They queue up like commuters at a bus stop, the lawyers, lobbyists and long-distance lovers who fly the Eastern Airlines Shuttle.
Fill out the ticket, get on, read a magazine, pay the money - easier than a Metro fare card - and get off. Washington to New York, New York to Boston, back and forth.
The numbers mount like McDonald's burgers, 41 million passengers as of Jan. 15, this year, 42 million by June 30 flying the airborne equivalent of a Greyhound.
Next Tuesday, Shuttle passengers will get a new bus. The last of the 20-year-old, propeller-driven Lockhead Electras - some with as many as 9 million miles on them - will be replaced by jets DC-9-30s and Boeing 727-100s.
If the passengers with their briefcases and knapsacks even notice, they will probably be glad the propellers are gone. So will Eastern's accountants and marketing people. They say taking the prons off "The Wings of Man" will cut Eastern's operating costs and give the airline an all-jet image to sell.
Eastern officials in Miami said the DC-9 uses 20 per cent less fuel per seat mile than an Electra, and DC-9 maintenance costs are less than half of the Electra's. Because the jets carry more passengers, fewer backup planes and crews will be needed, leading to further cost cuts for the highly profitable shuttle, which is a crucial element in meeting President Frank Bormans $41 million profit target this year.
Although the Electra is just as fast as a jet on the Shuttle flight, it looks old fashioned and needs to be replaced "because the passengers want jets," said an Eastern spokesman.
But Eastern's Electra flight crew members, interviewed as they awaited assignments at National Airport last week, mourned the end of an era, the passing of a great old plane.
"I flew her years ago and I wanted to fly her again," said Capt. Mike Leveillard who Friday completed a month's rotation on an Electra crew with officers Tom Levely and Buck Buchanan.
Buchanan, assigned to stay with Electras until the final day Monday, said, "I want to take my kids up in it, so they can say their dad flew the last propeller airplane that Eastern had and so they can tell their kids they flew in airplanes when they still had propellers."
Levely recalled with affection flying the military version of the plane with two of the four engines shut off to conserve fuel. Military pilots would take off on four engines, quickly cut back to three, and then, as fuel was burned up, use only two. Eastern pilots practice landing Electras with just one engine as an emergency measure.
The flight crew said the prop-jet plane can take off quicker and stop shorter than a jet, and even an Eastern public relations man admitted that in bad weather he'd rather fly on an Electra than on a jet.
"The passengers won't miss it, but there's no other airplane that inspires that kind of affection around here," he said.
Affection, but added costs, too, said another Eastern official. Just overhauling propellers for the last 13 Electras required a 10-man prop-shop crew in Miami.
Keeping down payroll costs is a top priority at Eastern. Employees in July agreed to contribute 3.5 per cent of their pay for the rest of the year to a fund to protect profitability. If Eastern meets its productivity and profitability goals, the money will come back as a year-end bonus, a company official explained. Eastern workers chose the system as an alternative to massive layoffs like those Trans World Airlines ordered recently.
On the shuttle, bigger planes will mean fewer crews are needed. While Electras seat 82, the 727-100s take 100 and the DC-9s carry more than that, depending on the seating configuration.
With more seats available, Eastern figures it will need backup planes for extra sections of the shuttle less frequently, saving both planes and crews. While the Electra has been used exclusively for the shuttle - and recently exclusively for extra sections of the Shuttle - the replacement planes will be available for other assignments, further improving capital utilization.
Eastern will realize some $4 million from the sale of its last 13 Electras, which cost $2.5 million each when new and are bringing about $300,000 each on the used-plane market. Freight carriers and South American airlines, preferring prop planes to jets in high altitudes, are the buyers.
Compared to other Eastern flights which have load factors in the low 50s, the Shuttle averages better than 60 per cent of capacity. With no food service - which can cost up to $2.50 per passenger - and no reservations cost, the route has significantly lower overhead.
Eastern carefully shields information about the profitability of the Shuttle. "What I tell people is that when the Shuttle does well, it makes a lot of money, and when it doesn't do well it loses it a lot faster," said a company spokesman.
This year appears to be one of the good ones. Eastern said total combined passenger loadings on the New York-Boston and New York-Washington routes are up 6 per cent over last year, and the Washington shuttle is running 11 per cent ahead of last year, capturing 75 per cent of the air traffic between the nation's capitol and its largest city.
In the last 10 year, however, traffic on both shuttle routes has declined, with the Washington-New York run down from 1.5 million passengers a year to 1.15 million passengers in 1976, U.S. Department of Transportation figures show.
For the past two years, the Shuttle has barely kept ahead of Amtrak in carrying passengers from Washington to New York. DOT's Bob Winestone puts Shuttle traffic in 1975 at 1.11 million passengers compared with 1.07 million for Amtrak, and 1.5 million shuttle riders in 1976 versus 1.13 million for the trains.
Estimates for the first half of 1977, however, are that Shuttle ridership was in excess of 600,000 passengers, or more than 100,000 a month, while Amtrak's loadings were in the 500,000 range.
Track improvement work which has regularly disrupted Amtrak schedules is blamed for part of the shift in market shares. Amtrak figures cover only through passengers from Washington to New York and do not include hundreds of thousands more who take trains from Baltimore to New York, or from Washington to Newark.
On Tuesday, when Eastern goes all-jet and its fares go up, the schedule on the New York-Boston flights will change; flights will leave New York's LaGuardia Airport every hour on the half hour, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Boston to LaGuardia flights will continue to leave on the hour, as will all Washington-New York trips.
Over coffee, Tasuku Asano, a sophisticated college professor who recently has become popular as a Japanese TV commentator, summed it up this way: "The Japanese public feel they are being blamed for working very hard and doing very right." Having adapted to Western ideology and methods, the Japanese are bewildered by the cascade of criticism, Asano says.
"In a sense, you're too good at what you're doing," Malmgren told the Japanese at the editors' symposium. "But the (trade surplus) problem is there, and you will have to address it."