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.
Unfortunately my flight didn’t start off all that well thanks to my delayed flight in to PHX, but I made it onboard (and so did my bag). I boarded the aircraft through door 1L and headed towards my seat in economy.
One of the first big A321/B757 differences that I noticed was in boarding process. The A321 boarded through door 1L while the 757 often uses 2L. Seeing such a large aircraft boarding through the premium cabin is always a bit of a fun experience. Having flown both 757-200s and 300s this year, the A321 felt roughly the same inside as the 757-200; you could easily mistake the same (long) aircraft as the narrow-body configuration feels the same.
Looking out the window is the dead giveaway as to what you’re flying, as the majority of A321s you are going to see are, at the moment, fitted with Airbus’ iconic wingtip “fences” (though new aircraft should come fitted with sharklets). 757s come either with a retrofitted blended winglet, or none at all. The difference in looks from the outside is also in the nose.
The A321 uses the same family nose as the A320, A319, & A318 and stands out as a little bit boring compared to the 757, in my opinion. It just looks like someone took an A320 and pulled on either end to stretch it out. The 757 has that wonderfully sunken flight desk from the rest of the aircraft look that I love. Cosmetic differences really don’t matter that much – it should be about the inflight experience, right? Well, maybe to some.
Onboard, the aircraft it feels like any other A320-family aircraft. The same overhead panels, bins, lights, and vents. Slick, clean, and modern, my A321 was only delivered in 2011, and it paled in comparison to the age of some of the 757s out there, which may be as old as I am.
While the first A321 was delivered to Lufthansa in 1994, the bulk of them have been delivered after the 757 went out of production in 2005. Each carrier is going to be different on the passenger experience, but on average, flying on a relatively modern A321 is going to be better than an older aircraft.
There was no ground-breaking technology or many entertainment options on my US Airways’ flight. My flight did offer GoGo Internet and I took advantage of it during my four-hour flight. I couldn’t complain one bit about the service onboard either as there was multiple rounds of drinks (especially good for a coffee nut like me).
I had come into this flight thinking to myself that it would be some mind-blowing new experience and that I could easily say that the A321 would be a fantastic replacement to the 757… but I can’t say that. Even a side-by-side comparison doesn’t help all that much either:
Range with Winglets
Maximum Take Off Weight
In looking at the numbers, the 757 is superior to the A321 in most measures (except for cabin width, and, well, definitely not in fuel economy), so why replace it with this aircraft? Well, honestly we’ll need to compare the 757 to the A321 NEO, but the problem is that the data on the NEO isn’t fully known yet.
The information that has been touted suggests a range increase of only 500nm, still a good 400nm short of the 757. Clearly not going to cut the mustard on range, but does it really matter? The A321 has plenty of legs to make (like LAX/SFO – JFK), that many 757’s currently fly on. What the A321 can’t replace is the low-demand transatlantic routes that the 757 is utilized for by carriers like United and Delta. So what is the real replacement, if there even is one?
In a future piece, we’ll focus on Boeing’s own offering, the 737-900ER and its replacement, the 737 MAX 9. With a slightly longer range than the A321, United has chosen to utilize the Boeing plane to replace their 757-200s.
In the end, the A321 is a great domestic replacement option for the long-in-the-tooth 757. Carriers like US Airways and American are obviously happy with the economics and capabilities of the plane, but how each airline configures their replacement planes will likely be more important than the plane they choose for most passengers.