The first CRJ550 for United Airlines is out of the shop and beginning the process for service introduction. The aircraft, N504GJ, returned from a month of work in Montreal to the carrier’s Chicago O’Hare hub on Monday evening. With its return come the first photos of the new 50-seat, premium-heavy interior for the aircraft.
Promising PaxEx improvements
As originally promised, the aircraft offers 10 first class seats, 20 Economy+ and 20 regular economy, retrofit into a space that previously held 70 passengers. All passengers have access to in-seat power ports, another exclusive on the type. The ERJ-175 also has power on board but only for the first class cabin. The CRJ550 will also be the only sub-70 seat regional jet in the US market with inflight connectivity (though that will change soon-ish, as JetSuiteX goes online with SmartSky). The CRJ550 carries Gogo‘s ATG-4 wifi kit on board.
Two other key features in the CRJ550 design are the self-service snack bar area at the front of the plane and the bag storage bins in the middle of the cabin. The former aims to keep passengers happy during the flight while reducing the overall workload for the one flight attendant staffing the aircraft. The latter should reduce or eliminate the need to gate-check carry-on bags. With the central location on the plane it may make for a small traffic jam during the boarding and de-planing process but that should still be far more efficient than waiting for bags to be brought up from the cargo hold.
As for when the aircraft will enter service, that remains an unpublished detail, though various company employees previously indicated entry-in-service expected in the August timeframe. United Airlines has disclosed that the aircraft will focus on the Chicago and Newark markets, but no further information is available. Some six other frames are understood to be in for retrofit currently, with one in Montreal, where the current frame completed its work.
Why the 550?
For United Airlines the CRJ550 allows the carrier to bring first class seats to a number of destinations that cannot support the 70-seat capacity of an ERJ-70/75 or the CRJ700s in the fleet. United cannot add more large RJs owing to the current pilot contract so converting some of the 70-seat frames to 50 seats helps the carrier grow its regional operation without adding the larger mainline type. It also helps United push the CRJ200 out of many markets. The smaller 50-seat commuter jet is loathed by most travelers and United has previously acknowledged that it is a poor experience. But it also was what the carrier could get quick and cheap.
A319 upgrades, too
In addition to the CRJ550 nearing its service entry, United’s first retrofit A319 with 12 first class seats is back in service. N850UA returned to the fleet on July 31st and promptly entered service. It has since bounced around the network, with no particular affinity for routes or a hub.