Frontier Becomes First US Airline To Order A321XLR

Filed Under: Frontier

Read more: In the first few days we’ve seen A321XLR orders from Qantas, JetstarAer Lingus, IberiaFrontier, JetSMART, and Wizz AirAmerican, and JetBlueShould passengers dread the A321XLR, though?

At the beginning of the week the A321XLR was launched, and the orders for the plane just keep coming in. This plane will launch in 2023, and will be the longest range single aisle plane in the world, with a range of 5,400 miles.

Indigo Partners orders 50 A321XLRs

Phoenix-based Indigo Partners is a private equity fund that invests in airlines around the world. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because they were looking at saving WOW Air a few months back, but that didn’t end up happening.

Indigo Partners has invested in airlines like Frontier Airlines, JetSMART, Volaris, and Wizz Air.

Today Indigo Partners has signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire 50 A321XLRs. This includes new orders for 32 A321XLRs, as well as the conversion of 18 existing A320neo orders.

Indigo Partners has already revealed how these planes will be distributed between airlines:

  • 20 A321XLRs will be allocated to Wizz Air (Hungary)
  • 18 A321XLRs will be allocated to Frontier (US)
  • 12 A321XLRs will be allocated to JetSMART (Chile)

Wizz Air is getting 20 A321XLRs

What I find interesting here is that this makes Frontier the first US airline to order the A321XLR. There were rumors that American would be interested and that an order might be imminent, but Frontier beat them to the punch here.

Frankly I’m a bit surprised, because Frontier isn’t among the first US airlines I would have expected to order this plane.

What could Frontier do with A321XLRs?

Frontier is an ultra low cost carrier based in Denver. Their fleet consists exclusively of Airbus A320-family aircraft. They currently have just under 90 planes in their fleet, with nearly 200 more on order, split between the A320neo, A321neo, and now A321XLR.

The reason I find this move so fascinating is because Frontier operates very few international routes. A vast majority of their routes are domestic, and then they have a very limited number of routes to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Today Frontier’s CEO hinted at a few possibilities for the planes:

  • Frontier currently struggles to fly coast-to-coast in winter with a full payload, and the A321XLR would make this easy
  • Frontier wants to use the A321XLR to add service to Hawaii and Alaska
  • In the future Frontier would consider adding flights to Europe or South America, or at least that’s not out of the question

Frontier is getting 18 A321XLRs

With Denver being Frontier’s primary hub, here’s the A321XLR’s approximate range from Denver (though they could use the plane out of other hubs as well):

I find Frontier’s order to be interesting. In the case of Aer Lingus or Iberia or Qantas I can totally say “oh, the use for these planes is obvious.”

It’s not quite as straightforward with Frontier. It seems Frontier will mostly use the planes for coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights, both of which are well within range of the A321XLR, and don’t take advantage of the full potential of the plane.

Frontier is good at sticking to their core competency, so personally I don’t think they’ll use the plane for huge expansion to South America or Europe, for example.

After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the airline industry in the past few years it’s how challenging the ultra low cost transatlantic business model is.

Bottom line

A321XLRs are selling as fast as red hats and mini-constitutions in Orlando last night. This is a plane with a real market. At this point there’s almost competition between airlines to order the A321XLR — if airlines want any chance of getting delivery slots for this plane in the next decade, they’re going to have to order soon.

So there’s not only real demand for the plane, but also competition for securing slots. I think the orders will keep rolling in, even well after the Paris Air Show.

What do you make of Indigo Partners’ A321XLR order?

  1. oh no. Now I cannot sleep given that a Frontier ANC-FLL experience may become a possibility in the near future… Or a Wizz air BUD-PEK…

  2. 7+ hours (DEN-HNL) on a high capacity/density, 28″ seat pitch, no thank you. That is a hard pass.

  3. The ultra low cost transatlantic business may have been challenging in the past, but for that the XLR is a game changer. I think it’s underappreciated how much more expensive wide-bodied planes are to buy/lease/run compared to these latest A320s, in the context of such narrow margins.

    I think the XLR is the future of low cost international travel, and we’ll all be better off for it. Criticism of single aisle models for long haul is unfounded, as if bigger planes somehow guarantee a bigger seat, more legroom or more lavatories. AIrlines will always configure the planes as they see fit and customers will weigh the value proposition as usual.

    My eyes were opened on a recent Norwegian Air service from SF to Paris as to the value of the low cost unbundling model. Because food and drink is an extra the usual aisle crush after take off was avoided: no carts blocking the aisles and the relatively few people who ordered were served quickly and you were free to wander around the plane the whole trip. This is not a problem solved by having another aisle.

    I think people are not thinking outside the box. I think we’ll see more all-business narrow body long haul services, as well as all premium economy and of course all-economy torture chambers. The new models from Airbus are enabling more niche products as airlines seek to better serve flyers with more targeted products.

  4. @Ben Defaultant:

    You semi-answered a question I was wondering re: (U)LCCs on long haul flights. Personally, I’d never do more than 5-ish hours in a single aisle, but that’s me. What you maybe fail to take into account, and what prevents me from ever wanting to complete a long-haul in a narrowbody, is that a single-aisle plane feels a much tighter fit beyond seat width and pitch. Narrow-bodies lack the higher ceilings across a wider cross-section of the plane as a result of the middle section. For me, that mitigates the coccoon-like feeling I have on single-aisle planes and makes the journey less awful or, dare I say it, more enjoyable… So yeah, narrow-bodies on a long haul is still a hard pass for this dude.

  5. @Adam R: I’ve been on the 787 with their “high ceilings” and I can’t say they did anything for me, perhaps because I was in a window seat. Whatever the height of the ceilings most of my claustrophobia is caused by the outline of my seat, not the space above it.

    I actually feel the opposite to you in a way. The thing that makes me more uncomfortable on planes is the number of people. Maybe I have some sort of agoraphobia. I find smaller planes and less people more relaxing.

  6. I’ll take seat pitch and seat width over high ceilings most any day. 3-3-3 in the 787 feels like hell to me. Having said that, 2-4-2 in the A330 is much better, especially an e+ seat with >34” seat pitch. I would take that over an A321XLR unless I was in a PE or biz seat for a reasonable price.

    Ben D, I think you are right that airlines will segment the market. I’m not flying 3-3 with 30” pitch but I will fly 2-2 PE if it’s priced right. I think the A321XLR will open up more opportunities to sell PE and Biz seats at fair prices. I’m hoping JetBlue does exactly that.

  7. As others have pointed out elsewhere on the WWW, lots of people in the past flew safely and comfortably in single aisle 4 engined B707s, DC8s, and VC-10s internationally. Now you will do it with only two engines.

  8. @Ben

    “I think the XLR is the future of low cost international travel, and we’ll all be better off for it.”

    Boeing basically made that very bet on the 787 while Airbus developed the A380 — and they were right. The XLR is interesting, but it’s really just a more efficient 757, and it’ll likely never be deployed en masse on high yield routes. It’ll open up international travel to LCCs and ULCCs, but unless we lived in a world where slots opened up such that they could run them on the 30’s on routes like JFK-LHR (which would admittedly be very interesting), it’ll still be a niche plane for intercontinental travel. The “real” sweet spot for game changing international travel IMO is the 788, 789 and mayyybe the 330neo. Those are the planes that will serve secondary cities from international hubs that have feeder traffic. Being able to fly intercontinental from secondary city to secondary city with only 1 stop (vs having to drive several hours to an international airport and then STILL have 1 stop) is the game changer. Think Austin, TX to Split, Croatia or Richmond, VA to Budapest. Instead of having to stop in Houston AND Frankfurt (ATX->SPU) or drive 2.5 hours to Dulles and stop in LON/FRA/etc (RIC to BUD), you can now fly from home and only stop once.

    Price sensitive customers will always do inconvenient stuff — whether it’s drive several hours to an alternate airport or sit in 28-29″ pitch on an intercontinental flight. This is just another such option. I’m not super interested in that, though… and there’s likely not going to be a way to redeem for outsized point value on that either…

  9. @justin
    It will be a more efficient 757 and can i point out that 2/3 of the 757 ever built are still flying today, so i give airlines a 757 replacement on a platform that they have plenty of pilots crew and infrastructure for and it seems to be selling like hotcakes.

  10. Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Boeing C-suite offices this week as Airbus eats their lunch in Paris with the 321XLR. By the time they announce the 797 it’ll be a day late and $10B short.

    Cabin width doesn’t mean much to me. Seat width does, as does pitch. I generally prefer PE and on a trip to a second-tier TATL destination, I would much rather have a direct flight in a 321XLR in PE over a 2- or 3-hour connection on a 787 or A350, etc. Say to EDI, or PRG, rather than connecting through LHR or CDG.

    And who knows, if AA starts flying their own 321s to these second-tier destinations, we might see more international saver awards available without the obscene BA surcharges.

  11. I’m wondering what WizzAir will do with those too. They only fly to Dubai which I think is their furthest flight from Budapest. Maybe they’re looking at the US too?

  12. Thinking the ULLC model will be the international Southwest. Probably be loved in 10 years.

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