You Might Have More Room on Future United Regional Flights

Jul 24, 2018

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United regional flights might have a little more elbow (and head and leg) room, thanks to an obscure pilots’ union rule.

The Chicago-based carrier purchased 25 regional Embraer E-175 jets last week that are seven inches wider and five inches taller than the older aircraft they’re replacing, the companies say. The planes have a maximum seating capacity of 76 seats, but will only be fitted with 70 seats, United told CNBC.

United is stuck at 70 seats because of a rule with its pilots’ union that limits seating capacities on outsourced regional routes, which will be operating the new E-175s for the airline. The rule, part of the Air Line Pilots Association contract, restricts airlines from adding seats onto regional jets flown by subsidiary airlines without increasing compensation for the pilots. The logic behind the rule is that if regional jet seating capacity goes up, then that steals potential passengers from United’s main route pilots.

A few extra inches might seem like a negligible amount of room, but in an industry where every airline is trying to squeeze more and more seats into economy cabins, it will be welcome relief to passengers.

United, for instance, recently refitted its Boeing 777s to squeeze in another seat in the economy cabin. The configuration on some of its 777s, used on long-haul flights, is now 10 seats across in economy (3-4-3), up from nine seats across (3-3-3). Since the 1970s, economy-class seat pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches, and will likely continue its downward trend, as the Federal Aviation Administration has made it clear that shrinking airplane seats aren’t its problem.

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