How airlines are using the Airbus A321LR

by John Walton
June 06, 2019
Airbus A321LR airlines are doing
Air Transat's best offering is recliners. Photo: Air Transat

The Airbus A321LR is the European manufacturer’s “middle of the market” aircraft and three interesting airlines are now operating the LR beyond high-density launch customer, Israeli leisure-LCC Arkia.

La Compagnie, Air Transat, and TAP Air Portugal now have the A321LR in service, so let’s take a dive into what these first truly long haul flights mean for the aircraft, what they replace, and what they mean for passengers.

The first thing to note about these initial A321LR routes is that they are all transatlantic, and largely outside major markets. The latter is expected: if the market were larger it would clearly make sense to use something the size of a Boeing 767 or 787 or an  A330.

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It’s not that the transatlantic nature of these markets was unexpected either, but it does say something about the prospects for the middle of the market (MoM) that all of Airbus’ mini MoM aircraft are flying on it.

Since the transatlantic sector so clearly epitomizes the middle of the market, the A321LR’s presence here doesn’t help to put to bed the growing questions over just how large the MoM is to begin with.

French boutique all-biz airline La Compagnie offers business class travelers their choice of 76 fully flat Diamond beds from Collins Aerospace in a 2-2 configuration. It’s nothing new for a narrowbody, but it’s a solid product that’s tried and tested on the A320 family’s frame.

It’s an upgrade from the Boeing 757-200 for La Compagnie in terms of two extra seats, plus of course the efficiency of the neo, but also for passengers who no longer have a sloping sleeper seat but instead go fully flat.

For the price La Compagnie is offering, this is a remarkably good deal.

At the other end of the passenger experience spectrum is Canadian leisure-charter hybrid carrier Air Transat, whose name rather pleasingly plays on the French word for ‘lilo’ and the fact that their summer market is significantly transatlantic.

These are less luxurious from a passenger experience perspective: up the front there are three rows of four standard international premium economy style recliners in a 2-2 layout and a further 187 economy class seats in the usual 3-3 configuration down the back.

Replacing the elderly A310s — Air Transat is pretty much the last passenger airline outside of Iran and tertiary markets to use the venerable Airbus widebody — this is a huge passenger experience upgrade down the back, given the 3-3-3 ultra-narrow seating.

Up front, it’s less of a step change: the new recliners are a bit updated compared with the old recliners and come with more bells and whistles, but the basic idea is a wider seat with fewer people in each row, in roughly the same proportion to the A310.

TAP Air Portugal fits somewhere in the middle: a full-service carrier, offering 16 fully flat Thompson Vantage beds in the 2-2, 1-1 layout that has been used on the A320’s fuselage (and even that of the narrower 757 and 737) before.

Airbus A321LR
Versatility is the key with TAP’s A321LR. Photo: TAP

Down the back it’s 48 extra-legroom seats and 107 regular economy passengers in the usual 3-3 layout: a fairly neutral change for non-business passengers used to the A330-200 that the A321LR is replacing.

The key to the change for TAP is that is not only upgrading the business class seats offered on the route, but also changing the frequency from twice weekly to six times thanks to the smaller capacity offered by the A321LR.

That’s crucial to a route’s success, not least because it allows TAP — which sees the A321LR as vital to its ‘Icelandair stopover strategy’ of connecting passengers from Europe to the US via Portugal — to offer connections. And it’s more than just one connection: travelers who may already have explored Lisbon can now visit Porto, or combine stopovers in both cities on a single trip.

But interestingly, TAP’s next route for the A321LR is planned to be Tel Aviv, expanding the use of the aircraft outside the transatlantic sector. It will be fascinating to see whether this greater use of the MoM catches on.