United Airlines Will Introduce More 50-Seat Jets With First Class
United Airlines has increased its commitments for the new Bombardier CRJ550, the new 50-seat regional jet with first-class seats that it plans to introduce before the end of the year.
The Chicago-based carrier will add 54 of the aircraft, which are re-certified Bombardier CRJ700 airframes, through 2020, United disclosed in a second-quarter financial filing. It previously planned to add 50 CRJ550s.
The CRJ550 will be outfitted with 10 first class seats —a first for a 50-seat regional jet in the feeder fleets of the US mainline carriers — 20 Economy Plus seats and 20 economy seats. In addition, they will feature large closets designed to eliminate the need for passengers to gate check bags.
United plans to introduce the CRJ550 later this year at its Chicago O’Hare (ORD) hub on flights to Bentonville, Arkansas (XNA), where Walmart, the largest company in the world by revenue, is headquartered. The plane will then serve more routes to smaller communities from both Chicago and Newark (EWR).
Airline executives say the aircraft, first announced in February, will help United address its competitive disadvantage in smaller markets. Its contract with pilots limits it to no more than 255 large regional jets that feature first-class cabins, while American Airlines and Delta Air Lines can both operate more of the larger models.
The CRJ550 will allow United to introduce first class to these smaller markets while remaining in compliance with its pilots’ contract.
“Getting our structural disadvantage in smaller communities fixed is a priority,” said Andrew Nocella, chief commercial officer of United, during a second-quarter earnings call on July 17. “We're excited to see the 550 into service and what it's going do to us.”
In addition to making United more competitive in smaller markets, the CRJ550 will also create new upgrade opportunities for frequent travelers. The airline plans to use them where it currently flies 50-seat aircraft that feature all economy seats.
Nocella was mum on when the CRJ550 will begin flying. The initial expectation was that aircraft would be flying by the fall, however, he said on the call that the introduction will occur “later this year.”
United’s regional partner GoJet Airlines, a subsidiary of Trans States Holdings, will operate the aircraft under a 10-year agreement, the filing shows.
The CRJ550 deal has also enabled United to order more of the popular Embraer E-Jets it also flies regionally. The airline’s order for 20 E175s at the Paris air show in June will replace the CRJ700s that are being converted to 550s, Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay said in a recent report.
The E175s larger cabin and overhead bins make them more popular with passengers than comparably sized CRJ aircraft.