First Look: United’s Quirky New CRJ-550

Filed Under: United

A couple of weeks ago United Airlines put flights on their new CRJ-550 on sale, for travel as of Sunday, October 27, 2019. Well, today the airline has revealed the first “real” interior pictures of this unique plane.

What Is The CRJ-550?

The CRJ-550 is a rebranded version of the CRJ-700. It’s basically the same plane, it’s just configured differently. That might sound strange, since it’s not like aircraft type are generally named based on how airlines choose to configure them.

The CRJ-700 usually has 76 seats, while the CRJ-550 will have just 50 seats. It will be sparsely configured, with 10 first class seats, 20 Economy Plus seats, and 20 regular economy seats. The plane will have huge closets where carry-ons can be stored, and even a walk-up bar for first class passengers to grab snacks and drinks.

With airlines usually in a race to configure planes as tightly as possible, why is United intentionally configuring these planes so sparsely? Because they’re trying to get around their scope clause with pilots.

United has an agreement with their pilots:

  • United Express is limited to flying 255 aircraft with 51-76 seats
  • That limit doesn’t apply to planes with 50 seats or less; as a matter of fact, in theory up to 90% of United’s narrow body fleet could be flown by 50 seat regional jets, per the contract

So United is creating more 50 seat jets so that they can increase their regional jet flying, all while still offering a nice premium product on these planes. I do still question the economics of this, though…

If you want to read more about the concept behind this, see this post.

What Will Make United’s CRJ-550 Special?

The CRJ-550 is the world’s only 50 seat regional aircraft to offer true first class seating and other premium amenities, including:

  • Space for every customer to bring a roller bag on board
  • A self-serve refreshment center for first class passengers, featuring a wide assortment of snacks and beverages (though in reality the reason for this is that there will just be one flight attendant on the entire plane, so passengers will basically be serving themselves)
  • More overall legroom per seat than any other 50 seat aircraft flown by a US airline
  • Inflight wifi

Pictures: United’s New CRJ-550

Today United Airlines has revealed pictures of their new CRJ-550.

If you’re like me and are curious just what the interiors look like, the wait is over.

United also put together this video about the plane:

Where Will United Fly The CRJ-550?

United Airlines will initially fly the CRJ-550 from Chicago to the following destinations:

  • Allentown, Pennsylvania (ABE)
  • Bentonville, Arkansas (XNA)
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CID)
  • Cincinnati (CVG)
  • Columbus, Ohio (CMH)
  • Des Moines, Iowa (DSM)
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan (GRR)
  • Greensboro, North Carolina (GSO)
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (MDT)
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (IND)
  • Madison, Wisconsin (MSN)
  • Oklahoma City (OKC)
  • Richmond, Virginia (RIC)
  • St. Louis, Missouri (STL)
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma (TUL)

These initial routes range in distance from 109 miles to 693 miles, so these are all fairly short flights.

The airline has also indicated that in the coming weeks they’ll put more CRJ-550s on sale, for flights from their hubs in Chicago, Newark, and Washington Dulles.

Bottom Line

United’s CRJ-550s do look like an improvement over the CRJ-200 or CRJ-700, though in general I’m still not a huge fan of CRJs. I’d much rather fly an Embraer regional jet, as the cabins feel significantly more spacious.

If you’re someone who is used to flying CRJs then these will be a nice change of pace, given the space for carry-ons, and big first class and Economy Plus cabin.

There’s still something ironic to me about creating this super premium jet yet having only a single flight attendant. I get that’s probably a large part of what makes this economical. In reality, though, the self serve bar is there because first class passengers won’t be getting a whole lot of other service.

What do you make of United’s CRJ-550?

  1. if consumers reward united, choosing these planes/routes specifically we might see a little pullback from the race to the bottom ?? we can wish….

  2. Yep, you only need 1 flight attendant and that might explain the walk up bar since first class passengers will no longer have a dedicated flight attendant.

  3. Neil.

    Personally I prefer to help myself to food and drink than wait to be served.

    Feel the same way about lounges, where I don’t need a guy to pour a glass of wine or crack a beer.

  4. That is my question too. Are the pilots going to be UA or UX? But, isn’t UA’s intention to outsource lots of their flying to UX for UX’s lower costs? I’m a bit confused here.

  5. This is actually a (very rare) great strategic move from United.

    The fixed operating costs difference between a full 50 seater and a not as-full 70(6) seater are not great on the same stage length. 1 more FA on a > 50-seater, ever slightly higher pilot pay, and let’s say a conservative increase in 800lb/hr jet fuel. all in you could pay incrementally for these differences in operating costs on this plane by selling just another row of revenue seats at non-basic economy prices.

    The big advantage for revenue management of the 76 seater is the increased incremental revenue from first class, extra space seating, etc, which you now have replicated on a 50-seater, further narrowing the gap.

    Compared with the enormous fixed costs of operating small narrowbodies (100-120 seaters) and paying mainline rates, being able to outsource to regionals even at say 20% higher fixed costs than a dedicated 50 seater seems like a smart proposition.

    Aircraft capital costs are immense and timing is very hard to get right. Ideally an airline can buy a type, keep it for 25 years continuing to fly it well after it is payed for. Continually shifting fleet strategies are incredibly costly for an airline. When the big 3 were taking heaps 757/767s in the early-mid 2000’s, little did they think that these types would become relatively high-cost and obsolete in 15 years.

    Now United has an opportunity to pick these aircraft up for very cheap, as the Bombardier sells off the CRJ unit and production will most likely end very soon. Inevitably the scope clauses will increase soon, and as soon as they do you can guarantee United will start densification pushing these to 70 seats and continue flying them for years. Until then, they get something with a much improved hard product (which clearly they are working their marketing machine on) to their 50 seaters with only marginally higher fixed costs.

  6. Does it look like the single seat is tilted towards the window? Reality, broken (already?!), or optical illusion?

  7. “Personally I prefer to help myself to food and drink than wait to be served.”

    You’re missing the whole point of flying premium…or, flying in general, since in most cases, even in economy, someone will be serving you.

  8. The CRJ-700 has 69 or 70 seats for North American regional carriers, not 76 seats. The CRJ-900 is outfitted with 76 seats due to scope limitations, but Delta has some outfitted with 70 seats because it has different limits on how many regional aircraft can have 70 vs 76 seats.

  9. Why don’t they just buy a 50 seater if they’re looking for low capacity planes? I mean I’ll accept the conveniences of the 550, but the business sense seems weird

  10. @Tom

    I agree for some things it’s a lot quicker to get up and grab what you want (eg the snack dispenser in some JetBlue planes) but for other things such as the ice tea I like to drink with my meal, I certainly want someone to prepare that for me.

  11. I am a long time FF with gold status on United. Just a regular non-business customer. Guess I can now fly any airline rather than being loyal to United that no longer will encourage loyalty. I may no longer need pay a large annual fee for a United card with diminished value. Feel New program is for United and not their flying customer. Very dudappointi

  12. @Aaron – because on business-traveler-heavy shorter flights (such as ORD-XNA) the 550 offers a much better customer experience than the ERJ, which (as far as I know) is the only 50-passenger-or-less jet available these days.

    Being able to take a normal-size rollaboard without having to either check it or gate check/retrieve it is a competitive advantage when marketing to time-sensitive business travelers, especially those connecting at ORD from long-haul first or business class – they can still have a reasonable amount of comfort on a short-haul connection.

  13. CRJ550 is a slap in ALPA’s face. Next thing you know, unions will renegotiate these clauses again and UA just have this as another bargaining chip. Now that UA can retire ER4 and CR2, more of this 550 will follow.

    A self-serve refreshment center doesn’t solve the alcohol issue. FAA (and not those made up by crew rules) requires the operator to serve them to you.

    So either no booze or marketing gimmick to trick unions.

  14. @Aaron

    So when UAL beats ALPA over the head with the scope clause and wins the concessions they’re looking for, they can reconfigure the aircraft with a more traditional (e.g., 76 seat) layout.

    NWA did this years ago with Mesaba or the like. They had some scope issues with the 50 seaters, so they had them recertified as a 44 seat jet.

  15. In terms of fuel consumption and emissions this may just be the worst commercial plane in the world.

    Congrats united.

  16. We all know how jittery (and rude) some flight attendants can be about more than one passenger congregating in the galley area immediately behind the cockpit, and that is with more than one of them working.. so, er, how does this work? Deli tickets for timed self service?

  17. “Not one city anyone would want to go to”

    I see several decent cities on the list: St.Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Madison, Grand Rapids. I’ve never really understood the coastal preference for dystopian life.

  18. No toilets?? No cabin curtain separation?

    @A given only a max of 10 in F it’s not hard for the passenger to see if the refreshment station is occupied and wait a minute or two before venturing up to it them selves.

  19. Aaron – No, you’re missing the whole point of flying… The whole point is to transport you somewhere.

    If you don’t enjoy being waited on then there’s nothing particularly premium about having to sit around waiting for something you could easily get yourself…

  20. @Callum

    I guess that’s why we see people preparing the meals in the galleys and serving themselves when it comes to meals on planes, right?

  21. @Aaron

    No dude. For most people, the main purpose in flying is to get transported from Point A to Point B. Getting “served” has nothing to do with the main purpose.

  22. @Dan

    And, yes part of that is getting served food, which is part of most flights. Not as the original post I was responding to said “Personally I prefer to help myself to food and drink than wait to be served.” And especially when flying premium, unless there is a secret buffet for business class passengers to serve themselves when flying…or heck the secret buffet for economy passengers as well.

  23. As a 1k thinking about switching, that flies out of a small airport… if they would serve me here in Memphis with these and more frequent hops to the hubs, I’d certainly stay with United. Gate checking a bag when I’m almost always dealing with a tight connection is starting to be a non starter..

  24. How would self service work out? So you’re in the window seat and you have to make your seatmate get up? It’s annoying enough when people need to do this for bathroom runs, but not everyone will do that, especially on a short flight. Now the whole F cabin will do this? Well I guess it’s only 3-4 seats that will be blocked by an aisle seatmate.

  25. As a CRJ pilot I can say that the 200 with 50 seats and no first class is significantly more fuel efficient. However, the 700 with only 50 seats will be a competitive product because the CRJ series are all fairly fuel efficient. Especially when you factor in the fact that these are not brand new airplanes but retrofits so the cost to acquire is cheap for United.

  26. I LOVE the CRJ planes… Yeah, I’m 5’5, but they’re just so fun for me. I love how quickly they can take off, due to small size/low weight. I’m way too excited about this plane 🙂

  27. No way I’d want to sit on the 2-side of first next to a stranger in either the window or the aisle with self-serve bar. Way too much potential getting up/down that would drive me crazy. Maybe they should discount one pax’s ticket in first on every flight to serve as a deputized FA to pass around snacks and provide refills to provide a 90 minute game of musical chairs.

  28. This is actually pretty smart. Along with the recent changes to MileagePlus, United is taking the strategic position of catering to connecting passengers in smaller markets. And perhaps United was never able to fill 76 seats in many of these cities.

    If you’ve seen a 30+ person long line to pick up gate checked bags, you’ll understand how important extra luggage stowage is.

    The great thing is that if this doesn’t work out or United is able to extract concessions from its union at a later date, it can easily convert the aircraft to a full size.

  29. Why not have the walk-up bar be for all passengers rather than just F. That would be much better. It’s the Y class service anyway that takes the bulk of flight attendant efforts and time.

  30. Remember. This aircraft is NOT influenced by consumer demand or designed to make you happy. It’s forced due to scope clause.

  31. So can someone clearly explain what clause is at the root of this reconfiguration? After scrolling through the post and all the comments, I still do not understand: is it UA or UX pilots flying the 50-seater CRJ 550 and why is it better for United?

  32. @Roman R

    What does it have to do with UX?
    I’m confused why would any SkyTeam or European carrier fly for UA??

  33. @eskimo
    In the US the big three plus alaska have these documents with their pilot unions called Scope Agreements that determine, how many flights they can outsource, where they can operate between, how heavy they are, and how many seats they can have. The crj-550 will at first be operated by gojet airlines (g7). who have a way lower pay scale then united vs.
    These regional carriers operate under sub-brands (american eagle, delta connection, united express)

  34. LOVE the photo of the guy sitting in first class. Either he’s three feet tall, or first class pitch will really be, like, what? 45 inches? Or is United…exaggerating…?

    The only question I have is: Will United be paying extra to have human hair, dust, and crumbs placed all around these new planes, or will they let the lack of cleaning take care of it for free?

  35. Wow, a positive move by United (for a pleasant change). I don’t see how anyone can complain about having more space for themselves and carry-on luggage on a jet, regional or otherwise. For those traveling in first, hopefully the loss of the FA will be compensated for by premium snacks in the self-serve station. Flew a United regional jet to OKC last week, hopefully will have a chance to experience the CRJ-550 in the near future.

  36. 99% sure these are not actually new aircraft. They are quite literally old CRJ-700’s that united is retrofitting and re-certifying. weird that they’re speaking of them as if it they are factory new and as though CRJ-550 an actual model type as opposed to just a 700 with different seating config. “we are first airline to operate this aircraft type.” Thats like American saying they are launch customer for A321T. Perhaps United is adding / removing some components to change the aircraft’s weight and range in order to meet scope clauses? Wonder if it is even bombardier themselves doing the retrofit? Isnt their commercial aircraft division no more?

  37. So how does this work? Flights takes off, FA comes around to the 10 seat first cabin and serves drinks(Alcoholic drinks will NOT be in that self serve bar area), once done with first class drink service tells the front cabin to have at snack bar as she serves the E+ and Economy cabin?

  38. Looked up an upcoming flight…it says:

    Operated By Gojet Airlines Dba United Express

    Haven’t been on a Gojet operated flight before…

    Pleasant change…I can’t stand gate checking bags!!

  39. “I’d much rather fly an Embraer regional jet, as the cabins feel significantly more spacious.”

    As someone who has flown on innumerable ERJ-135/45 flights; I have to disagree 🙂

  40. MSN is less than an hour flight, bet the snack bar will be closed. Also imagine the fun of everyone trying to get their bags out of the closets at the same time. Nothing can go wrong.

  41. @Sunny leveson-jones

    Thank you. I know well what scope clause is.

    I don’t know why @Roman R is asking about UX or AirEuropa which has nothing to do with UA.

  42. @Eskimo

    Though I suspect you may be being intentionally obtuse, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. They are using UX as shorthand for United Express, as it has long been used on FlyerTalk and elsewhere United Express has no IATA code, because it is not an airline, rather a brand used by United for regional flights contracted out to carriers such as ExpressJet, Mesa, and SkyWest, among others.

    Just as they might in the context of United use the acronym MP to refer to MileagePlus and not Martinair.

  43. I wonder if the stew can provide a self serve booze section within the walk up bar once the aircraft is in the air? if I can’t get no gd booze fast when I’m in first class then f this concept.

  44. There sure is a lot of elitist snobbery on this blog. “The whole point of flying is being served” or “not a single city anyone would want to go to”. I suppose it’s not unexpected given that blogs about first and business class travel are oriented towards frequent fliers and the rich, but it’s still off-putting to read.

    People need to keep in mind that everything is relative. I avoid the coastal hellhole cities like the plague. Give me a boring, middle-of-the-country small town anytime.

  45. Scope buster, as you pointed out. Express pilots will love it, United mainline will detest it.

    As I used to fly the RMB-145, this is a better cabin than the ERJ, but the airplane is still not as nice as my good old Jungle Jet! PS, Jungle Jet refers to the Embraer jets and Barbie Jet refers to all the CRJ aircraft.

  46. @warren trout

    Convince P&G’s stockholder first, there annual meeting must and can only be held in Cincinnati per there own rules.

  47. @Chet Meyerson

    For what it’s worth I’m an Express FA and I detest this concept as well. I’ll also stick to my good old jungle jet.

  48. @ Grumpy Texan.

    Your point is well taken.We all need to be open minded. That is why I also recommend that when Lucky reviews a new J or F product, he also review the equivalent Y product (not on the same trip, of course).

    We forget here that 80% of the flying public only flies Economy.

  49. For all boozers on the post- Its a safety feature that you won’t be able to SELF SERVE ALCOHOL. Most can’t handle themselves appropriately as it is on the ground. For the guy that said “…flight attendants are jittery or rude…” passengers are way ruder and silly acting, Plus getting in the way of flight attendants duties, again safety issues. As for the rest of you concerned with what you can get for free or how greedy you can be, try to keep on the forefront that the flight attendant is NOT YOUR MAID OR A SLAVE! It’s still a small space and other people are wanting snacks (act like you have manners). Take your ear pods or head phones off and pay attention to what you are supposed to. And the rest of you who claim you “wouldn’t want to go to these places”, thank God, because I’m sure these places wouldn’t want you or your negative feelings there either. I fly weekly and see how horrible some of you are. You dont listen or want to follow rules, but somehow, your someone’s boss or own a company or in a high up position. And expect YOUR RULES FOLLOWED, AND WANT RESPECT, BUT when you’ve been properly asked, repeatedly and still won’t stop texting or talking after you all have been informed to, you get indignant . If you don’t like the new config or how the company chose to give you a better flight experience,then get your own jet.

  50. @Corizon Fallen – Well said. It irks me to see rude passengers. We are all on the same boat and when a flight attendant is properly doing her/his job there is no need for ill feelings that just spill over to other people on the flight. Complain to the company instead.
    As for the cabin comfort, the seats look like they are plastic coated and not comfortable.

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