United Airlines wants its regional flyers to get that first class feeling, so the carrier’s new Bombardier CRJ 550 jets will feature an oversized first class cabin with United’s fanciest domestic seats.
When it takes wing from the middle of this year, the front ten of the CRJ 550’s 50 seats will “will likely be our United First domestic seat,” a spokesman for the airline tells Australian Business Traveller.
Those seats, designed by feted London firm PriestmanGoode, will be arranged in a 1-2 layout, ahead of 40 economy class seats (half of which will be in an extra legroom ‘Economy Plus’ zone).
Each first class seat includes a spacious tray table with integrated tablet holder…
… plus room to stow your laptop in a deep nook under the armrest…
… along with AC and USB power ports for each passenger.
First class passengers will also enjoy a self-serve beverage and snack station, with high-speed WiFi available from tip to tail.
United boasts that the CRJ 550’s four storage closets, in addition to the standard overhead bins, will provide travellers with “ample room to store their carry-on bags, making the CRJ 550 the only regional jet in the skies where customers will not need to routinely gate check their bags.”
The Bombardier CRJ 550 will slot into the regional United Express fleet and debut in mid-2019 on selected routes from Chicago, followed by Newark.
United plans to be flying 25 of the nimble single-aisle jets by year’s end, with all 50 aircraft in the skies by the middle of 2020 – replacing an older all-economy regional fleet which also lacks at-seat power and WiFi.
The airline believes the CRJ 550s will help attract business travellers flying from smaller cities to its Chicago and Newark hubs, or connecting onwards to international flights.
“We felt like we were at a competitive disadvantage in certain markets,” remarked Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer. “Today we hear all too often that passengers come in from a smaller market trying to access United’s global network, (but) can’t find a premium seat on the short-haul segment."
United is also boosting the number of business class seats on its Boeing 767-300ER jets, which feature on the key trans-Atlantic route between New York and London, with 16 additional Polaris business seats up front as each of the 21 jets is reconfigured between now and early 2020.
In addition, United will add an extra row to the first class cabin on its domestic Airbus A319 jets, taking the tally from eight seats to 12, with the larger A320s going from 12 seats to 16.
Nocella says that upgrades played a part in moving to the larger premium cabins.
“We noticed the chance of our most loyal customers getting an upgrade on United’s A319s were the lowest in the fleet, half that of a (Boeing) 737,” he reflects, due to the Boeings typically having 16 to 20 first class seats. “We wanted to rectify that and make sure the ability to upgrade was consistent across the Airbus and 737 fleet. This change will do that.”
United will begin retrofitting its Airbus A319s by the end of this year, with the Airbus A320 upgrades slated from early 2020.