Chicago-based carrier United Airlines has been flying its new Bombardier CRJ-550 jet between Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) and Chicago about five times daily, or about 125 times so far, since it started the service Oct. 27.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, who visited XNA on Wednesday (Nov. 20), has been flying to airports to promote the only two-cabin, 50-seat regional aircraft. XNA is one of 15 airports that United Airlines selected for service on the new jet.
“We’ve chosen markets that have this same sort of economic structure, where they are good business markets and growing communities, and they’re communities that are going to want to at times travel abroad and want to buy a first-class ticket,” Munoz said. “And they want their experience to be a first-class one from XNA to Chicago. When you get into another one of our aircraft it does that, so we want to makes the experience complete in that regard. We’ve picked many markets. XNA is why I’m here because it’s one of our better markets. It’s just a great place. It’s really growing.”
Through October, enplanements, or the number of passengers flying out, at XNA have risen 16.8% to 768,650, from the same period in 2018. The CRJ-550 is a transformation of the Bombardier CRJ-700, with fewer seats and is lighter.
“It’s one of a kind. There’s no other one like that. We’ve taken the 70 seats and made them 50 seats to create more space, more room for the luggage, just a more comfortable sort of environment,” Munoz said. “It’s the same fuselage as the 700. It just has fewer seats in it.”
When asked who the primary customers on the new aircraft would be, Munoz described the passengers he flew with on his flight to XNA, including two Walmart executives, a Tyson Foods executive and two J.B. Hunt executives. The remainder were people who do business with those companies.
“Our early customer satisfaction scores are awesome,” Munoz said. “It’s just a very comfortable ride, plenty of space. The concept that you can carry on your bag all the time and you don’t have to check it is a huge, huge benefit to people. Wi-Fi is working. It’s a nice interior. We have self-service snacks.”
Flight attendants will give passengers snacks, but if they want to get their own, that’s an option, too.
“It’s funny because people on my flight anyway were like, ‘Are you kidding, really? I can get my own?’” he joked.
When asked about expanding the use of the new aircraft to other cities, Munoz explained this would depend on the number of aircraft available. And over the next few months, the carrier will use the jets it has now to see how they work in the 15 cities. Along with XNA, the new jets provide service to Allentown, Pa.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Greensboro, N.C.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Indianapolis; Madison, Wis.; Oklahoma City; Richmond, Va.; St. Louis; and Tulsa, Okla.
While the CRJ-550 is not the first regional jet to offer first-class seating, it’s the first 50-seat regional jet to offer first-class seating, according to the carrier. It offers more legroom per seat than any other 50-seat aircraft flown by a U.S. airline and provides the ability to stay connected to Wi-Fi in flight. The new jet has 10 first-class seats, 20 economy plus seats and 20 economy seats. As a price comparison, a first-class ticket on a given day was about $139 more for a one-way flight from XNA to Chicago.