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Georgia State University

Unscrambling the Eggs: Eastern Air Lines, Delta Air Lines, and the Deregulated Era

Benjamin van der Horst, winner of the 2009 Merl E. Reed Fellowship in Southern Labor History, will present his research on Friday, October 16, 2009. The event will be held at noon in Classroom 2 of the Georgia State University Library (2nd Floor of Library North).

Van der Horst currently works as a research analyst for a public policy research firm in suburban Washington, D.C.  A lifelong student of American history, he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Emory University.  His research mainly focuses on 20th century America, specifically on the rise of airlines and their impact on American life.  His master’s thesis focused on the two major airlines in Atlanta for the second half of the 20th century, Delta and Eastern, and how their similar paths diverged in the 1980s. 

This presentation will revolve around the two airlines during the first era (1978-1991) of airline deregulation. It will include explanations of the decisions made by both Eastern Air Lines and Delta Air Lines during this period and how these decisions led to Eastern’s demise and Delta’s success. A brief history of airline regulation and of each airline will be given.  Van der Horst argues that four big decisions made by Eastern Air Lines in this period explain why the airline went from being the largest American airline in terms of passengers carried at the beginning of the deregulated era to a failed airline just over ten years later. These include problems with organized labor and the decision to sell the airline to Frank Lorenzo. 

Van der Horst contends that four decisions made by Delta Air Lines in this same period explain why the airline went from being a mainly regional carrier to one of the three main American airlines during this first era of airline deregulation. While Delta’s story is not as dramatic as Eastern’s, it provides a useful foil for the chaotic decade Eastern faced. When the stories of these two airlines are put together, we see that the deregulated era forced airlines to make decisions that either they could not or did not have to make when regulated that determined the fate of each airline.

The Reed Fellowship was recently re-named the Reed Fink Award in Southern Labor History to honor two early supporters of Georgia State University Library’s Southern Labor Archives. One or more fellowship(s) of $250-$500 are awarded annually to individuals whose research in the Southern Labor Archives will lead to a book, article, dissertation, or other substantive product. For more information about the award, including deadlines, please visit us on the web ( or contact Traci Drummond, Archivist, Southern Labor Archives, at (404) 413-2880 or at