Should Passengers Dread The A321XLR?

Filed Under: Advice

Read more: We’ve seen A321XLR orders from Qantas, JetstarAer Lingus, IberiaFrontier, JetSMART, and Wizz AirAmerican, JetBlue, and United. Airlines like Lufthansa are skeptical about the plane. Should passengers dread the A321XLR, though?

I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about the A321XLR by now, but in this post I wanted to address a big picture concern that many readers have had with the plane.

The A321XLR is no doubt incredibly innovative in terms of the route possibilities it opens up, but should us passengers really be dreading this plane? Here’s my take:

The basics of the A321XLR

Airbus officially launched the A321XLR this week. When it enters production in 2023, it will be the longest range single aisle plane in the world, as it will have the range to fly about 5,400 miles nonstop.

As aircraft technology improves, we’re not only seeing planes become more fuel efficient, but we’re also seeing creative ways that more fuel tanks can be added and maximum takeoff weights can be raised, allowing airlines to operate longer flights without compromising on payload.

As such the concept of long haul flying with narrow body planes isn’t completely new — the Boeing 757 has been operating transatlantic flights for years, and recently even the 737 has operated some transatlantic flights.

However, in all those cases long haul flying with these planes was the exception rather than the norm, while in the case of the A321XLR, it’s exactly what it was built for. Beyond that, the plane can fly further than the 737 or 757.

With a range of 4,700 nautical miles (about 5,400 statute miles), you can expect that many passengers will be spending 10-12 hours on these planes, when you factor in boarding, taxi time, etc.

So let’s take a closer look at what the A321XLR means for passengers, crew members, and more.

Rendering of the A321XLR

Does the A321XLR represent a step back for business class?

We’ve seen a massive amount of innovation the past few years with business class. We’ve gone from angled seats, to fully flat seats, to seats with direct aisle access, to seats with doors.

Qatar Airways’ spectacular Qsuites

So will the A321XLR represent a step back for business class? I’d say yes… slightly… in most cases.

To find a happy medium between a great product and something that’s economical, my guess is that most airlines will choose a staggered configuration in business class, where most seats feature direct aisle access, but not all. Think something like JetBlue’s Mint.

JetBlue’s A321 Mint

I say this because airlines like Aer Lingus and TAP Air Portugal are using the A321LR for transatlantic flights, and that’s basically the configuration they’ve chosen. So in some cases I do think this will represent a slight step backwards for business class. In fairness, for those airlines those are the same seats they have on their wide body planes.

There are also some creative business class products with direct aisle access for narrow bodies. For example, when JetBlue launches Europe flights, it’s highly likely they’ll offer the VantageSolo seat, which is from the same supplier they currently use (Thompson Aero).

Thompson’s VantageSolo seat

These cabins feature direct aisle access from every seat.

Thompson’s VantageSolo seat

Thompson’s VantageSolo seat

Even so, I’d say that’s not as good as some other business class products. It’s essentially the same as a herringbone seat, given that it faces the aisle, and that’s hardly new technology.

Turkish Airlines’ herringbone A330 business class

So my point is that I do think there’s a slight compromise when it comes to product for business class on narrow bodies, but those are very minor when you consider the A321XLR has the potential to open up new routes.

Will the A321XLR have premium economy?

Obviously every airline is going to make a different decision here, but I do have general concerns about the existence of premium economy on A321XLRs. One of the great innovations we’ve seen in the airline industry the past few years is the introduction of premium economy.

Qantas’ 787 premium economy

It’s a great middle ground, as economy keeps getting worse and business class keeps getting better.

However, my guess is that while many airlines are installing premium economy on a majority of their wide body planes, many A321XLRs probably won’t feature premium economy. That’s a shame, because it gives passengers fewer options.

Of course I’m generalizing here — I’m sure some airlines will choose a really premium A321XLR configuration, perhaps where half the plane is business class and premium economy, and the rest of the plane is economy.

However, the economics of a premium heavy configuration can be challenging, especially during an economic downturn.

I doubt we’ll see configurations as premium as British Airways’ A318

How will economy be on the A321XLR?

The A321XLR should actually be good news for economy, at least as far as the seats specifically go. The Airbus A320 family of aircraft has among the widest seats in economy, as they’re generally 18″ wide.

That’s wider than you’ll find on most planes, including on the 737, 757, 777, 787, etc.

The great thing is that there’s no way they’re going to squeeze in a seventh seat per row in economy. Even on the A350 they’re now considering making a 10th seat in each row standard, so that plane may lose some width.

So from the perspective of comfort in economy, the A321XLR shouldn’t be bad news. Hopefully airlines opt to have personal televisions and wifi on these planes as well, to keep people entertained.

SriLankan Airlines’ A321neo cabin

The A321XLR cabin won’t be spacious

The way I view it, the biggest downside to the A321XLR will be the lack of space in the cabin. The seats as such shouldn’t be significantly worse, but there simply will be no space to stretch or walk.

On a wide body plane you can easily walk between aisles to make a “loop,” and there’s also usually less congestion in the aisles, since there are larger galley and exit areas where you can stand and wait for the lavatory.

I’m guessing no A321XLRs will have an onboard bar

Unfortunately on narrow body planes you don’t have that ability. In reality if you want to stand you’ll just have to do so in the aisle, and that’s not pleasant for anyone.

So the way I view it, that’s the biggest downside to the plane. If you’re looking to get any movement, the A321XLR is going to disappoint.

The A321XLR cabin pressurization

Planes like the 787 and A350 promise to fight jet lag with how they pressurize the cabin. They claim the pressurization is the same as being at 6,000 feet, compared to other planes, where it’s higher.

It’s my understanding that the A321XLR won’t have those features.

Here’s the thing — I’ve always found that to be marketing hype, and I can’t say that I’ve found I’ve been more well rested having flown a 787 vs. a 777, for example. So I’m not sure I buy into it.

Others swear by it, though. So that is something to be aware of with the A321XLR, and I’d put this squarely in the “your mileage may vary” camp.

I haven’t found the A350’s cabin pressurization to make a difference

Crews will hate the A321XLR

Unless Airbus somehow gets really creative (by somehow installing bunks in the cargo hold), I think the biggest losers with the A321XLR will be crews. They’ll in many cases have 12 hour days where they’re working this plane, and on most modern wide body aircraft they’re used to having private crew rests with fully flat beds.

The A321XLR is not going to be fun for them to work:

  • Unless Airbus figures something really creative out, they won’t have proper crew rests, but rather flight attendants may just have some economy seats blocked off (meanwhile I imagine pilots will get one business class seat)
  • On bigger planes the galley space is bigger, so crews at least have a bit of privacy during the flight, but I imagine on the A321XLR they’ll constantly be crowded by people
  • Navigating a single, long aisle with a cart is gong to be a pain, especially as people want to constantly get up during the meal service

Obviously crews will just have to deal with it, but they won’t like it. It’s one thing to fly an A321XLR once in a while on a 10-12 hour flight, but that pales in comparison to crews having to constantly operate the plane.

The A321XLR could usher in new routes

If the A321XLR is simply being used to increase frequencies on highly trafficked routes, I’d probably avoid it. For example, if I could choose between a 787 and A321XLR between New York and London, I’d go with the former.

On the A321XLR you are giving up some slight comforts across the board, in particular when it comes to the ability to move around the cabin.

But I don’t think that’s the right way to view this plane. The question should be, would you rather fly nonstop on an A321XLR, or connect on a bigger plane?

For example, we could see Aer Lingus launch routes like Dublin to Houston with this plane. Would you fly rather fly nonstop from Houston to Dublin on an A321XLR, or fly from Houston to London on a 747, connect at Heathrow, and then connect to a (very) uncomfortable intra-Europe aircraft?

Personally I think the former sounds better, but to each their own.

Bottom line

My first instincts with the A321XLR are as follows:

  • I suspect the A321XLR will represent a slight step backwards in terms of business class, simply because the narrower cabin restricts creative design opportunities
  • I do think the A321XLR will lead to a reduction in premium economy, since many airlines will opt for a two class layout rather than a three class layout
  • In economy the opportunity is there for the seats to be more comfortable than on wide bodies, since we should expect 18″ of seat width, rather than the 17″ we see on many other planes

The big challenge with the A321XLR will be the lack of cabin spaciousness. On a four or five hour flight that’s not a big deal, but when you’re on a plane for 10-12 hours it’s a different story.

But if that allows you to skip a connection, which saves you time, eliminates the risk of misconnecting, reduces the risk of your bags being lost, and allows you to avoid an uncomfortable regional flight, then maybe it’s a fair trade-off?

I’m curious what you guys think — are you excited by the opportunities the A321XLR opens up, or do you dread the prospect of being on a narrow body plane for over 10 hours?

  1. Depends on so many factors, but probably will be miserable. And if the prices aren’t crazy cheap, I’d likely prefer to connect and have some extra comfort.

    Plus how do the economics work if they have to block a bunch of seats for crew rest?

    OTOH, people fly JFK-HKG in Economy and live.

  2. To be quite honest, I love the ideia of the A321XLR. I think the point is really not to think about flights like JFK to LHR, where the variety of airlines and demand are huge. However, I live in Brasilia, and we have very few international services, simply because there isn’t demand for wide body aircrafts (the only one still standing is TAP A330 to Lisbon).
    Thanks to the 737MAX, we already got services to Miami and Orlando.
    With the A321XLR, I can see various airlines considering Brasilia. Iberia could fly from Madrid, American could fly from cities besides Miami, Delta could considerer coming back, TAP could offer a frequency increase etc.

  3. Well,

    If you are on a “long and thin” routing that otherwise requires a change of plane somewhere, this is excellent. It make me wonder if Iberia might make another stab at MAD-IAD.

  4. Ben – or anybody-

    Do we know if the A321XLR will have the same increased humidity systems (don’t know the technical term) you’d find in the 787 and the A350? They make a huge difference for jet lag and generally feeling well after a longer flight. I hope they become the new standard on all airplane design and development going forward.

  5. I think most people have decided that single aisle must be worse because it’s a smaller plane but may change their mind when they actually try it (if they ever do).

    Or maybe they’re profession trolls hired by Boeing! I really don’t understand how the NMA will be a better plane because it has an extra isle. It just seems like wasted space since seats are likely to be narrower than the XLR.

  6. “Crews will hate the A321XLR”

    I think this could be the main drawback to this plane in the long run.

  7. @Nathan: No those planes have higher humidity because they have carbon fiber bodies which are less prone to corrosion. Ditto for higher cabin pressures.

  8. I don’t see how a true premium economy section would work on this type of plane. I’m guessing it would just be perhaps an extra leg room section like economy plus. Going from 3-3 seating to 2-2 seating (plus extra leg room) doesn’t seem to provide the density needed to make these long/thin routes successful. Additionally, given the challenges of a single aisle and a long plane, having a 3-2 premium economy section with an offset aisle (think the first class cabin of some ERJs with the 1-2 seating) seems like a logistical disaster. Nonetheless, as an ORD flyer, I’d love to see UA or AA use a plane like this for non-stops to markets like ATH, MXP, VCE, BRU, HEL, or other places that currently have only seasonal service and, even then, just a few times a week.

  9. @Nathan

    I’m no expert but it seems unlikely. The 787 can have increased humidity because of its composite fuselage, but my understanding is that the A321 XLR will still be built out of aluminum.

    I agree it’s the humidity levels on the 787 more than cabin pressurisation that i think make a difference in travel experience.

    One more disadvantage (from a comfort standpoint) I see with this plane is that it retains the tiny windows common to the A320 family, rather than the larger ones we see on the 787 and A350.

  10. @lucky : i’m surprised you’ve neglected to mention the seat design that underpins UA Polaris – it allows for all aisle access in a 2-2 configuration while being *mostly* forward facing (half the seats have a very small title relative to direction of travel but nothing as crazy the angle required to make VantageSolo work economically.

    That also seems to be the direction UA is moving to use some 737-MAX 10 with 2-2 all aisle access to be their long-term replacement of 757 p.s.

  11. 40 years ago, I took a flight from LAX to FRA via Gander on a 707 and then Admittedly I was a kid, but it didn’t seem appreciably worse, other than time, than when I did the same flight, without the fuel stop, on a 742 the following year.

    For those with claustrophobia, it could be an issue, but as long as the seat itself is competitive, I’m not sure it’s worth much handwringing.

  12. as for the dreadfulness, i’ve flown Norwegian 737MAX-8 TATL on SWF-EDI (and lived to tell the tale) – it’s surprisingly comfy ride. Granted, SWF-EDI is still shorter than some of the routes being proposed.

    i really didn’t care for IFE these days since I always have so many chapters on my eBooks to catch up on i spend my time on planes just reading or sleeping.

  13. LOL @mallthus. 40 years ago you probably had enough leg and seat room that you wouldn’t care about the differences in short/wide body.

  14. What Alisson said. If I can get a nonstop on a A321XLR vs. having to stop and fly a wide-body, I’ll take the A321XLR every time.

  15. Lucky,
    Making a statement like “the crews won’t like to fly it” is ignorant. My current airline fly’s 321’s on flights that have 7 hr block times. The operational block times on the XLR will be a maximum of 9-10 hrs, not that much more that is being done right now. Also the seating configuration has less to do with the plane and more to do with what the individual airline thinks it will be able to sell on that long a flight.

  16. As mallthus mentions, long haul narrow body was universal until the early 70’s and very common until the early 80’s. We survived. It all depends on cabin configuration, which is up to the airline. The 737MAX is miserable for AA passengers because of the Oasis cabin, not because of the aircraft itself.

  17. (very) uncomfortable intra-Europe aircraft?-Look at your backyard. I never seen a comfortable intra Us flight in economy.

  18. @ Rob — I’m not sure how you figure the A321XLR maximum block time will be 9-10 hours? 5,400 miles could be an 11+ hour flight. Wouldn’t you say that *in general* crew would prefer to work a flight that long on a modern wide body rather than a modern narrow body, given that the former have crew bunks?

  19. @ Fonzi — It’s very rare I defend US airlines, but I find intra-Europe planes to be among the worst in the world. American’s worst plane — the 737 MAX — is still more comfortable than most planes in Europe. Most airlines in Europe don’t have power ports on intra-Europe flights, there’s no proper business class cabin, and 29-30″ of pitch is the norm.

  20. Big step down for business class. Crowded cabin, single isle access shared with crews with carts, limited or shared lavatories with economy, less overhead bin space and you just sense they will try to shove a 2-2 configuration in there instead of a 1-1 as in the photos above. I won’t be flying J in one of these unless it’s a shorter TransCon, never on a TATL as long as other options exist.

  21. @Lucky,
    Thank you for the detailed post on this. Really interesting to look at it from all kinds of different angles. It will be interesting to see how products are developed to make the plane comfortable to fly on.

  22. I’m not worried about the airplane itself but I am very worried about what bizarre world seating American can come up with this time. It seems like on every new plane, such as the 737MAX they find a new way to screw passengers even worse, especially in first class. I am surprised they haven’t gone to standing room only so we can get down from four inches for your knees down to two or less.

  23. Idk about Business Class, but Eco sure is an upgrade compared to many widebodies. Because this is a long-haul plane it’ll have the same amenities as them, minus like half the people. The airspace overhead bins are huge, and the A320 family is pretty spacious in general. The whole ”narrowbodies on long flights suck” ideology is a load of you-know-what. It wholly depends on what the airline does with the plane.

    By the way the 12h idea is not possible. 10h is doable in the XLR but it’s a stretch. You won’t see it go much further than PRG or ATH from JFK for example. Airlines will mainly use it for cargo, because the increased MTOW allows them to bring in more of it, and the extra width of the buses compared to 757s/737s means they can carry full-sized containers rather than smaller ones.

    At the end of the day people are gonna prefer a non-stop to a connecting flight if they’re the same price, so airlines won’t lose because of people’s mental deficiencies. Now if they wanna keep that up that’s fine, maybe when I fly on the XLR there’ll be an empty middle seat 😉

  24. If flying AA, I probably would dread it. Right now I am dreading flying in coach on AA on a 13 hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo on a 777. That happened because I had a systemwide upgrade where there was ample space when I booked 2 days ago. But this morning, all business seats were sold out. Now I have to face not choosing to fly JAL economy, and I can’t imagine flying an A321XLR on AA would be much fun.

  25. Lucky

    You are again confusing the maximum still air range and operational range of a aircraft. The XLR can not operationally do legs that are 4700 nm. West bound flights have much longer flight times due to the headwinds they encounter and there for use more fuel. Let’s use a regular A320 for example on a flight from jfk to sfo. It is @2500nm between the two cities airbus says the 320 has a 3200 nm range so it should be able to make it with no problem right? But when you take in to account things like head winds, alternate airport fuel, taxi fuel, etc, the plane has to tech stop on the way when the winds are to strong. Going east bound in the winter things are reversed and the same plane could probably fly 4000nm with no problems. It is the same with the XLR, sure airbus says it has a 4700nm range, but it cannot do that west bound. So unless an airline is planning on tech stopping on every west bound flight the plane can only has an operational range of about 3700nm. So the XLR operationally can only fly from the eastern mid west to Central Europe and back. Not the west Coast or even mid west to Europe.

    BTW no one in aviation uses statute miles as a distance of measurement, only nautical miles.

  26. @ Rob — Fair enough, and we’re splitting hairs here as to whether it’s 9-10 or 11 hours. But my question remains. Why do you think crews wouldn’t dislike working 10 hours on this plane? On a bigger plane they’d have a lot more galley space and they’d have proper crew rests.

    You’re comparing it to a current flight length of 7 hours. 2-3 hours makes a huge difference, especially if we’re talking an overnight flight where the crew will be naturally tired.

    So what am I missing as to how a crew wouldn’t have a strong dislike for this plane on a 9-10 hour flight?

  27. I’ll avoid these like the plague.

    11 hours on a widebody connecting to a 1-2 hr tighter aircraft vs. 11 hrs in a sardine can? No brainer, the former wins hands down. Have done the former dozens of times and it’s no problem. Sanity managed.

  28. Frankly given the choice I’d much rather connect somewhere if it meant I could fly a wide body. This plane will be miserable for long haul flights.

  29. Can we stop this 5400 mile nonsense? Everything in aviation is measured in nautical miles, so how about we just stick to the actual 4700 figure?

  30. For me, it’ll come down to restrooms. Narrow bodies have fewer restrooms, and on longer flights everyone will have to use them (and traverse the aisles to get to them), and after 9 hours in, they (and the seats around them) will get unlivable. Just wait until a passenger occupies one for two hours on a long haul.

  31. I will go OUT of my way NOT to fly on a smaller plane for anything over 4 hours. Example is recently I had enough miles on one airline to fly from LAX to Spain but opted to fly on Lufthansa just because they fly 747’s and A380’s to and from Europe.

  32. Lucky

    Crews really don’t care to much what kind of aircraft they fly. It is all about money and time off it is a job not vacation. If these planes fly routes that are more productive ie, more flight time per day at work the the crews will bid it. My current airline has crews who bid only red eye transcon turns on the 320, 10-12 hrs of flying in one night, no crew bunks, no crew rest seats. And that kind of flying goes very senior because they can make @120 hrs of pay a month and only work 10 days. Europe flying will obviously not be that productive but not to bad at about 6 hrs per day average so inflight crews will not go out of their way to avoid it.

  33. @Ben (Lucky)

    I have to agree with you about the awfulness of intra-European flights. I took a couple from Paris to Amsterdam and Bologna on Air France and KLM, and I was shocked that the “business” class offered nothing more than economy save for being at the front of the cabin.

    As a 6’6″ traveller, American airlines are already bad enough for me, so I was grateful it was just a short hour hop up to Amsterdam from Paris with the 30″ or 31″ of pitch I had on that flight.

    Honestly, my experience on domestic Delta flights has been so much nicer than those couple of hops I made in Europe.

  34. Looks horrid for a 10 or 12 hour flight. I like the big plane feel with some spaciousness.

  35. I travel a fair bit between the UK and South America. BA has decent frequencies to the main places I go (SCL, EZE, GIG, LIM), but – an example you also use – getting to somewhere like Brasilia (or any Brazilian cities other than Rio or SP) is a pig – usually involving either going to GRU and then flying back on yourself, or suffering a TAP flight from Lisbon. Try getting a decent routing from London or Paris to, say, Fortaleza, Recife, Belem or Manaus.

    For non-avgeeks, direct flights are always, always, always preferable.

    – For normal punters, it’s a masssive plus not having to work out how to change planes in the middle of the night in a foreign country where you may not even speak the language, you’re tired, and probably stressed.

    – For business wonks like me, it saves time, it reduces risk (eliminating the possibility of a missed connection screwing everything up), AND it means I look everso slightly less suspicious to the immigration officer at Miami, checking me out as I transit from, er, Bogota to London; or his colleague in Chicago the following week who oh-so-casually said “oh, I see you were in our country last week; what were you doing…?”. Even I could see “money laundering on a major cocaine route…”).

    If it really does mean options for more direct flights on long-and-thin routes, bring on the XLRs!

  36. Because of decreased fuel consumption on these “newer generation” narrow body aircraft (ie : 737 MAX and A 320/321XLR) customers and flight crews will suffer greatly — decreased space and small galleys and even smaller toilets are slowly becoming the norm. As well as “slimline” seating — the lighter seats save money as well — harder on your backside, back etc. The other side of this debate is these airplanes are a boon to the airlines bottom line. The days of supreme comfort are pretty much over (747 , A380 , L-1011 , DC-10 , MD -11 , etc)

    I totally agree with you Lucky as I am a former cabin crew member from the glorious age of travel

  37. Why don’t airlines wise up and give all passengers fully reclining seats? In other words, beds. Rows of quadruple-decker bunk beds. Valium could be passed out to passengers upon request. Go to sleep and wake up at your destination. “Oh, but safety would be compromised,” I imagine some might say. “Hey, I got news for you,” I retort, “if the plane goes down you’re dead anyway. Might as well sleep through it.”

  38. I dont know… put this in perspective. Any of these new seats in business class will be better than much of what´s out there, e.g. the dreaded 8 abreast for UA or the coffin like things that Delta has on most of it´s widebody fleet. So, as these old seats get retired and we get newer seats on the a321XLR the average comfort of business class should improve.

    And then the temptation is of course that many of these thin routes would have no competition on them, just because they are so thin and long. You´d be happy to find a direct flight and wouldnt mind about Y anyways.

    And Y is Y. It´s no fun one way or another, be it in a widebody or narrowbody. If airlines have to serve you food that cannot cost more than a Dollar and change per meal you just have to come to understand that it´s not fun however you put it and whatever the humidity level or so is like. Y will remain Y, just with less stops.

  39. I’m flying normally A320-21 for 4-5 hours and when I fly on a bigger plane the same route, I feel like it’s to big and to many people.
    But I would certainly try not to fly on to long flights on such a plane because it’s a small pipe and you don’t have the space to walk around.

    @JAXBA BA has air vents on their A321 even if they don’t have on bigger planes.

  40. First of all you have to remember that this is the MAXIMUM range of the aircraft. I am not quite sure but I think it might be MTOW limited. I feel like it will mostly be seen on transatlantic routes replacing the 757. There are not too many complaints about that aircraft, and AFAIK the A321 is slightly wider. I doubt we will have problems with it.

  41. I know articles like these are clickbait, but who are you trying to fool with articles like these.

    If you follow AIX a few months back you would know that it is actually the NMA which will be the more uncomfortable one.

    I seriously don’t understand what’s with the media bias against Airbus and their aircraft.

  42. 1) the XLR won’t fly operationally 4,700nm … not even close (!) Try maybe 4,000nm trans-Atlantic westbound during the winter time

    2) the block time won’t be 10-12 hrs and no, passengers won’t be on that plane for 10-12 hrs either … max time on that plane will be closer to 9hrs and block times won’t exceed 10hrs

    3) the XLR is a replacement for the aging 757 fleet… it’s not a replacement for widebodies. The notion “I’d rather fly on a widebody longhaul than on the XLR” is laughable. There is no choice. It’s not an “or” situation. AA won’t fly Philly to secondary European destination in a 777 or 787 when the 757’s retire…

    4) 3-3 seating with 17.5″ width on the XLR beats 10-across in the 777 with 17.0″ width any day in terms of coach comfort

  43. @Lucky & @Edward

    It seems that you hardly ever fly Economy in the US, because if you did, you would surely have a different view on intra-european flights. On most ‘system’-carriers you still get free drinks and even a snack on longer routes (which in most cases are still shorter than the average intra-US-flight) and even Ryanair offers better legroom than most of the US carriers in Economy. Yes, your carriers have decent business class seats, but what would you need those for on a 2-3 hour flight?

    I have had the misfortune to have a couple of connecting flights on United recently and it was literally impossible for me to get a nap on those seats as they are so cramped. What is more (and I hope you don’t take it personally) the percentage of heavily overweight people is much higher in the US, which gives you even less space, should you be seated next to someone overweight.

  44. The trend of smaller aircraft and fewer wide bodies does not bode well for an already over-burdened air traffic system. Avitation autorities need to create financial inventive for airlines to operate larger aircraft.

  45. Sounds like a hit job on Airbus – I travel to other countries, and always economy. Sounds like a great plane to me !! Over a period of 12 hrs. + I’ll take an extra inch of seat width over an onboard “bar” any day !!
    Additionally, I recently lost my trust in Boeing period !!

  46. As I’m old enough to remember 707 & DC8 no it’ll be fine . Only concerns are the “new minature” toilets – if an airline chooses that option & airlines need to enforce their “on-board” baggage rules.

    In fact it’ll be more comfortable than the A350 & 787 in coach/economy.

  47. This will reduce stopovers and traveling cost and time for remote areas. Thus it will be The Connector making traveling suitable for people who before were stranded. Or expand the possibilities for people who live in the edge of the world. 🙂 I live in Tallinn and XLR gives hope to visit places that otherwise would stay too remote.

  48. @The nice Paul

    I agree with your opinions a good amount of the time, and you are making a valid point on SA routes from London except:

    1) the 4700 no range is more like 4000 practical, which means getting beyond Bahia would be tough in airline practice.

    2) I don’t see this opening a terrific amount of routes except for LCCs, and transatlantic operations to second tier Midwest and rust belt cities.

    In reality, this is a depressingly average answer to transatlantic efficiency… a 35-year-old design that ensures for another generation people will suffer with tiny windows and badly pressurised cabins (compared to modern wide bodies) on all but the trunk routes.

    I applaud Airbus from a business perspective for being first to capture this niche, yet the product is really unexciting and guarantees a sub-par cabin experience for years to come. There is no comfort change here from the 757 besides in-flight IFE perhaps.

  49. “In reality, this is a depressingly average answer to transatlantic efficiency… a 35-year-old design that ensures for another generation people will suffer with tiny windows and badly pressurised cabins (compared to modern wide bodies) on all but the trunk routes.”

    badly pressurized compared to the 787 and A350 …. Even the 777X will fly with the same old aluminum fuselage the decades old 777 has and will hence have the same air pressure….

  50. It is down to the seat pitch. If they hold the same pitch as wide bodies (32″), it should be fine.
    They’ll have to add screens to the seat backs to keep people busy.
    You will be able to have a few rows of premium (length) economy, say 37″ say 3 or 4 rows. If you keep the 18″ seat width, you’ll be OK.
    You are stuck with the 8000 feet pressurization, so that is that.
    They will have to configure the planes differently for 10 hour flights than 2 hour ones, i.e. bigger galleys and toilets. Not sure about the crew facilities – spartan, i’d say.

  51. Is it possible that airlines could do a 2-3 premium economy layout? This would increase the seat width and still allow for a denser configuration. Something similar has been done on South African’s 737 for their premium cabin, so a product exists.

  52. An excellent summary of the “pros” and “cons” of the Airbus A321XLR for passengers and crews!

    As to the inclusion of statute miles, as I’ve included that in my comments posted elsewhere, the point of doing so is because:

    – not everyone is an industry insider/“avgeek”, so the inclusion of miles in layperson’s terms, which are statute miles, NOT nautical miles, just makes for a more user/reader friendly perspective;

    – most people who use a search engine to see how far city “X” is from city “Y” to determine if this (or other) aircraft has the legs to fly between their city and elsewhere will have that information provided in “normal” miles, which, in fact, are statute miles instead of the wonky nautical miles found in industry/trade publications and the OEMs press releases;

    – lastly, and especially in these parts where points and miles are one of the pillars of the publication, when I last checked, airline miles as they’re calculated and awarded for frequent flyer benefit programs use statute miles that laypeople recognize – and NOT “goofy” nautical miles that captains of ocean going vessels and aircraft manufacturers use as if “terms of art” within their industries.

    I mean, seriously, when was the last time anyone said, the distance from midtown Manhattan is 7.6 nautical miles instead of the 8.8 miles that virtually everyone knows it to be?

    Lastly, regarding the narrow body versus wide body for economy class flyers (since that’s the vast, as in 85%, of people who fly, and frankly, those – myself included on those rare occasions I’m fortunate enough to sit up front – who sit up front really ought to be happy that they can travel so much more comfortably than most instead of acting like over-entitled spoiled brats if, heaven for bits, they actually have to not be selfish jerks, act with a sense of civility towards others for up to 10-12 hours and actually share their space aboard a pressurized tube hurtling through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour by isolating behind walls and doors of solo, all aisle access suites.

    Good lord! If one can’t sit beside another person (who, of course, has enough money to sit up front instead among the unwashed masses in economy), then that’s pretty lame.

    Ah, but I digress…

    Anyhow, and getting back to the wide body versus narrow body for long hauls, and which is “better”? Or that back in the day before the 747 all long haul flights for the earliest years of the jet age were aboard narrow bodies such as Boeing’s 707, McDonnell Douglas’ DC8, or other lesser known, short-lived aircraft (VC10s or Convair 880s/990s, anyone?), the issue is NOT necessarily width of the fuselage, other than Airbus’s A321XLRs being wider than Boeing’s narrow bodies, which will allow for 18” wide seats instead of the 17” found on Boeing’s narrow bodies that have remained the same since the days of the 1950s when the 707 was introduced (yes, 707s, 720s, 727s, 737s and 757s all share the same fuselage widths; the 717 does NOT because it’s actually a McDonnell Douglas DC9 that was “life extended” through the many iterations of -15s, -20s, -30s, -40s, -50s, MD80-81-82-83-88, MD90 until the MD95…which became the 717 after McDonnell Douglas took over Boeing – with Boeing’s cash and stock!!! [technically, of course, Boeing took over its vanquished and failed competitor, which was McDonnell Douglas, in 1997 – but the way “McBoeing” has been managed since the companies merged makes it seem as if McDonnell Douglas, and its failed business strategies and the corporate culture that led to its demise, morphed into Boeing’s]), the fact is, and apart from the likely congestion/traffic jams that will occur during meal service and “rush hours” to use the loos after meals, or when people are woken up for meals around 90 minutes before landing for red eyes, which will make for a “lower quality” flight for those whom (like me) believe it absolutely necessary to get up and walk around every 2-3 hours during long flights to stretch their legs a bit and refresh, the truth is, it all boils down to row pitch.

    Back in the pre-wide body days of 707s and DC8s (which the A321XLR will be able to fly nearly as far as those aircraft did in their era), seats were spaced at 34” pitch; were far better padded; and reclined much deeper/farther back than the horrible, butt numbing, hard as cement blocks, limited/“pre-“ reclined slimline, 30”-31” pitch seats of today.

    And that’s what the problem is.

    At 33”-34” row pitch the Airbus A321XLR would be a giant step forward for virtually all flyers.

    In fact, that would be truly revolutionary because it would open up countless new city-pairs never before possible, or long ago discontinued when fuel guzzling quad-jet narrow body 707s and DC8s became impossible to keep flying for nonstops like Hartford/Bradley International to London; or Saint Louis to London before it was a TWA hub and could sustain wide bodies with connecting traffic.

    But at 30”-31” row pitch, these Airbus A321XLRs are going to be unadulterated misery for most flyers for any flights longer than four, maybe five, tops, hours.

    And that’s before having to deal with crouching into that preposterously small (outboard/left side when facing the galley) micro-lavatory in the rear – which I hated doing so much earlier this year, that since then I make sure to use the bathroom in the airport whether I have to pee or not before boarding to better ensure I NEVER have to use that awful lavatory that I barely fit into at all of 5’8” ever again.

    But, if say, JetBlue decides to offer “classic” Mint row pitch of 33” on its A321XLRs/LRs when the begin hopping across the pond in 2021, then the A321XLRs/LRs will be rather good when compared to 9-abreast 787s and 10-abreast 777s, that’s for sure!


  53. Oh, btw, in the above, in the example provided for the distance from midtown Manhattan for the discussion of why it’s useful for laypeople to have statute miles included in the discussion, that’s for the distance from midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport – with apologies for the omission of from where to where!

  54. As mentioned, the A320 class can accommodate 18″ seats in a 3-3 and 7 across is not possible. An A320 is always more comfortable than a 737, 757 with the same pitch and seats, because of the extra width. I would much rather fly an A320 (A320XLR in this case) than a 787 in economy, same pitch, same seat design. 9 across 786s are pretty miserable.

  55. How long will it take to load and unload the passengers on the XLR if it is supposed to be a little longer than a 757-300? Delta’s -300 has 49 rows and takes what seems forever to get out from the back of the plane. Sitting in the front won’t be much better as getting off will be fast, but you will sit a long time for everyone to board. At this point I’m looking for a twin aisle plane.

  56. If I’m flying economy I’d always take flying an A320 than on Boeing 737/757/777/787, as the seat is basically one inch wider. (Unless you come across a 3-3-3 777 or a 2-4-2 787).

    Just wondering, could the window side QSuites layout work in an A320/321? That would be a pretty awesome business class for a narrowbody plane.

  57. @James C isn’t Q suites technically 2-2-2? So on the A321 it would be 2-0. That would be so cool

  58. “The Airbus A320 family of aircraft has among the widest seats in economy, as they’re generally 18″ wide.
    That’s wider than you’ll find on most planes, including on the 737, 757, 777, 787, etc.”
    This is very important because people are getting bigger (and not only in the US) and taller all over the world so great that Airbus took this into consideration.
    I would fly with the A321 XLR because i always choose non stop direct flights over connecting which i hate.
    Business Class in Europe,Asia etc is not as popular as the US anyway and my guess is that when companies will give a choice to their employees/executives to either fly non stop and get to their workplace/meeting without hassle versus flying Business Class with another aircraft and having to connect they ll pick up the A321 XLR flight.

  59. From the heady days of the 707, Tokyo-Moscow (pre non-stop Asian flights) and London-Anchorage were 11+ and 10+ respectively.

    No crew rest seats only drop down seats by the doors. We survived.

    I think you are being over judgemental and partisan to say so strongly “crews won’t like it”

    How many jobs are there where you start work at 10am, work for 3hours, go to bed for 2, work again and then stop work and go to bed, when its still only 10am where you are! I don’t think single aisle, small tube has anything to do with crew liking it or not.

    Personally, I like the idea of a cosy J cabin. Upper deck 747, rear J cabin on EK, etc

    I take on board what you surmise for the passenger, but the issues surrounding crew working conditions are so complex that wide or narrow, crew rest or not (not talking the real max – 16-20hr flights) is not a significant component in crew working.

    With respect, in this particular report it seems you have trawled any possible reason to bad mouth an innovative plan and this, could it be, to favour an alternative supplier? If this should be the case, the buyers don’t agree with you, viz orders to date.

  60. @ Kerry

    That’s true, but the northern Brazilian cities – Recife or Fortaleza, for instance – are less than 4,000nm. Which is a pity: Brasilia is an extraordinary city, but gets little airline love.

    Bogota is an obvious northern South America hub missing from BA’s current schedules, but that’s probably a bit too far for this plane, too (I also miss the far-off days when Caracas was a direct BA flight from London though, sadly, I wouldn’t risk going there at the moment).

  61. An excellent summary of the “pros” and “cons” of the Airbus A321XLR for passengers and crews!

    The size, number and location of the lavatories are also going to make a huge difference, too, as “full-service” airlines will likely require much bigger galleys to stock enough food & beverages for the 8-12 hours slogs than the shrunken ones for flights half as long used now that share the already narrow and overcrowded rear bulkhead with the pair (of hideously small) micro-loos that that have become common in recent years.

    As to the cramped, overcrowded workspace for crews and/or lack of dedicated bunks/rest areas, I imagine this will emerge as a battleground between organized labor and management either ahead of the planes being introduced for service – or not long after once the crews who work these flights begin dealing with hassles and inconveniences they’ve never faced before when 8-12 hours flights were limited to larger, twin aisle jets.

    Frankly, labor leaders would be wise to begin planning for this change in their working environment since Lucky is correct, as much as passengers may dread being confined to much smaller cabins for long periods of time than we’re used to, for crews the reduced/limited space is going to be even worse for them.

    As to the inclusion of statute miles, as I’ve included that in my comments posted elsewhere, the point of doing so is because:

    – not everyone is an industry insider/“avgeek”, so the inclusion of miles in layperson’s terms, which are statute miles, NOT nautical miles, just makes for a more user/reader friendly perspective;

    – most people who use a search engine to see how far city “X” is from city “Y” to determine if this (or other) aircraft has the legs to fly between their city and elsewhere will have that information provided in “normal” miles, which, in fact, are statute miles instead of the wonky nautical miles found in industry/trade publications and the OEMs press releases;

    – also, and especially in these parts where points and miles are one of the pillars of the publication and of interest to its readers, when I last checked, airline miles as they’re calculated and awarded for frequent flyer benefit programs use statute miles that laypeople recognize – and NOT “goofy” nautical miles that captains of ocean going vessels and aircraft manufacturers use as if “terms of art” within their industries.

    I mean, seriously, when was the last time anyone said, the distance from midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport is 7.6 nautical miles instead of the 8.8 miles that virtually everyone knows it to be?

  62. You could just save all this nonsense (eg, how many different types of tons are there in Imperial measurements in different countries?), by joining the rest of the world and using km.

    Yes, yes, I know the airline industry uses nautical miles (and feet) – but that’s what you’re now complaining about.

  63. Dear Ben,
    Not sure where to publish few thoughts that I want to share with the flying community but more than the planes I am starting dreading the rest of the passengers… I am a frequent flyer based in Dubai and cannot count the times I have been seated nearby men in shorts and flip flops. May I ask to the community what is it that makes these travellers think they are going to the beach? What is it that makes they think that the plane is a private space where they can have a pedicure or a manicure? What does it takes them away from wearing a pair of trousers and a pair of socks with shoes? This is partially true for women as well but is seems more a men issue. By the way it seems that the issue is not related to the class of travel either. Just leaving Doha on a Kuwait Airways flight, J class. Leaving a conservative country to land on another conservative country and the gentleman on my side is ready for a jump in the pool? Plus is exposing tattooed legs and feet to all while most of the passengers are wearing local dresses? Has he lost his luggage or his sense of modesty, education and respect? Looking forward for the thoughts of the beach people….

  64. I’ll go for widebodies any time, especially go for the A380!
    The A321 is great for short haul though.

  65. Also the domestic aircrafts are getting more comfortable, like the A220 (aka CS100/300) and Embraer E-jets. But then again, it is up to the airline to configure the aircraft and there are possibilities of making the A321XLR very uncomfortable too.

  66. It’s a good article but the most important thing to most air travelers is ticket price. This plane is basically a narrowbody with widebody range. It’s a plane that can be bought for around $55 million that can legitimately fly transatlantic routes. That means a committed low-cost carrier like Norwegian or Ryanair could profitably fly someone from Philadelphia to Orly for somewhere around $100. That’s a game changer. As long as American/United/Delta don’t snuff out the transatlantic competition from Euro low-cost carriers, this means travel to Europe is going to get even cheaper. I’d rather fly a 787 or a 777 but I will happily fly an A321 if it means a $300 or $400 round trip.

  67. @jfhscott
    I share your desire for Iberia to resume its long-abandoned MAD-IAD route, but I don’t think it will happen, even with the A321XLR. Iberia’s US focus now is on the One World hub cities. A more likely solution to the sorry state of IAD-MAD air travel would be for United to expand its seasonal service from 5 months a year to 7 months a year. They’ve already done that with their IAD-LIS seasonal service (and I think, but am not sure, for IAD-BCN). It’s hard to believe that IAD-LIS has many more flights than IAD-MAD.

  68. The A321XLR will be superb in terms of comfort.. I can say that with confidence after having experienced an 8 hour Philippine Airlines flight A321LR from Sydney to Manila. I’m a big 105kg White guy. 1 A320s have seats 18 inch wide which is an inch wider than a 737 usually. I’m always more comfortable in an AB, get back ache in BA.. Because it’s a single aisle they can’t make the seat narrower to squeeze in more. 2 Toilet, no problem here, the two WCs for economy class was fine and some aircraft will have 3 in economy at either end. Long flights actually have less issues with toilet access than short ones because not everyone is trying to get to the WC after coffee and before they land. Getting stuck behind the service trolley is a non issue. There just aren’t that many people on the move. The PAL flight attendants moved back for me and a girl because meal service had started and we were the only two in the entire flight. 3 flight attendant rest areas. I believe the facilities are regulated for flights above 8 hours and will need to be a premium economy style seat with 40 degree recline. All I can say I was MORE comfortable in the A321LR than in supposed wide-bodies A330 in 2/4/2 excluded. The flight entertainment system was excellent because it was fast and modern. No need to worry. I remember flying the B737-320B from Sydney to Frankfurt in 1970. That was a narrow body and it was fine.
    The A321XLR will be fine. Celebrate, it will give your frequency and it will give you direct flights instead of wasting 3 hours at a hub.

  69. The best transatlantic flight I ever had was on a United 757 that was pretty busy…yes that’s quite amazing to say! Don’t knock long-haul narrobody aircraft until you’ve flown one!
    Plane rode turbulence much better than a widebody, you got better service as the attendants got round everyone quicker, the plane loaded/departed quicker as fewer passengers to wait for & because the plane was small we got a gate at Washington that was close to immigration.

  70. “Crews will hate the A321XLR”

    A321XLR would typically flying for routes below 9 hours and there is only 1 set of pilots and crews. Laid flat beds are not required as all crews are suppose to work. There are always some jump seats at rear of aircraft for crews to rest.

  71. I don’t see the problem. Crews of many airlines, BA PA AC AZ LH AF and a host of US carriers flew 707/DC8, single aisle aircraft, for 11hrs+ (TYO-SVO) and many other 9 or 10 hour routes. No crew breaks, no flat beds, not even for pax, and more importantly no entertainment, just serving drinks all the way. So much so that LH advert at the time, read”our crew have just walked to New York” lauding their cabin service.
    Config? about 145/16 but the stretch DC8 ran into the near 200’s I believe.
    All on a single crew
    So whats the fuss?

  72. The A321XLR pressurization altitude is definitely going to be 6000ft. The reason I can say this is because the JetStar A320ceo (yep ceo) I flew from Sydney to the Gold Coast was at 6000ft. Your iPhone has a very accurate pressure sensor and altimeter and it’s easy to check. I used the Gyro App to get at it but there are lots of barometer altimeter apps. Airbus aircraft are already flying at 6000ft cabin pressure. It merely reduces the cycle life of the fuselage before maintenance. They been doing it on A319 ACJ for a long time so they know how it behaves.

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