In this article, I will focus on the passenger experience associated with a trip on each type of aircraft. Items covered will include number of seats, configuration of the seats in the aircraft, number of classes of service in the cabin, and general observation on comfort, noise, and other environmental factors. In addition, I will provide my own insight for those types of aircraft I've flown on as a passenger.
Brand names: Canadair, Bombardier, de Havilland
Models in common use: Canadair CRJ-100 (44 seats), -200 (50 seats), -700 (70 seats); Bombardier Q100 (37 seats), Q200 (37 seats), Q300 (50-60 seats, depending on configuration), Q400 (70-80 seats); de Havilland Dash 8-100 (identical to the Q100), -200 (identical to the Q200), -300 (identical to the Q300)
Engines: 2, jet (all Canadair models above); 2, turboprop (all Bombardier and de Havilland models above)
All Canadair models feature a 2-2 (2 seats on the port or left side as you face the front of the aircraft; 2 on the starboard or right side) seating pattern in a one-class cabin. Although the engines are attached to the rear of the aircraft, I've normally found all parts of the cabin to be relatively quiet. Seat width and pitch (the distance between rows) is relatively tight in the older 100 and 200 series models, causing some fliers to refer to them as flying sardine cans. The bulkhead (front row of the plane) and exit row, normally a safe haven for those seeking additional leg room, are no bargain on the older models either (as noted by Seatguru). Indeed, I've found that I have less legroom at the bulkhead; the exit row seats are smaller, so tall fliers may feel like they are spending the flight on the edge of their seats. Thankfully, many of these issues were corrected in the larger 700 series, which make them comfortable for even the longest of flights served by regional jets.
The Q100/Dash 8-100 and Q200/Dash 8-200 series bring us to a quirk in seat configuration: every row except for the back row is in a standard 2-2 pattern, except for the back row. The back row has five seats up against the back wall of the passenger cabin. The 300 series brings us something completely different - seats that face the rear of the aircraft in the front row. The rest, however, is a standard 2-2 configuration (as is the entirety of the Q400 aircraft). In the de Havilland models, none of the seats recline; however, seat recline has been provided in the Bombardier versions (note that Bombardier purchased de Havilland in 1997).
British Aerospace (United Kingdom):
Brand name: Avro, BAe, Jetstream
Models in common use: Avro RJ-85; BAe 146-100, -200, -300 (Note: The Avro RJ-85 and BAe 146-300 are identical aircraft); Jetstream JS-41
Engines: 4, jet (all models above, except the JS-41); 2, turboprop (JS-41)
Here, we see some divergence in seat configuration. Northwest configures their RJ-85s in a 69-seat, 2-class configuration due to contractual limitations on the ability of regional jet pilots to fly aircraft with more than 70 seats. In their setup, business class is configured in a 2-2 pattern and coach in a 2-3, except for the bulkhead row of coach (which is also 2-2). Most other airlines set up these aircraft with a one-class cabin in a 2-3 configuration, which offer approximately 100 seats (depending upon seat pitch and model; higher-numbered models offer more seats).
Regardless of which setup you encounter, British Aerospace regional jets enjoy a substantial group of fans, as the seat pitch and width are much more generous than those in most other regional jets (2-3 inches/5-6 cm additional width and pitch on average). You will notice that the wings are attached to the top of the aircraft, rather than to the bottom. Needless to say, those people seated along the wing will need to deal with reduced space for carry-on items as well as a restricted or eliminated view out the window. Although I have not flown on this aircraft myself, I have heard glowing recommendations from passengers and flight attendants alike; I look forward to flying on one soon (hopefully, before Northwest returns all of theirs to their lessors as they reduce their schedule). Although British Aerospace stopped producing these aircraft a few years ago, you can expect them to be around for a considerable amount of time.
On the other hand, the Jetstream turboprops are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Not only are they loud (typical of turboprops), seat pitch is even less than the Canadair models. Also, none of the seats recline - usually not a problem for me, but can be for those trying to stretch out as much as they can. Thankfully, the JS-41 is probably the least commonly seen of the turboprop aircraft mentioned in this article.
Dornier (Germany; no link, company declared insolvent in 2005):
Models in common use: 328, 328 Jet
Engines: 2, either turboprop or jet
Both models feature a 1-2 configuration in a one-class cabin, with 30-35 seats depending on seat pitch. I have found that the seat pitch and width are comparable to the Canadair, although I found it more comfortable for some reason. As on the Avro RJ-85, the wing is mounted to the top of the aircraft instead of the bottom; however, those in the wing area do not suffer any reduction of space for their carry-on bags. On this aircraft, the first row features shoulder harnesses in addition to the standard lap belts; this row has seats only on the starboard, or right side as you face the front of the aircraft. Personally, I have only flown the noisier turboprop model; however, it wasn't bad enough to make me feel I needed earplugs (which I carry any time I'm scheduled to fly on a turboprop). However, I did find the earplugs useful.
Models in common use: ER-120; ERJ-135, -140, -145, -170, -175, -190
Engines: 2, turboprop (ER-120 only); 2, jet (all others)
The ER-120 and ERJ-135, 140, and 145 models are all essentially the same, except for the turboprop engines (120 only), length, and number of seats (30, 40, 44, and 50 respectively). They all use the 1-2 single class configuration, and the cabin is generally longer and narrower than the Canadair aircraft. The big downside of these models is that overhead storage bins can only be found on the starboard side of the aircraft; thus, you'll often find people jockeying to load in their carry-on bags. Some people find that their legroom is inhibited by the curvature of the aircraft; however, I have flown on the ERJ-140 myself and did not observe any noticeable loss of legroom in such a fashion. The tail-mounted engines' enclosures appear to be much less rounded than those of the Canadair.
The 170, 175, and 190 models all use a 2-class configuration and are also essentially the same (1-2 configuration in business class, 2-2 in coach). They are normally configured to hold 70 (6 business, 64 coach in the -170), 73 (9 business, 64 coach in the -175), and 93 (9 business, 84 coach in the -190) respectively. Also, this aircraft looks more like a miniaturized standard-body jet than other regional jets, with the engines over the wings instead of in the rear of the aircraft. Finally, these models have large overhead bins on both sides of the aisle, enabling passengers to easily accommodate wheeled carry-on bags.
Model in common use: F-70
Engines: 2, jet
The Fokker F-70 is a shortened version of the once-popular narrow-body F-100. Both have been discontinued, but you can still see existing ones flying, primarily in Europe. The F-70 seats between 70 to 75, depending on configuration, in the same 2-3 pattern seen in the F-100. I've never flown on one of these; however, if it's as reliable as the F-100, I'm sure I would enjoy the experience.
Raytheon (United States):
Model in common use: Beechcraft B-1900
Engines: 2, turboprop
This is the smallest of the aircraft being considered in this article (at just 19 seats), and is normally used only for flights of 300 NM (540km) or less. The plane is so small that it uses a 1-1 seating pattern (with three across the back of the aircraft), has no lavatory, no overhead storage bins, and no flight attendant (the safety instructions are handled by one of the pilots or by a tape recording). Without question, this aircraft is also the loudest of those being discussed - I was thankful to have my earplugs on the only trip I've ever taken on one. I had to yell in order to speak to the person sitting across the aisle from me while seated just forward of the propellers (where the plane is loudest).
Model in common use: SF-340
Engines: 2, turboprop
The Saabs are the most common of the turboprops you'll see flying in the United States. Depending on the configuration, they normally seat 30-34 in a 1-2 pattern (the 34-seat configuration puts a row of four seats across the back of the aircraft). They also feature the narrowest seats of any mentioned in the article (at just 16 inches/41cm, as opposed to the more common 18-19 inches/45-48cm of seat width). On this plane, I always try to get the bulkhead aisle seat on the starboard side, so I can stretch myself out enough to stuff myself into the width of the seat. Thankfully, though, the quiet ride (so much so that I don't usually use earplugs at all) compensates for the cozy seating arrangement.
Short-haul planes, commonly known as puddle jumpers in the US, come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The design of the aircraft has a distinct impact on the passenger experience, determining their ability to carry items onto the aircraft as well as the comfort of seating and noise levels inside the aircraft while in operation. Certain types of regional jets are large and comfortable enough for flights of three hours and over 1000 nautical miles (1800km). I encourage all of you to look at which type of plane you'll be flying for your next trip on a turboprop or regional jet, and to take these factors into account when preparing for the flight. Make sure you pack a set of earplugs when traveling on turboprops (you should be able to find them in your local drugstore or big-box retail store, near the other sleep aids). Finally, remember that the most dangerous part of flying is the trip to the airport. Enjoy!