The relationships between the major carriers and the regionals are now getting scrutiny in the wake of the the most recent accident in Buffalo. If an airplane is painted in the colors and logo of a major carrier, passengers are led to believe that the operator of the airplane IS the major carrier. Of course that is not true. The major airlines began to use what were then called commuter airlines to serve smaller airports after deregulation in 1978.
One must remember the time when service to those smaller markets was provided by the major airlines. With the advent of deregulation, airports that had been served with 727’s DC-9s and 737s sometimes found themselves with no service at all as the big airlines abandoned them. The larger, short haul jets no longer served those communities and passengers found themselves flying in a small twin engine propeller airplane instead of jets. In time small “regional” jet airplanes were developed and they began to be flown by small operators under their own names.
Then someone got the idea to brand those flights as United, Continental, American, etc. Thus, the big carriers were able to regain a presence in the markets they had pulled out of at much lower cost. They were able to avoid the cost of a unionized, senior workforce and the capital costs of larger airplanes. There were no legacy costs because there was no legacy.
The branding was (and is) a facade. Although some regionals have made a concerted effort to mimic the operational sophistication of larger airlines with some having success, many do not have the resources, support or the will to do so.
The public needs to know which airline they are actually flying on so that they ay be able to make an informed choice.