In December 2019, United Airlines placed an order for 50 A321XLRs, which is Airbus’ new ultra long range and fuel efficient evolution of the A321. The plane is expected to enter service in 2023, though United will only start to take delivery of the plane in 2024, with most deliveries planned for 2025 and beyond.
We now have a sense of what to expect from the interiors of these jets… sort of.
What to expect from United’s A321XLR cabins
Executive Traveller had an interview with Patrick Quayle, United’s SVP of International Network & Alliances, and they discussed United’s plans for the A321XLR. Here are some of the key takeaways, none of which should come as a surprise:
- United will introduce an all new Polaris business class seat for the A321XLR, since the current Polaris seat can’t be installed on narrow body aircraft
- United will be installing Premium Plus premium economy on the A321XLR, which you’ll otherwise only find on wide body aircraft
- United will exclusively fly A321XLRs across the North Atlantic and to Latin America, so the plane could be found on routes like Newark to Edinburgh, and Newark to Bogota
- United will not only use A321XLRs to replace Boeing 757-200s, but also to expand to some markets where the economics didn’t previously make sense, given that the A321XLR is more fuel efficient and longer range than the 757
I think this is all more or less what we would have expected. Many airlines will likely be configuring their A321XLRs in a premium configuration, since that’s how the economics most make sense for long haul service. I’d expect the seat counts on these planes for airlines that take this approach to be much closer to 150 than 200.
American has similar plans for its A321XLRs
American Airlines was the first major US carrier to order the Airbus A321XLR, as the airline has also ordered 50, which will be delivered starting in 2023. American is expected to get eight of these planes in 2023, 22 of these planes in 2024, and 20 of these planes in 2025.
Much like United, American plans to install a business class product with fully flat seats and direct aisle access, plus a premium economy cabin. Arguably American has much more of an immediate need for these planes than United does, given that American retired its entire Boeing 757 and 767 fleet.
American’s smallest long haul aircraft is the Boeing 787, and that means there are many long haul markets that American can’t currently serve.
What kind of a business class product can we expect?
With the A321XLR on the way, how much innovation can we really expect in business class? I think it’s interesting to look at some of the most impressive products we currently see on long haul configured A321s.
French all-business class airline La Compagnie has Airbus A321neos featuring Collins Aerospace Diamond seats. While the seats as such are hardly cutting edge, the layout sure is swanky-looking, in my opinion.
Aer Lingus, TAP Air Portugal, and Scandinavian Airlines, all have Airbus A321LRs, featuring staggered seats in business class. That’s a good product for the type of plane, and in particular the single seats are good. But again, this is hardly a cutting edge product, as these seats have been found on wide body planes for years
JetBlue also recently started Airbus A321LR service, and these are the first A321s to feature direct aisle access from every premium seat. While JetBlue offers a phenomenal passenger experience, in many ways these seats are a step backwards, as herringbone seats (facing the aisle) are quite outdated.
The only new seat I know of that’s custom-made for the A321XLR is STELIA’s OPERA seat, which is essentially a modified reverse herringbone seat with a door. This looks great, especially for a narrow body aircraft, so my money would be on airlines like American and United selecting this as their business class seat.
It has been revealed that United Airlines’ Airbus A321XLRs will feature new Polaris business class seats, in addition to United’s Premium Plus premium economy cabin. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as it matches American’s plans.
I can’t wait to see the cabins of some of the A321XLRs on order. We’ll have to wait a while longer for United’s cabins to be revealed, though American’s A321XLRs should be entering service next year, if all goes as planned.
What do you make of United’s A321XLR plans?