MIAMI — Welcome aboard Delta Connection flights 3398 and 4183, operated by Endeavor Air, with service to Chicago O’Hare via Memphis. To ensure an on-time departure, please leave your carry-on luggage on the jet way, duck down, take your seat, and cram your personal item underneath the seat in front of you.
After asking people who have flown on the CRJ-200 for nicknames, it became quite clear that many are not fans. There are dozens of nicknames for the CRJ-200, such as my personal favorites Satan’s Chariot, Climb Restricted Jet, Mini Lawn Dart, the Flying Bus, and Future Beer Can; soda can for those under 21.
Based on the names alone, one can surmise the tiny CRJ-200 is not popular among travelers for a variety of reasons. Many find it to be really small (it is), loud, uncomfortable, and a bit of a bumpy ride. It is increasingly unpopular with airlines too, largely thanks to no longer being as economical as the larger regional jets.
Meet the CRJ-200
The design of the CRJ-100/200 is based on Canadair’s Challenger business jet, which was purchased from Bill Lear in 1976. The Challenger is wide enough to seat two passengers on each side of the aisle, and the flexible design would allow the company to stretch the fuselage later on if it chose to (and it did, repeatedly).
The formal launch of the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) occurred in the spring of 1989. The first flight occurred two years later, and it received its flight certification in late 1992. A few months later, Lufthansa took delivery of the first aircraft.
There are several CRJ-100/200 variants which extend the range with new wings, more fuel capacity, and better winglets. Each seats 50 passengers in a 2-2 seating configuration.
At one point in time, Pinnacle Airlines (now Endeavor Air) operated several CRJ-200s with only 44 seats. There were closets in the forward part of the aircraft, but these were converted into 50 seat aircraft to allow operations under their major airline contract “scope clause” which restricts major airlines’ connection carriers from operating equipment carrying 50 or more passengers to guard against usurpation of Air Line Pilots Association and Allied Pilots Association pilots’ union contract.
Comair used to operate 40-seat CRJ-200s, but they were sold at a discontinued price to encourage Comair to purchase the more efficient ERJ-135.
Small cities and towns have benefited from the two regional jets, as the economics of both allowed the locations to be easily connected to larger metropolises. Airlines flocked to the planes due to their cheaper operating costs versus mainline aircraft. Each could achieve higher revenue per available seat mile and feed the rest of the network.
The aircraft are losing their elite status as airlines are finding them uneconomical to operate. It’s hard to believe that they were once the darling of the industry. Airlines like American, Delta, and United are trying to shed them as quickly as possible thanks to the small regional jets now being more expensive to operate on a per seat basis as fixed operations costs are also spread over a fewer number of seats. They are being replaced instead by larger, 60-80 seat aircraft like Embraer’s E175.
Now, let’s go flying!
Delta Connection 3398 (Operated by Endeavor Air)
Depart: Houston Intercontinental at 10:15 AM
Arrive: Memphis at 11:49 AM
Seat: 8D (EXIT ROW)
Altitude: 29,000 feet
Finally the big day came, and it was time to check in. I arrived at Houston IAH two hours early, and I was able to walk right up to a kiosk and printed my boarding pass. After clearing security, I spent an hour in the United Club and headed to the gate when the inbound flight arrived on the ground.
Finally, it was time to fly the Barbie Jet!
Once the plane was readied it was time to board. The gate agent explained that the aircraft was small and that most passengers will need to tag their luggage to be placed in the cargo hold. I handed my suitcase to a baggage handler, and walked on-board. I instantly forgot that that the ceiling would be very low, and I hit my head on the top of the door way.
I walked to seat 8D which is a window exit row seat. (Yes. I cheated, but we’ll discuss the passenger experience on my next leg.) After sitting down, I noticed that the windows are much lower when compared to the ERJ-145 and larger regional jet aircraft.
A few minutes later, our flight attendant, Camela, conducted the exit row briefing, and two minutes after that, the door was shut. We were on our way seven minutes early.
The captain came over the PA and explained that it would be a smooth one hour, four minute flight to Memphis. The safety demo/briefing was conducted as we quickly taxied to the runway. Thanks to the lack of IFE, the flight attendant first spoke the briefing, and then demonstrated how to use the equipment.
We were number three for take-off. After a short five minute wait, we were airborne by 10:25AM. To my surprise, the CRJ-200 seemed quiet (a sentiment I’d later regret…). Although, I don’t think the guy four rows behind me would say the same thing.
After a quick climb to 29,000 feet, Camela began the beverage service. She was extremely swift and friendly. Meanwhile, I spent most of the flight working.
About halfway into the flight, we experienced some light turbulence. It wasn’t bad, but it was bumpy for several minutes.
You couldn’t see the ground for most of the flight, but with the sun and a flat cloud layer, we had a nice view (granted, I haven’t seen the sun in a few days due to a lot of rain in Houston so sun and clouds were great).
Some forty-five minutes after we departed Houston, we began our initial decent into Memphis, which was a bit choppy.
Once on the ground we taxied to our gate, and by the time I walked off the aircraft, our baggage was already there waiting.
Delta Connection 4183 (Operated by Endeavor Air)
Depart: Memphis at 12:45 PM
Arrive: Chicago O’Hare at 2:25 PM
Altitude: 28,000 feet
After arriving from Houston, I took the opportunity to explore Memphis International Airport during my hour long layover.
Upon arriving at the gate, my next CRJ-200 flight was just about ready to board. The agents came through the gate area and hanged out pink tags for gate-checked items; mine was no exception. Boarding started right on-time, and once in the plane, I settled into seat 2D, but I was asked to move back to 12D for weight and balance purposes.
This was the first time (that I know of) that one of my flights had a weight and balance issue. Since I selected these flights to get the full CRJ-200 experience (minus cheating with the exit row), I happily volunteered. My new seat would be 12D.
My seats on both flights were a bit stiff. They didn’t necessarily hurt my back, but they weren’t great. The 17.3 inch wide seats are leather, and they come with a standard seat pitch of 31 inches.
When I compare the seat pitch of the exit row seat and 12D, the exit row was a bit larger, but there was barely a difference.
The flight attendant closed the door, and we were off. As the safety demonstration was conducted, the engines spooled up. They were loud, but not too loud. It took us ten minutes to taxi, and we took off.
The engine hum, oddly high pitched, was bearable for this relatively short flight. It was louder than row 8 from my last flight, but, logically, the closer you are to them, the louder they will be.
It was an uneventful flight from there on out: We had a smooth decent and arrived in Chicago just a few minutes behind schedule.
I can’t say it was the greatest experience, but it wasn’t the worst either.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the 2-2 configuration of the CRJ-200, especially when compared to the 1-2 configuration of the ERJ-145.
The seat width seemed tight, particularly when seated next to somebody else: it’ll be aisle seats for me on the jet from here on out. Besides, the window is lower on the CRJ-200 than the ERJ-145 and other regional jets, making it tough to look out the window.
As far as seating, sitting near the front would be good if you are looking for a quieter flight.