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United expands premium push with new dual-class CRJ550

United Airlines is upping the number of premium seats on hundreds of aircraft in what is seen as a push to attract more lucrative sales from business travellers.

The Chicago-based carrier will add more first class-seats to Airbus A319s and A320s, add Polaris business class seats to some Boeing 767-300ERs and debut a 50-seat version of the CRJ700, which Bombardier calls the "CRJ550".

"In an era where many airlines are adding seats to their aircraft to crowd more passengers onto the plane, we're re-configuring more than 100 of our aircraft and doing exactly the opposite – for the benefit of our customers," says Andrew Nocella, chief commercial officer of Chicago-based United.

The moves come days after American Airlines took delivery of its first Airbus A321neo in a dense 196-seat configuration, and Delta Air Lines prepares to debut its new Airbus A220-100 tomorrow with passenger-pleasing features like in-seat inflight entertainment.

The three big US carriers increasingly compete on product and schedule, a shift that began after mergers of the past decade gave them comparable global networks.

United's new CRJ550s will have 10 first-class seats, 20 extra-legroom economy seats and 20 economy seats, for a total of 50. This will allow the airline to add business-traveller-preferred premium seats while complying with its pilot scope clause, which allows United's regional partners to operate more 50-seat jets but limits larger jets.

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United's CRJ550 configuration

United

Scott Kirby, president of United, has previously said restrictions on the number of large regional jets with premium cabins puts the airline at a competitive disadvantage to both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, both of which have larger fleets of the aircraft.

"If we're trying to fly a 50-seat product into Rochester, Minnesota… and our competitors are flying a nice 76 [seat] two-class product, we're going to lose that battle," he said last March.

United will add 50 CRJ550s operated by Trans States-owned GoJet Airlines to its regional fleet, with the first aircraft due this summer, it says. The aircraft will initially be based at Chicago O'Hare and Newark, and could replace 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s.

GoJet aims to introduce 25 aircraft by the end of 2019, and the balance by next summer, the regional airline says.

The CRJ700 airframes will be sourced from United's existing regional fleet, including 25 already operated by GoJet, United says.

On the A319s and A320s, United will add four first-class seats for a total of 12 seats and 16 seats, respectively, it says. Overall density will decrease by two seats to 126 on the A319s, and remain unchanged at 150 seats on the A320s.

The airline plans to introduce the first reconfigured A319 by fall, and the first A320 early in 2020. It targets completing the work by mid-2020.

United operates 67 A319s and 99 A320s, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

The carrier will introduce the first reconfigured 767-300ERs, the previously reported "76L" configuration, on flights between Newark and London Heathrow in the coming weeks, it says. Those aircraft will have 46 Polaris seats – compared to 30 on its standard 767-300ER layout – as well as 22 premium-economy and 99 economy seats, for a total of 167 seats.

United plans to configure 21 of 38 767-300ERs in the new Polaris-heavy layout.

The 767-300ERs are not the only premium seat expansion United plans at Newark. It debuted its new Boeing 787-10s, a stretch of the -8 and -9, with additional business and premium economy seats in the market in January.

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