue, said Saturday that Eastern is down, but not yet out.
Shugrue said that although liquidation remains a possibility, talks with potential investors are ongoing.
"We will continue to explore every alternative that would allow us to continue this battle. The final chapter may not yet have been written," Shugrue told reporters gathered at Eastern's main offices in Miami.
The collapse of Eastern placed the jobs of 19,000 full-time workers in jeopardy. Eastern said only 3,000 to 4,000 workers would be needed initially to accomplish the shutdown and accommodate stranded passengers.
The remainder were to be laid off, with two weeks pay, a spokeswoman said.
Eastern's comeback effort was hamstrung by soaring fuel costs, a slowing economy and war in the Middle East, Shugrue said. The airline also suffered from rancorous labor relations and lingering concerns about its safety.
Consumers hold $82 million worth of unused Eastern tickets. The airline said more than enough money is available to refund all those claims.
The airline's collapse ended a two-year struggle for survival that began on March 4, 1989, when unions representing Eastern pilots, flight attendants and ground workers launched a crippling strike.
Eastern filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection five days later.
Eastern was able to restore service by hiring replacement pilots, and it kept its planes aloft by selling assets. The airline remained unprofitable, however.