My First Time Flying American’s Smallest Mainline Plane

Filed Under: American

If you’re not an airline geek then by all means skip this post, as you probably won’t find this interesting.

For anyone who is mildly familiar with American, can you name American’s smallest mainline plane off the top of your head? You may have said the MD-80. Or maybe you guessed the A319, which is actually smaller than the MD-80 (even if it doesn’t look it). But neither of those is correct.

American’s smallest mainline plane is the Embraer 190, which has 99 seats.

You might be saying to yourself “wait a second, the Embraer 175 is smaller, though.” Yep, but that’s not operated by American, but rather by one of their subsidiaries, and marketed as American Eagle.

American Embraer 190

You see, the US airlines contract out much of their flying of smaller jets to regional airlines. This is a way for them to make this kind of flying economical, since everything is lower cost, including what the crews are paid.

However, when the airlines negotiated with unions, they had a scope clause in their pilot contract, which dictated what size planes can be operated by those regional pilots.

As part of that, Embraer 170/175 aircraft are operated by American’s regional airlines, while Embraer 190 aircraft are operated by American “mainline” pilots and flight attendants.

Yesterday I flew from New York LaGuardia to Boston on one of American’s “shuttle” flights, which was my first time flying American’s Embraer 190. This was the only plane in American’s fleet that I’ve yet to fly.

Ultimately the differences were subtle, of course. The cabin is virtually the same as the Embraer 175, except it’s longer.

American Embraer 190 cabin

However, the announcements were identical to what I’ve experienced on every other mainline American flight, rather than the usual regional announcements, which welcome you onboard “American flight XYZ, operated by Republic.”

Oh, and our pilots weren’t teenagers either.

It’s interesting just how different the pay scales are for American’s Embraer 190 pilots, compared to the Embraer 175 pilots flying for a regional airline on behalf of American, even though their cockpits are identical. Just to give a couple of side-by-side comparisons:

  • A first year Embraer 175 first officer earns $40 per hour, while a first year Embraer 190 first officer earns $80 per hour
  • A first year Embraer 175 captain earns $70 per hour, while a first year Embraer 190 captain earns $156 per hour

Again, this is totally geeky and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, though I’ve always found it interesting that American operates their own Embraer 190s, but outsources their Embraer 175 flying. Clearly that’s due to their scope clause, and the cutoff being somewhere in the middle in terms of what type of flying the airline is allowed to outsource.

Apparently American plans on retiring their fleet of 20 Embraer 190s in 2019.

To fellow American flyers, did you realize that American’s Embraer 190s are in fact “mainline” planes, while the Embraer 175s aren’t?

  1. I had no idea! Shows how oblivious I am to detail. Never put two and two together that the E175 said American Eagle on the fuselage, while the 190 just says American.

  2. US Airways did the same thing. I assume AA just continued the contracts. Sure is weird seeing a 2-2 “mainline” plane though. I consider it a regional airliner on my personal list

  3. Didn’t realize this, and really hadn’t known about the Embraer 190s. I don’t fly AA much. I have been on more E175s, mostly with Alaska but also with Delta. I’ve really grown to like this craft, especially compared to the smaller regionals.

    I would think they really make sense in feed strategies, since you could right-size the schedual. Nice post.

  4. This kind of contracting or, depending on the case, also wetleasing is a very common practice within the airline industry. Cost efficiency is only one point as it also adds more flexibility, for example with adding routes for a short time frame without the need of adding new equipment or using aircraft which are not suitable for a specific route. Training including all its costs for simulators, flight instructors etc. might add to the overall equation.

    As a side note: There is also an American Eagle operated ERJ-135 which is even smaller. I am not a big fan of these jets as they tend to get super bumpy and are generally not very comfortable in my opinion.

  5. Whats the smallest plane they operate as American Eagle? Would love to see a trip report consisting of 3 hour flights on 145’s, Dash 8’s, etc…. maybe finish it on a Twin Otter somewhere in Alaska or the Carribean (best flight i’ve ever had was on a Twin Otter from OTD to PAC.

  6. What about the old US Q300s? I’m guessing they are either contracted out or maybe AA stopped using them post merger?

  7. Pre-merger, US Airways used E190s on a flight or two each day on the PHL-DFW route. 3-hour flight. I actually rather liked them because first is in a 1-2 configuration, and I usually managed to get a seat on the 1 side. And I thought the food was an improvement over what they were serving on the A319s at the time: the E190s don’t have ovens, so they catered decent salads served with protein like cold chicken or salmon.

  8. Known it was Mainline per the back pages of American Way. The ERJ190 is the last AA Mainline plane on my “to-fly” list as well.

  9. I was in La Guardia yesterday as well. Too bad I didn’t run into you Ben. I didn’t know that tidbit about the E190 but I love the Compass Airlines E175 great seats.

  10. Another way to tell is by the FA’s/pilot’s uniforms. Depending on the specific contract, like for SkyWest out here on the West Coast, the FAs may fly for AA, UA, and/or Delta. As a result, the uniforms are all bare-bones, with minimal (if any) airline branding, and ultimately non-descript with a neckerchief or tie being the only differentiator amongst the three “uniforms”.

  11. I love JetBlue’s 190s; the pitch in the “even more” exit row is palatial. I them take regularly from HPN to BPI, and have taken on flights as long as JFK-AUS (though I think that’s been upgraded to A320 service.)

  12. I fly JetBlue’s e190’s from LGA-BOS quite often. I’ve grown to love them while actually flying for their smooth ride, and boarding/deplaning for how quick and easy the process is. The only thing I don’t like is how rough they are during taxi, especially at LGA, which for whatever reason has the roughest taxiways I’ve experienced. Its like riding in a CJ Jeep in these things.

  13. Does anyone else find these aircraft a bit turbulent when coming into land?
    Used to be on them pretty regularly and always noticed it when landing

  14. Just bear in mind, the pay rates are per loaded hour. Pilots don’t get paid unless the cabin door is closed or the brakes are off (depending on the airline). Airlines have a minimum number of hours they give you per month, usually in the 70-80 range as an income guarantee. If you are flying the minimum as a regional first officer, you aren’t going to be making much. Despite this, pay has significantly improved over the last couple years due to a qualified pilot shortage.

  15. Air Canada does the same thing. Their E190s are mainline and their E175s are operated by Sky Regional (Air Canada Express). Interestingly, until 2013 even the E175s were mainline.

  16. In addition to the employee cost differential, the Embraer is a more efficient aircraft for an airline to operate on certain routes than a Boeing or Airbus jet, but the reduction in windows is another example of a cost-saving measure coming at the discomfort of passengers. Yes, Embraer saves on the cost of installing an extra 6-12 windows per side of the fuselage but the present “use as few windows possible” design makes for a poor customer experience and reinforces the sense that you are at the mercy of a company that wants, more than anything else, to SAVE MONEY. Brand loyalty, customer experience, possible capture of a price premium all come second to this economic reality. Contrast Embraer’s design choice with the larger windows in the Boeing 787. Next up for Embraer, get rid of windows altogether?

  17. As a F/A that flies this ” Barbie Jet” as we affectionately call it, It will be missed once it retires. It is the perfect jet for the 31 minute LGA-BOS shuttle. It’s designed for the businessperson on a one day trip, the overheads don’t accommodate a lot of rollerboards.
    I’ve seen this plane try to do the longer routes such as PHL-MSP, PHL-MSY and PHL-IAH….when you push 3 hour flying, the complaints go up proportionally.

  18. Had the pleasure of flying this DFW-CVG in March. Comfy seats, good legroom (exceptional in first row of coach) some of the friendliest service and WiFi. The service the year before was the Embraer 135 (American Eagle), quite an upgrade in comfort.

  19. Just makes me wonder how much cheaper flights could be were it not for unions interfering in (what shpuld be) an open market.

  20. @Lucky- I’m about to fly them from Miami to Jacksonville, Fl on an E190 though it says it’s operated by Republic air. Are they still apart of American Airlines mainline fleet or is it their subsidary plane? How does that work?

  21. @ W — Are you sure it’s an E190 and not an E70 or E75, which seem to operate flights between MIA and JAX? Those planes are operated by the regional carries.

  22. @Lucky- I’m sure it’s an E190. I just bought the ticket for August 4 and that’s what it said for the flight.

  23. @ W — All the flights that day show as being an EMB175, along with one EMB, which doesn’t have business. So I think maybe something is displaying incorrectly on your end?

  24. @Lucky- Your probably right. My booking reference still shows an E190 though I believe That may be a problem with the booking reference. Thanks for your help! 🙂

  25. I’ve flown the embraer from SLC to tulsa, 2X2 seating and it is crowded and uncomfortable. Trying to use the restroom is rediculous. I’m 5’10” and I have the lean forward to go. Very little leg room or overhead bin room. An earlier comment about unions making the airfares higher is bogus. My brother works for AA and the unions had to take wage cuts during the bankruptcy era and were promised raises when they got back on their feet. Well, AA is Making bank and the middle and upper management got raises and bonuses but the unions didn’t get much of anything. I’m not a union supporter but when comany management gets the raises and bonuses, it’s not fair to the people who keep the planes in the air. It’s like when a state raises taxes for the teachers, the money doesn’t get to the teachers or classrooms, but to the school superintendents agendas. Sorry for the rant. I don’t fly that much but it has change drastically since 30, 20 years ago. Service and comfort are a thing of the past unless you’re first class customer, which I’m not going to pay that much with a family.

  26. @BayBoy1979 – Finally I’m not the only one who hates the windows on the E 170/90. Also the alignment of these windows always seems to be way off which makes it nearly impossible to get a good view in Y. CS100/300 is better, although i still like the E 170/90 with regard to configuration.

  27. It’s 2020, nearly three years after this article was written and I’m flying the 190 this week. Still in the fleet.

    “Apparently American plans on retiring their fleet of 20 Embraer 190s in 2019.”

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