Last month, it was reported that Skywest Airlines, a regional airline that operates aircraft on behalf of multiple major US carriers, would soon take delivery of the Bombardier CRJ-550. The Bombardier CRJ-550 was first introduced in 2019 with GoJet Airlines which operates the aircraft on behalf of United Express.

More recently, it was confirmed that SkyWest will operate its CRJ-550s on behalf of Delta Air Lines’ regional affiliate, Delta Connection.

In 2019, when the CRJ-550 was first announced by Bombardier, it attracted quite a bit of attention from aviation geeks and frequent flyers. The CRJ-550 was, on the surface, no different than the Bombardier CRJ-700. However, it would carry just 50 passengers compared to the CRJ-700’s typical 64-78.

In reality, it only appeared as though the CRJ-550 was a rebadged CRJ-700. Bombardier had made a few changes beyond the cabin layout including a reduction in the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW). As a result of the reduced passenger capacity, the CRJ-550 boasts a rather premium-heavy cabin configuration.

With more first class and economy plus seats than other regional aircraft, it was introduced by United Express to passengers as a premium regional jet. The primary reason for the introduction of the CRJ-550 however, was not to offer passengers a more premium experience.

The CRJ-550 was introduced to allow major US carriers to comply with scope clauses. Scope clauses are part of a contract between the airline and its pilots, or rather, the unions representing pilots.

Scope clauses limit the number of regional jets that an airline and its regional affiliates can operate. These scope clauses typically limit the number of aircraft that hold between 64 and 100 seats. For most major US carriers, there are far fewer restrictions on aircraft with 50 or fewer seats.

Now that the CRJ-550 is set to join a second major carrier’s fleet, let’s take a closer look at the Bombardier CRJ-550 and what passengers can expect from the premium-heavy regional jet.

A United Express CRJ-550 sitting on the ramp at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The aircraft door is open.

With Delta Connection set to become the second airline to operate the CRJ-550, let’s take a closer look this unique regional jet. (Image by Max Prosperi / TravelUpdate)

What Is The Bombardier CRJ-550?

On the outside, the Bombardier CRJ-550 is pretty much indistinguishable from the Bombardier CRJ-700. The Bombardier CRJ-700 was first introduced in 1999 and quickly became a popular choice among regional carriers across the globe. The CRJ-700 enabled airlines to serve smaller and midsized cities that did not have enough demand for mainline aircraft but had more demand than existing regional aircraft could handle. In North America, it also boasted enough space to allow airliners to operate a true first class cabin.

In recent years, aircraft like the CRJ-700 have become a blessing and curse for major airlines. To prevent further outsourcing to regional carriers, mainline pilots demanded the introduction of a scope clause in their contracts. Scope clauses would prevent major airlines from adding more CRJ-700 or Embraer EMB-175-sized aircraft.

Airlines nevertheless, found a way around these scope clauses. United Airlines’ regional affiliate United Express announced that it would take delivery of a new 50-seat regional aircraft to be operated by GoJet Airlines. These new 50-seaters were not newly built aircraft. Rather, through some relatively non-intensive modifications, Bombardier would be able to make the CRJ-700, already in GoJet’s fleet, compliant with United Airlines’ scope clause.

United Express is also utilizing the CRJ-550 as its CRJ-200 replacement. The 50-seat CRJ-200 has been a mainstay in the United Express fleet enabling United to serve small markets and maintain Essential Air Service (EAS) contracts. However, airlines like United are looking to retire the aging CRJ-200. The CRJ-550, with just 50 seats, will continue to allow airlines to serve small cities without requiring additional aircraft that count towards the airline’s scope clauses with pilots.

How is the Bombardier CRJ-550 Different from the CRJ-700?

To passengers, the main difference between the Bombardier CRJ-550 and CRJ-700 is the maximum number of seats allowed on the aircraft. As previously mentioned, the CRJ-550 features just 50 seats on an aircraft originally designed to accommodate up to 78 passengers in a single cabin layout. Taking a look under the hood, the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the CRJ-550 is also 10,000 pounds less than that of the CRJ-700. As a result, the CRJ-550 also has a lower operating empty weight and a smaller maximum payload.

Circling back to the topic of scope clauses, a reduction in the number of seats was not sufficient to allow airlines to get around scope clauses. Scope clauses also take into consideration the maximum takeoff weight of an aircraft. Hence, the CRJ-550’s reduced MTOW.

Aside from these differences, the CRJ-550 and CRJ-700 are quite similar. Both aircraft feature two General Electric CF34 turbofan engines and a similar maximum operating range.

Ultimately, it is the passenger experience that is the most evident difference between the two CRJs. Thanks to a 35% reduction from the maximum number of seats allowed on the CRJ-700, the CRJ-550 offers a more spacious cabin than the CRJ-700. The CRJ-550 also boasts some additional passenger amenities.

Watch: What is The Bombardier CRJ-550 (from November 2019)

United Express Bombardier CRJ-550 vs. CRJ-700

Cabin or AmenityCRJ-550CRJ-700
First (Pitch)10 Seats (42'')6 Seats (37'')
Economy Plus (Pitch)20 (34-36'')16 (34'')
Economy (Pitch)20 (30'')48 (30'')
Carry-On LuggageOverhead bin space and carry-on luggage cabinetsLimited overhead bin space, most bags valet tagged
Self Serve Snacks & DrinksYesNot Offered

Delta Connection Bombardier CRJ-550 vs. CRJ-700

Cabin or AmenityCRJ-550CRJ-700
First (Pitch)10 Seats (36'')9 Seats (35-36'')
Economy Plus (Pitch)20 (34-36'')12-16 (34'')
Economy (Pitch)20 (31'')44 (30-31'')
Carry-On LuggageOverhead bin space and carry-on luggage cabinetsLimited overhead bin space, most bags valet tagged
Self Serve Snacks & DrinksTBANot Offered

Overall, both United Express’ and Delta Connection’s CRJ-550s offer passengers seated in premium cabins additional space. The experience for economy class passengers is still a step up compared to the CRJ-700. While most passengers traveling on the CRJ-700 are required to valet-check their larger carry-on luggage, this is not the case with the CRJ-550. Thanks to more space as a result of fewer seats, both Delta and United feature large cabinets for passenger luggage meaning fewer gate checked bags. Both United Express and Delta Connection feature power outlets at all seats aboard their CRJ-550s in addition to in-flight Wi-Fi.

a row of seats on an airplane, a United Express CRJ-550 in first class

United’s CRJ-550 features 10 seats in first class with 42-inch pitch. With fewer seats than the CRJ-700, the CRJ-550 offers passengers a more premium travel experience. (Image by Max Prosperi / TravelUpdate)

Where Is the CRJ-550 Flying Now?

United Express has been operating the CRJ-550 for almost 5 years. Over the past few years, the airline has continued to bring additional 550s into its regional fleet. Originally, GoJet Airlines was slated to operate 50 of these aircraft on behalf of United Express. GoJet now operates 59 CRJ-550s for United’s regional carrier. The CRJ-550 sees regular service from United’s hubs at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Newark (EWR), and Washington-Dulles (IAD). Here are just a few of the more common routes you will find the CRJ-550 operating for United Express over the next few months:

  • St. Louis (STL) – Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Newark (EWR) – Washington-Dulles (IAD)
  • Pittsburgh (PIT) – Washington-Dulles (IAD)
  • Buffalo (BUF) – Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Memphis (MEM) – Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Syracuse, NY (SYR) – Newark (EWR)
  • St. Louis (STL) – Washington-Dulles (IAD)

Those are just a few of the dozens of route pairings on which you can find the CRJ-550 operating United Express flights.

What Are Delta’s Plans for the CRJ-550?

Delta Connection won’t start operating the CRJ-550 until later this year. The CRJ-550s that will operate for Delta’s regional carrier will be made available once Skywest’s contract with American Airlines ends. Skywest currently operates the CRJ-700 on behalf of American Eagle. However, this contract will end later this year. Some of these CRJ-700s have already ended service for American Eagle. Once these aircraft exit service for American Eagle, they will be reconfigured as the CRJ-550 and painted in Delta colors.

So, at the moment, we don’t know which routes will be the first to see the Delta Connection CRJ-550.

A screenshot of the Delta Air Lines website showing the Bombardier CRJ-550 listed as part of the Delta fleet.

Though the CRJ-550 is listed on Delta’s website, it is not yet known where the airline will fly the aircraft. (Image via

The Bottom Line

The Bombardier CRJ-550 represents a strategic adaptation by major US airlines to navigate scope clause limitations. Somewhat unintentionally, it also offers passengers an enhanced onboard experience. Featuring additional room in premium cabins, a self-serve refreshment area, and large luggage cabinets, passengers in all cabins enjoy a more premium experience compared to the CRJ-700. As SkyWest prepares to introduce the CRJ-550 for Delta, passengers can expect an upgraded travel experience with more space and amenities.

Have you ever flown on the Bombardier CRJ-550? What do you make of this unique regional jet?