Why do major U.S. airlines like Continental, American, etc use smaller regional airlines for commuter flights?
I ask this because it appears that these smaller regional airlines aren't to the same standard as the major airlines in terms of safety, training, etc and this is obvious after Colgan Air (operating for Continental) flight 3407 that crashed outside of Buffalo. When I flew with US Airways from Chicago to Manchester UK, I had to connect in Philadelphia and my flight going from Chicago to Philadelphia was operated by US Airways, as was the main flight to Manchester. But on the return trip, the flight from PHL to ORD was operated by some smaller regional airline doing business for United Airlines doing business for US Airways. I could tell the difference because the crew were so unprofessional. The flight attendants were late getting on the plane, and when the guy read the safety information, I couldn't understand a word he said because he obviously just wasn't interested. So why do they do that? Is it because it's cheaper? I honestly don't feel safe on those smaller airlines and it appears that they aren't held to the same standard as the major airlines.
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Simply because it is cheaper. If it were more expensive, they certainly would not do it. Standards are much lower...a subject of much discussion in the news lately.
It's simple. Not as many people want to go to the smaller airports. So their choices are to run fewer flights per day or to put the smaller planes on those routes. If they don't feel like buying and staffing those smaller planes, they contract the work out to the regional airlines who do have them.
The reason is because there is not always enough demand to use a larger size aircraft to fly to the smaller cities. This is especially true now with fewer passengers flying due to the economy. Also passengers prefer to have say 3 flights a day to a smaller city on a regional jet versus 1 flight a day on a big jet. There is more flexibility when smaller aircraft are used because more flights can be offered. Airlines will not fly a big plane just because the flying public wants it to. Airlines are in business to make money. If there are not enough passengers to fly to a destination, the airlines will make adjustments such as offer fewer flights or use a smaller aircraft. As for the flight crew, some flight attendants and crew members start off at the regional carriers, build up experience and then move to the larger airlines. You mentioned that the flight attendant was not interested in his job. The flight crew you receive on many of the U.S. airlines is hit-or-miss. I have flown with the major airlines and have had flight attendants who were rude and not interested in their job. I have also flown with regional airlines where the flight attendant was really cheerful and genuinely wanted their passengers to enjoy their flight.
It is simple. It is to save money. United and US Airways, and American all do non-stop flights from Philly to Chicago. So, it would not be economical to use a 150 seat plane on a route that is only going to get 70 passengers. So, it means that PHL-ORD is not a extremely popular route, so airlines use smaller aircraft.
They do it to increase profits. You pay for the safely of a major airline, but you get the lack of safety of a regional or commuter airline. It's pure greed. You're right not to feel safe. While regional and commuter airlines are still very safe, they are also many times more dangerous than major airlines. They are regulated differently and the safety standards are lower, which is why they can operate more cheaply with less experienced pilots. Most airline crashes in recent years have involved regional and commuter operators, not major airlines (although the accident airlines are often flying on behalf of a major). About 50% of airline flights in the U.S. today are flown by commuter or regional operators on behalf of a larger airline. The ticket price isn't any lower, but the level of safety certainly is. It's one of the airline industry's dirty little secrets.
The major airlines us the regional carriers for short flights that are not very popular or at airports where there is already another airline that has dominance in that specific route. This is why its important to do your reserach when booking flights. When booking flights make sure to look at the the aircraft type your a booking and see if there is any codeshare partner, its best to book with the more dominant airline on that route, especially hub cities.
Its also a matter of logistics - small, regional airports are not equipped to handle larger passenger planes