United rolls out new regional jet for passengers who want to fly in style

The sky is the limit for United Airlines.

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The carrier is designing a new 50-seat regional jet that comes with 10 first-class spots, in an attempt to close an amenities gap between the airline and its competitors. It's looking to fly an exclusive group of big spenders between major hubs like Chicago and Newark.

On the outside, the jet — a CRJ-550 — looks pretty standard, per Bloomberg. But on the inside, it touts features like luggage closets, which would eliminate the need for passengers to check bags, and a self-serve refreshment center for first-class flyers.

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It also has 20 extra leg room seats and large overhead bins for roller bags and suitcases.

"It's kind of an out-of-the-box project," Ankit Gupta, United’s domestic network vice president, said, acknowledging lost revenue due to fewer seats. "Your immediate gut reaction is, 'it's going to be difficult but you say let's go through and give it a fair shot.'"

But the airline could capitalize on convenience: "Every bag is going to get on," Sarah Murphy, a senior vice president who manages United Express, said. "We operate in a world of minutes, and a minute matters. Even when you tell a customer, 'your bag's not going to fit on board,' people like to try. And that is hard when you have to then swim upstream during boarding. So eliminating some of those pain-points is really important."

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The airline plans to pick up a fleet of 54 CRJ-550s by 2021 and is targeting up to 35 destinations. The flights will start in February at Newark, gradually take on 15 smaller cities and Chicago's O'Hare, and then expand to six more by early next year.

The new service comes as what seems like a two-pronged approach to increase United's revenue: In addition to flying smaller jets at premium prices, the airline plans to squeeze more seats into some commercial flights to sell more tickets.

United's stock is up 7 percent year-to-date.

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