The First Ever United Express CRJ-900 Flight is on March 3

Mesa Airlines, United

Regular travelers on American and Delta have long been used to flying on CRJ-900s, but United travelers have never had that experience. This changes on March 3 now that United has finally loaded the first Mesa-operated CRJ-900 flight for the airline.

Sure, United has had CRJ-700s (and CRJ-550s) under its brand for ages, but for some reason it has never had a CRJ-900. Delta has more than 150 split between Endeavor (over 100) and SkyWest. Meanwhile, American has nearly 75 under PSA… and it had 60+ with Mesa. That has shrunk and now it’s going away completely as I’ve written here before.

The transition to United is not wasting any time. Though Mesa will continue flying for American through April 3, it will now start flying for United a month earlier than that. This isn’t a problem for Mesa, which may seem surprising since it has been short on pilots for a long time. But it’s important to look at block hours to understand why this is won’t be an issue.

Mesa CRJ-900 Block Hours per Day

Data via Cirium

At the end of February, in just a couple days, Mesa’s flying for American is slashed in half. This isn’t just an abrupt stop but rather a somewhat organized wind-down. Then, just 3 days later, United will step in. The flying for both American and United combined in that first month is below what Mesa is doing alone for American in February, but that’s likely because it’s a logistical challenge to make all this flying work together.

When it starts in March, United will have it solely from the Houston/IAH hub to:

  • Albuquerque (starts March 17)
  • Birmingham (starts March 3)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (starts March 3)
  • El Paso (starts March 4)
  • Harlingen (starts March 17)
  • Lafayette (starts March 26)
  • Louisville (starts March 4)
  • McAllen (starts March 3)
  • Phoenix (starts March 3)
  • Springfield, MO (starts March 26)
  • Tulsa (starts March 26)
  • Wichita (starts March 26)

There is also on-and-off service to Little Rock and Oklahoma City. These are all the kind of markets you’d expect to see as a good starting point to the rollout. They’re relatively close markets to Houston that have decent demand with multiple frequencies to protect in case of… shall we say, irregular operations. The only outliers are those that are there for a different reason: Dallas/Fort Worth and Phoenix.

Remember, Mesa has been operating exclusively from the DFW and Phoenix hubs for American for several years, and it has said it will keep all existing bases. It really had no choice since forcing base closures could risk more employees leaving the airline. It absolutely can’t afford that.

Mesa will end up having bases in Denver and Houston, but in the beginning, it will have to rely on shuttling crews back and forth. That’s why the DFW and Phoenix flights exist. They will each have between 1 and 3 daily flights varying by day in that first month. Those flights are able to be sold but they really exist as crew transports and are incremental flying over the existing schedule, for the most part.

Once Mesa stops flying for American on April 3, it’ll be just a couple more days until the next ramp up. On April 7, United adds Mesa from Houston to Baton Rouge, Corpus Christi, Memphis, Midland, Oklahoma City, St Louis, and San Antonio. That holds until May 5 when United moves Mesa into its second hub in Denver.

On May 5, service starts from Denver to Casper, Dallas/Fort Worth, Grand Junction, Little Rock, Springfield (MO), Tulsa, and Wichita. If this list looks familiar, it’s because a lot of these markets are the ones that Mesa will initially fly from Houston. I’m assuming this makes it easier for Mesa to route airplanes and crews in the early days.

It’s not until Denver – Phoenix starts on June 2 that we see more growth in Denver. That day sees flying also begin to Bozeman, El Paso, and Oklahoma City. And that’s about the extent of what we know now.

At this point, United only has filed Mesa CRJ-900 flying through June 22. Presumably we will see the rest of the schedule filled out soon enough, but this is at least a start.

In the long run, I’d imagine Mesa will do what it can to hire people into new Denver and Houston bases, so it can ramp down flying to Dallas/Fort Worth and Phoenix and use those airplanes for better flying that is more suited to them.

This is not a simple transition for Mesa, but it looks to at least be well-planned. Let’s see if the airline can pull it off without significant disruption.

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16 comments on “The First Ever United Express CRJ-900 Flight is on March 3

  1. Good Luck UA, you will need it. Another reason AA dumped Mesa was the crappy conditions of their plans. Your getting the same ones. Enjoy the dirty interiors and flight delays. PHX and DFW will enjoy the ERJ-175 which is a much better aircraft from a pilot and passenger perspective.

    1. But AA is getting Air Wisconsin and their truly crappy CRJ-200’s. So, there are no real winners here.

      1. At my local airport, United recently replaced all their CRJ-200s with Embraer-175s. I can’t overstate how much of an upgrade that is.

  2. One would hope that some of the money United invested in Mesa will be used to clean its aircraft.

    1. P.S.

      I hope the “CPA swap” works out well for all parties. On a related note, I’m wondering if any of the CRJ-700s PSA has parked at Kingman, Arizona will find their way to Air Wisconsin.

  3. These all make sense to me except Denver to Casper and Denver to Grand Junction.

    Casper is a very tiny market with Skywest handling all 5 daily flights for both United (4x DEN) and Delta (1x SLC).
    Seems inefficient for UA to split its service between Skywest and Mesa.

    Grand Junction is a little bit larger market, but with the May schedule change UA will be flying 5x daily with 5 different fleet types on 4 different carriers. They have Skywest flying a CRJ and E175, Mesa with the CR9, CommuteAir with an ERJ, and UA mainline on the 738. That’s nuts.

    Far better to leave Casper alone and fly your new CR9’s into Grand Junction, simplifying the schedule of both stations.

    1. It’s all a mater of perspective, are you old enough to remember the Metro-liner? A tall person had to duck walk down the aisle.

    2. It’s due to the fact that the CRJ is developed from the Challenger private jet line. It’s the only plane to have started life as a private jet and become a airliner rather than vice versa. To do so they needed to put in a couple of holds for excess luggage, particularly large cabin bags, under the floor, this raised the floor of the cabin reducing the head height. It’s also why the windows appear so low relative to the seats, they were put in place for a much lower floor!

  4. Are base locations decided (or forced) by Mesa or by United? Or is it just part of normal negotiations?

    I don’t see United being too happy with paying Mesa to operate flights flying crews to and from Phoenix or Dallas indefinitely.

    1. Jason H – United decides the published schedule but it’s up to Mesa to figure out how to operate it. I have no doubt that United is undrestanding about needing to deadhead crews from PHX/DFW for now. But I imagine as new hires come in, they will be putting them in DEN/IAH.

      1. Yeah, for the time being it completely makes sense and should work well enough.

        But in the long term when flying for United ramps up I’d think that you’d start to see reliability issues as well if many crews are relying on deadheading from the same origin.

  5. The unaddressed mystery is where are the reductions in EMB-175 flying coming from to keep UA within its scope limits? The company is already at its maximum for 76-seaters.

    1. Mesa and other United Express operators have E175s on contract that they don’t have the crews to operate. So some of those E175s come off contract, making room for CRJ-900s. I suspect over time Mesa will transition the CR9 crews to E75, but that takes time and simulator availability is currently scarce, and with American dropping Mesa, they have CR9s and crews available immediately to United.

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