It was the end of an era Sunday night, as the last American Eagle flight in the Caribbean flew from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to San Juan.
Flight 4795 ended nearly 27 years of American Eagle service between Tortola and the Puerto Rico capital, according to flight crewmembers.
As ground crews in Tortola took pictures of the estimated 80 passengers onboard, airport firetrucks saluted the plane with a spray of water. Flight attendants said this was how retiring captains were honored on their last flights.
Crew members hugged each other, some with tears in their eyes.
Ground crewmembers said the 30 American employees in Tortola would not lose their jobs, as Seaborne Airlines will now take over many of the former American Eagle flights.
A flight attendant said she would be transferred to Miami, while other flight crewmembers were being transferred to Dallas.
“Thank you so much for choosing American Eagle all these years and the kindness you have shown us,” she said to passengers.
Ground crewmembers in San Juan weren’t so lucky with their job prospects.
One man said of the more than 200 American Eagle employees in Puerto Ricos capital city, at least half would be laid off. The rest, he said, were being transferred and others decided to retire.
American Airlines started moving last year to pull the plug on its American Eagle regional service from Puerto Rico as it navigated through bankruptcy. American Airlines won federal bankruptcy court approval last week to combine with US Airways and form the world’s biggest airline.
American Eagle, American Airlines, and parent company AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy in November 2011. AMR Corp. then delayed the planned spinoff of its American Eagle regional carrier. The holding company for that airline, AMR Eagle Holding Corp., the parent of San Juan-based Executive Airlines, which operated American Eagle’s flights in the Caribbean, also filed for bankruptcy.
This year, American Airlines started returning all of its leased ATR aircraft, a move that leaves Executive Airlines without planes as of April. All Executive Airlines/American Eagle flights operating out of San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport are discontinued. The carrier’s direct flights from its San Juan regional hub include Tortola, Santo Domingo, Fort-de-France, Punta Cana, St. Lucia, Pointe-a-Pitre, St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica , Santiago, Granada, La Romana , Barbados, St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Puerto Rico officials are working to fill the regional route gaps with other carriers including JetBlue, Seaborne, LIAT and others.