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Taking a short flight?

By Enlarged to Show Texture in Culture
Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:48:26 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

In this day and age, flying to cities not served by an airline hub (especially to smaller communities) often requires a flight on an aircraft of 70 seats or less. This type of aircraft can also be used for flights where frequent service is required, such as the northeastern United States or short hops within Europe. Although these types of aircraft normally fly trips of 700 nautical miles (NM; 1300km) or less, a few regional jet routes can cover up to 1100 NM (2000km).

Several aircraft companies make (or used to make, in some cases) such aircraft; the most popular ones are made by Bombardier, British Aerospace, Dornier, Embraer, Fokker, Raytheon, and Saab. Seat map sites such as Seatguru can tell you where on the plane to sit for maximum comfort, but don't really provide much information about which planes are the most comfortable. Also, Seatguru can be miserably inconsistent, as some types of aircraft have different recommendations for identically configured aircraft being flown by two different airlines. With that in mind, I will provide my insight in this area on those planes on which I've flown.

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.

Bombardier (Canada):
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.

Embraer (Brazil):
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.

Fokker (Netherlands):
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).

Saab (Sweden):
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!


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Related Links
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Taking a short flight? | 44 comments (23 topical, 21 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1 planespotting!. (2.75 / 4) (#11)
by tetsuwan on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 03:07:05 PM EST

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance

WTF (2.33 / 9) (#23)
by D Jade on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 05:49:57 PM EST

Why do you need to write a whole article on the "passenger experience"? Seriously! I'll tell you the passenger experience associated with those little tiny planes.

"Holy shit it's bumpy!", turns to the hostess, "Get my drink bitch... What? You don't have any drinks? What kind of flight is this? Oh, it's a short flight... hmmm... Well can I have the chicken curry for mains and some of those little biscuits in the bag with my coffee? Godammit bitch! What do you mean you haven't got any food? "Here I am sitting here in a fucking tin can that's bumping all over the place. The cabin pressure's making my ears pop and I can't even get a bitch to hold my drink. A nigger wants to eat chicken, and the white lady tells him she ain't got any chicken! Fuck that shit, I paid seventy dollars for this fucking chair and I want my motherfucking chicken bitch!"

There, that pretty much sums it up people.

You're a shitty troll, so stop pretending you have more of a life than a cool dude -- HollyHopDrive

Yeah, I had that problem. (3.00 / 3) (#28)
by squigly on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 08:01:03 AM EST

One of these new "Bus" things.  I mean, the journey took almost 45 minutes, and there was no stewardess,  no food at all.  I paid 80p for the seat and they couldn't provide a meal.  

[ Parent ]
The nerve of those fuckers! $ (none / 0) (#33)
by D Jade on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:17:39 PM EST

You're a shitty troll, so stop pretending you have more of a life than a cool dude -- HollyHopDrive
[ Parent ]
+1 informative, besides which (3.00 / 2) (#24)
by livus on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 06:31:42 PM EST

it further fuels speculations as to how the author spends his time.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

The Eastern bloc (none / 1) (#25)
by strlen on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 02:47:34 AM EST

In the former Eastern bloc (as well as possible in Asia and Africa), you are also likely to encounter the An-25 -- a STOL turbo-prop. I've flown on one operated by the Lot (Poland) airlines and while it certainly was nothing compared to the (if I recall correctly) Gulfstream I've flown on that was operated by Lufthansa, it sufficed.

I wonder how this market will change with more and more high-performance, single engine turbo props entering the market -- given they're now FAA okayed for operation in the United States. We could see more use of smaller, ``general aviation'' or ``municipal'' airports (that can be found virtually in any community and where one can pretty much walk up to the airplane from the parking lot) on quasi-chartered flights pretty much on demand in a short amount of time.

Now, I'd personally much rather drive than fly on a small airplane -- at least where it is feasible. I'm definitely not going to fly from San Jose to LAX (or the closer locales), for instance. However I see the point when either the road conditions are bad (not really an issue in California, with the exception of mudslides, which threaten 101 from time to time) or where roads are either always congested, slow, dangerous -- or if gas prices were to hike drastically (while airlines would be employ greater economies of scale, making flying cheaper than gasoline for medium-length trips).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.

your affection for detail (none / 1) (#26)
by zombie HollyHopDrive on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 05:08:48 AM EST

is both impressive and strange

[He blew]inside..m..e.. [and verily] corrected a deviated septum and cauterized my turbinates. - MichaelCrawford
Blame it on (none / 0) (#30)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 11:20:37 AM EST

a first attempt to write an article here on K5.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
FOKKER (3.00 / 3) (#27)
by CAPS LOCK on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 07:10:46 AM EST

Good, solid planes (none / 1) (#29)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 11:19:01 AM EST

and of course, it's fun to say it and get dirty looks from people. When talking to those in the know, calling it a Fukker is always encouraged.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Hah (none / 1) (#37)
by Maserati on Wed Dec 21, 2005 at 11:26:41 PM EST

"Ya, but these fokkers were flying Messerschmits"


For the wise a hint, for the fool a stick.
[ Parent ]

I was surprised (none / 1) (#39)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 02:44:54 PM EST

I didn't see more Fokker jokes in this discussion...

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Blue vs. Red (none / 1) (#31)
by Nyarlathotep on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:49:52 PM EST

No, I'd rather just make sure I use the airline with the least Republican political contributions.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
Jetblue now has Embraer ERJ-190s (none / 0) (#32)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 03:59:44 PM EST

...complete with personal TVs and XM satellite radio. Sounds about as comfy as it gets, assuming you survive the anal probe getting to the gate...

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Long live the regional jet (none / 1) (#34)
by tarpy on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:16:01 PM EST

As a person with a patent aversion to turboprops and who does a whole heck of a lot of flying (AAdvantage Platinum since 1998), I'm a big big big fan of the roll out of the regional jet throughout the States.

I live in Chicago (mmmm....ORD), but my family is still in Columbus (OH). ORD -> CMH is just long enough that driving is no longer fun, but not so far that flying was always the best alternative. However, AA was only running ATR-72s on that route for the longest time. Once they brought in the ER-4s on that route, I flew most of the time. Granted the cabin is more cramped (reminded me of the one time I flew Concorde), and certainly more prone to turbulence than a larger jet, it's not a turbo.

The only bad thing about the BAe regionals is that the wings are above the fuselage, so you get a splendid view of the bouncing wing during flight. The first time I was ever on one (1997ish), I flipped out when I caught the show. Additionally, these seem a little more prone to thermals for some reason than other planes; I was one a BAe-146 from Cairns to Ayers Rock early in the morning about a year ago, and boy did we bounce all over the place on approach...whereas the next day the 738 around the same time was silky smooth on the way out.

Sir, this is old skool. Old skool. I salute you! - Knot In The Face
For some reason (none / 0) (#35)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Thu Dec 15, 2005 at 09:34:15 AM EST

I find travel on RJs to be much more pleasant than turboprops when faced with inclement weather (rain, snow, even just cloudy conditions). Yes, I know that the RJs can fly above storms, whereas the prop has to fly through it. But, even on takeoff/landing, the RJs seem to rule the roost.

As for the thermals, though, I suppose I've not flown into any destinations with significant thermals - or, if I have, none have been present due to the local weather conditions. I can only imagine how bad the thermals could be in and around Ayers Rock, to be sure.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Embraer (none / 1) (#36)
by Ignore Amos on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:28:55 PM EST

It seems that the Embraer model prefix designator is EMB, not ERJ as stated in the article. At least, that is evidently the case with the aircraft that United currently has in service.

I flew on an EMB-120 this past weekend, and it was much as I expected. It is a fine aircraft for a one hour flight in relatively mild weather. I would do it again.

And that explains why airplanes carry cargo on small boats floating in their cargo aquarium. - jmzero

How loud was it? $ (none / 0) (#38)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 02:42:46 PM EST

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Typical turboprop loud. (none / 1) (#40)
by Ignore Amos on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 03:37:43 PM EST

Not whisper-quiet, but not unbearable.

And that explains why airplanes carry cargo on small boats floating in their cargo aquarium. - jmzero
[ Parent ]

It sounds like earplugs are indicated, then. $ (none / 0) (#41)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 03:40:40 PM EST

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
I didn't need them ... (none / 1) (#42)
by Ignore Amos on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 03:47:43 PM EST

... and was still able to catch a quick cat-nap, but those with more sensitive ears would be well advised to bring along a pair of plugs (I believe United makes them available, but I can't swear to it).

And that explains why airplanes carry cargo on small boats floating in their cargo aquarium. - jmzero
[ Parent ]

Sounds like I shouldn't need them either, then. (none / 1) (#43)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 03:59:18 PM EST

As I mentioned in the article, the SF-340s are quiet enough to where I don't use them most of the time. I don't think I'd need them on the EMB-120, based on your description. I rarely sleep well on an aircraft anyway (barring an overnight flight or a 5:30am flight after pulling an all-nighter)...if it's quiet enough for sleep, it's quiet enough for no earplugs.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
[ Parent ]
Okkk!!! (1.00 / 3) (#44)
by bois323 on Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 06:14:35 PM EST

Thanks for the useless info.

Taking a short flight? | 44 comments (23 topical, 21 editorial, 0 hidden)
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