Would You Fly 1700 Miles in a Regional Jet?

United Airlines is introducing a number of new regional carrier routes.

The airline has made a point of adding connecting spokes for their hubs, especially to underserved cities where there may be only a single carrier in the market. Delta is the only major airline serving Elmira, for instance (American exited the city earlier in the year).

One that really stuck out to me though is Chicago – Fresno season service because of the sheer length of the flight. That’s not technically the longest flight I know of with a regional jet because Air Canada has one that’s just as long.

Air Canada Jazz flies Houston – Calgary. And to be sure I’d take longer flights on an Air Canada Jazz CRJ705 (aka “CRA”) or an Embraer E175 over 1400 mile-ish flights on an ERJ145. Not all regional jets are created equal.

Air Canada’s CRJ705 offers 10 first class seats with 37 inches of pitch (distance from seat back to seat back) and 65 economy seats with 34 inches of pitch — the equivalent of United’s economy plus and American’s main cabin extra throughout the cabin.

United’s E175 that will serve Chicago – Fresno has 12 first class seats with 37 inches of pitch, 16 economy plus seats with 34 inches of pitch, and 48 regular economy with 31 inches of pitch.

These aren’t going to be super-comfortable, but they won’t be horrible. Or at least notions of horribleness are incredibly subjective and shifting over time.

  • Regular coach is more generous than American’s new 737 MAX aircraft where regular economy will be 30 inches throughout.

  • 50 seat CRJs, the bane of frequent flyers’ existence, were once huge advances in passenger comfort — compared to the prop planes that they replaced.

Regional jets have high per-seat costs compared to larger jets, but became popular when airlines managed to include the flexibility to contract out more flying to regional affiliates in their pilot contracts.

  • Regional jets usually mean regional airlines, which have lower labor costs.
  • Smaller planes, while expensive per-seat, are cheaper to operate in total than a large jet. So markets that cannot fill a large plane can be served profitably with a smaller jet.

And while a large aircraft is going to be preferred by passengers over a small one, a regional jet non-stop will often be preferred over large jet connections.

Nonetheless, given the choice I’ll avoid regional jets without first class and extra legroom, and without inflight internet. And yet I take them on short routes when that’s what is offered, with the most convenient flight times.

While it can make sense on short non-stop flights without competition, Continental (the new United) years ago became the first airline offering one-stop cross country flights on a regional jet … Richmond to Palm Springs via Houston. That was a pretty thin route, there weren’t a lot of passengers connecting between those cities. But given that particular set of cities I’d have chosen to fly someone else.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. E-175s have invaded midcons from the West Coast for a while now. Just picking on MCI because I fly there for work every week, you have E-175s to PDX (AS), LAX (AA, DL), and SFO (UA). With the winds as they are right now, you’re looking at nearly ~4 hours westbound, blocked around 4.5.

    MCI isn’t unique either. Off the top of my head, OKC, STL and TUL get this treatment on UA from SFO and AA from LAX, and I’ve done SFO-MSP on AS a few times now as well.

    In many ways, the E-175 is the 787 of the 1500-mile mission.

  2. Gary, any idea why a CRJ700 couldn’t fly for 30 minutes with a full load of passengers and fuel? I was flying out of Charlotte last week when AA flight crew stated that we couldn’t take off with all passengers due to being over fueled. I’d never heard of anything like this before, and if the CRJ’s can fly 1700 miles, surely they can manage a few hundred with a full tank. Any insight would be appreciated.

  3. When I don’t have status, I prefer a regional jet–2×2 seating, and you don’t get stuck in Row 38 or whanot and have to wait 15 minutes to deplane.

  4. I don’t fly for business, can’t afford premium cabins on my own dime, and don’t rack up mile balances which let me book premium cabin award seats more than once or twice a year. So, yes, I’d fly that distance in those planes. 😉

  5. Big difference between E-175 and CRJ-200. The former is preferable to just about any mainline aircraft, while the latter is worse than a middle seat on a mainline aircraft.

  6. I’d argue an E175 provides a superior product than an A320 or 737. What was heinous was American’s SBA-DFW 3 hour nonstop service on a CRJ-900.

  7. I agree with all of the above about the virtues of the E175, certainly in F. Ever since we first rode on one, I’ve figured it’s the closest we’ll come to knowing what it’s like to fly on a small executive jet.

  8. The E175 has become my favorite domestic aircraft with its 2-2 seating configuration and overhead bins you can actually put a bag in.

    United’s E175’s have free streaming video and Gogo’s ATG4 wi-fi. The CRJ200 and E145 are brutal for anything over 90 minutes.

  9. @Christian This is why you hear about dumping fuel on emergency landings, Landing weight needs to be lighter, can’t land slow or safe enough at close to MTOW. Cheaper and safer to dump passengers on the ground then to dump fuel in the air on populated areas from lower altitudes (using short flight assumptions).

  10. @steve: We were waiting to catch an RJ flight earlier this year as an adjacent pilot was chatting with an FA and asking her if she’d like to split the cost of a rental car to visit somewhere at their destination.

    He groused that he was old enough to fly a multi-million dollar plane but not old enough to rent a car.

    I know what you mean. 😉

  11. Love the E175: 1) high ratio of F/Y seats, 2) full size bins, 3) quick boarding/deplaning, and 4) if they’ve put that plane on the route, it probably isn’t elite heavy, so good chance of upgrade clearing.

  12. I’ve flown Air Canada E175 on the SEA-YYZ route a few times. Not bad. Also Delta SEA-LAX. Flew in J/F, so that helped.

  13. The Eagles Nest at LAX is full of long rj routes like LAX-MCI. Not a big deal but it does limit food service. Its quite the choice from LAX. I can ride the RJ nonstop or take the 787 to DFW and MD80 home to MCI. Big differences.

  14. As an economy traveler, I’d rather fly an E170/175/190 than just about any other narrowbody plane, regional or mainline. 2-2 seating, plenty of overhead space, newer planes, usually wi-fi, can’t do much better.

    Cramped CRJ’s and super loud ERJ’s are a different story. I flew a mix of all of the above regularly for a while.

  15. @Steve and Christian-

    Smaller aircraft generally can’t dump fuel, so would need to fly to burn off fuel or land overweight. Procedures are there to safely do both, but the margins are built in for a reason.

  16. my longest was DL E75 on DFW-LGA that had continuous “rolling delays” of 20 mins that lasted 3 hours which effectively prevented ANYONE from leaving the gate area even to use the lounges (as in a weather ground-stop has been issued airport-wide and they still BS to you that boarding will commence in 10 minutes)

    other than that, the ride in Y was just okay. I rarely fly DL, and the one time I try giving them a chance, that’s how they’ve rewarded me.

  17. I’d gladly take a 4 hour route on a E170 or E175 over a 737 or A320/319 anyday. Much more comfortable aircraft.

    More clickbait headlines.

  18. Oh yes I would fly a regional jet just about as far as they would fly. Prefer it, in fact. #1. Those are about the only choice for many of us, period. #2. The exception is to change in some miserable hub with long, tiresome waits. Tiresome they many be, but those waits are not quite long enough to go into a city and do something.
    Thus, returning from Europe, at the end of a 10-14 hour flight, I can choose 2.5 hours on a Canadair from Chicago or returning via LAX with a 7-8 hour total of two flights and a change of planes in Phoenix or Las Vegas.
    Lest anyone be in doubt, airlines are operated for the benefit of the airlines, not for passengers or “the public.”
    Bob(above) is right: “I’d gladly take a 4 hour route on a E170 or E175 over a 737 or A320/319 anyday. Much more comfortable aircraft.”

  19. @christian the issue is probably that over fuelling would make the take off difficult, especially if temps were not low enough. Higher temps = less dense air = less air moving over the wing = less lift
    There might be a runway length issue as well

  20. As many have pointed out, newer regional E175s are cool because

    1) They tend to have a lot of F seats
    2) Tend to be routes where lower level elites can get upgrades – I’ve found this to be the case across carriers
    3) Tend to be more comfortable than the most recent, larger jets with slimline seats, etc in economy

  21. I’m taking the Chicago-Fresno flight in about 2 weeks, and I do know that this is one of the longest flights on a regional jet in America. This is currently the longest flight out of Fresno, but it will definently be better than the American 737 service to DFW and the service to Guadalajara and Morelia on Aeromexico and Volaris. It will be more comfortable than sitting on a 737 or a320, but I will be flying an a320 from FAT to SFO, but that’s different because it is a 30 minute flight. I do like how United started the route. I do tell that they like Fresno’s growth, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get service to IAH if Chicago was a success. American and Alaska like Fresno as well, and Alaska might start 737s to SEA maybe. The flight is going to be a lot more comfortable on the e175 really.

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