Passengers flying these sub-100 seat aircraft are immediately able to sense the limited space as they enter the cabin.  OEMs have to compromise to get in the seating airlines want and fit this into a tube whose dimensions must be light and safe.  Comfort is not truly the primary requirement, since flights typically are under 90 minutes and passengers have to deal with it for only a short time.  That said, who is the fairest of them all?  We took a look at the various models from Bombardier and Embraer in order to offer an equal comparison. The able below shows the key dimensions people have to deal with. We selected US carriers because they likely offer the longest stage lengths.

2015-03-02_15-04-17The Bombardier and Embraer aircraft are closely matched in terms of cabin.  But the CRJ seems to offer 2 inch wider premium seats – something Airbus says is a huge issue. In economy, the Embraer has the wider seat by an inch.  Our preference is the CRJ cabin in first class, but the Embraer cabin in economy to take advantage of larger seat width with similar seat pitch.

American Airlines CRJ-900 looks to be the most comfortable of all, with its mix of first, premium economy and economy seating.  Each of the three classes offers better pitch than the Embraer, which offers a wider seat in economy. United has an especially wide seat in First on the E-175.

2015-03-02_10-28-38When we take a look at aircraft dimensions we can see why Bombardier offers better pitch  – its cabin is longer.  Embraer’s cabin is slightly wider and can accommodate wider seats and aisle.

The primary reason that the American CRJ-900 seating remains comfortable is the scope clause limitation of 76 seats in its labor contract.  As a result, the length of the cabin that can accommodate 80 or 84 passengers in tighter pitch layouts has the luxury of a few extra inches thanks to the latest labor agreement with pilots, which was just renewed for five years.  So for the foreseeable future, the AA CRJ-900s are likely to remain roomier than most.

In terms of overhead bins, Embraer wins the battle for carry-ons, despite some recent improvements in CRJ bins.  However, the bags that often fit on A320 and 737 family aircraft may not fit on either of the regional jets, and gate-checking of carry-on bags remains a painful but commonplace occurrence for regional flights.

Bombardier has come a long way with the CRJ cabin from the original 50 seat models, including much larger and better positioned windows, enhanced overhead bins, new sidewalls and headliners, better lighting, and improvements to the seats themselves.  This has enabled the Next Generation models to catch-up to Embraer’s standard of comfort on the EJets that was a step-up from both the original 50 seat CRJs and ERJs.  The playing field is looking more even as airlines find ways to improve cabins to enhance revenues at the regional level, just as they have done with their mainline operations.   We can finally celebrate some additional cabin space on regional jets, if we’re willing to pay for it.

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