United Puts New Premium Plane On New York – DC Shuttle 10 Times a Day

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?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. LGA used to be the convenient airport, but every business traveler I know is avoiding it until the absolute chaos is resolved. The construction project has made it New York’s most unpleasant airport by margin.

    I used to think EWR or JFK was a toss-up, but JFK’s public transport options really work better from most places . . . the monorail at EWR is a substandard embarrassment while The JFK airtrain is quite alright with easy connections on the E Train. Excluding the UA Terminal at EWR (which is terrific), EWR is a pretty sad and obsolete facility, while almost all of the terminals at JFK are at least ok.

  2. If United wants to compete on DCA to NYC, they need to improve the abysmal on-time record of their DCA to EWR (and back) flights, and reduce cancellations.

  3. Hello? That’s all of us who live east of the city wondering if UA gives a crap about us at all…

  4. From lower manhattan, the only good part of manhattan, its quicker to get to EWR than to any other airport.

  5. Hoping for a fare war. Can remember fare wars during the Eastern/ Delta/Trump/US air shuttle battles. Think at one time one way walk-up was $75.00. And during those battles you could get 2000-3000 miles each way! That was in the good old days, late 1980s.

  6. “Premium” is still highly relative here. Cardboard seats in Y. Flying into the living armpit known as EWR-A.

  7. I finally dumped United. It started with the JFK cut then the MileagePlus devaluations. They have made DL and AS more attractive options.

  8. 13 daily DCA-EWR flights? How does that compare to the DCA-LGA shuttles flown by American and Delta?

    When the NYC airspace gets overcrowded and delayed, the FAA asks the airlines to cancel flights. It’s usually the regional flights that get cancelled.

  9. Is it flying out of A or C in ewr??? BIG difference. Also, EWR is much more convenient for anyone downtown and for many people on the west side.

  10. So interesting to see this return. Continental used to operate a shuttle between EWR in the 90s. They flew a mix of MD-80’s, 737-100/200/300/500’s, and 727-200’s. Departedflights.com shows the almost hourly on the hour schedule from 1995. On a Friday night, it felt like every other flight was cancelled.

    Upon landing at EWR, we would take the NJ Transit but to Port Authority and then transfer to the 1/9 to get up to the Upper West Side.

    It wasn’t long before we realized that LGA was so much more convenient and I started flying the USAir Shutte instead.

  11. At a quick glance, I read the headline, as “United Puts New Premium Plane DC-10 on Shuttle”. Wishful thinking!

  12. @Mishas,
    It may be a 1 hr flight but if you can stow your bags so you do not need to wait for gate check and bags at the other end it is a plus.
    agree- UA can always redo seats to 75 later when pilots allow it
    Agree completely.
    Try going to the A1-5 gates in IAD – they make Gate 35x at DCA look good by comparison

    UA has lost the real premium traffic at NYC anyway. They have a substandard hub in IAD
    The only good parts of IAD are where the other airlines fly internationally. The C-D gates are crap

  13. I work in the new Hudson Yards development on the far west side of Manhattan and live in the Garment District (39th & 9th), which is about two blocks from the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. From here, getting to EWR takes 25 minutes without traffic and even rush hour only adds 15-20 minutes. I’d say Laguardia is about 30 minutes at off peak times but over an hour during rush hour. Kind of similar. EWR crushes JFK, though, where transit time is long and extremely unpredictable. And EWR Terminal C compares favorably to many JFK terminals.

    Nevertheless as a United 1K I’m planning to status match to Delta in the second half of this year and fly them going forward since I won’t be able to requalify under the new Unites rules and it’s easy to just buy cheap first class tickets on Delta (seemingly Delta is cheaper than United in NY; United seems to charge a premium for EWR flights because there are a lot of people in NJ who don’t realistically have another other option except United’s flights at EWR).

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