Delta Adds Wifi to Regional Jets, Gets Closer to Matching the Mainline Experience

For years, we’ve all put up with airlines having two types of onboard products. They had the mainline product on larger airplanes actually flown by that airline and then they had the regional product for those flights on smaller airplanes operated by third party carriers. It was, to see the least, a wildly different experience. Now, however, Delta has been working to harmonize the two, and the announcement that it will put wifi on its 70- and 90-seat regional jets is welcome news. Hopefully others take the hint and start harmonizing their product offerings further as well.

Delta Connection Grows Up

It’s no surprise that the different product standards emerged. Regional airlines were originally meant to fly short hops into small towns. Would you have expected First Class on that 19-seat prop flying 30 minutes from Dubuque? Probably not. But regionals changed.

The invention of the 50-seat jet started to push airlines to use them on longer routes. I remember seeing 50-seaters on routes like Cincinnati to Colorado Springs, routes that are over 1,000 miles and certainly in need mainline comfort levels. But the 50-seat jets were tiny and spartan and not much was going to change since they still predominantly flew shorter haul flights anyway.

When the regionals started flying 70- and 90-seat jets under the big airline brands, that was the breaking point. The line became too blurry between mainline and regionals on the route map but the product still lagged. Sometimes, airlines thought that was good. America West even went as far as putting First Class on its 70-seat jets and then later opting to fly 90-seat jets instead with an all-coach configuration (something that lives on today with US Airways). Two airlines, however, have worked to bring the standard of flying on larger regional jets up, United and Delta. It’s no surprise that these two would be the leaders since they have the biggest fleets of 70- and 90-seat jets.

For United, the integration was an awkward effort. Instead of trying to bring it up to a mainline standard, the airline invented a new brand called explus. Then again, this was around the time when United thought it was fun to brand everything different (Ted, p.s., etc). I don’t know if the brand is even still used, but the product differentiation is still there. The 70-seaters do offer First Class, but it’s not what you’ll get on mainline flights. You will, for example, get a meal on flights over 2 hours as on mainline, but your “meal” will be a snack box. Not quite the same.

The differences also exist in the back of the bus. While you can buy a snack box on mainline flights, you won’t have that option on United Express. You’ll also get no inflight entertainment at all no matter where you’re sitting. It’s just not the same experience.

Delta, however, is trying to bring the products together closer. As with United, all of the 70- and 90-seat jets will have First Class, but on Delta, those travelers now get meals on china with linens and silverware. It may not be the same food (I don’t actually know) as on mainline but it will be a similar experience. And now, Delta will be putting wireless internet on all of the 70- and 90-seat jets flying the Delta brand.

Over the years, the introduction of 70- and 90-seat jets has pushed most of the 50-seat jets back on to smaller, shorter routes. Cincinnati-Colorado Springs is no longer operated as part of the incredible shrinking hub, but Cincinnati to Denver is on a 70-seat jet. Since the 50-seaters are moving back to where they belong (though arguably, you can say they belong parked in the desert), that lets Delta set a service standard.

Delta has previously said that it wanted to have individual screens at each seat on flights over 4 hours in length. No regional jet is currently flying that far, so it’s not an issue. But now, Delta is saying that any flight longer than 2.5 hours will have First Class and wireless internet available. Anything less than 2.5 hours and the bet is off, but really, it doesn’t matter on the short flights. Delta realizes it’s not worth outfitting a bunch of 50-seaters with wifi because the flights are too short.

So now, the regional experience is creeping ever closer to the mainline experience. Mainline pilots will likely tell you that you aren’t getting the same level of safety when you fly on a regional, but that’s a topic for another time. In terms of onboard product, the two are finally heading towards one.

[Original photos via Wikimedia Commons user Craig/CC-BY-SA-3.0 and Flickr user cliff1066™/CC 2.0]

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42 Comments on "Delta Adds Wifi to Regional Jets, Gets Closer to Matching the Mainline Experience"

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Brian
Guest

Sounds like where Air Canada is now. Everything other than CRJ100/200s and the Dash-8s offer in-seat video and business class (US domestic F).

A
Guest
So far as I know from recent flying Delta still hasn’t put IFE seatback screens in any of the A320 fleet and several of the old NW 757’s. One would think this would be a priority over Wi-Fi on a CRJ. Besides, who pays for the wi-fi? Far as I know Delta doesn’t own or lease those aircraft. I’ve never been a fan of regional jets for what I consider mainline routes, nevermind the mileage. Would much rather see bigger planes and less frequency. I put my money where my mouth is by switching airlines and routes just to avoid… Read more »
Jason H
Guest
Wi-fi is something that can be added in a very short timeframe to an aircraft. If I remember correctly DL was installing Wi-fi on their MD-80/90 aircraft at the rate of 1 every 24 hours. Given that, it is a relatively simple task to add Wi-Fi to a regional jet. Now, IFE is a completely different issue as that involves stripping the aircraft interior, running new wiring, reinstalling new seats, and installing the play-out hardware (hard drives, etc). This isn’t something that can be handled in an overnight stop and so those planes have to wait for their heavy checks.… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
I’m waiting for the day when the Feds say no more (at least) domestic codeshares, no more painting the regional planes to look like the mainline carriers, and everyone must fly their plane under their own name. People are getting tired of thinking they are on the mainline carrier for their 3 hour flight only to find it’s some regional they have never heard of using a smaller plane. The mainline carriers want you to believe you are flying them until something goes wrong with the regional flight and then they are quick to say “oh that not us”. Double… Read more »
davidwhotz
Member

I think most people don’t care what or who they’re flying. They just want to get from point A to point B without delays or hassles. It’s really only the people who are in the know (which are precious few when it comes to the flying public) that may care about it. For most people, being crunched in a CRJ or in coach in a 757 is pretty much the same with a little less headroom when you’re standing.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m waiting for the day that the feds require consumers to read the information presented to them.

The sad thing is people have been told about this clearly for years, and they don’t read or care.

If anything it’s arguably a more confusing experience when the codeshare is on another mainline airline. In this case you’ve gotta check in with the other airline, go to their gate, etc.

Jason H
Guest

Thank you Nicholas.

Personal accountability for the win! Seriously. When you book on many airlines (United, Air Canada, Delta) they tell you when you are looking at the flight.. “operated by…”

james
Guest
I don’t think consumers are that ignorant about mainline versus codeshare, especially given the media attention over the past two years. Every airline website and aggregator clearly lists “operated by” directly under the flight info. And even occasional fliers that live in smaller markets must know what “connection” and “express” signifies in their hometown airport. I prefer a larger plane for the “get up and stretch” factor, but domestically I choose schedule and price over type. I saw a Continental 757 taxi in next to us departing Madrid last week and while I agree a seat is a seat, I… Read more »
Frank
Guest

David, the whole booking process has been turned over to you. How convenient to go online, check schedules, times, fees and prices. With that responsibility comes the facts that several people have already brought up. READ what you’re booking, have a question about something, call the airline. Booking process too confusing for you, call a travel agent.

Daniel
Guest

I have flown F on Delta Connection and got my meal and it was the same choices as a Delta mainline. I got a chicken wrap with some bread and a piece of chocolate cake. I don’t use wifi (too expensive) but nice to see them try. I am waiting though for the ex-NWA aircraft and maybe the MD-88s (probably never happen) to get overhead videos or PTVs.

JamesK
Guest
The Delta Connection Carrier With Which I Am Most Familiar does not have ovens in the CRJ700/900 galley (huge weight penalty), so cold meals like dinner salads or wraps are served in FC. Plastic on the ground, glass in the air, linen–just like mainline but with the intimate service of an RJ. Air Canada Jazz did fit their CRJ705 (a CRJ900 by any other name) with in-seat IFE screens. Bombardier will do it, but very few US carriers will pay the cost in cash or in weight penalties. The closest I’ve seen is the boarding music on Delta Connection CRJ900s… Read more »
Hunter
Guest
I know it’s a silly pet peeve, but I hate referring to them as “70 seaters” and “90 seaters” rather than the actual types. Mainly because few of them actually have as many seats as that. DL’s scope prevents anything more than 76 seats flying under a regional, so while a CRJ900 might be able to carry 90 passengers, it’s flying with 76 in the DLC fleet. From what read in the release all CRJ900 and E175 birds will get the wi-fi and most of the CRJ700 fleet will get it (some still fly single class with 70 seats and… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I flew this past week on Delta Connection and the biggest difference to me was the gate agents in ATL. The connection carriers agents were terrible!

JamesK
Guest

Funny enough, all the agents working Delta Connection flights in ATL are Delta mainline employees. Delta took over from ASA in 2006 or 07, and it wasn’t a couple of months before Delta announced that they would finally pony up the cash to install jetways on Concourse C.

cstclair
Guest

Hi .. Nice to see the largest “flag carriers” are catching up to JetBlue (who have entertainment at all their seats) – though they don’t offer a first or business – until this new wrinkle from Delta and United – there wasn’t much difference in product except in first.

dan powers
Guest
I’m waiting for the day when the Feds say no more (at least) domestic codeshares, no more painting the regional planes to look like the mainline carriers, and everyone must fly their plane under their own name. People are getting tired of thinking they are on the mainline carrier for their 3 hour flight only to find it’s some regional they have never heard of using a smaller plane. The mainline carriers want you to believe you are flying them until something goes wrong with the regional flight and then they are quick to say “oh that not us”. Double… Read more »
jaybru
Member
The “regional” vs. “mainline” experience comparison is fascinating, to say the least. I would challenge the fact that “most” people don’t care “what or who they’re flying.” Certainly, there are times when caring is useless because threre’s no choice. And, sometimes the purpose of the trip trumps everything else. But, for me, retired, I care a lot. On UA, my usual service provider, I submit that the mainline and regional experiences are vastly different. When you’re connecting at ORD, for example, and you have to go from your mainline plane at Terminal B or C, to the regional connection at… Read more »
Graham
Guest

From the ExPlus site:
“For added convenience, every explus flight features planeside baggage check-in and retrieval for carry-on luggage, and flights depart from or arrive on a jet bridge wherever possible. For an even greater level of comfort, every seat is located next to a window or an aisle.”

Talk about lipstick on a pig. This also applies to the super painful US CRJ I flew on this weekend. So that page really says nothing at all.

tharanga
Guest

I approve strongly. When mainline and connection are flying the same routes, on 2.5+ hour flights, then there should be a consistent experience across those choices.

SubwayNut
Guest
I do remember flying on the, I think, 70 seat RJs (there were two flight attendants) round-trip Cincinnati to COS back in 2007 (connecting to LGA – loved the fact I was only given and successfully made a 25 minute connection in each direction). I still remember I enjoyed the in-flight service on these flights more than my mainline Delta Flights because the Comair flight attendants had no qualms giving out multiple free snacks (from the same selection Delta still uses today), including mints shortly before we landed, when I asked for more than one snack (there wasn’t anything for… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member

I want to know when we’re going to get wifi on the Saab 340!

CP
Guest
I fly a lot in both the UA “explus” product (it appears to be an active brand, as the CRJ700s, etc. have “explus” painted in black on the side, on top of the blue stripes) and the DL regional jet first product, and DL does the much better job. It’s a bit sad, since United was the first to introduce the product, but I’ve noticed how DL serves real meals (not a snack box), uses real glassware, etc., while UA is still using plastic cups and calling a box of processed foods a meal. With DL upping the game, it’ll… Read more »
PeteyNice
Guest
I think more people care about mainline vs regional than you realize. I live in ATL but am from NYC and make random trips home often enough. I prefer EWR so my choices are CO vs DL. As CO has scaled back it’s mainline service on this route I have taken to asking people near me on my CO flights about it. Nearly all of them say they chose our flight because it was mainline. “I won’t fly on those little planes” is a common refrain. Even in Y there is a big difference between CO 737 and RJ. Mainline… Read more »
CP
Guest

To show you how far ahead of it competitors Delta may be on this one, consider my experience tonight flying USAirways from BNA-CLT. We were on a CRJ700, operated by Mesa, with seats that had the AMERICA WEST colors and logo! (They were also hugely uncomfortable; later in the evening, I was on a CRJ200 for USAirways with, believe it or not, much more comfortable seats.)

Nick Barnard
Member

I wonder if they put the hanger queen into service?

Nelly
Guest

Some airline passengers care only to ask when they will arrive at their destinations and what time they will check-in. When the plane is on the air and start to get bumpy, they suddenly realize that they’re hanging on air and find themselves reciting the Our Father… Reading your blog is a great learning experience for me. Of course i care about the wifi.

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[…] flying between New York and California. That’s it. But Delta, as we all know, has been installing wifi on just about every airplane it can find with more than 50 seats. That’s not a sure thing these days, because my guess is usage still […]