United Continental Holdings Inc. is revamping part of its regional-jet fleet to add more first-class seats and amenities, part of a wider push to attract lucrative business travelers.
The remodeled regional aircraft, dubbed the CRJ550, will be an adaptation of a plane made by Bombardier Inc. that typically flies with 70 seats. That’s 20 more than in United’s new configuration, which adds bigger luxury seats while removing economy berths. The airline plans to offer the service by year-end in Chicago, followed by flights from Newark, New Jersey.
“We felt we were in a competitive disadvantage in certain markets,” Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella told reporters. “The CRJ550 is one of many things we’re doing as a company to close that gap.”
The revamped jet is part of a broader fleet renewal at United as it races with Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. to segment aircraft cabins for a full spectrum of customers, from international business travelers to leisure passengers in the lowest-priced basic economy. United is adding more than 1,600 premium seats to almost 250 aircraft across the fleet, not just small jets.
One route United is eyeing for its upgraded regional offering runs between Chicago and Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart Inc. Both American and Delta have a dozen first-class seats on their regional jets carrying passengers from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to major hubs. United has older 50-seat jets, all with economy seating.
United expects to gain certification from U.S. and Canadian aviation regulators before the end of the year for the remodeled regional planes, which are adapted from Bombardier’s CRJ700.
The jets will feature Wi-Fi service and a self-service beverage and snack station for the 10-seat first class section. It also will have four storage closets, cutting down on the need to gate-check bags.
The fleet of 50 short-haul planes will continue to be operated by GoJet Airlines, a regional carrier owned by Trans States Airlines that also flies for Delta.
United also will add four more first-class seats on its mainline Airbus SE A319 and A320 aircraft, bringing them to 12 and 16, respectively. And the carrier is boosting the size of the premium cabin on 21 of its Boeing Co. 767-300ER aircraft, adding 16 Polaris business-class seats to bring the total to 46.
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