American Eagle fleet adjustments will mean fewer cramped regional jets

Apr 30, 2020

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It’s not just mainline carriers that are shaking up their fleets in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Airlines has announced the retirement of a number of jet types, including the Boeing 757 and Airbus A330-300. Now the regional carriers that fly for its Eagle division are making changes of their own.

Those operators are purging some of the smallest regional jets from their fleets, reducing the number of aircraft that are among the most unpopular with travelers.

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AA’s PSA affiliate is retiring its entire fleet of Bombardier CRJ 200s, saying the 50-seat jets will be out of service, effective immediately.

“American has made their plans clear to reduce single-class regional jets around the American Eagle system,” PSA president Dion Flannery said in a letter to employees reviewed by TPG. “Retiring these older, single-class aircraft from our fleet sooner than originally planned avoids unnecessary maintenance and fuel costs.”

At American’s Envoy affiliate, the retirement of the 44-seat E140s is also being accelerated.

“The latest projections suggest that customer travel demand will build back slowly, so we have also accelerated the retirement of 22 of these inactive E140s,” Pedro Fábregas, Envoy’s president and CEO, said in a letter to employees reviewed by TPG.

Related: American Airlines leads shift to smaller jets for flights still flying in U.S.

However, the moves don’t quite mark the end of these unpopular, small, all-economy jets. Envoy will continue flying the roughly two dozen of the E140s that remain in its fleet.

Still, travelers are likely to welcome the news that the number of the smallest regional jets in operation is being reduced. They are among the least popular planes with passengers, disliked for minimal standing room, tiny overhead bins and for feeling generally cramped.

The changes are expected to increase the percentage of larger regional jets in the overall American Eagle fleet, which — across several affiliates — also includes Embraer E175s and E145s and Bombardier CRJ-900s and CRJ 700s. Except for the E145s, the other types are all configured with both first class and economy.

Regional jet usage exploded in the 2000s, replacing turboprops on short-haul routes around the country. The swap initially was welcomed by passengers who generally preferred jets — even small ones — to prop planes. But the satisfaction was short-lived. Airlines quickly increased the usage of regional jets, putting them on more flights and on longer and longer routes. Those decisions pushed the planes out of favor with many travelers.

Related: Airlines add new rules as call for masks on planes gets louder

By 2010s, the pendulum began swinging the other way, thanks to a combination of spiking fuel prices and other economic factors. Suddenly, airlines couldn’t retire their smallest, relatively inefficient regional jets fast enough. That trend is only being accelerated as airlines revisit their fleet strategies amid plummeting demand for travel.

The latest fleet changes at American Eagle come as the regional network itself is changing during the pandemic.

A pilot for Envoy confirmed to TPG Thursday that American had ordered the affiliate to suspend flying in and out of Miami from May 7 to June 3. The move was first made public on Twitter by JonNYC. Envoy had already stopped serving JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York in late March, and airlines across the board continue making or extending cuts to their network, waiting for demand to recover.

Read more: Here’s why airlines probably aren’t using this moment to spruce up their planes

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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