It's the worst. You're ready to go, boarding your plane, and you realize you're on one of those old and rather beat up small regional jets that hop passengers on shorter distance flights between medium sized cities, or between larger cities connected by more frequent flights on smaller planes. You settle into your cramped seat that looks like it has been sat in thousands of times, try to make the best of it, and vow that you'll never fly one of these things again (as if you have any control over the matter). Happily, new editions of these little guys are being delivered by small jet makers Bombardier and Embraer to airlines all over the world. Wine:Thirty Flight recently took off in a sparkling new Bombardier CRJ 900 model aboard American Eagle, so today we're sharing tips for brightening your journey by selecting tickets on a plane you actually want to fly aboard.
Most travelers likely don't realize it, but a huge number of short and medium distance flights aboard many of the world's big airlines are actually taken aboard these small airplanes that are often operated by smaller airlines in the name and paint job of their parent affiliate. In the United States these "regional" flights are operated under the banner American Eagle, Delta Connection, and United Express (Alaska Airlines operates a similar though not precisely alike situation with its Horizon Air, while neither Southwest nor jetBlue differentiate between their regional and longer haul routes). Passengers book flights through the big airlines, but may be ticketed on a regional flight, so the experience is fairly seamless. Typically the booking will note "Operated by XYZ Regional Airline as ABC Big Airline". The planes themselves can really take a beating because they work so hard, up in the air and down on the ground on short routes, rotating passengers in and out of seats at a clip much faster than a big long haul plane that stays in the air longer while traveling further.
Bombardier (a Canadian company) and Embraer (a Brazilian company) are the big manufacturers of these small jets, and in general they get bigger and newer the higher their model number. For example, the American Airlines has been bringing a number of Bombardier CRJ 900 planes online the last couple of years, so expect those to be bright and modern with a lot less wear and tear than (say) the older CRJ 200 or CRJ 700 models. Likewise, the Embraer 190 is simply bigger than the Embraer 170 or 145, so expect it to be less cramped and feel more like a normal airplane. If you have different flights to choose from, you can improve your lot by preferring the CRJ 900 or the Embraer 190 over their lower-number counterparts. In the example I've shown here, I can fly from Washington, DC to Providence, RI on either a CRJ 900 or an Embraer 145. Of course, sometimes time of day and price is the real difference maker, but all things being equal, I am going to always pick the new and sparkling 900 model for an overall more pleasant experience.
As I said, we recently flew on one of those CRJ 900s operating with American Eagle (on the DCA to PVD route, no less), and have actually racked up some miles both in first class and the main cabin. First class is clearly the nicer of the two experiences (great if you can get one of the single seats on the left side of the plane so you don't have to sit next to anyone), but the fresh seats and bright lighting extend all the way back. It's still a regional jet, so the main cabin is going to be cramped no matter which way you slice it, but don't underestimate how the experience can be improved by bigger windows, bigger overhead bins, and all the rest that comes from a more modern aircraft that's been in the fleet for less than a year.
Enjoy your travels this weekend!