Are United’s regional vendor carriers actually improving along with mainline?

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United’s long time Achilles heel has been its regional service under United Express. No, this hasn’t been United’s only problem, but it’s one of the most significant. Remember Dr. Dao? Of course you do. That wasn’t a United mainline flight, but a regional flight serviced by a regional carrier vendor. The thing is that at the end of the day, no one cares whether it’s a vendor or not. It carries United’s name, so it’s United. The airline has begun its efforts to decrease United’s reliance on regional vendor carriers by increasing United mainline flights to cities that were typically services by regional carriers.  However, a full regional-to-mainline shift is highly unlikely and would be very difficult -if not impossible- to sustain if it did happen. About half of United’s daily departures are regional flights! That being said, the plan to expand mainline service to regional airports will bode well for the company, as regional carriers’ on-time performance and cancellations are a huge problem. The smaller regional planes are also less desired by flyers. But this past week, good news came from the regional front.

CommutAir to replace Bombardier Dash-8’s

CommutAir operated United regional flights out of Washington Dulles (IAD) and Newark Liberty (EWR) – two of United’s main hubs. Their fleet includes the small and relatively slow Bombardier Dash-8 turboprops. As Lewis Lazare of Chicago Business Journal writes, “CommutAir is expected to replace all its Dash-8’s with the Embraer-145 aircraft, an all-jet plane that seats 50 and has a maximum cruising speed of 517 miles per hour, compared to 334 miles per hour for the slower Bombardier Dash-8.” Think about the impact this could have, not only in a smoother ride, but also on-time performance!

After the Dao incident and basic economy fare rollouts, the talk about negative in-flight experiences hasn’t stopped. It’s even being discussed in congress. United does well to aim for more comfortable and modern regional fleets.

I’ve flown Bombardier’s CRJ several times this year, so you can take a look at some photos and reviews here. The Embraer is a generally more comfortable ride than even the CRJ’s. As CommutAir modernizes its fleet, what will United’s other regional vendor carriers -SkyWest, ExpressJet, and others-  do to follow suit?

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