A regional airline provides air travel services to areas where the major airlines aren’t available.

The flights that regional airlines provide are short-haul trips and usually for no more than 80 passengers to a nearby area.

Many regional airlines depend on a local hub and fly to local areas within the state.

Regional airlines provide immense value to travelers by offering air travel to areas they’d otherwise have to travel by car or other means.

Often, regional airlines are the fastest and only way to reach an isolated destination by plane, too.

Most major airlines, like United Airlines or Delta Air Lines, partner with regional airlines for flights to less popular destinations instead of having their own flights. 

How Regional Airlines Work

Regional airlines have two models: the Independent model and the Contract model. 

Independent Model

The regional airline operates as an independent airline under its own branding.

The airline will provide services to small and isolated towns and cities.

Contract Model

Under the contract model, the regional airline partners with major airlines and operates under their branding.

In this model, the regional airline will deliver passengers to the airline’s major hubs from isolated areas. 

Regional airlines may also provide services on the mainline that don’t justify using the mainline’s large aircraft. 

The Most Popular U.S. Regional Airlines

Mainline Carrier-Owned

  • Alaska Air Group
          • Horizon Air
  • American Airlines Group
          • Envoy Air
          • Piedmont Airlines
          • PSA Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
          • Endeavor Air

Independent Contractors

  • Air Wisconsin
  • CommutAir
  • GoJet Airlines
  • Mesa Airlines
  • Republic Airways
  • SkyWest Airlines

Differences Between a Regional and a Major Airline

Regional airlines fly small planes with less than 100 seats and operate in isolated and less popular travel destinations.

Major airlines fly large planes with over 100 seats, mostly to popular and high-demand areas. 

Pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics for regional airlines are paid less than major ones.

Many pilots also work for regional airlines only to gain experience to eventually transition to a major airline. 

The Importance of Regional Airlines to Travelers

Regional airlines are important for travelers because they’re the only way to facilitate air travel to less popular locations.

Regional airlines stimulate tourism and employment and provide access to essential services for travelers to less populated areas. 

Without regional airlines, many cities would have no air travel at all, and passengers would be forced to travel to major airports and then set out for small towns and isolated areas by road.

Regional airlines save them from this hassle. 

What is a Regional Flight?

A regional flight is any domestic flight that’s within a day’s drive or between 12 and 15 flight hours.

Most regional flights take place within the same state or region.

And most regional flights also depend on a hub like Miami, Florida. 

Virtually all regional flights in Florida take off from Miami, Florida, to the other parts of the state. 

Number of Seats Regional Airline Planes Have

The average regional plane has between 50 and 80 seats.

But the exact number could be anywhere between 19 and 130 seats.

Regional airlines don’t use large commercial airliners. 

Differences Between a Regional and Domestic Flight

The key difference between regional and domestic flights is the flight’s destination and length.

A domestic flight is between major cities with lots of air traffic, while a regional flight is to a less populated area with lower demand. 

For example, flying from Miami, Florida, to New York City, New York, would be a domestic flight.

But flying from Miami, Florida, to another small city or town in Florida would be a regional flight. 

Do Regional Airlines Ever Fly Internationally?

Regional airlines virtually never fly internationally.

A rare exception would be Porter Airlines, a Canadian Regional airline that has a route between Toronto, Canada, and Newark, New Jersey.

This airline crosses international borders because the distance between Toronto and Newark is small enough to afford the flight. 

But the vast majority of regional airlines will not fly internationally. They exist to provide regional air travel. 

In conclusion:

  • A regional airline provides air travel to isolated regional destinations without infrastructure or demand for mainline airlines to fly to.
  • Most regional airlines will operate from a local hub, like Miami, Florida.
  • Regional airlines typically have small planes with less than 100 seats.
  • Regional airlines very rarely fly internationally.
  • Many regional airlines partner with larger mainline airlines.
  • The key difference between a domestic and regional airline is the length of the trip and the destination.
  • Most regional flights are within a day’s drive or up to 12 to 15 hours in flight hours.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).