CHICAGO -- United will offer a first-class cabin in a 50-seat jet when it launches flights on its Bombardier CRJ-550 fleet this
"People are going to walk on and they’re going to say, 'I
thought I was on a 50-seat jet.' They're not going to know what hit them,"
Sarah Murphy, senior vice president of United Express, boasted during a media
preview of the aircraft at Chicago O'Hare on Thursday.
The CRJ-550 is actually just a reconfigured 70-seat CRJ-700.
But United has stripped 20 seats from the plane and designed an interior with a
focus on business customers. The aircraft offers a 10-seat first-class cabin,
20 United Plus seats with extra legroom and 20 economy seats.
amenities include a self-service refreshment center in the first-class cabin and luggage storage closets for all passengers. The closets,
when coupled with the overhead bins, provide enough space for every passenger
to bring a roller-bag onboard, United says.
United is launching its CRJ-550 service with 10 aircraft
that will service 15 cities from Chicago O'Hare. Newark flights will
follow in early January, said Ankit Gupta, the carrier's vice president of
network planning and scheduling. Washington Dulles will be the third United hub to offer
CRJ-550 service. By next summer, the carrier will have a fleet of 54 CRJ-550s,
She described United's decision to strip out 20 seats
from an aircraft as "revolutionary" in light of the longstanding industry trend
of ever-denser cabins. Murphy wasn't specific, but said that even with
the loss of seats, United expects to improve profits with the CRJ-550.
To do that, the carrier will have to strategically place the
aircraft in small- and middle-sized markets with strong demand for premium products.
Gupta said that on 85% of the routes United has scheduled for the CRJ-550, the aircraft will replace single-cabin, 50-seat CRJ 200s. On the
other 15%, United will replace 70-seat aircraft, but in some
markets that will allow for an increase in daily flights.
Among the first 15 cities from which United will offer
CRJ-550 service to Chicago are medium-sized markets such as Cincinnati,
Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Smaller markets include Madison, Wis.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa;
Allentown and Harrisburg, Pa.; and Bentonville, Ark.
Bentonville, home of Walmart, is a textbook example of a
small market with solid corporate traffic. But Gupta noted that other
inaugural cities, such as Madison, offer corporate traffic from a broader base
He said that the aircraft will smooth the experience for premium
United customers connecting from small cities to United's international network.
"If you’re on a Polaris ticket (international business class), you want to be able to get
on a product like this," said Gupta.
Correction: Walmart's headquarters are in Bentonville, Ark.