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Floyd Hall, 96; pilot tried to save Eastern

PATRICK A. BURNS/NEW YORK TIMES/file 1970

Mr. Hall made many improvements at Eastern starting in ’64.

NEW YORK - Floyd D. Hall, a former airline pilot who rose to chairman and chief executive of Eastern Airlines in the mid-1960s but who was unable to stem the financial difficulties that eventually led to the company’s demise, died April 26 at a nursing home in Woodstock, Vt. He was 96.

His daughter, Nancy Morton, confirmed his death.

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Mr. Hall led the company from 1964 to 1976.

“He will take over what may well be the toughest job in the business, scrubbing the moss off a carrier that used to be the biggest and most consistent moneymaker,’’ Newsweek wrote in December 1963, when Eastern’s board lured Mr. Hall away from Trans World Airlines. Since 1960, Newsweek continued, “Eastern has lost $39 million, including $12.5 million in the first nine months of 1963.’’

The company was plagued by stodgy management; increasing competition on its once-lucrative routes, mostly along the East Coast; and complaints about old planes, late departures, and unsatisfactory onboard service.

Mr. Hall increased shuttle flights. He improved the quality and variety of onboard meals, and introduced free drinks in first class. He greatly improved on-time ratings. And he made all of that known through aggressive advertising, notably a “Wings of Man’’ campaign created by Young & Rubicam.

“I believe that if we bite the bullet where we have to, stand tall, tighten our belt, and remember that second-best is not good enough, we can rehabilitate this airline,’’ he told The New York Times shortly after moving into his office and hanging his framed TWA pilot’s wings and captain’s stripes on the wall.

After switching from the cockpit to the executive suite at TWA, Mr. Hall helped resuscitate that struggling airline. As senior vice president, systems general manager, and a board member, he played a major role in TWA’s reporting $18 million in profit in 1963, compared with a deficit of $10.8 million the year before.

“Pilot Hall has impressive experience in pulling out of nose dives,’’ Time magazine said in 1964.

But his efforts at Eastern did not fare as well. In October 1975, when Mr. Hall stepped down as chief executive after 12 years, the company announced a net loss of $20.7 million for the year to date. Faced with increasing competition from discount airlines, Eastern continued to struggle for the next 16 years. Its last flight was Jan. 18, 1991.

Floyd D. Hall was born to Weldon and Hattie Brown Hall in Lamar, Colo., where his father owned a hotel. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1938 and soon enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After two years in the military, he was hired as a first officer by TWA.

During World War II, Mr. Hall was called back into the Air Corps, where he rose to lieutenant colonel.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Hall leaves his stepson, Nixon Griffis; five grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife, the former Kimathea Griffis, died in 2000.

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