United Appears to Be Testing the CRJ550, Its New Dual-Class 50-Seat Jet
United Airlines continues to tout its latest regional jet: the 50-seat Bombardier CRJ550 with 10 first class seats will allow the carrier to expand premium seating offerings into a range of smaller markets.
One of the first of those aircraft, a re-configured and re-certified Bombardier CRJ700 airframe, flew to United's Chicago O'Hare (ORD) base yesterday, in what appears to be an early familiarization flight.
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The aircraft, registration N504GJ and operated by GoJet Airlines, flew to Chicago from Montreal (YUL) on Wednesday, according to Flightaware.com. The flight was its only one in the past week.
A United spokesman declined to comment.
United plans to introduce the first of 54 CRJ550s this fall. In addition to 10 first class seats, the jets will be outfitted with 20 extra-legroom Economy Plus and 20 economy seats. They will have three closets aimed to eliminate the need for passengers to gate-check carry-on bags.
"Our first set of CRJ550s are being prepared to enter service later this year with [a] focus on Chicago and New York," said Andrew Nocella, commercial chief at United, in July.
The airline has said the CRJ550 will debut on flights between Chicago and Northwest Arkansas (XNA) near Fayetteville, Arkansas, which is home to global retailer Wal Mart.
In meetings with Raymond James analysts on Tuesday, United executives said they anticipate a "critical mass" of in-service CRJ550s by around March 2020.
United is betting that the CRJ550 will improve its competitive position in smaller US markets. It plans to use the aircraft to replace 50-seat jets configured in an all-economy layout to boost its share of business travelers in small markets like Northwest Arkansas.
The carrier cites limits in its contract with pilots for the unique premium solution. United cannot contract more more than 255 regional jets with 70-76 seats, on which first class cabins are standard. Competitors American Airlines and Delta Air Lines can both contract more than 300 of the larger jets.