Topic of the Week: Do Bigger Airplanes Matter?


Delta announced it’s bringing its 717s back to the west coast. The LA – San Francisco shuttle will see half the flights upgauged from an Embraer 175 to a Boeing 717. Do you care? Will a larger airplane make you more likely to fly an airline? Or will the introduction of middle seats make you less likely?

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60 comments on “Topic of the Week: Do Bigger Airplanes Matter?

  1. GSP has been my home airport for the last 11 years. When I arrived in the area, all flights on all carriers were on regional jets; both Delta and US Air provided frequent service to their nearby regional hubs (ATL, CLT). In my prior location, I had flown US Air because it best served the routes I needed (definitely not for the bankrupty-era grumpy employees that made the airline feel more like US Despair), so I stuck with US Air at GSP. Over the last few years, Delta has upgauged nearly all its Atlanta flights to MD88s and B717s while US Air has at most gone to CR900s (and still has some Dash-8s running to Charlotte). Despite a preference for connecting at CLT, I decided to switch to Delta because of the larger planes and have never looked back. Along with the bigger planes, I’ve enjoyed friendlier employees, cleaner planes, and better systems. I love the B717s and try to pick a route served by one of them as much as possible.

    1. Unless you on the west side of GSP, why not just head up to CLT and take a direct? Or is it cheaper to head out of GSP these days?

      1. Since the arrival of WN, GSP fares have gone down dramatically, and they are generally cheaper than CLT fares. Prior to WN, I drove to CLT to catch direct flights a lot.

  2. Bigger planes can matter, upgrade a crj 200 to Anything and you have improvement. In delta’s case here the 717 is a improvement from a revenue opportunity basis, but the E-jet series is one of my favorite planes to fly on, so I’d prefer one of those personally.

    1. Agree. The e-Jets have a “mainline feel” without hassle of middle seats. I think most people care about price and schedule ahead of a/c with exceptions for things like the crj200 or e135 for those who know their airplanes. There are still a bunch of people who avoid regional, so maybe the 717 is helpful from an optics perspective on the shuttle since the competition has mainline.

      Mainline tends to have better on-time and completion statistics, but that doesnt always mean your individual flight will be unaffected.
      Overall, I prefer mainline, but dont go out of my way to pick it.

  3. The ERJ-175 is a much more comfortable plane to fly in than the 717 and probably the most comfortable regional jet out there (I can’t stand the CRJs, had to fly from CLT-Austin in a CRJ-900, it was awful). With that saying any change from regional planes to mainline metal is usually welcome.

    1. I agree with this 100%. I would happily fly an ERJ-175 or 190 over any of the larger mainline planes. With this aircraft you get the benefit of no middle seats and fewer passengers which speeds the boarding process. The plane’s diameter is also large enough that you don’t get that cramped feeling of the smaller ERJ and CRJs. The only real downside is that your flight has a higher probability of being delayed or cancelled in a weather event.

      Give me a jetBlue ERJ-190 anyday… ife and a decent pitch/width.

      1. Nathan hits the nail on the head. E-jet is a wonderful experience.

        In the end, it’s a function of what the airline does with the cabin. Even a CRJ-200 would be pretty good, in a 1-1 configuration with legroom. I thought the hated 50-seaters are stretched corporate jets?

  4. Yes bigger planes matter to me. Delta switched to 717s out of Appleton to ATL and the on time performance improved. I find the CRJ unit on time challenged. I even routinely drive an additional hour to MKE in order to fly a mainline jet for improved performance.

  5. Generally, size does not matter for me. At my home base (BNA), there usually isn’t much choice -an RJ or a 737. That said, if larger aircraft result in lower load factors, that could be comfy. Or if larger planes equal so much greater capacity that route frequency is cut, well there is the good (less ATC congestion) and the bad (fewer options) and th bad.
    In a VERY general sense, bigger usually equals faster, so route segments that took 1:45 years ago might just be back under 2:00 these days. (Reduced congestion helps here as well.)

  6. They matter. In my case, I usually visit my wife’s family in Ecuador every two years or so. We always use our AAdvantage miles and leave out of CLT. The only flight to Ecuador leaves out of MIA. So, before the US/AA merger, the only option we had was an ERJ-145. I actually LOVE flying this plane. As an AVgeek, there is nothing as satisfying than getting that one seat by yourself on the left-side, right behind the wing, and listening to those engines throttle-up for take-off.
    Anyway, I digress. The problem, however, was always on the return. I almost always never got my checked bags. The customer services agents told me that the plane was too small to fit everyone’s bags. So my bad would be on the next flight. They would always tell me, “I wish they’d bring in a bigger plane” (seeing as how most inbound CLT passengers from MIA on AA used to be connecting from international vacations).
    Now, with the merger, all AA flights to MIA are 737’s (and of course the US metal is mainline as well). It makes a world of difference knowing that there’s a much greater chance of getting my bags. Especially since we (and everyone else heading south) usually take A LOT of them…lol.

  7. I don’t really care a whole lot about the metal–certainly not so much that it’d change my decision of whom/when to fly. I *do* prefer to fly a mainline carrier, rather than a commuter airline, though. It amounts to preferring full-size jets in practice, but it’s the company, and not the airframe, that motivates me.

    1. Agreed. For me it is mostly that in an irrops that the RJ get cut first. Of course I prefer getting upgraded to first on mainline, but i can deal with a 200 or 145 if need be (for example to BIS on United…)

  8. Yes, bigger airplanes make a big difference. Its one of the reasons I switched from United and Delta to Southwest. I was tired of getting stuck on 2 hour Canada Air 200’s where there’s no room, no internet and you can’t stand up straight. I’m still baffled as to how big airlines still offer that product between large cities. The bigger the better!

  9. I don’t mind the small planes … but I think I am in the minority

    What I do like to avoid are the super jumbos like the A380 … those are a cluster f _ _ _

  10. First of all I do not know why any FF would give Delta a dime with how they are treating their FF program.

    Larger plane more seats less service.

    Larger plane will take longer to load with Delta new scan your boarding pass. With this new laborer saving delta is implementing there will only be one Delta person at the gate so if someone has a problem scanning their pass the agent will have to stop helping people at desk.

    Delta new ultra low economy fare will draw more new flyers meaning longer boarding time.

    My goal is to have enough people stand up to Delta so they go back to good customer service.

    1. As a DL PM, I give them my money because they still offer me the best service, best schedule, and best destination mix (NYC based). I don’t like Skymiles 2015, but UA is basically doing the same thing, and AA US has too small of a footprint for me.

      I don’t understand your perspective that larger planes mean less service. Delta routinely has 2+ people at each gate and red coats walking around. Going to 1 per gate would be in line with other carriers and wouldnt affect me much. Perhaps they will need to increase boarding time, but its not like they are pushing utilization to an extreme where they couldn’t handle it with their schedule.

      But I agree, the new deep discount tickets are a concerning trend as my corporate portal wants me to book lowest available, even if it means no miles, no seat assignment, and no elite benefits.

  11. To borrow the old saying, size is everything. No, I don’t like flying RJs and turboprops, though the E-175 and E-195 are nice enough. It’s about reliability and baggage more than anything else. Hailing from an area with frequent weather issues, I really can’t afford to play the lottery with regional partners, wondering if that afternoon t-storm sitting a few miles from DFW is going to throw American Eagle, er, Envoy into chaos. Mainline jets mean a better chance of getting in or out eventually. Plus, I don’t like to check bags, and all too often, an RJ means gate checking a carry-on and then having to wait for it on the other end. Taking all that into account, I’ll choose mainline over regional any day of the week.

    1. Regionals get a bad rap for performance during off-nominal operations. Most of the issues stem from ATC delaying the shortest flights during limited throughput operations. Since the regionals operate most of the short flights, it looks like that as a whole can’t run a good operation and must be avoided.

      If there were no such thing as a regional carrier, and mainline operated everything with mainline aircraft, I’m curious if performance would be any better.

      I live in DC, and regularly consider connections in ORD/JFK. I don’t go out of my way to avoid regional aircraft (DCA-JFK is all regional, DCA-ORD sees a regional/mainline mix). I just know that if there’s weather in NYC, the DCA-JFK flight is going to get screwed.

      1. Just for the record, the aircraft operators tell ATC which flights get which delay. Flights get EDCTs swapped all the time due to company request. If I’d have to guess I think the companies delay the smaller flights to upset fewer customers.

  12. I agree with liking bigger airplanes. That’s one of the main reasons I quit flying UA out of DEN. I’ve been taking SWA and have enjoyed not being cramped into a CRJ-200 or CRJ-700 for three hours going across the country. Almost to A list status after a month and a half of flying. Haven’t had a middle seat yet, unless you count the entire row I had to myself a few weeks back.

  13. Oh, and not having to wait 20 minutes in a freezing jetway for my “carry-on” is a nice perk too.

  14. In a short market like SFO-LAX who cares, but I think for some people the longer the route the more it would matter.

  15. EMB is BAD. Seats are less comfortable than military transport. 717 isnt that big but usually has a real crew and not 17 year kid FA who hasnt got a clue, or training, on customer service or, probably safety either.

  16. Bigger airplanes matter for longer distances. For shorter flights, I definitely have no problems with RJs, specially the Embraer E-Jets as for me, specially the E190 and E195, are already mainline jets.

    And in this case with Delta, it might help decrease prices, but probably service will be worse.

  17. Of course I’ll join the crowd in universally hating the CRJ’s. They are just not good aircraft from a passenger perspective – even the CRJ-900’s. I do go out of my way to avoid them. The E-175/195 are better but I’d still prefer an aisle seat on a mainline aircraft.

    What I miss most about bigger aircraft is the days when DC-10’s/L1011’s/767’s were common on domestic routes. If traveling with a companion nothing beats the double seats on the outside and lets face it, two aisles will always beat a single aisle. That said I probably wouldn’t cheer anyone putting a 380 on a domestic route, but generally speaking the bigger the plane the better the comfort all around.

  18. The overall size of the aircraft makes little difference to me. It’s the amount of personal real estate that’s important.

  19. I don’t avoid RJ’s per se, I travel 2-3 times per year and my priorities vary. Price is important, but I don’t mind shelling out $25 r/t trip for WN’s Early Bird Check-In, or Priority Boarding on DL depending on the itinerary. However, if I can book myself on a new-to-me a/c type or through a city I haven’t been to before then I’ll book that routing if the price and schedule suit my needs. Av-Geekdom certainly plays a part in my decisions!

  20. I want to see the 717 in Long Beach! Delta has 2 slots for larger-than-CR7 aircraft; lately these have been used by CRJ-900 (76 sets), though Delta has also experimented with putting the A319 there (126 seats). It looks like Delta needs a Goldilocks solution — the A319 is too big, the CRJ-900 is too small, so the 110-seat 717 would be just right! Just find a few additional “just right” markets to open a 717 base in Salt Lake, and then the MD-95 will fly home.

    I’ve never flown the Embraer E-jets, but my guess is that the upgauging on the LAX–SFO route is driven by capacity rather than passenger experience. My wife recently flew the Delta West Coast shuttle back from SFO, but I chose to ride the train instead.

    1. I love the idea of someone flying 717s back home to LGB on a regular basis. LGB-SLC does sound like a nice fit for the 717. Having them at LAX means at least they’re close.

      As far as the “does size matter” go, it depends. On up to 90 minutes or so it’s not a big deal, but if the flight gets close to 2+ hours, then I’d be looking for something other than a CRJ or ERJ-145. No objections to the E-170 and larger on any length flight.

      For a while I was flying SAN-SJC one or two times a year, and many times I chose an American Eagle ERJ-140 over a Southwest 737. The prices were the same, but the 44 seats on the 140 meant getting on and off was fast, and more than once I got to the airport early enough to hop on an earlier flight for free, whereas Southwest would have charged me the fare difference between my advance purchase discount fare and the walk-up fare to do so.

  21. Generally speaking, I much prefer smaller planes, with one glaring exception: I avoid CRJ-200’s whenever possible. Even after years of flying and dozens of trips, I’m still like a giddy kid looking out the window. To that end smaller planes make me feel more connected to the flying experience.

    My order of preference: ERJ-170/90 > Dash-8 > 717 = MD-80 = 757 > ERJ-145 > CRJ-700/900 > 737 = A320 > > > CRJ-200

  22. For short flights, the smaller planes are preferable. But for longer flights, the larger planes usually come with more services and amenities. The newer models are usually loader with more equipment. The space is another matter. It doesn’t make any difference as to the size of a plane, because they will just add more seats to a larger plane and you will still be crowded.

  23. After 20+ years of business travel and having witnessed the general quality of the experience deteriorate to that of a Greyhound trip, I frankly don’t care anymore.

    I just want the plane to be on time.

    1. Funny, I limit most of my travel to overseas destinations where I can fly biz or first, precisely so I can enjoy what little is left of a somewhat pleasurable experience.

      1. Exactly, when I go overseas, I go out of my way to make sure than the international segment is also a non-US carrier. I am often in coach and the experience between say , United vs. Korean air is a world of difference. Same for going to Oz on Air Canada vs. Delta or such.

  24. Call me an old timer, but I remember when there were really uncomfortable situations where sitting in a Metroliner or Jetsream and going I wish I was on a jet. So I find it funny how many really hate the CRJ-200.

    But I only flew on the Metroliner (AKA San Antonio Sewer Pipe) and Jetstream a few times because where I was usually going was served by 737 and larger.

    In this modern/thin margin of profit for an airline world the amount of CRJ-ERJ activity is taking up many mainline slots. I’ll be riding from Nashville to Salt Lake City in about 2 1/2 weeks on a CRJ-900 – If you are all interested, I’ll report on it.

  25. DL’s bringing the 717s back to the west coast? Err did DL fly these there before, or are you just saying that since they were built on the west coast, that they’re coming back home?

  26. With the way that Brazil treats Americans especially with visa restrictions I avoid their airplanes unless there is no other way to fly. I hope The Bombardier C Series is a success.

    1. AFAIK, Brazil treats Americans that way with visa restrictions, because American treats Brazilians that way with visa restrictions…

      1. Absolutely true. The Brazilian government made a wise decision, in my opinion: if we need a visa to go to the USA, they need a visa to come here. To compare: I’m Dutch and no European needs a visa for stays (business or pleasure) of up to 90 days.

        If you treat them badly, they’ll treat you just the same. So I totally agree with the Brazilian government on this (even if it would have meant I did need a visa to go to Brazil).

      2. Concur completely. I especially like how Brazil got 2 — yes, 2 — free bags on flights between the U.S. and Brazil written in the air service treaty. Bully for them!

        And bully for them for the E170/190 series. All other things being equal I’ll choose the flight served by one these jets any day over any of Bombardier’s offerings.

  27. Just about to do a last minute, 28hr trip to New York from London, and the itinerary means I’m on a UA 757-300 on the way out; never normally an issue with me (small plane across the Atlantic). However, having chatted to the air crew the other week on the 777 LHR-EWR flight, they confirmed that in December alone, nearly 50 unscheduled fuel stops took place on the Westbound flights due to very strong headwinds and insufficient legs on the 757’s.

    For such a last minute trip, a £1k ticket (sat at the back, btw), it would’ve cost another £500 for a 767/777 flight, earlier or later.

    1. UA doesn’t fly the 757-300 TATL. LHR is served from EWR on the 777, 767-400, 767-300, and 757-200. Further, LHR 757s have not been making westbound tech stops from LHR. Those are happening from deep Europe (OSL, TXL on UA, CDG on AA, BRU on US…)

  28. For short flights, the comfort difference isn’t a big deal. However, the reliability difference of mainline is huge. If you are connecting and must be there, mainline is much more reliable for connections. Even if the reason is company dispatching.

    On longer flights, the single lav in the CR7 is a major drawback, too.

  29. Misery is spending 3 hours on a CRJ-200 from DCA to MEM. 6-foot-4-inch me couldn’t feel my legs after that flight.

    We here at SDF get mainline on DL to ATL and the occasional MD-88 on AA to DFW. Everything else that isn’t on WN is a RJ. Then again, most everything from SDF not on WN is less than two hours anyway, so I don’t mind it quite as much.

  30. I love ERJ-175. I do not mind ERJ-145 if I get the one seat side. I actually prefer that than getting a middle seat on B737 or B757. Getting stuck once in a middle seat on DC 10 5 seat side was not pleasant.

    CRJ-200 is the absolute worst though. This is one reason of the many reasons I avoid DTW and fly through ATL or ORD. One problem is my home airport is known for CRJ 200 operation (CVG). Fortunately, Delta does not fly CRJ 200 more than 750 miles per segment now.

    I will not miss CRJ 200 but will miss ERJ-145 when most of them go away.

  31. I’ll join the E170/175 bandwagon. Absolutely my favorite plane to ride.

    I’ll also go further than others and say that I find the MD-80 family to me one of the worst to ride. It combines the worst of mainline (middle seat, albeit only on one side) with the worst of regionals (tight cabin feel). I don’t love CRJ2s, but at least I’m guaranteed not to be in a middle in exchange for the tight cabin.

    Thus, if I used the Delta shuttle, I’d be disappointed by this move. Trades the best plane to ride with one of the worst.

  32. RJs, with the exception of the CRJ, are actually great to fly, but I avoid anything smaller than E-170 for one reason. Your roll-aboard will not fit in the overhead bin, and thus you must let the rampers beat the hell out of it. My Travelpro luggage would last for decades if not for rough ramp-idiot handling.

  33. “It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion.” While size can matter the size of the aircraft does not matter to me, but the comfort of the seat, view out the window, or entertainment system does. I prefer Q400’s to CRJ’s and on JetBlue, prefer the “Jungle Jet” to the A320.

    As an Av-Geek I like small planes in general, but not for the comfort level, for the feel of flying, but when traveling in general, see the above.

  34. In terms of style and aesthetics I am glad the 717 is beeping around SFO and LA The twin engine under wing jet is everywhere. I’m stuck in a time wharp. I loved it when their was a variety of airframe design lining up at the runway. Now it’s like watching stripped zebras in a herd…nothing stands out.

  35. I’ll ditto other comments about the CRJ-200: awful. Please, anything but one of those! DL, US/AA, and especially UA: banish them to the desert, ASAP! I’ll take a Q400 any day just so I can stand up straight in the aisle and have a straighter spine while seated. And if it’s a Horizon-operated Q400, I get a free micro brew or wine to boot! Take that, Skywest, et al.

    In general, for me, the longer the flight, larger = better. Especially wide body versus narrow body. Back of the bus 737/757 vs 767/777/A330 on 5+ hour flight — hands down a wide body. No wide body scheduled for 2-4 hour domestic flight? Sorry Boeing, give me an A319/320 over 737!

    1. Hey now.. Skywest serves microbrews and wine on the flights they operate
      for Alaska! So go pick on Mesa instead of Skywest!

      1. I stand corrected; I’d forgotten that SK operates RJ 700s for AS. Good to know. I think it’s just knowing I’m on any 50-seater that brings out my ill will.

        Picking on Mesa, that’s easy to do!

        1. Although the CR7’s that OO operates for AS have no F class, no Y+ seating, uncomfortable seats and still only 1 lav, so don’t drink much microbrew.

  36. Yes size matters to me. 1 it means first class and a drink and internet on a 717 versus Satans chariot. Also with Delta the 717 is mainline meaning they won’t cancel it if at all possible versus the regional. Why fly Delta, well easy they have the best on time performance of any of the majors and it’s not even close.

  37. I personally do not like regional jets and will avoid them whenever I have the change. So yes, if I could take a Boeing 717 it add Delta to the list of airlines I would fly from LAX-SFO.

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