United Airlines Orders 50 Airbus A321XLRs

Filed Under: United

It looks like United Airlines is about to spend billions of dollars on new planes.

United Orders The Airbus A321XLR

United Airlines has placed an order for 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft. At list prices this order is worth seven billion dollars, though airlines always get significant discounts on aircraft orders.

Rendering of United A321XLR

The plan is for United to start taking delivery of A321XLRs in 2024, and for them to replace the Boeing 757-200. United has almost exactly the same number of 757-200s in their fleet, so it will more or less be a one-to-one replacement.

This makes United the fourth US airline to order the A321XLR, after American (which also ordered 50), JetBlue (which ordered 13), and Frontier (which ordered 18).

Rendering of American A321XLR

United Defers Delivery Of Airbus A350s

As part of this announcement (and presumably as part of these negotiations), United has also revealed that they plan to defer delivery of their Airbus A350s until 2027, “to better align with the carrier’s operational needs.”

The airline has a total of 45 A350-900s on order, which are intended to eventually replace 777-200s.

What Is The Airbus A321XLR?

For those of you not familiar with the A321XLR, it’s Airbus’ latest narrow body aircraft that was announced earlier this year, and that will enter service in 2023. It’s the longest range narrow body plane out there, and it’s incredibly fuel efficient.

The A321XLR has a longer range than the 757-200, and is significantly more fuel efficient.

This really opens up all kinds of markets that otherwise weren’t possible.


What Will United Use A321XLRs For?

Many of us expected that United would order the A321XLR, because it’s a one-of-a-kind airplane. United’s 757 fleet is aging (their 757s are an average of 22 years old), and they need to replace them.

United notes that they plan to use the A321XLR largely for transatlantic flights out of Washington and Newark, with the possibility of serving additional destinations in Europe.

As United’s EVP and Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Nocella, explains:

“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network. In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR’s range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe.”

How Does The 737 MAX 10 Fit Into This?

There’s something that makes this order especially interesting. Currently United primarily uses their 757-200s both for transatlantic flights from the East Coast, as well as for premium transcontinental flights.

While the A321XLR is a logical replacement for the 757-200, note that United also has 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft on order. The 737 MAX 10 is roughly the same size as the A321XLR, but it doesn’t have as much range.

Currently it’s believed that United plans to configure some of their 737 MAX 10 aircraft in premium layouts, so that they can be used to replace the 757s flying from Newark to Los Angeles & San Francisco. That’s logical enough, and a good use of the planes.

If that’s the case, there will be no need to “waste” A321XLRs on transcons.

If that plan sticks, then it does in fact seem like United plans to significantly expand transatlantic operations with narrow body aircraft. That’s because they don’t need 50 A321XLRs to replace their current transatlantic 757 operations.

Bottom Line

It’s logical enough that United is ordering A321XLRs, as there’s no other plane like it on the market, and it’s a natural replacement for the 757-200.

The interesting thing to watch will be how United uses the 737 MAX 10 vs. the A321XLR. The A321XLR is much longer range, so I’ll be curious to see if United still moves forward with putting flat beds on some 737 MAX 10s, or if they backtrack on that.

Regardless, it seems that we can expect some transatlantic expansion from the East Coast resulting from this order.

What do you make of United’s A321XLR order?

  1. Bad news for Boeing… it has been years since United took delivery of a new Airbus aircraft. The Boeing Middle of the Market aircraft is being eaten up by the A321.

  2. Hopefully they will be in a good config and also seen on domestic routes. A real shame there isn’t a 757 MAX/Neo. Hopefully the 737-10s will have Flat-Beds.

  3. Also in UA’s announcement is that the A350s will be deferred (yet again) to 2027. This order is probably to make up for the repeated deferrance of A350 orders.

  4. This is very exciting news, in my opinion. Since they’ll probably have some with a premium-heavy configuration, that allows them to maximize the range of their aircraft and it would be cool to see how far they decide to push the “long and thin” routes. From Houston they will be able to access every major city in South America, from Newark they would likely be able to make it as far as Istanbul, and from San Francisco they even could swap out the Dreamliner to boost frequencies on their Papeete route. It’ll be interesting to see what biz seat they select – I’ve always been really interested in the VantageSolo seat but do appreciate that the Mint seat facilitates easier companion travel. United also has been adventurous with their summer seasonal transatlantic routes, so I’d imagine that they would experiment with some really cool markets from Newark and Chicago for that.

  5. So UA wants to be a premium carrier with a bigger focus on narrow-body flights. Meanwhile, DL is an overall premium airline with a focus on all classes (UA is more focused on Polaris). Seems like AA is left. Perhaps a hybrid approach with seatback TV’s and a low operating cost with bigger planes throughout the world (one can hope).

  6. Not too surprising based on how United uses their 757s. Compared to what their Star Alliance partners now fly over the Atlantic, the 757s are really starting to show their age. This makes a lot of sense for their strategy of flying from EWR and IAD to secondary European cities but I still prefer to be on wide-bodies on that long of a flight.

  7. I wonder if they’ll configure these with their new Polaris seats. Still waiting to see an airline have direct isle access at every seat in business class on a narrow body

  8. “If that plan sticks, then it does in fact seem like United plans to significantly expand transatlantic operations with narrow body aircraft. That’s because they don’t need 50 A321XLRs to replace their current transatlantic 757 operations.”

    They don’t need 50 to replace the TATL 752s, but they could also replace some 763s, so not necessarily a massive TATL expansion.

    The bigger implication is that this looks to be the nail in the coffin for Boeing’s NMA. United (and Delta) were holding out on the NMA to replace both the 752s and 763s, which have a common type rating. By going XLR to replace the 752 (and possibly some 763) I can’t see them taking the NMA for what would only be around 20 aircraft.

    The next question is what to do for the remaining 763s? The newly retrofitted High J (ultimately 21 of them) has only 167 seats, so a decent candidate for a narrowbody, until you get to 46 seats being Polaris. Could they do an all-aisle access 1-1 config narrowbody with enough room for 46J, 22P+ and 99Y? The remaining 763s (14 of them) are the more leisure configured 30J/184Y which would make sense for the A321 on TATL. Then that leaves a handful that fly to South America, which could likely go to 787-8 or -9.

  9. Not sure why anyone would volunteer to cross the Atlantic in a narrow body when plenty of flights using normal aircraft are available.
    Anyway United is right to go for the A321 instead of Boeing as the difference in comfort is massive. All Boeings have incredibly noisy cabins. The 787 is obviously better than the other types but does not even come close to the A350 in terms of noise comfort.
    I just don’t get that Boeing seems to be unable to bring the noise levels of their cabin pressurisation systems down to where Airbus has had them for the last 15 years. Even the old A340’s were already a lot more quiet than even the latest Boeings.

  10. @Ron – this has not been my experience – sure, the A350 is very quiet, but the A340? Come on. Surely you’re not suggesting that it is more quiet than a B787

  11. @Ron – you hit the nail on the heard, I agree with everything you said. Which is why I go out of my way to book Airbus flights when I travel. The A340-200/300 is very quiet and with the 2 + 4 + 2 configuration in Y very comfortable. The A340-600 is more of the same plus excellent hot and high performance. Same for the A330 and for now the brilliant A350 is my first choice for long haul flights. For short and medium haul nothing comes even close to the A320 family. The 787 is alright if there is absolutely no other choice but I find the A350 is quieter and more comfortable and spacious. It had a near flawless entry into service, something the 787 can’t be accused of…. Airbus rocks!

  12. @Gus

    That is precisely what I am saying, not even suggesting. Now, what I do not know is to which extent airlines can play with settings of the pressurisation system which could of course impact noise levels.
    And I admit I have never been one a United 787, although on plenty of other 787’s. However I have flown many airlines and without any exception noise levels in Airbus are always way lower than in a Boeing of comparable size.
    For me airline comfort has 2 main ingredients: 1) the seat and 2) the noise level.
    I do agree that within the Boeing family the 787 is noise wise the best. But it does not even come close to the noise comfort of A330/340/350.
    To be very clear, I am not talking about engine noise but about noise coming from the cabin pressurisation system.

  13. I hate Airbus. American should never have ordered the A321 transcon. JFK LAX should be serviced with a BOEING 777-300 4X daily with a 60 business class seat configuration.

  14. Most people will be very comfortable in the A321XLR. I’ve done many 8 hour 3200 flights in A321neo with an ACT in 182 seat configuration and it is very comfortable and quiet. The standard 18 inch wide seats are essential for a European Male. The A321XLR will merely extend the practical range and flight time to about 4000NM and 10 hours in this configuration. Some LCC will however now be able to cram the full 240 seats and conduct an 6-7 hour 2500-3000NM flight but you won’t see this on United or American. My own view is that the B757-200 could have been replaced with the B737 MAX 7 with a 112 seat premium configuration

  15. @D3KingAmerican – it is your right to hate Airbus. However, even if you don’t like Airbus best you get used to them. More and more airlines will start buying the A321, they don’t have a choice as Boeing doesn’t have an aircraft that can compete. Boeing is a shadow of its former self and there is no stopping Airbus. Between the A220, A320 series, A330neo, A350-900 and A350-1000 they offer the market the best designed and executed aircraft at a time when the Max is on life support and the 777X pops doors and rips its fuselage in testing. I don’t hate Boeing but there is no question who produces the better planes at this moment.

  16. Boeing has left this niche wide open for Airbus to exploit. Furthermore, I think that typically Boeing-oriented airlines (such as UA) have given up on Boeing offering them the 757 replacement that they need. Hence this order. And there are likely to be other orders to follow.

    As for what they’ll do with the A321-XLR, I wouldn’t limit their use to IAD and EWR. That type can easily reach most of Europe from ORD as well. And then there’s Latin American flying out of IAH and/or LAX/SFO. Overall, it should be interesting to see how UA deploys these aircraft.

    Lastly, I am disappointed to see the order for the A350 deferred. As a UA frequent flier, I was really hoping to have the opportunity to enjoy this aircraft at some point in the not so distant future.

  17. @Ron: you say “Not sure why anyone would volunteer to cross the Atlantic in a narrow body when plenty of flights using normal aircraft are available”. By “normal” aircraft, I assume you mean widebody eg A330, B787, B777, etc.
    I, for one, will take an A321 over a B787 any day in economy class. I am tired of having my neighbors’ elbows in my ribs for hours when I cross the Atlantic in a 787 (but I would be fine with a good old B767, which I find very comfortable).
    And, as you said, sometimes we have no choice but to fly narrow-body across the Atlantic. I am booked Washington Dulles to Lisbon in May (business class this time), and the choice was between the Air Portugal A321LR fully flat bet and the United 757 angle flat bed. I chose fully flat. Since United said the A321XLR will replace the 757 across the Atlantic, in 4 years the choice Dulles to Lisbon will be A321LR with Air Portugal or A321XLR with United.

  18. @ron
    if your choice was a direct flight on a narrowbody or a connecting widebody itinerary which would you choose, and which would most business travelers prefer?

  19. @ Sunny leveson-jones

    That depends. For a 3 hour direct flight I’m not going the long way around so I will take the narrow-body.
    However if it were a 7 hour direct flight on a narrow-body I would prefer to connect if that got mw wide bodies.
    The tipping point for me is somewhere 4-5 hours.

    And I am a business traveller. For business and pleasure I travel the same. I am not going to sit for an 8 hours business trip in a narrow tube. Likewise I will not compromise on comfort when I travel for private reasons.

  20. Nothing sucks more than a narrow body international flight. No thanks United… No chance in hell I’ll book that crap….

  21. This move makes a lot of sense. For one United can cut out those fuel stops that become frequent in winter with the westbound 757 flights. And Airlines have been adding routes to secondary/tertiary destinations in Europe, esp. Eastern Europe, rather than big hubs. There’s potential for some interesting routes from Dulles and Newark with the addition of the A321XLR. IAD-TXL (or BER if it actually opens in 2020 … hahaha) is an obvious one, for starters. Warsaw would be another. And probably some routes that have been seasonal (like Madrid and Lisbon) could go year-round.

  22. @Sam – The A321’s width helps. A 7-hour flight in Economy Plus and 18-inch wide seats won’t be so bad. These flights between the East Coast and Europe are not much longer than the transcons or West Coast-Hawaii flights that are flown with 757s and 737s now.

  23. @Chris — “Between the A220, A320 series, A330neo, A350-900 and A350-1000 they offer the market the best designed and executed aircraft at a time when the Max is on life support and the 777X pops doors and rips its fuselage in testing. I don’t hate Boeing but there is no question who produces the better planes at this moment.” —

    Well … here’s the thing about that “popping doors and ripping fuselage” — we know that Boeing pays extra special attention to safety in designing/building its aircraft because of the ways that they do safety and tolerance stress testing of their hardware (aircraft bodies, wings, etc). This stress test failure occurred during the last 1% of stress levels that are mandated in order to pass (50% above and beyond all conceivable in-flight stresses that any “normal” flight operations will ever experience) … but Boeing does even more (as presented by Seattle Times news from November 27, 2019) —
    “As the test neared its climax, weighted pulleys had bent the jet’s giant carbon composite wings upward more than 28 feet from their resting position. That’s far beyond the expected maximum deflection in normal flight of about 9 feet, according to a person familiar with the details.

    At the same time, the fuselage was bent downward at the extreme front and aft ends with millions of pounds of force. And the interior of the plane was pressurized beyond normal levels to about 10 pounds per square inch — not typically a requirement for this test, but something Boeing chose to do.

    All this simulated the loads in a flight maneuver where a pilot would experience a force of 3.75 G, compared to the maximum of 1.3 G in normal flight.”
    Despite this “failure,” which is not abnormal and is why such extreme stress tests are done, everything was still very much within pragmatic safety boundaries and is nothing to get paranoid over — nevertheless, rest assured that Boeing will absolutely remedy this issue before formal certification gets underway!

    In comparison, Airbus tested its A350 air frame integrity with a wing displacement up to 17-feet vs. Boeing with 28-feet for its 777-X … admittedly the materials used to build the wings are different, but both are still more than safe to fly without any qualms!

    Blanket indictments against Boeing, because of one totally screwed up 737-MAX MCAS implementation of a totally valid concept that has been used for decades, are grossly unjustified!

  24. I find the Airbus planes to be cheap and noisy on average. Boeing’s run the gamut lol. Ultimately United is a badly run airline (believe I know, I fly them out of EWR to LAX monthly) with little customer service and maddening procedures (seriously their on boarding is the longest most disorganized mess I’ve ever dealt with)and their going with these A321s isn’t surprising. Pretty on brand. Their best flights are on 787s and 777s. Both those planes are a little upmarket for United. Whatever plane they will design the interior poorly so it matters little. This just edges me closer to leaving Star Alliance for good.

  25. I can not imagine flatbeds in the 737. I knoe Copa does it on their new planes, but I believe that the extra few inches of width on the 320s does wonders for such seat. How would you move around in an already tight cabin with wide seats? Would they stagger them so you would have to walk in a zig zag to go back?

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