Saying goodbye to the Embraer E120

Somewhere after 9pm tonight in Los Angeles an Embraer E120 will arrive from Santa Maria, California as United Airlines flight UA5165. Normally that would not be particularly special but this is the final time the E-120 will be carrying passengers as part of commercial service in the United States. SkyWest operates the E120s for United and is retiring them from service after 30 years of flying; the regional operator is shifting towards flying more of the larger jets for its mainline partners and the small props are being pushed out of the market as a result.

A SkyWest/United E120 at dawn in Carlsbad, CA


I have a few flights on the type as a passenger, all of which were memorable and most of which were memorable in a good way. Yes, it is an older generation prop plane which means it is a noisy, bumpy, generally cramped ride. But it also only flies on shorter hops and at lower altitudes meaning better views out the window. And in the configuration flying for United there was seats 9B/C, roughly infinite leg room at the exit row. Then again, row 1B/C had your knees in the bulkhead and put you face to face with the flight attendant in very close quarters (which might be good or bad, depending on the flight).

The views when flying are nearly always magical. But there’s something about the E120s which makes me even happier.

The E120 also meant access into smaller airports. Sometimes because the larger planes (even the tiny 50-seat RJs) were simply too big to operate there and other times because the demand in those markets was insufficient to support the larger aircraft. Either way, those flights are gone now. United will still fly between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles on CRJs but Carlsbad loses its service, as do several other airports like Crescent City and Chico, with the props’ retirement.

At the gate in LAX


From a business perspective it is not too hard to see why the E120s are going away. The regional carriers need more pilots flying the larger planes and the mainline partners are willing to pay more for those operations. Business is business but it is a bit sad for the customers in those markets to see their flight options disappear. Still, I feel a bit of nostalgia for the type and definitely some disappointment in myself for not getting on the final flight. Such is life some days.

Sexy lines of the E120 at Santa Barbara, CA


Mostly I’ll just miss the views.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. The “Bro” will be missed. 9BC were some of the best Y seats in the system… mainline or Express!

  2. They’re not out of commercial service in the US though — Great Lakes still flies ’em

  3. One of my most memorable flights was an E120 trip from ONT to LAX, with gorgeous views of the entire LA metro area from around 6,000 feet.

  4. I used to love flying them SEA-PDX and back in the 90s. They would leave the flight deck door open, and, from the left side seat, you could look out of the side or the front. If you were seated towards the back there was a narrowing of your visual field out front, so in gusty conditions the runway would slide in and out of view, sometimes passing rapidly across the windshield at what looked like an alarming angle. Even better at night!

  5. Lots of memorable flights on these, for better or worse. Remember flying back from SJC to LAX via SBA after a job interview after switching to the e120 in the
    last row to get home a few hours early.

  6. Is that black spot in the sun a eclipse you happened to catch on the CLD-LAX video?

  7. Nice tribute. Wife and I took one last weekend trip to Vegas out of CLD the last weekend of service about a month ago. We miss having flight options out of CLD as California Pacific service has not materialized. CLD has gone from 3 carriers some years ago to none. Wish someone would serve San Diego north county…

  8. Via Air still flies them on scheduled routes between Beckley WV – Charlotte NC and St. Augustine FL.

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