American Airlines Unveils Unique Airbus A321 Today: First Ex-Alaska Jet That Diverges From Rest Of Fleet

When Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America, the all-Boeing airline took over a fleet of Airbus planes. American Airlines took 10 of the Airbus A321neos. And they aren’t waiting to convert the planes to an American Airlines interior. They are going to start flying a sub-fleet that doesn’t match the rest of the American Airlines standard interior.

These are relatively new aircraft. Only four of them had ever even flown for Virgin America, with the other six having entered service after Alaska acquired the carrier.

As flagged by aviation watchdog JonNYC, who originally broke news of the plan for American to acquire these planes, American puts the first one into service today.

Here are planned flights for the aircraft, though this is subject to change:

The ex-Alaska Airlines Airbus A321s have fewer seats than in American’s configuration. American squeezes more seats into the plane. So while there are fewer first class seats (16 instead of 20) making upgrades more difficult on these aircraft, there’s generally more legroom at each seat on the ex-Alaska planes throughout the cabin.

Here are details of the aircraft:

  • In economy you’ll find 31 or 32 inches from seat back to seat back not just 30 inches) and for first class
  • In main cabin extra, American Airlines planes can have as few as 33 inches between seats. The Alaska planes have at least three more inches than that.
  • In first class there may be up to four more inches between seats

Credit: Alaska Airlines

Here’s an internal review of American’s plan for the aircraft. They have photoluminescent emergency lighting that need to be charged at the beginning of each day. Forgetting to do this could lead to a short delay for the first flight of the day.

American Airlines Airbus A321

These planes lack larger overhead bins, so there will be more gate checking of carry-on bags. If you have a carry-on to stow in the overhead, make sure you’re at the gate at the start of boarding, and queueing up as soon as your boarding group is called.

Once peak summer season has passed, American will reconfigure these planes to match their standard interior with less comfortable seating, more first class seats, and larger bins.

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. There’s a rumor that once these ext-AS A321s are converted to an AA standard, they’ll be replacing a chunk of the A321Ts and used on JFK-LAX/SFO and BOS-LAX, alongside the A321XLRs and that the ex-AS planes are supposedly getting the same interior configuration as the XLR.

  2. @lavanderialarry – so you mean that the ex-AS are not being converted to the current AA 321 standard, but will be equipped with lie-flats like the XLRs are being delivered with?

  3. I have flown on these ex-AS planes and they are very comfortable for a domestic aircraft.
    Presumably, AS did an arms length transaction with AA to get the best rates for the aircraft since the A321NEO is in such popular demand but these aircraft will help AA grow given their relatively small near-term order book.
    The amount of aircraft refurbishment and reconfiguration that is going on in addition to new aircraft deliveries means cabin suppliers are working at perhaps the highest levels of output ever. These are likely going to be reconfigured to standard AA domestic configurations which justifies a relatively near term reconfiguration. NOT having AVOD speeds up the process.

  4. AA currently has 16 A321Ts. Unless AA is getting more than the 1 or 2 XLRs they may receive by the end of the year the 10 ex-AS planes won’t be able to fully cover the A321T schedule as it is today.

  5. Well, IF Tim is correct and they are being refurbed to standard AA domestic config then these planes will not be supplementing the XLRs on JFK-LAX/SFO.

    Having the XLRs as the only narrrowbody planes with lie flats in the fleet never made sense because the XLR is not needed for domestic transcons, but that is AA (mis)management for you. Perhaps lavanderialarry is correct and the AS subfleet will eventually get lie flats and be used solely on premium transcons.

  6. Do they have seat back screens. It’s not XLR similar if it doesn’t have screens

  7. @RC – AA’s supposed plan is to reconfigure the 321Ts on a 1 for 1 basis as the XLRs arrive. Except for the one 321T that is underway. So the 321Ts aren’t going away until there is a replacement fleet, whether entirely XLRs or a combination of XLRs and reconfigured AS planes.

  8. I am not sure that there is validity in these replacing A321Ts as non-XLR but premium configured aircraft like the XLR.
    AA has said they would use the XLRs for both transcon and transatlantic flights which helps to improve utilization. Adding these as premium configured but not XLRs would mean they could only serve transcon routes or potentially short TATL flights. I don’t see AA adding fleet complexity by having two transcon fleets w/ the same cabin configuration but different technical capabilities.

    DL is basing its premium transcon A321NEOs on the standard NEO and not the XLR like AA and UA so DL is expected to be able to introduce its premium A321NEOs first since the XLR certification is behind schedule. I am not sure it is worth AA or UA adding domestic only premium A321NEOs for what at best will be 6 -9 months before their XLRs will become available.

  9. Color me confused, but it’s impossible for these jets to get the XLR config because of 2 L & R exit doors. Even though they plug the doors, the exits are still there, hence having 190 seats vs. 196 of a true 321NEO. My money is on the 190 seat config of the 321CEO AA layout.

  10. All 321s really ought to only have 16 F/C seats. One FA for 20 people is ridiculous. Each pax gets 5% of service and attention. AA will though reconfigure to the Sardine Service alignment.

  11. @gary you fail to mention that Alaska doesn’t have phone / tablet holders in their seatbacks. Flying 7 hours Miami to San Fran having to hold your phone the entire way to watch the in-flight entertainment is going to be fun. The best thing AA did was add those seat back holders to most of their planes…

  12. From what I understand, the ex-Alaska A321NEOs can’t ultimately be reconfigured to American’s exact layout because the doors are different. The aircraft will seat six fewer passengers, even when reconfigured.

  13. Smaller bins = faster boarding and deplaning. Nirvana.

    Airlines is the only industry I know where things get WORSE with time. This happens when there’s lack of competition, and indeed traveling by air has never been more expensive: $70 to check a bag from JFK to BOS on jetBlue?????

  14. Can you please, please stop referring to ‘JonNYC’ as an ‘aviation watchdog’. He’s many things – most of them great – but a watchdog, he is not.

    That categorization applies only to someone or something that guards, promotes and advocates on behalf of a particular group. Jon doesn’t fit that mould.

    He’s more of a soothsayer. Give him his due, and his readers some credit.

  15. I remember when Virgin America lost its virginity to Alaska Air. The dude on the tail had a smile on his face.

  16. Ive flown in a lot of these planes and Im 99% certain they have tablet holders in Y- the F seats are the “new” generation Alaska seats.

    AA Exec Plats are gonna love being able to cross their legs & use their laptops in F on these birds!

  17. Give the powers to be at American some time, they will screw this up like they have done with everything

  18. Why are you posting internal memos? The person that gave you that memo should be fired.

  19. These AA 321s at NOT a copy of VXs 321s. AS bastardized them to death. Reducing the leg room to the usual AS 35inches. I flew a VX321 from LAX to ORD immediately post merger. My feet would reach the bulkhead (I’m 6’2″) and it was a great flight. As soon as AS grabbed them they screwed it all up.

  20. Of I so I flew it last night SFO-MIA. It was very confusing as I flew Oasis 321 dozens of times
    – When I purchased the flight it said 321. When I checked in, it said “320 NEO” which does not exist in AA fleet. Also I noticed the seat map was different than Oasis 321 (4 rows in first, different seats in exit rows, etc.)
    – I cleared upgrade to 1A. Seat much more comfortable than Oasis 321. Galley small and no coat hanger so different setup.
    – I was EXTREMELY confused at the beginning. It was a red eye so I did not pay a lot of attention to it but wanted to do some digging.
    – The frame was n956xv. If you look for example MIA-BOS on 4/20 for 8:33AM, it will be this plane. When you book you will see 321 but when you click seats you will see 320NEO (which does not exist)
    – The plane looks like this

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