American Airlines showed off their brand-new Airbus A321 at John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on Tuesday and upped the game in the ever-competitive transcontinental market. I was invited to take a tour.
The A321 with be replacing American’s aging Boeing 767-200 on the JFK/LAX route starting January 7th, and the JFK/SFO shortly thereafter, and will offer a welcomed upgrade for passengers.
A First Class seat on the American Airbus A321 – Photo: Eric Dunetz
American will be the only carrier to offer a three-class cabin, featuring fully lie-flat seats in both First and Business Class, on a narrow-body aircraft. The First Class cabin will be outfitted with 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1-1 configuration, giving each seat direct aisle access.
Business class will have 20 fully lie-flat seats in a 2-2 configuration. Each premium class seat features a 15.4-inch HD-capable touchscreen monitor offering a selection of in-flight entertainment including movies, TV programs, audio selections, and games.
In Main Cabin (economy) every seat will have an 8.9-inch HD-capable touchscreen monitor with an assortment of movies, TV programs, games and audio selections. Only a portion of the content is free.
An Airbus A321 pushing back at Philadelphia. Is this a Boeing 757 replacement? – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
With most Boeing 757s heading toward the end of their life cycles, airlines are moving forward with plans for more fuel-efficient aircraft that can hold similar amounts of passengers over a decent range. The most popular option at the moment is the Airbus A321. Having never flown one myself, I was excited to have an opportunity to test out this aircraft on a recent flight out east. I wanted to see first hand how the newer A321 stacked up to the (soon-to-be) classic 757.
At the moment, the only current operatosr of the A321 in the U.S. are Spirit and US Airways; however JetBlue and American Airlines have received their first ones and Delta, and Hawaiian have plans to expand their fleet with the A321 in either CEO (Current Engine Option) or NEO (New Engine Option) flavor. In some cases, these aircraft will replace 757s, such as with AA; however, some are just for expansion as with the case of JetBlue & Hawaiian.
My first-ever flight on an Airbus A321 was with US Airways, travelling from Phoenix to Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport. Not only would this be a new aircraft for me, but also a new airport (Phoenix) and a new airline (US Airways). Hee-haw, I was down for the AvGeek newness tri-fecta.
Watching airline activity live via social media can have interesting consequences. Last week, I happened to see the #7700 tweet [which are tweets that are auto generated that go out any time an aircraft in coverage squawks 7700] from Planefinder.net as soon as it was posted and went to check out what was happening. Normally when you catch these emergencies, not much happens immediately, and the aircraft either continues on to its destination, or diverts to another airport.
This time I noticed that the aircraft immediately entered a very rapid descent [see an image of normal descent]. In my experience, something like that is usually caused by a loss of cabin pressure, where the pilots level off at 10,000 feet to asses the situation. However, this aircraft passed 10,000 and continued to rapidly descent, which was worrying. Was this a huge emergency, website error or just standard procedure for some issue on the flight?
Mock up of what Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A321neo will look like. Aircraft image from Airbus. Can you tell where the background image was taken (it is a real photograph by Brandon Farris).
On Monday Hawaiian Airlines made a big announcement that it was ordering the Airbus A321neo to add to its expanding fleet.
The order is for 16 A321neo’s along with the rights to purchase up to nine more of the type. The carrier currently has 43 aircraft that is a mix of Boeing 767-300ER that it primarily uses on its west coast operations from the islands, the A330-200 used on international long haul ops and the Boeing 717 that it uses for inter-island hopping.
“Everyone at Hawaiian wants us to keep our position as the market leader in service quality, cost efficiency and choice of destinations. Ordering the A321neo will secure this legacy on routes to the U.S. West Coast beyond the middle of this decade,” said Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines. “The A321neo will be the most fuel-efficient aircraft of its type after its introduction in 2016. With its slightly smaller size we’ll be able to open new markets that are not viable for wide-body service, while also being able to augment service on existing routes to the West Coast of North America.”
At 146-feet-long, the A321neo will seat approximately 190 passengers in a two-class configuration (First and Coach) and has a range of 3,650 nautical miles. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, however, the aircraft have a total list-price value of approximately $2.8 billion if all of the purchase rights are exercised.
The new acquisitions are also contingent upon Hawaiian signing new agreements with its pilots and flight attendant unions covering operation of the new aircraft type. If new agreements are reached, the fleet expansion is expected to generate roughly 1,000 additional jobs at the airline.
“This is a significant investment in the future of both Hawaiian and Hawaii. Our tourism-based economy and local employment will benefit as we continue our strategy of diversifying our business while improving the efficiency of our operation,” Dunkerley commented.
This is the current range of the A321 from Hawaii. The A321NEO will add an additional 450 miles.
“We have come to think of Hawaiian Airlines as ‘ohana’ (family) and are very pleased to add yet another branch to our tree with this pending expansion of the Hawaiian Airbus fleet,” said John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer, customers. “Hawaiian has gotten great results with their A330s.”
There is much speculation from analyst and fans where the aircraft will be flown, whether they will take over the current 767 west coast routes or lead to expansion for Hawaiian to operate to new west coast operations. By the time these aircraft join the fleet their 767’s will be around 18 to 20 years old for the leased ones and 30 years with the four that it purchased from Delta in 2005.
Other ideas are this purchase is to keep the A350 and A330-200s free to continue what has been a rather aggressive expansion from the quite airlines on the islands.
This story written by…Brandon Farris, Correspondent. Brandon is an avid aviation geek based in Seattle. He got started in Photography and Reporting back in 2010. He loves to travel where ever he has to to cover the story and try to get the best darn shot possible.
American plans to have a 1-1 layout in first class on their Airbus A321 aircraft. Photo from American.
Previously, American Airlines has not been well known for providing a high-end domestic product. I have heard many people say that they will avoid flying American at all costs, not knowing if they will get an almost new 737-800 with Boeing Sky Interior or a dated MD-80 aircraft (for the record, I love flying on the MD-80s).
American has ready started renewing the interiors of some of their older Boeing 757s and pre-Sky Interior 737s. All these improvements are great, but what about their plans for the over 400 aircraft that they currently have on order?
The airline has started givingus an inside look at their future plans for the interiors of some of their aircraft. While we have already seen mock-ups for their new Boeing 777-300ER, I think the most interesting thing about this newest information is their transcontinental Airbus A321, which has a three (and a half) class layout.
What American plans to have for domestic business class on the A321. Image from American.
That’s right… three (and a half) classes on a domestic, single aisle aircraft. And we aren’t talking “here is an extra 3 inches of legroom,” class, we are talking lay-flat seats in both first and business class here. Between New York’s JFK and San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX), American will run the A321 with 10 first class seats in a 1-1 layout, 20 seats in business class in a 2-2 layout, 36 Main Cabin Extra seats (economy with a few extra inches of legroom) in a 3-3 layout and finally 36 Main Cabin seats with a 3-3 layout.
“We intend to be the only airline to offer a three-class service and the first to offer fully lie-flat First and Business Class seats on transcontinental flights with our Airbus A321 transcontinental aircraft,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s Chief Commercial Officer. “By using the A321 aircraft with three classes of service and outfitted with fully lie-flat premium class seats, all-aisle access in First Class, and state-of-the-art amenities, we will be able to continue providing an industry-leading premium experience on transcontinental routes, while significantly reducing costs through improved fuel efficiency.”
I am sorry, but that is a cool layout — five rows of first class, five rows of business class, six rows of Main Cabin Extra and six rows of Main Cabin. No matter where you sit, it is probably going to feel like you have your own private airline cabin. However, will such a low number of seats make economic sense for American? Can they fill ten first class seats on a transcontinental flight? It seems like their bean-counters think so.
Each seat will also have its own seat-back entertainment system, power outlets and access to Wi-Fi.
Economy class plans for the American Airbus A321. Image from American.
The big question I have is — will this actually all happen? Based on what we are seeing with their product concepts, American is heading in a great direction. A bunch of new aircraft on order, plans to offer a top of the line domestic product and the motivation to make it happen.
Of course, the two big elephants in the room are: #1 the airline is in bankruptcy and #2 there is a good chance that American and US Airways will merge. Both of these things could have a huge impact on the future of American Airlines. No matter what happens, I hope that the “new” American (whatever that will mean) sticks to this plan. They need to have a product that can compete with newer airlines, like Virgin America. Good luck American — I hope to be able to test one of these new domestic products soon.