In the last installment, we discussed some of the characteristics of U.S. domestic "Shuttles" in terms of traffic and capacity. While Eastern's became the most prominent, it was not the first. Honors in that department go to the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo Ponte Aérea, or "Air-Bridge" in Brazil. Established in 1959, it preceded Eastern's service by two years.
Like the latter, the Brazilian entry featured high-frequency, no-reservation operations between important cities located a relatively short distance apart, and utilized 'close-in' airports near the respective city centers. Unlike the forthcoming version in the northeastern U.S., however, the Ponte Aérea utilized pooled capacity from three carriers: VARIG, VASP and Cruzeiro do Sul. Equipment (twin-engined piston Convairs and Saab Scandias) reflected both the composition of the participants fleets, and the need to operate at the smaller 'downtown' airports. Eventually, Lockheed Electra turboprops operated by VARIG came to dominate the route.
In the U.S., the existing competition provided by American Airlines continued once the Eastern Shuttle began operating. Over time, as the Shuttle became more popular, American tried to promote its amenities, such as First Class, reservations and enroute beverage/snack service, and more importantly, the fact that it utilized modern equipment, hence the reference to its service as the "Jet Express". Eastern, of course, had begun the Shuttle service utilizing older piston aircraft and later, Electras (sound familiar?); by the early 1970s, DC-9 jets were being used on the base schedule (first sections), with Electras comprising the backup equipment.
Notwithstanding American's seeming advantage in equipment, the Eastern Shuttle methodically gained greater market share until American exited these markets, leaving Eastern in the role of de facto monopolist on the important, and likely, lucrative routes between New York's La Guardia Airport and both Washington National and Boston. The convenience of being able to simply show up at the airport without having a reservation and travel apparently overcame the "no-frills" nature of the Shuttle, where the combined inflight service and entertainment came in the form of the cabin crew passing down the aisle to collect the fares from the passengers.
This, of course, was during the period when U.S. airlines were still regulated economically by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and fares on all airlines in a market were generally the same. Following deregulation, this was not the case, however. Texas Air, which owned Texas International Airlines, launched a subsidiary, New York Air, to compete with the Eastern Shuttles, with its initial pair of aircraft (also DC-9s) coming from Texas International's fleet.
Like the Eastern Shuttle, New York Air offered hourly flights. Since it didn't have the ability to offer extra sections, New York Air advertised heavily about its onboard service, which included snacks, described as the "Flying Nosh" (a bagel with cream cheese, in a red bag bearing the Flying Nosh name). However, the real difference was the introduction of lower fares, a weapon that American did not have at its disposal (and which probably wouldn't have made sense, given American's cost structure). While it's likely that Eastern's financial results in the New York shuttle markets were diminished substantially by NYA's entry, the incumbent continued to compete, and began offering onboard amenities -- termed "Air-Shuttle Plus" -- itself.
After its initial entry into the La Guardia market on the Shuttle routes, New York Air proceeded to expand into a number of other markets. In a strange twist of fate, the airline was merged into Continental by parent Texas Air...after Texas Air's acquisition of Eastern, including the Shuttles. Since keeping both Shuttles might have presented monopoly/anti-trust problems, that portion of NYA's operations were sold to Pan Am, which operated it as the Pan Am Shuttle, using the historic Marine Air Terminal at LGA.
Later, following the failure of Eastern, the 'original' shuttle became first the Trump Shuttle and then the USAir (now Airways) Shuttle, and Delta now operates the previously-Pan Am version. Although still hourly, there are no longer extra sections, so that it's necessary to make a reservation. In addition, during the last decade, rail, in the form of Amtrak's "Acela" service has taken significant traffic away from both, with the result that aircraft of smaller capacity than the 727-200s that both the DL and US Shuttles used initially have been substituted, in many cases.
In retrospect, the Eastern/Jet Express battle foretold some things that would be learned about a more market-oriented airline industry once regulation was repealed. Frequency and convenience, particularly in a short-haul market, will typically overcome amenities and service. And of course, after price competition was introduced, the concept of extra sections eventually disappeared. And in short-haul markets, effective surface, i.e. rail, competition is not to be overlooked, as has been demonstrated in many markets in Europe and Asia, in particular.