Mainline (aeronautics)

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A mainline flight by an American Airlines Boeing 777-223ER lands at London Heathrow Airport, England
Unlike many other airlines, JetBlue's mainline equipment includes both the Emb-190 and A320. Flight attendant aircrew members are trained to operate on both types of equipment, while at the traditional legacy carriers, such operations on the smaller aircraft are mostly outsourced to smaller, usually independently owned regional airlines.
Embraer E-190. Similarly to JetBlue, US Airways and Air Canada both operate the Embraer 190 as part of their mainline fleets.

A mainline flight is a flight operated by an airline's main operating unit, rather than by regional alliances, regional code-shares or regional subsidiaries.

In the United States, examples of mainline passenger airline flights include those operated by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and now defunct US Airways; but not flights operated by regional airlines Envoy Air, Executive Airlines, Piedmont Airlines, or PSA Airlines with regional jets or the services of regional airline marketing brands such as American Eagle, Delta Connection, United Express, or US Airways Express aboard lower-capacity narrowbody jets and turboprop aircraft, such as those produced by Embraer or Bombardier, that do not have transcontinental range.

U.S. legacy carriers may operate branded mainline services using the same flight crews and AOC as that of their mainline operations. For example, United p.s. and American Flagship Service cater to the medium-haul transcontinental business segment. Short-haul air shuttles, such as Delta Shuttle, operate at high frequency intervals between busy city pairs. Previously, U.S. legacy carriers operated low-cost air services within their mainline operations to compete with low-cost carriers; these operations were short-lived and included brands such as Continental Lite, Song (Delta), and Ted (United).

An airline carrier's collective bargaining agreement with flight crews stipulates the maximum seating capacity of regional aircraft; as such, any aircraft that exceeds this capacity must operate as a mainline flight. The converse is not the case; mainline flight crews, with proper type ratings, may operate aircraft that are smaller than typical mainline aircraft.

Major U.S. Mainline Carriers[edit]

Airline Regional subsidiaries1 Regional brand2
Legacy carriers
American Airlines Envoy Air
PSA Airlines
Piedmont Airlines
American Eagle
Delta Air Lines Endeavor Air Delta Connection
United Airlines No regional subsidiary United Express
Alaska Airlines Horizon Air Alaska Horizon
Alaska SkyWest
Hawaiian Airlines No regional subsidiary Ohana by Hawaiian
Low-cost carriers
Allegiant Airlines No regional subsidiary No regional brand
Frontier Airlines No regional subsidiary Great Lakes Aviation3
JetBlue Airways No regional subsidiary Cape Air3
Southwest Airlines No regional subsidiary No regional brand
Spirit Airlines No regional subsidiary No regional brand
Sun Country Airlines No regional subsidiary No regional brand
Virgin America No regional subsidiary No regional brand

1 Wholly owned subsidiaries with separate operating certificates flying regional jets under the regional branding.
2 Branding used for regional feeder service and commuter flights. Operated either by a regional subsidiary or under contract by an independent regional airline.
3 These independent airlines operate regional aircraft under codeshare agreements with a mainline carrier.

See also[edit]

Flag Carrier



  • [1], AA and early references to mainline, regional and B-scale