As Delta further invests in the customer experience of smaller jets and United rolls out CRJ550s they have surpassed the American mainline fleet. When will management learn?
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Delta Revamps 717s
Delta inherited some Boeing 717s (the DC-9 line continued after Boeing purchased McDonnell Douglas) from their merger with Northwest. Some of the equipment from that merger has been extricated from the fleet, the Northwest 747s notably among the list. They added many of these 717s from an asset purchase from AirTran following its Southwest merger.
A long term question was whether the 717s/DC-9s would also be phased out. Instead, Delta has doubled down by investing $70MM in their fleet, adding setback IFE screens and wifi to keep customers happy as they potentially extend the fleet life until 2030.
American, by contrast, has not only excluded IFE from their short haul mainline fleet like A319s, A320s and their customer favorite Oasis 737-8 and MAX – they have been removing screens from aircraft already equipped with screens.
United Rolls Out CRJ-550s
When was the last time you were excited to fly a commuter jet?
This is the first time I have ever seen route anticipation announcements for a commuter jet.
The new CRJ-550s are just CRJ-700s with a better experience. The CRJ-550s feature ten first class seats, 20 economy plus and just 20all the way in the back. The aircraft also features WiFi (not a given on 50-seat jets), four luggage closets to reduce the amount of customers that have to gate check their bags, and a first ever walk-up self service beverage and snack bar for first class customers.
United is intentionally making a 70-seat jet into a more comfortable 50-seat jet with features flyers want. American mainline by contrast has been using project Oasis to cram more passengers into coach and making what some pilots call a “miserable” lavatory.
American’s Mainline Experience Deteriorating
The Lone Exception
Legacy American Airlines A321s (both the A321B and A321T) are market leaders. The A321T flies from major US east coast cities to west coast cities with lie-flat business class and the country’s only true first class. That aircraft is fantastic and was the way forward for American, as evident in other equipment build outs prior to Doug Parker and US Airways spendthrift management took over.
United is reinventing the wheel, working with Bombardier to convert a less popular product to industry-leading. Delta is also making lemonade out of very old lemons for short haul routes with 717s. American’s mainline fleet is so bad that passengers duck routes with Oasis equipment while others are seeking out CRJ routes for the first time I can remember.
What do you think? Are United and Delta short haul aircraft better than almost all American Airlines domestic mainline equipment? Do you seek out Delta/United over American based on the airplanes?
Kyle. You sound clueless.. United is not doing win at customers want. They are doing what their scope clause is forcing them to do. If there was no scope, there would be no 550. Cutomer comfort did not guide even 1% of the deciphering making process. If American was scoped out, they would have 550s as well.
While scope certainly played a role (addressed in the link I included), these are new assets not a conversion of owned or leased aircraft. If their scope clause forces them to buy an aircraft that ensures every coach passenger gets their bag on board, allows for a 50/50 split in the back between Economy Plus and regular Coach with 20% of the plane going to first class with a first-ever walk-up snack bar, so be it. I guess I need to pen a letter to the UA unions for positively affecting my travel experience.
But why not just buy CRJ-200s that come in within scope? Why buy a bigger aircraft and equip it better instead of buying something smaller even if it is not a CRJ? That’s the fly in the ointment of your argument.
Well for one thing they dont produce the CRJ-200 anymore.
Delta got the 717s from Southwest which didn’t want them after their acquisition of Value Jet. Northwest had nothing to do with it.
The 717 is just a DC-9 with a post-merger name. They inherited plenty of Northwest DC-9s, I was attributing their DC-9 fleet as part of the 717 fleet. Perhaps those have all gone away, but they 100% inherited DC-9s from Northwest and the 717 is 100% the same airplane with a new name and marketing.
what? The DC-9 was designed in 1965 and stopped production in 1982. The 717 is just boeing’s name for the MD-95. Based off the DC-9, not even remotely similar. That’s like saying the MD-90 is the same as the MD-80 with a different name.
The 717 aka the MD-95 is a DC-9 in silhouette only. The planes are distantly related.
NWA had a large fleet of DC-9-30 with a smaller number of DC-9-10 and -40 aircraft. DL quickly retired these old screaming guzzlers after the merger.
I flew on these planes weekly. I’m certain that the -10 I flew in 2004 was the same one I flew in 1974 as a kid on Hughes Airwest, which got bought by Republic, which got eated by Northwest. NWA did have a small fleet of ex-Republic MD-80s but these were sold after the merger.
Stop making these sweeping pronouncements without doing your homework. It’s tiresome and unbecoming.
As FredM said, the 717’s had zero to do with Northwest. They were owned by AirTran (reincarnation of ValuJet). When Southwest bought them out, they opted to not take the 717’s to maintain 737 fleet commonality. Conveniently, all of AirTran’s 717’s were based at ATL, Delta’s HQ and mega-hub. Delta got them for a song and a dance in a typically savvy move by DL. If this article is representative of your inclination to research and verify things, CNN should be calling you with a job offer forthwith.
I’m also surprised you didn’t mention the A220 aircraft for Delta in this story. This brand new aircraft has received quite a bit of praise by travelers and has and is replacing many short haul previously commuter routes. The 717s that Delta received back when AirTran and Southwest merged is old news.
@Christopher – You’ve got a point, I should have mentioned the A220 which is a fantastic aircraft from what I’ve seen. I have heard great things from others as well and hope others adopt it so I have a chance to try it soon. The “717s” issue has been discussed in other comments but I merged the 717/DC-9 fleet and acknowledged both in my post.
How can say the CRJ550 is “better” when you’ve never flown it? Ridiculous.
Also, I’ve had a couple recent flights on AA’s 319s, and the much-maligned Oasis F seat is IMO more comfortable than UA’s mainline domestic F seat (old or new). And UA doesn’t have personal video on any of its regional aircraft, either, nor is it installing them when it refits domestic mainline.
@Kacee – I appreciate your readership and look forward to your comments, but on this we respectfully disagree.
I can say that more seat pitch, especially in the 4-6″ range is better and that’s at least 60% of the aircraft. I can say that after flying CLT-OMA for three plus hours in a CRJ-700 in F on American, that a walk-up bar would have been nice as well as not gate checking my bag. I can also say that having WiFi for those three hours would have been better without stepping foot on the plane as well. Those make the CRJ-550 objectively better, though American does have WiFi on mainline aircraft and gate checking isn’t required in the front. .
Then we get to the subjective. You can certainly disagree with me that American’s Oasis F seat is better than United’s regional F, but I haven’t found that to be true personally. I respect the difference of opinion, though it’s not a reason I cited in my post.
Hey Kyle..Agree with you 100 percent on all points. I did hear from a United insider that the reason for the First Class self serve bar was because they only need to staff with 1 FA since the plane only has 50 seats. Keep up the good the good work
There’s still no proof that Delta will be adding seat back screens to the 717s.
Why is there a picture of Delta FA performing pre-departure beverages for international flight in an article about short-haul flights?
Also, the 717 is a mainline aircraft. Which is not necessarily a short-haul as the title implied.
You’re looking at the wrong things. What you should see is a single aisle aircraft, smiling flight attendant who’s not at war with her CEO, and seatback entertainment. I didn’t evaluate which kind of beverage service it was and didn’t have an alternative.
Lastly, the 717s are used on short-haul routes, Delta isn’t running LAX-ATL service on them as American is with their well-known poorly equipped A321s. It’s why I specifically distinguished in the title “short haul” from mainline which in this instance consisted of both regional aircraft from United, and “short haul” from Delta against American’s long haul domestic fleet.
The point, which may be lost because I used an image of the wrong beverage service, is that United and Delta have more desirable jets on 60-90 minute flights with more amenities than American has on what really should be the core of their major flight operations.
Kyle – I like the gist of your article. With us aviation geeks reading it though, you need to eagle eye your detail. While, the 717s may be older, but they are not very old relative to the rest of the ‘older’ fleet at Delta. Aircraft were manufactured from 1999-2006. Nor are they lemons. As a passenger, it’s a great aircraft – easy on and off with enough F seats to snag an upgrade most of the time. The takeoff performance is actually fun. I am glad to hear they will stick around.
The potential American had a few years back is what really hurts the most. Their A319’s, which they released in 2012 or 2013 I believe, have a product that matches Delta’s with an excellent IFE system and power at every seat. That plane, even 6 years later, is still an excellent on-board product, and at the time I thought was a sign that AA was going to attempt to up-scale. Sad to see them go in the opposite direction.
Are we talking about regional aircraft or mainline? DL B717 and A220 are mainline. They are flying routes of domestic 767’s and L1011’s of the 80’s. Let’s talk about Delta regional CRJ200, 700, 900. No seat back entertainment (don’t really need it if they stay to regional schedules) but CRJ200 is terrible and would not compare well to whatever they are trying to do with CRJ550. What seems to be missing – mainline or regional – is passengers don’t like middle seats and 3-2 and 2-1 configurations minimizes or eliminates middle seats.
Great article, Kyle. Keep it up. I agree on all points. Scope clause or not, the outcome appears to be a better experience and I’m looking forward to flying the CRJ550. I switched from American a couple years ago primarily due to their disastrous (non)handling of IRROPS, but I find the product and staff at United much more pleasant across the board.
kyle is very on point here. AA’s collapse on nearly all fronts lately is so tragic shakespeare could write 3 plays out of that material. UA is testing more “p.s.” style ultra premium-heavy cabins with 46J 763 and now the CRJ-550. Whether they’re financially successfully or not is remain to be seen, but you can’t fault them for at least trying.
I’ll much prefer a 763 with 46J that offers ample space for upgrades to clear than DL’s dinky tiny J cabins on 359 and 330neo for the sake of a claustrophobic door.