United Airlines is launching their new premium regional jet configuration on board what they are calling the Bombardier CRJ-550. 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 50% more. This new aircraft makes its first commercial flight this Sunday, October 27th.
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.
The plane will offer more space per passenger than any other 50 seat aircraft, with enough space for every passenger to bring a carry on bag, and to save on cost – and crew the plane with just one flight attendant – there will be a self-service refreshment bar first class passengers.
The premium CRJ-550 will be based out of Chicago O’Hare and fly to Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bentonville, Arkansas; Cedar Rapids; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines; Grand Rapids; Greensboro, North Carolina; Harrisburg; Indianapolis; Madison, Wisconsin; Oklahoma City; Richmond; ; St. Louis; and Tulsa.
I actually don’t love the concept of the self-serve refreshment center. Either you’re going to have passengers getting up for drinks while the seat belt sign is on, or waiting longer for drinks. You’ll have passengers queueing. It’s a good looking area, and the concept of the self service snack bar works on a long haul flight for mid-flight refreshment. I’m just not sure it’s desirable for short haul.