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Bombardier’s commercial jet program has really been on a roll recently. Last year, the manufacturer joined forces with Airbus for the popular A220 series while also going to great lengths to improve passenger comfort on one of its largest regional jets, the CRJ900.

Now, in a somewhat-unexpected move, Bombardier is introducing a new variant of sorts, in partnership with United. The CRJ550 — which, until today, essentially didn’t exist — is a 50-seat version of the CRJ700, headed to some of United’s more profitable regional routes.

The CRJ550 is based on the existing CRJ700 fuselage — the adjustments are largely cosmetic, which should make it possible to quickly gain certification from Transport Canada and the FAA, shutdown issues aside.

While United’s 700s offer six first class seats, 16 in Economy Plus and 48 in coach, for a total of 70 seats, the CRJ550 will sport just 50 in the same fuselage, with more space throughout. United will be adding a whopping 10 seats in first class, arranged in a 1-2 configuration, plus 20 in Economy Plus and 20 in coach.

The first class cabin on United
The first class cabin on United’s existing CRJ700. Photo courtesy of United.

Best yet, the 550 will offer a total of four storage closets, allowing most passengers to store their carry-on bags in the cabin rather than checking them at the gate. First-class flyers, meanwhile, will have access to a self-service drink and snack station in the premium cabin — certainly an unusual sight on a regional jet.

United plans to operate its CRJ550s on premium regional routes of up to 900 miles, replacing current 50-seat aircraft, such as the Embraer 145.

So far, the airline only confirmed that it’ll fly between Chicago (ORD) and Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas (XNA). United is apparently losing out on business from Walmart employees and suppliers looking to fly in premium cabins — with more first-class seats on the way, XNA flyers will have an easier time booking premium-cabin United travel between Arkansas and Asia.

With 50 CRJ550s already ordered, and the potential to add more later, we’ll see them on many more routes out of Chicago, in addition to regional flights from other United hubs, including Newark (EWR) on the East Coast. Pending government approval, United’s regional jet operator GoJet is expected to begin flying the 550 by the second half of this year.

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