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.
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 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.
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.
Mostly I’ll just miss the views.
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