A Look At Changing Regional Alliances: United (Part 3)

Continental, United

It’s the last day of my vacation, and I’m going to bet that after a week in an RV, I’m ready to be home. So today, I’ll finish up my look at regional alliances over the past 15 years. American came first, then Delta, and now we finish up with United Express and Continental Express.

Of the three airlines I looked at, United is by far the messiest. It had the most relationships and has been trying hard to find the right mix as of late.

Thanks to Cirium, I took a look into all of them. Here is the chart.

Data via Cirium

Just as was the case with Delta, you can see that the big red blog dominates. So, let’s start there once again.

SkyWest and ExpressJet

Best I can tell, SkyWest actually started flying for Continental in 1995, two years before it started flying for United. But it became a really big player for United when its subsidiary ASA purchased ExpressJet.

ExpressJet, of course, began life as Continental Express and was the sole regional provider. But Continental spun it off and once it made its way into the SkyWest fold, SkyWest carriers had more than half of all United Express service. That was quickly eroded as United began working with other partners to spread the love around.

SkyWest lost a lot of business when it sold ExpressJet off to become partially-owned by United. But that worked out well for SkyWest in the end as the airline continued to amass new flying. In August, SkyWest has about 45 percent of United Express flights. ExpressJet, now gone from SkyWest’s fold, still has 8 percent, but it will wind down operations in the next few months.

Republic

As with Delta, Republic operated for United Express with Chautauqua and Shuttle America but eventually consolidated around the Republic certificate. Republic has been a fairly stable player over the last few years in the United network.

This August, it will fly a bit more than 15 percent of United Express flights.

Mesa

If there’s an airline with nine lives, it’s Mesa. Mesa had flown for United for many years, on and off. Its last round before the merger with Continental saw the airline flying CRJ-200s and CRJ-700s but United wasn’t happy, and it cut back significantly.

With the relationship hanging by a thread, new United President Scott Kirby’s long-time relationship with Mesa’s CEO paid off. It lost all of its CRJs, but it has slowly been given more and more Embraer 175s. It will end up having 100 in the United Express fleet soon enough.

This August, Mesa will have just shy of 15 percent of United Express flights.

Air Wisconsin

Speaking of nine lives… Air Wisconsin has used quite a few. It used to be a big United Express operator, but it lost that business in 2006. It then went to US Airways and on to American until United snatched the airline and its pilot corps back. It no longer flies the old BAe-146s, but it has a big fleet of CRJ-200s which fly exclusively for United Express.

It August, it will have 7 percent of United Express departures.

Trans States/GoJet

Trans States Holdings has had a rough go of it lately. It shut down both Trans States and Compass, leaving it only with GoJet. But GoJet lost its Delta contract and is now solely flying for United. That sounds like a scary proposition for a once more diverse company. But GoJet has an angle to survive.

GoJet is currently the only operator of the CRJ-550. That’s the CRJ-700 with room for only 50 people and a very heavy emphasis on premium seating. The problem with premium-heavy configurations, however, is that when, oh, say, massive pandemics hit… they become a lot less appealing.

In March before things turned ugly, GoJet had more than 13 percent of United Express departures. But by August, it will be down to under 6 percent.

CommutAir

Wait, there’s more? Yes, there is. CommutAir takes up the rear here. It used to fly little props and then United gave it and its low cost structure access to Embraer 145s. United bought a chunk of the airline, and then put it in competition with ExpressJet to be the sole surviving operator of the Embraer 145 in the United Express fleet. CommutAir emerged victorious.

In August, CommutAir is scheduled to have just shy of 4 percent of departures, but you can expect it will see some real growth when it starts to take over ExpressJet flying, assuming that’s the plan.

The Dearly Departed

Considering how many airlines still fly for United, you’d think the list of carriers which no longer fly for the airline would be short. You’d think wrong.

  • Cape Air used to feed Continental Micronesia in Guam with ATR turboprops, and it lasted through the merger. But by the end of 2018, this flying was gone.
  • Colgan Air incredibly began flying as New York Air Connection in 1986. It joined Continental in the New York Air merger and then sold to Presidential which collapsed. The Colgans restarted the airline under a different name in 1991 and eventually took back the Colgan name. It left Continental in 1999 but returned in 2005. That’s when Colgan also started flying for United. Colgan sold to Pinnacle and by 2012 the relationship ended.
  • RegionsAir actually flew as a Continental Connection carrier in Cleveland from 2006 to 2007. I don’t remember that all, but that’s no surprise since it didn’t last long.
  • Silver somehow kept flying as a United Express carrier into 2014. At that point, it decided to be fully independent and have more traditional codeshare partnerships instead.

If you missed it, here’s the look at American Eagle and Delta Connection.

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11 comments on “A Look At Changing Regional Alliances: United (Part 3)

  1. Working for YV in the mid 90’s was…interesting. We weren’t well liked, but we sure had fun. I’m glad to have survived it.

    I started with WestAir (OE) that flew J31’s in UAX colors.

  2. There was also Atlantic Coast, which was huge for United out of IAD back in the 90’s. But then United dumped them, so they tried the standalone airline with Independence Air, which of course lasted three seconds and then folded. But they may have been the first to experiment with the celebrity safety briefings.

  3. The question for UA and its regional carriers is not where they have been but where they are going.

    With management’s confirmation that they are willing to pull seats out of their 76 seat RJs in order to comply with scope requirements after furloughs, it is likely that UA will rely on a higher percentage of smaller, more costly RJs including the CRJ550 which will make UA’s regional carrier costs higher per seat mile than AA or DL and continue the necessity to push on operators to lower costs.
    After multiple operators cease operations in the next year, it will be harder to shop around for lower rates.

    The next few years will be key in reshaping the regional carrier industry for the next 10 years when it will likely sunset based on current aircraft models that are allowed at legacy carriers or for legacy carrier management to force through changes to keep the contracted regional carrier industry viable beyond 2030.

  4. Tim Dunn raised the same point today as he did yesterday, and I think his observations are pretty much spot-on. The entire way airlines conduct regional flying will almost inevitably change (talk about fudging!). Unless I’m missing something (which is entirely possible) there really are no commercial aircraft in the pipeline smaller than the CRJ-900 and E-175-E1. That presents a major problem going forward, given current scope provisions.

    United has the same option Delta exercised (i.e., buy small aircraft like the A220-100 or E-190-E2 to operate at the mainline) if it wants to add larger aircraft to its regional fleet. Delta was smart to do just that and shrink its regional exposure.

    I’m not in the business of making firm predictions, but I enjoy speculating as much as anyone. With that in mind, I’ll write this: I think the direction Delta has taken with regard to its regional operations is the best one available given the current state of affairs. Whether all of this will lead to the virtual elimination of regional flying, as Mr. Dunn suggested might happen at Delta, is unknown. But it’s quite possible. If that happens, the whole domestic airline industry could look a lot like Southwest. Noting history, that may not be a bad outcome, at least financially.

    This mess may finally force the airline industry and the government to take a long, hard look at how air transportation is provided to smaller and/or isolated communities. And it might not take ten years to find out what direction all of this will take.

    1. thank you, kind sir.

      We are at a crossroads due to this virus in many aspects of life. I suspect that we will look back at this 3 part series as the documentation for a history that most of us otherwise would have forgotten not many moons in the future.

    2. The Mitsubishi regional jets will be similar or a bit smaller than the CRJ900/E175 and probably can replace the older CRJ700s in ~5 years or so, but no replacements for smaller jets.
      Also, the Q400 and ATR 72 turboprops are still in production, and depending on the airline might fall under less restrictive scope clauses as they are not jets, so they and maybe other props are also available if needed to replace small jets.

  5. Oh all the majors, living and passed, United mastered the whipsaw long before it became fashionable. AirWis was a wholly owned for a few years then spun off. They started UFS (UA Feeder Service) contracting UA owned British Aerospace ATPs to the lowest bidder.
    The late Great Lakes was an UAx operation for a year or two before being demoted to codeshare. .Former wholly owned long time companion AirWis got kicked to the curb because of the allure of Mesa’s better FFD numbers. We see how that worked out ?.

  6. I would like to see more simplified operations (i.e. less regional carriers). I think that can promote better communication and coordination between the mothership and their regional counterparts simply due to its simplified structure. However, I am sad to see regionals die. My first flight was on CO ExpressJet E145 and will (weirdly) miss the airline.

  7. My brother is a pilot for ExpressJet who will be losing his job because of United’s change. Those based at Newark are apparently going earlier, before those based at other hubs. (He may have a new job lead elsewhere, which came from another pilot who knew of EJ’s closure before my brother did.) One thing that bugged my brother over the years was how ground crews (and probably others as well) treated the regionals in an inferior way (baggage handling, maintenance, etc.), as they were employees of the big companies. If this kind of move by all the airlines ends up going Delta/Southwest’s route, then maybe that kind of behavior will change, too. On the other side, I wonder what pax traffic will still be going to tiny airports who need something but can’t handle a 737 if the regionals all die.

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