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First look: United's new Bombardier CRJ550 aircraft flying US domestic routes

29 Oct 2019 by Michael Allen
United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

Background

United describes its new Bombardier CRJ550 aircraft as “the world’s only 50-seat regional aircraft to offer true first-class seating”.

Go Jet Airlines – which operates flights for United under the United Express brand – recently took delivery of the first of 50 CRJ550s, and initially started operating the aircraft on 15 routes from Chicago O’Hare to the following destinations from Sunday October 27:

Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bentonville, Arkansas; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensboro, North Carolina; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis, Indiana; Madison, Wisconsin; Oklahoma City; Richmond, Virginia; St Louis, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma.

United says that additional cities will be added “over the coming weeks”, from United hubs in Chicago, New York, Newark and Washington Dulles.

Seatplan for United's CRJ-550

The CRJ550 is based on the existing CRJ700 variant, with a configuration of just 50 seats – ten in first class, 20 in Economy Plus and 20 in economy. Above is a seat plan for the aircraft, taken from the United website.

The airline has highlighted a number of benefits of the new aircraft, including:

  • wifi connectivity
  • “space for every customer to bring a roller bag on board”
  • “a self-serve refreshment centre for United First customers featuring a wide assortment of snacks and beverages”
  • “more overall legroom per seat than any other 50-seat aircraft flown by a US airline”

Last week, I got to have a look around the aircraft at Chicago O’Hare International Airport with a group of international media during United’s Flight Plan media summit.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

What's it like?

Compared with its CRJ700, United has increased the number of premium seats in this aircraft. While the 70-seat CRJ700 has six United First seats, this 50-seat CRJ550 has 10 United First seats.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

Headrests are adjustable as per the below photo.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

The seats are 19.75-20 inches wide, have 42 inches of pitch, and five inches of recline.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

United First is laid out in a 1-2 configuration (1A-4A), with one seat on the left-hand side and two seats on the right-hand side. For solo business travellers, obviously the single seats would be more desirable to book as they offer more privacy.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

For luggage storage, the aircraft has overhead storage bins, which can fit 22-inch bags. United said last week that by 2023 four-fifths of its mainline domestic aircraft will have bigger luggage bins.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

A video of the aircraft below shows the bins in operation.

There are also additional storage bins located on the floor of the aircraft. One bin is located at the front of the United First cabin, and the others in front of the Economy Plus and Economy cabin. I asked a spokesperson whether the one bin in United First would be reserved for United First passengers. She said that this would be at crew discretion, though the idea is to accommodate the bags of all passengers regardless of fare class.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

United First passengers get access to a complimentary self-service snack bar at the front of the aircraft. This is stocked with a selection of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, including chips, pretzels, gummy bears and cheese.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

“This entire snack bar is a brand new concept and you can’t find it on any express operation anywhere in the world,” Sarah Rae Murphy, senior vice president at United Express told me on the sidelines of the aircraft preview event.

I asked her why no alcohol was available from the snack bar and she told me this was due to the possibility of children being on-board (the legal drinking age in the United States is 21). However, alcoholic drinks, which are free for United First passengers, can be ordered directly from cabin crew.

United First passengers will also have their coats or jacket hung. The hangers were on display behind the last row of United First seats.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

If you’re not usually able to fly in First when you take US domestic, you may be pleased to know that this aircraft is well-stocked with Economy Plus seats.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

There are 20 in total in a 2-2 configuration (7A-11D), offering extra leg room, and are identified by the purple colouring, compared with the blue of regular economy seats. These seats are 17 inches wide, have 34 to 36 inches of pitch and three inches of recline.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

The Economy Plus seats near the emergency exits have more leg room than other Economy Plus seats. I asked a United spokesperson who joined the tour of the aircraft whether United would charge extra for these seats, but he said the airline would not and these seats could be reserved in advance on a first-come, first-served basis.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

There are 20 regular Economy seats in a 2-2 configuration (12A-17D). These seats are 17 inches wide, have 30 inches of pitch and 2.5 inches of recline. The door in the photo below leads to the lavatory. I imagine the aisle seats in the very back row (17) could be undesirable given their proximity to the lavatory.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

There is no seatback IFE in any class on this aircraft.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

Rather, media can be streamed to your own personal device via the in-flight wifi. You need to download the United app before takeoff for this.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

Here’s a look at the economy class cabin from the rear of the aircraft.

United's first CRJ-550 / photo by Michael Allen

Verdict

The goal of introducing the CRJ550 is to create a “seamless” experience for travellers, such as those travelling from an international country to the United States on Polaris business class, according to network planning and scheduling VP Ankit Gupta, whom I spoke to at the event.

Though I haven’t had a chance to fly on it yet, this aircraft, which is being used for relatively short flights, seems to meet that goal.

The United First seats on this aircraft are spacious and comfortable, with the single seats on the left-hand side offering a good deal of privacy for solo travellers. While many may not feel the need to eat on the short routes that this aircraft will pfy, it’s nice to have the snack bar in case you’re feeling peckish.

For those in the rear of the cabin, the large amount of Economy Plus seats will be appreciated by those who like to have a bit more leg room to stretch out. The only particularly bad seats I could find on this aircraft would be the ones, as mentioned above, that are right by the lavatory door.

The aircraft has only been flying since Sunday, but if you’ve experienced it already, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the aircraft in the comments section below.

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