American Just Ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs: Expect Direct Aisle Access Lie Flat Seats, Premium Economy

Two weeks ago I wrote that American Airlines was likely to order the Airbus A321XLR at the Paris Air Show. They’ve now done exactly that.

  • Ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs

  • Convert 30 A321neo orders to XLR orders: 8 aircraft in 2023, and 22 aircraft in 2024

  • Exercising 20 A321neo options to XLR orders for 2025 delivery.

The existing A321LR is capable of flying East Coast – Western Europe, but the new XLR adds about 500 miles of range — making it possible to fly routes like Chicago – Frankfurt though there’s a weight/passenger tradeoff, you get more passengers in a typical domestic layout than with premium cabin seats. The XLR should solve the winter Westbound weather challenges for flights between secondary Western European cities and Philadelphia.

American Airlines Airbus A321 at New York JFK

American needs a Boeing 757 replacement aircraft, the ‘middle of the market’ plane as it’s known that can carry a smaller number of passengers fuel efficiently across medium-range distances. American disclosed plans to get down to 24 Boeing 757s.

I wrote that I expected an A321XLR order to be a swap for existing A321neos they have already ordered representing no net increase in aircraft, “if American were to order A321XLRs — the long range variant of the A321 — that they would swap existing orders of aircraft for these planes. So far American has only taken delivery of a handful of the 100 Airbus A321neos that they have on order.”

According to airline President Robert Isom the XLR ‘costs a little bit more’ than the neos American already had on order, but the first 30 of these planes replace Airbus narrowbodies already in their capital plan and the remainder aren’t until 2025. Investors aren’t getting the slowdown in capital spend they’ve been looking for so that the operation increases the amount of cash it spins off, but this isn’t a huge increase in capital spend either.

Isom shares that the plane could fly from “JFK, Philadelphia, Charlotte, even DFW” to open new markets. And since he sees the plane operating “transcon or close-in Europe or close-in South America” they don’t envision nearly as many seats as they fit into the Airbus A321neo (which has 196). He offers, “if and when we fly it to close-in Europe” and gives the example of Philadelphia – Basel, “that would require lie flat seats, all aisle access for business class…allow for premium economy.”

The vision for direct aisle access lie flat business class — an improvement over American’s lie flat 757s with 2×2 seats — and premium economy, as well as potentially basing some A321XLRs at New York JFK creating the potential for more Europe flying from New York — represents really exciting potential for the airline.

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. 9+ hour flights on a narrow-body sound very undesirable to me. Passengers get restless and there is nowhere to stand/walk. Also, if recent AA moves are any prediction, they will put an insufficient number of J seats on the plane and then block one every flight for pilot rest. The only upside of this plane is the possibility of new routes.

  2. Great move by AA. The 757 and even 767 used by other carriers (and will need to continue for a while) are tired. AA jumped ahead of DL and UA with the XLR, 787-8, it’s the perfect set to replace and improve on the current 757 and 767 in use. AA’s international product and growth should take off starting in 2022-23. Best hard product, newer aircraft, PE throughout and HI-speed WIFI/Live TV, makes for an impressive hard product. Now let’s focus on food and continue to improve the inflight services (which is improving) and we have a new leader across the oceans based out of the US!

  3. This sounds interesting. I couldn’t care any less about narrow vs widebody on long flights as long as the business/first seat is comfortable. If they deck these out with the right stuff I’d have no problem flying it.

  4. With Royal Air Maroc joining oneworld, do you think they may try to put a plane on a route to Casablanca?

  5. This seems like a very smart airplane for AA to buy. It does a lot of things the airline might want to do, but can’t with other aircraft. For customers, the only downside is that the alternative would probably be a more desirable widebody. But the reality is that, most of the time, the reality would actually be no flight at all

  6. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. Credit to Dougie P. and American this is a sound plan.

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