Here’s why United Airlines just added over 350,000 seats to its schedule

May 11, 2021

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United Airlines just added more than a quarter-million seats to its schedule, and the reason why might surprise you.

No, the Chicago-based airline isn’t taking delivery of new planes, nor is it cramming new seats into a super-dense configuration. Instead, United’s adding back seats it removed from its regional jets late last year.

Specifically, the carrier’s Embraer 175 regional jet was reconfigured into a 70-seat arrangement to satisfy a “scope clause” with its pilots last year. Traditionally, mainline pilots who fly the carrier’s larger jets don’t want United outsourcing flying to cheaper, regional affiliates. That was especially true during the height of the pandemic when United and its competitors were looking to both cut costs and trim capacity to meet demand.

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To satisfy this “scope clause,” United was forced to reconfigure its Embraer 175 regional jets with six fewer seats, from a 76- to a 70-seat configuration.

But now that United is reactivating many parked planes and flying a domestic schedule nearly 70% of 2019 levels, the carrier can add the seats back to its E175s.

When United removed the seats, it told TPG that these jets could revert back to the larger configuration “when the letter of agreement [with ALPA] ends in October 2022 or when pilot’s monthly hours are no longer reduced through the letter of agreement.”

Now that the mainline pilots are flying again at near pre-pandemic levels, the carrier can add back the six seats. In a statement, a carrier spokesperson shared that,

Starting April 30, our United Express partners began re-installing the six seats on Embraer 175 aircraft that had been temporarily removed last year in accordance with the contractual agreement reached between United and ALPA. The first 76-seat configured E175 aircraft began flying on May 1 and we expect the entire fleet to be completed in early June. 

Capt. Todd Insler, pilot union leader for Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), told TPG that “United pilots are pleased our groundbreaking recovery agreement was successful and has positioned us to where we can not only return to our 2019 numbers, but continue to grow.”

Despite adding six more seats, there won’t be any passenger-facing implications. United confirmed to TPG in January that legroom and seat pitch weren’t changing during the reconfiguration process.

The 76-seat Embraer 175s sport 12 first-class recliners, 16 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats and 48 standard coach seats.

United’s Embraer 175 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

United Express affiliates Mesa Airlines, Republic Airways and SkyWest Airlines operate 196 Embraer 175s (E175), according to Cirium fleet data.

This isn’t the first time United purposely removed seats from a regional aircraft. In 2019, United unveiled the CRJ550, a re-certified variant of the Bombardier CRJ700.

Due to caps on the number of large regional jets — typically those with 65 to 76 seats — in its pilot contracts, United took the CRJ700 airframe and outfitted it with 50 seats in a two-cabin configuration, with a walk-up bar for first-class passengers and two large onboard closets to store full-sized carry-on bags.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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