Currently United offers 8 peak daily Newark – Washington National departures, using a mix of different regional jets from 50 seat ERJ-145s to 76 seat Embraer 175s.
Starting March 29 United will run 13 daily flights between the two cities. Ten of those flights will be using the airline’s new premium-heavy regional jet they’ve dubbed the ‘CRJ-550’ and 3 flights will be on larger Embraer 175s.
United can offer more flights – frequency is attractive to business travelers – offering fewer seats per flight on average. And they’re offering a product on 10 of the flights where they’re putting just 50 seats on the plane that’s designed for 40% more than that. Plenty of space per passenger is attractive, too.
United’s New Premium-Heavy Regional Jet
United can’t add more regional jets for large numbers of passengers. So they’re putting just 50 seats in a plane that can fit 40% more. The new CRJ-550 debuted October 27.
The airline’s scope clause in their pilots contract imposes specific limits on the number of 50, 70, and 76 seat planes that can be flown under the United Express banner.
- United is maxed out on 76 seaters, with SkyWest, Republic, and Mesa operating a total of 100 Embraer E-175s.
- They have 105 regional jets with 70 seats – including half Embraer E-175s and half Bombardier CRJ-700s. United would certainly fly the E-175s that have 70 seats today with 76 seats if their pilots contract allowed it.
United’s solution to scope clause limits on larger regional jets is the CRJ-550, a CR7 that might have 70 seats with only 50. It’s a premium-heavy configuration (10 first class, 20 economy plus, and 20 economy seats) that fits within their current scope clause.
- With extra room they add closets for bag storage
- And since 50 passengers only require one flight attendant, there’s a self-serve beverage and snack station for first class passengers
I viewed this plan as a stalking horse for a new union contract. The premium-heavy regional jet could actually work on some routes, the jury isn’t in yet, but the airline wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t constrained by the pilots contract. United wouldn’t be running with a premium-heavy regional jet with a more flexible pilots’ contract. The question is, if they get scope relief, whether they’ll keep the configuration in the future.
Can United Compete With a Regional Jet Shuttle From Newark?
The lore around building what’s now LaGuardia, Manhattan’s close-in airport, is that in 1934 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia flew TWA from Chicago to New York – at least that’s what his ticket said – and he refused to get off when the DC-2 landed at Newark since his ticket wasn’t to New Jersey. Refusing to leave his seat, the captain is said to have flown just the Mayor onward to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn (which could only just accommodate the DC-2). LaGuardia used this stunt to promote building a new airport for New York.
United (and Continental before it) has spent years promoting the idea that Newark is a convenient airport for the city. They’ve put displays on the top of taxis comparing travel time from any given point in the city to the various airports. And to be sure there are points in the city where Newark is closest – Staten Island for instance. However the overall preponderance of New Yorkers I’ve known (and I grew up there) view LaGuardia as the convenient airport, not Newark.
Will the spacious inflight product of the CRJ-550 attract premium travel, if passengers believe they have further to go to get to and from the airport?