Last week, United Airlines informed the two regional airlines operating under its United Express brand that it has plans to axe one of them.
ExpressJet and CommutAir both work exclusively for the Chicago-based airline as “feeder airlines”, helping regional passengers to connect with the airline under a hub-and-spoke model. United also controls minority interests in both companies.
Union officials representing ExpressJet, which employs over 8,000 people, expressed concern at the decision, saying it would likely have a “dramatic impact” on the airline’s viability.
“While ExpressJet offers many attributes that make us an attractive long-term partner, cost has reared its ugly head once again and we have been asked by our management team to close the gap between our costs and those at CommutAir,” the letter said.
CommutAir is a much smaller operation, employing around 800 people from its hub at South Burlington, Vermont, and across the US. The airline operates just 37 aircraft – roughly a third of that flown by ExpressJet.
United acknowledged to Reuters in an emailed response that its relationship with regional airlines will change.
“We’ve been clear for months now that we expect to be a smaller airline in response to the historic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our business. That means we’ve cut our schedules and our costs across the operation – and we do anticipate it will continue to impact the relationships we have with our regional partners,” United said.
It declined to provide more details.