Alaska Airlines Is Ditching Its Airbus A320s. But Could It Soon Order A321XLRs?

Alaska Airlines, based in Seattle, has been an all-Boeing operator. They acquired Virgin America which flew Airbus narrowbodies. It’s seemed from the beginning that they’d eventually dump those planes, and now the fate of Alaska Airlines Airbus A319s and A320s is sealed with Alaska’s order of 23 additional Boeing 737 MAX 9s.

Boeing, desperate to sell MAX aircraft as the plane is ungrounded and on the hook to compensate operators of the MAX, sold Alaska the new planes for no additional cash down, restructuring existing deposits on MAX orders as part of the deal. Alaska Airlines now has 68 MAX orders and 52 options.

  • Alaska will drop its Airbus A319s and A320s as they come off lease, and all will be gone by 2024.

  • However they have 10 Airbus A321neos leased through 2029.

A fleet of 10 A321s isn’t economical. Alaska has orders for 30 Airbus A320neos inherited from Virgin America. These are cancellable and Leehan News writes that the cancellation penalty is “not large.” These orders, however, could be converted to A321neos and Alaska could grow that aircraft type. Boeing doesn’t currently offer a comparable product.

They may even be negotiating with Airbus over A321XLRs,

The XLR would open many routes the MAX 9 can’t do. (The MAX 10 has even less range.) Depending on the US city, Alaska could go nicely into Latin and some areas of South America with the XLR.

Even Anchorage and Honolulu could see significant, expanded service, should Alaska choose.

Market intelligence indicates Alaska wants a price for the A321neo millions below Airbus’ offer. Whether this gap can be bridged remains to be seen.

Boeing was truly motivated to deal. Airbus has fared better with its narrowbodies. Whether or not Alaska takes more, or exits Airbus forever, likely comes down to how motivated the European aircraft manufacturer is to sell these planes.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As a non-airline business man but a business man it seems to me that the most economical way to operate would be with 1 manufacturer, be it Boeing or Airbus. The cost of maintaining 2 different aircraft manufacturers in my mind would only drive up cost, but maybe by bidding one against the other makes acquisition of the aircraft decline and offsets the cost of having two suppliers. Southwest seems to have managed that very well with the Boeing aircraft.

  2. @OneXMarine, however, your business plan would not work if AS wants to expand to farther destinations requiring the use of an Airbus. To just stick with Boeing planes including the MAX, AS will be limited.

  3. @Al – I would think that Boeing has a large enough product base to cover all various destinations but maybe not. I would think that the 737 series ,767, 777, 777X, and 787’s could get you about anywhere you want to go in this world. Thanks for the comment. Gives me food for thought.

  4. Seth did a really good writeup on the A321XLR:

    There’s a lot to unpack, so the article is worth a read, but basically, it’s a lot smaller and lighter than the 787 “Dreamliner” albeit with less max range. So if you wanted to fly Seattle to southern South America, you’d be forced into a widebody design like the 787. However, for shorter trips, A321XLR could make a lot more sense; fewer seats means more flights, more flights means more choice in timing and/or routing. I’m imagining that AS may expand to, for example, Managua, Nicaragua. They already have flights to Mexico and Costa Rica, so with a smaller plane capable of flying further, it could make sense to start new routes that fill in the gaps in their current route map.

  5. @OneXMarine: it absolutely doesn’t. There’s a huge market for narrowbodies with range and/or thrust for shorter runways, and when Boeing closed down the 757 program they left a huge hole in their lineup. They’ve stretched the 737 beyond recognition to try and cover the gap (the MAX is the latest iteration of that game), but it’s an airframe never really designed for the purpose. They literally have no replacement for the A321XLR.

    Look up “Boeing NMA” for more about this subject.

    AS’s keeping of VX’s A321neos is a clear signal of this. The neos, while not the XLR, are better than the MAX 10. Of course AS wouldn’t want to keep them, but they see clear purposes for markets where the MAXes don’t fit (I’ve heard Maui and DCA as two examples of this). And, it also seems pretty clear AS does not want to expand into widebodies, whose economics are very different.

  6. Thanks guys, I appreciate the info. I’ll take a look at the link when I get a minute. I enjoy learning about things that are outside of my wheel house and you folks seem very informed and knowledgeable. I never understood why Boeing quit the 757 line. One of my first trips on a 75 was out of John Wayne and the steep climb out and then cut power so that we didn’t disturb the folks on Balboa Island was quite a ride.

  7. I wonder what the economics of:

    10 A321neo


    20 A321neo


    10 A321neo and 10 A321XLR. Are have two kinds of A321neos like have 2 subfleets?

  8. @JamesB look east. The A321XLR can fly SEA-HND and possibly SEA-ICN (only 170NM from the max). If they base in HNL, TPE and PVG are both within range.

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