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United Airlines to drop ExpressJet as affiliate, threatening regional airline's survival

July 31, 2020
4 min read
United Airlines to drop ExpressJet as affiliate, threatening regional airline's survival
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United Airlines will end its relationship with ExpressJet Airlines, dealing what could be a fatal blow to the 50-seat regional jet operator.

Chicago-based United will consolidate all of its United Express Embraer ERJ-145 flying with affiliate CommutAir and drop ExpressJet as a partner, United spokesperson Charles Hobart confirmed to TPG. The transition will take "a number of months."

United's latest fleet disclosure shows that CommutAir flies 37 ERJ-145s and ExpressJet 97 ERJ-145s for United, though some of those planes are parked due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Travelers are unlikely to see an impact from United's decision to consolidate ERJ-145 flying with CommutAir. The planes will continue to fly the same flights with the same service and exterior livery — only the operator, and the crews working them, will be different.

However, the move could prove a death knell for ExpressJet. The Atlanta-based airline only flies ERJ-145s for the mainline carrier, having transitioned its E175s to SkyWest Airlines earlier this year.

If ExpressJet shut its doors, it would be the largest airline closure yet in the U.S. during the crisis. The Atlanta-based regional carrier employed more than 3,000 staff and fed United at its hubs at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH).

Related: Could Trans States Airlines closure buy time for other US regionals?

To date, three U.S. carriers have shut down as a result of the pandemic: Trans States Holdings-owned Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines, as well as RavnAir in Alaska. Both Compass and Trans States closed when their major airline partners ended contracts early as the number of people traveling slumped due to COVID-19.

United said that until there's a vaccine, it expects the recovery in air travel to plateau at around half of its 2019 passenger numbers. As a result, it has pulled back August schedules and notified 36,000 staff of possible furloughs.

And on Thursday, the airline told pilots that it may have to furlough 1,650 more pilots than previously planned, or as much as a third of its cockpit crewmembers, due to the stalled recovery.

Related: United Airlines worries travel recovery will stall until there’s a COVID vaccine

On July 27, Reuters first reported that United planned to select a single operator for its future ERJ-145 flying.

United owns stakes in both CommutAir and ExpressJet. While it describes its ownership in the former as a "minority stake," it has a 49.9% stake in ExpressJet parent ManaAir.

United will have six regional affiliates once it ends its relationship ExpressJet: Air Wisconsin, CommutAir, GoJet Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Republic Airline and SkyWest Airlines.

ExpressJet was formed as the operator of Continental Express in the late 1980s. It was acquired by SkyWest-subsidiary Atlantic Southeast Airlines in 2010 which than adopted its name, before being sold to ManaAir in 2019.

Related: Global air travel unlikely to recover until 2024 as COVID remains ‘issue’ in US, elsewhere

Featured image by Getty Images

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases