20 years ago, Continental Airlines opened Concourse D at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, displacing the rental car facility to a location far offsite. It agreed to pay $1,112,482 in monthly rent for the facility, which was designed for regional jets like the Embraer ERJ-145.
Continental advertised their all jet operation out of Cleveland as they rapidly expanded their only Midwest hub.
I remember calling Continental trying to research a better way for me to get home from high school in Pittsburgh, sometime around the turn of the century. I asked the agent what the ERJ-145 was and she told me that it was like flying on a private jet as there were just 50 all-leather seats on the plane. OK, so that may have been the whopper of the century, but it still beat taking Greyhound.
In the decades since, I’ve learned to avoid the ERJ-145, though it was unavoidable for flights like Cleveland-Kansas City unless we wanted to connect when visiting the in-laws. United eventually made that decision for us by killing the Cleveland hub in 2014 and shuttering Concourse D. They still pay $1,112,482/month in rent for the mothballed facility and will continue that payment until 2029.
I don’t miss the ERJ-145s, but I do miss the nonstop flights and the paper airplanes in CLE’s now shuttered Concourse C-D tunnel:
Regional jets meant tight seats, a lack of WiFi, a bumpier flight, no space for larger carry-ons, and worse on-time performance.
The Bombardier CRJ-200 was even worse than the ERJ-145. The ERJ-145 at least had a 1-2 configuration and a decent exit row. The CRJ-200 had a 2-2 configuration with no good seats on the entire plane.
The CRJ 700/900 series was a step up, but still had no space for large carry-ons.
Embraer finally solved the uncomfortable regional jet conundrum with the ERJ170/175. There are very comfortable planes large first class cabins in a 1-2 configuration and comfortable economy/economy plus cabins with a 2-2 configuration that has lots of space and can accommodate large carry-ons. I went from avoiding regional jets to actively seeking these ones out.
In the meantime, new planes like the 737MAX cram in more and more seats and shrink the bathrooms to a barely useable size. Good luck trying to take your kid into one of these bathrooms!
The planes to avoid have gone from the regional jets to the 737MAX.
However while airlines can add as many 737s as they want to their mainline fleet, they can only add a limited quantity of larger 70 and 76 seat regional jets due to scope clauses that are highly treasured by pilots. Mainline pilots don’t want to be replaced with regional pilots and they won’t back down from scope clauses that limit the threat to their jobs from larger regional aircraft.
United for example is maxed out in how many 70 and 76 seat regional airplanes that it can fly. It would love to retire aging 50 seat aircraft like the CRJ-200 and ERJ-145, but without the ability to add new 70/76 seat planes to their regional fleet, it has been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
That’s why United and Bombardier’s creative solution to this problem is so amazing. It’s a true win for passengers and the airline, something that almost never happens in 2019.
United will convert their 70 seat CRJ-700s into 50 seat planes that will be dubbed the CRJ-550. The removal of 20 seats will mean there will 50 spacious seats left for first class, economy plus, and economy.
The name change is reminiscent of when the ERJ-145 became the ERJ-140 when American needed to remove 6 seats from it in order to avoid its own scope clause issues with their pilots. However nothing about that plane is comfortable.
After converting over their existing CRJ-700 fleet to the CRJ-550 configuration, United will also take deliveries of new CRJ-550s.
By getting the plane down to 50 seats, they avoid the 70/76 seat aircraft scope limitations and can add virtually as many CRJ-550s as they want to their fleet. The initial plan calls for 50 CRJ-550s starting this year. Plus, when they convert CRJ700s into CRJ550s, they will also be able to add additional ERJ-170s to take the CRJ-700 spot in their fleet, at the currently maxed out 70 seat aircraft level as spots are freed up.
The FAA requires that there be 1 flight attendant for every 50 passengers, so I’d guess that these flights will have just one flight attendant, which will save United some money to make up for them ripping out 20 seats on these planes. They will solve the conundrum of how one flight attendant can serve 10 first class passengers and 40 economy passengers by adding a self-service beverage and snack station for first class passengers. And I’m perfectly OK with that. Don’t expect there to be self-service alcohol like I’ve experienced in Korean and Emirates first class though as the FAA requires that flight attendant on US airlines serve all alcohol directly to passengers.
There will also be 4 oversized closets for people to use for their large carry-ons that don’t fit in the overhand compartments. That’s reminiscent of the carry-on closet found on the upper deck of 747s.
Talk about a win-win of an airplane!
It’s great to see United take the lead in finding an innovative solution to their regional airplane scope clause conundrum. If this is a the future of regional airplanes, I’m excited for it! What a long way regional jets have come over the past couple of decades. A United regional jet fleet consisting solely of CRJ-550, ERJ-170, and ERJ-175s would be simply incredible!
The future of regional jets looks a whole lot brighter for passenger comfort than late model 737s and 777s that become more and more like torture chambers with every passing year as airlines pack in more and more slimline economy seats and teeny-tiny bathrooms.
United continues to head in a premium-heavy direction, with additional business/first class seats being added to A319s, A320, and 767-300ERs. This comes as airlines like American continue to remove premium cabin seats from their aircraft. United has managed to figure out how to keep large premium cabins while other airlines have not. It seems like they’re finally hitting their stride after their initially disastrous merger with Continental, while the American-USAirways merged airline keeps on getting worse by the day.