Lured by the promise of discounted fares and new management, air travelers at Washington's National Airport yesterday reacted mildly to the news that Eastern Air Lines had been charged with falsifying maintenance records.
Many passengers, particularly longtime Eastern clients and business travelers, said they believed that the airline has put its worst troubles behind.
"It makes me very nervous, but the way I understand it this happened some time ago and it's not happening now," said Grace Lynch, 40, of Falls Church, returning to Washington on Eastern from a vacation in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"I guess we'll be flying with our fingers crossed," said Carol Clayton, 36, a Washington resident. "Eastern was always a wonderful airline ... it's declined a lot but I never thought it was unsafe."
Some travel agents noted that Eastern lost much of its customer base months ago and those who are left aren't easily shaken.
"The people who quit flying Eastern quit flying six months ago," said Rick Thomas, managing partner for Passport Executive Travel in Washington.
In general, travel agencies reported little or no change in reservations or cancellations for Eastern flights.
"We haven't seen anything," said Dexter C. Koehl, spokesman for Minneapolis-based Carlson Travel Network, the nation's largest chain of travel agencies. "Obviously the story was related to something ... that occurred almost a year ago. One would assume that people probably would not think of it as an immediate threat."
But industry officials said the indictments may discourage leisure travelers from making advance bookings on Eastern. The financial impact of such decisions will not be available for several months, they said.
"Some time down the road, I anticipate some people to stay away from them," said Steve Houseman, senior travel consultant with Passport Executive Travel in Alexandria.
Eastern, struggling since a paralyzing March 1989 strike by its unions, has operated under bankruptcy protection for more than a year. In April, a federal bankruptcy court ordered Martin R. Shugrue to take over daily management of the company from Frank Lorenzo. Under Shugrue the airline has embarked on an advertising and discount fare campaign to win back customers lost since the strike.
Passengers said they had confidence that the company was doing better.
"I think Eastern is under more scrutiny than ever before," said Jack N. Story, 43, of Bonaire, Ga., "so I think this particular airline is more safe than the others."