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Passengers, Agents: Travel Brisk Despite Indictments

July 27, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ Bargain hunters are filling Eastern Airlines’ cheap seats despite the carrier’s indictment on charges of falsifying maintenance records, passengers and ticket-sellers say.

″I just checked for the least expensive flights, and this happened to be one of them,″ said Ana Carter of Atlanta, who hadn’t heard the news before boarding the plane Thursday. ″Maybe that’s why.″

The Miami-based airline and nine of its high-level managers face a 60-count indictment - unprecedented in the airline industry - for allegedly failing to do required maintenance and falsifying records to indicate the work was done.

The indictment, unsealed Wednesday, followed a 10-month investigation and covers the period from July 1985 through October 1989.

Neglected were such critical items as radar, landing gear, automatic pilot instruments and fuel systems, said Andrew J. Maloney, a U.S. attorney in New York, where the indictment was returned. He said none of the alleged violations caused accidents or injuries.

″I read it in the paper this morning, after I had boarded the plane,″ said longtime Eastern passenger Charlene Ellis of Suitland, Md. ″It made me slightly uncomfortable,″ but she said she would continue to fly Eastern.

″People still like Eastern because of the cheap fares,″ said Drew Ray, manager of the vacation department at Englewood Travel, Englewood, N.J.

″Most of them don’t even pay attention to that (news like the indictment) anyway,″ said Marsha Nabors, of Advance Travel in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. ″As long as they can get these cheap fares with no penalties, they’ll ride.″

But not everybody seemed to feel that way.

″I can promise you this - until the problem is fixed I will make no more reservations on Eastern Airlines,″ Patricia Middleton of Washington said after arriving in Miami.

Eastern insists there’s nothing to worry about.

″There is no carrier out there who has received nearly the scrutiny we have in the past couple of years,″ said spokeswoman Karen Ceremsak in Miami. ″That’s why a passenger can feel reasonably comfortable about flying with us. There’s been no stone left unturned.″

She said Eastern took out full-page advertisements in several major papers today to reassure customers.

The ad - which ran in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among other papers - said: ″Today about 60,000 people will fly Eastern. They have a right to know they are flying a safe airline.″

Signed by Eastern bankruptcy trustee Martin R. Shugrue Jr., the ad says: ″Two years ago, some Eastern employees in New York falsified maintenance records to reflect work that had not been done. ... Today if Eastern weren’t meeting the highest government standards of safety we would not be flying.″

Most agents said they had noticed no change in demand for Eastern seats.

″Not one soul has said they won’t fly Eastern,″ said Gerard Gonzalez, owner of Let’s Go Travel Inc. in New York.

″Seats are so scarce, the cheap seats to Florida, that they’ll take anything,″ said Mark Kazlauskas of Travel Network in Brooklyn. ″We do have one or two people say they won’t fly Eastern, but that’s because they’re union workers, and they won’t fly it.″

Eastern is struggling with a 16-month-old strike by its Machinists union that helped push the carrier into bankruptcy reorganization proceedings. It is attempting to regain the full-fare business customers that airlines depend on.

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