United's new two-class CRJ550: 'The customer is going to love it'
United Airlines is on schedule to introduce the Bombardier CRJ550 this fall, the industry’s first 50-seat jet with both first- and economy class cabins, executives say.
Retrofits to several Bombardier CRJ700 airframes — the CRJ550 is a modified CRJ700 aircraft — are complete with work on another 10 to 12 aircraft now underway, Trans States CEO Rick Leach told TPG at the Regional Airlines Association (RAA) annual convention in Nashville Thursday. Trans States-owned GoJet Airlines will fly the aircraft for United.
Concurrently, Bombardier and Trans States are in the final stages of certifying the CRJ500, he added.
United has signed up GoJet to fly 54 CRJ550s from its Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Newark Liberty (EWR) hubs. The aircraft will feature 10 first class seats, 20 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats and 20 economy seats. In addition, they will have several closets aimed at eliminating the need for passengers to check bags at the gate, and a snack bar.
“The customer is going to love it,” said Leach on the onboard product.
"It’s almost uncomfortable there’s so much space on the aircraft," United vice-president of domestic network planning Ankit Gupta said about the CRJ550 at RAA on Friday. The carrier remains on track to introduce the aircraft "sometime in the fall," he added.
The first CRJ550 was spotted undergoing testing at Chicago O’Hare in August. While neither United nor Trans States provided official photos, several pictures ended up on Twitter.
Gupta said United will initially fly the CRJ550 from Chicago to medium-sized cities including Cincinnati (CVG), Columbus (CMH), Madison (MSN) in Wisconsin, Northwest Arkansas airport (XNA) near Wal Mart's headquarters, and St. Louis (STL). Previously, United had only disclosed plans to fly the plane to Northwest Arkansas.
United will bring the CRJ550 to its Newark hub at a later date, he added.
The dual-class 50-seat jet is likely to stick around in United's regional fleet for some time. The airline is hamstrung by its contract with pilots that places stricter limits on the number of large regional jets — like Bombardier CRJ900s and Embraer 175s — in its feeder fleet than similar agreements at American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
United is in negotiations with pilots over a new contract, but few expect any change to the limits on regional aircraft known as "scope."
“The CRJ550 has allowed [United] some breathing room in addressing the regional market without scope relief," said Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James, on the topic at RAA on Friday.