In my previous post, I reviewed First Class in United’s swanky “new” CRJ-550. Today, I’ll take a look at the plane in Economy Class. Even in the back of the bus, United promises an enhanced experience; a ratio of 20 Economy Plus and 20 Economy seats certainly sounds appealing. Would United CRJ-550 Economy Class match the hype?
United Airlines (UA) Flight 4571
- Saturday, December 21, 2019
- Operated by: Gojet Airlines dba United Express
- Depart: Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Terminal 1, Gate C5, 15:31, 4m early
- Arrive: Tulsa International Airport (TUL), Gate B8, 17:03, 38m early
- Duration: 1 hour 32 minutes
- Seat: 14D
- Equipment: Bombardier CRJ-550
I’ll skip the check-in and boarding section for this flight, as there’s nothing really to report. I checked in online, and with only 50 passengers to board, it proceeded in an orderly fashion. However, I did spend my 2+ hour layover getting a taste of Chicago. No, it’s not the real thing, but I grabbed a red hot from one of the many vendors in the United complex.
Not terrible, but I wished I had time to hop on the El and find the authentic version. Anyway, soon enough, my flight time arrived, and I boarded with Group 3. This time, I remembered to take a photo of the welcome sign at the end of the jetbridge. Like I said, United’s obviously very proud of their new toy.
United CRJ-550 Economy Class – Seating and Interior
Economy Class on the CRJ-550 consists of 40 seats in a 2×2 configuration. The first five rows (20 seats) comprise the Economy Plus section; the back five (20 seats), standard Economy. Standard Economy seats are 17″ wide, with 30″ of pitch.
While the seats did feel a bit tight in the shoulder room department, legroom seemed generous for 30″ pitch. I found overall seat comfort more than adequate for this 90-minute flight. Padding actually felt better than the slimline seats you find on mainline aircraft. I felt no saddle sore or numb thighs after this flight in the deepest of “deep coach”, as Matthew puts it.
Like First Class, the cabin also just felt more spacious than a typical CRJ-700; again, probably because of the configuration with 50 seats instead of the usual 76.
Even a full cabin felt airy and reasonably comfortable for a regional jet.
I did take a peek at the Economy Plus cabin on my way out. Economy Plus seats are identical to standard Economy, except for 4″ of extra legroom. Legroom does look quite generous in these seats. But I do find it – interesting – that United decided to use Premium Plus colors for Economy Plus.
I also took one more look at the CRJ-550’s biggest innovation, the bag lockers. These do seem to work; once again, no passengers had to gate check carry-ons. As a reminder, all passengers may use the lockers; however, First Class passengers receive priority.
On this flight, onboard WiFi actually did work. I didn’t purchase a pass, but a flight pass costs $8.99.
The WiFi system also offers a variety of streaming entertainment free of charge. Given the short flight, I mostly listened to music and watched the flight map. The map offers a decent amount of zoom for a mobile map, but not much information.
As mentioned in the First Class review, the CRJ-550 lacks power and USB ports, at least for now. United has plans to install power at each seat, but hasn’t provided a timeline.
United CRJ-550 Economy Class – Food, Beverage, and Service
United provides complimentary snacks and soft drinks in Economy Class. Most importantly, the snack basket includes stroopwafels. After missing out in the morning, I made sure to grab one this time.
While I love Biscoff, I might have to switch my loyalty to United just for these devilish creations.
I believe Economy passengers can purchase alcohol, at least on flights where the flight attendant performs a full beverage service.
With regards to service, I once again walked away impressed with the flight attendant’s hustle. The single FA managed two passes with the snack basket on this 90-minute flight. And provided warm service with a smile. Obviously, only 50 passengers makes it easier to service the cabin. But still, it’s a good example of how the reconfigured jet provides a better experience for passengers. Even way back in deep coach.
The wing blocked most of the view from my seat, and a scratched window didn’t help. But I did manage a couple of decent photos as we made our way down I-55, then I-44. The sun began to set as we reached the clouds once again over southwest Missouri, setting the clouds aglow.
And finally, a few peeks of sunset through the muck on final approach to Tulsa.
I don’t think I’ve ever arrived 38 minutes early on a scheduled 2-hour flight. That turned a tight 46-minute connection to a comfortable 1 hour, 24 minute one. Tulsa’s far from the toughest airport to connect, as it takes maybe 8 minutes to go from end to end. But still, I appreciated the extra time to stretch my legs and grab a charge for my phone.
United CRJ-550 Economy Class – Final Thoughts
First Class impressed me, and so did coach on this airplane. You can’t do much about the narrow seats, but removing 26 seats from the plane makes it feel more open, airy, and comfortable. The new seats in general provide reasonable comfort, especially for the typical 1-2 hour flights on these planes. But where I think you see the real difference is in the level of service. With only 50 passengers to take care of, the flight attendants on both my flights were able to provide exceptional service in both classes. It’s a little thing, but actually does make this feel like a premium experience.
My big question, though, is with regards to the long-term viability of these aircraft. By most indications, United came up with the idea of the CRJ-550 as an end-around pilot scope clauses. They couldn’t add additional 76-seaters, but the clauses don’t apply to 50-seaters. I give credit to United for thinking outside the box; they came up with a plan that legitimate improves the passenger experience. After all, they could have just deployed a bunch of hated CRJ-200s instead.
But I wonder, how does United make money with these aircraft? At least so far, it doesn’t look like United commands a price premium for the CRJ-550. Looking at a random Wednesday next month, United and American match each other’s pricing on all flights from OKC to Chicago, both coach and First. I guess United hopes to poach some of American’s customers with the premium experience. It still feels destined to end the same as “More Room Throughout Coach”, though. I’m curious to see how this experiment goes.