The A320neo vs 737 MAX – What Will Alaska Airlines Order Next?

Alaska Airlines is in need of a significant fleet refresh to replace its ex-Virgin America Airbus A319/A320s. But it has a dilemma – whether to choose the Airbus A320neo or the Boeing 737 MAX.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737
Alaska Airlines needs to choose between the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo (Boeing 737 MAX not pictured). Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr

While Alaska Airlines isn’t a big airline by American standards, it’s pretty large compared to most airlines around the world.

In total, Alaska Airlines operates an active fleet of 237 aircraft, 61 of which it inherited from Virgin America after it acquired the airline back in December 2016.


The 61 ex-Virgin America aircraft now operated by Alaska Airlines are all Airbus A319/A320s. But this caused a bit of an issue for Alaska Airlines, as it had previously operated a Boeing-only fleet.


Now, the fleet of ex-Virgin America Airbus A319/A320s are in need of replacement, specifically before 2024. But what should Alaska Airlines do now?

Virgin America Airbus A319-112
Alaska Airlines received 61 aircraft from Virgin America. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

The Boeing 737 MAX

Alaska Airlines has two options to move forward with its narrow-body fleet renewal it wants to get a latest-generation aircraft with maximum fuel and cost-efficiency.


As reported by The Points Guy, Alaska Airlines’ chief financial officer, Shane Tackett, highlighted the airline’s motivations for a fleet refresh.

“We have an opportunity to replace 61 A319 and A320 aircraft with larger gauge, more efficient assets… [that] would give us the ability to generate more revenue while lower unit cost,” he said during an earnings call earlier this week.

The first option is the Boeing 737 MAX which, as we are all aware, comes with a long list of drawbacks. Alaska Airlines actually already has a sizeable order of 32 Boeing 737 MAX on the books, but there’s no real indication of when they may finally arrive.

Many airlines have removed the Boeing 737 MAX from their schedules until the middle of this year, and the recertification process appears to be coming up against new hurdles regularly.

As a result, another big new order for the type would be a significant gamble for Alaska Airlines. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Boeing 737 MAX, new orders for the type have dropped off a cliff. Alaska Airlines would be bucking an industry-wide trend of holding off on new orders for the Boeing 737 MAX.

On the other hand, new Boeing 737 MAX would likely be available at a significant discount if and when the type is recertified.

Getty images boeing 737 MAx groundings
Hundreds of Boeing 737 MAX remain grounded around the world. Photo: Getty Images

The Airbus A320neo

Alaska Airlines’ second option is the Airbus A320neo, which would be a move away from its ‘all Boeing’ fleet.

Although the airline has been operating Airbus types on lease, full-time Alaska Airlines pilots and staff would have to go through significant retraining to fly the Airbus A320neo.

But, like the Boeing 737 MAX, Alaska Airlines technically already has a sizeable order for the Airbus A320neo which it took over from Virgin America after the acquisition deal.

Unless it cancels its commitment to this order, Alaska Airlines will be taking delivery of 30 Airbus A320neos between 2022 and 2024 anyway.

Ultimately, Alaska Airlines will have to weigh up the risk of further issues with the Boeing 737 MAX versus the inconvenience it would experience if it took on the Airbus A320neo.


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Airbus should be able to negotiate higher prices for its single aisles. Boeing will have to cut prices as it loses market share.

Gerry S

Alaska will most likely await the arrival of the MAX. They are sold on the B737 and would like to maintain a/c commonality. I predict that it will go Boeing.

High Mile Club

Why not both? They already have the MAX on order, so replacing the old A320s for neos on a 1 to 1 basis makes sense. However, that’s a long wait time due to the excessive backlog.

David C.

With the acquisition of Virgin and the A320’s, Alaska also got the infrastructure to support the A320’s along with trained pilots and cabin crew. If Alaska wanted to convert back to an all MAX fleet when they would also have to be retrained, whereas they have type commonality with the A320neo. Add to that the stigma of the MAX and the threat it has (perceived or otherwise) for the flying public. With the A320’s, the aircrews are trained, fleet maintenance is in place and the orders are already in the pipe. Why would they give all that up just for fleet commonality and a tainted airframe?


As a passenger I’ve always felt more comfortable in an Airbus. As a crew member I prefer to work in a boeing. As a human that has lost all trust in the MAX I feel more safe in an Airbus. I hope they choose Airbus.


Let’s see what they do.

My guess is if it’s the Max then airlines will pay the price, because believe me, customers are not as stupid as the airlines may like to think they are. Yes I know to some a plane is a plane and for those who do not follow aviation or understand engineering then they will probably not bother checking what they are flying on.

However for those of us that are clued up, I would not get on this plane the 737 Max if you paid me, I value my life!

Glenn Story

The difference between the Max 8&9 and the Airbus options is that The Boeing aircraft are at the end of their development. It’s an old airframe and I think Boeing overeached on the limits of a tried and true but aging design with the Max 8&9 development. Whipping a dead horse as it were. The Airbus airframe designs are relatively newer and are capable of more technological growth within the same model number that would allow easier transition for flight and maintenance training. Already the Max 8 now requires a return to the simulaters for pilots. In short the Max 8 is an end of the line design with Boing no where near a replacement unlike Airbus.

Chris Parker

Alaska has been a great opportunity to try the Airbus product. Alaska has been a solid Boeing customer , however the landscape has changed.
The 737 MAX is toxic , yes it will fly again , but its reputation will remain.
The next crash , (bad weather )and there will be one will open the debate.

Alaska could get the A320 neo and it should acquire the A220. Airbus has product such as the A321 XL and XLR which Boeing cannot match giving them route options in the future. The 737 MAX has lost a major advantage of not requiring simulator training.

Alaska can get more advantages out of a single type Airbus fleet than Boeing.


Airlines are losing confident on 737 Max. I would be surprise if there is any new large scale firm order for 737 Max.


That is nonsense that there would be that much training to fly the NEO . Like mentioned , the Airbus Crews are already trained and can obviously fly NEO, unlike Boeing, no extra sim training needed. So right there you have more cost for the max, although the most probably pay for the additional training for the max. Alaska has demonstrated with the last earnings call, that they can make excellent profits with a two fleet type. And it is just a fact, as we stand now, the Airbus 321 NEO is the best narrowbody plattform currently available. Even if the max ends up being flyable again, that Design ,as we know it ,has reached its limits and it will be the last update, especially when you step in the cockpit , you think one stepped back in time. Time for Boeing to go back to the drawing board and design a brand new, highly innovative and excellent product like they used to do

Gerry S

Say what you want, for Americans who have flown Boeing forever, getting on a MAX is no big deal. Americans trust that when FAA says MAX is now alright, then it is indeed. All this hot air about MAXs problems will not stop them from flying in it. Airlines know this and are not too concerned.

Rodney king

The facts speak for themselves
Boeing have deliberately deceived all the airlines the pilots the flying public and most importantly the regulators who’s primary function is to prevent accidents and protect anybody who flies.
They do not deserve to be trusted until they have firstly taken ownership of the problems they have created.
And secondly earnt the respect of all stakeholders involved which is basically everybody involved !


A321XLR would be extremely useful for West Coast to Hawaii routes. Or routes to Latin America.

They should go with A320neo and A321neo combo instead.


If it’s Boeing I’m not going!

Ann Hazard

I live near Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for most of the year. I fly Alaska with my two dogs in cargo. Therefore, the Airbuses are a huge problem for me, as their baggage compartments are not pressurized. I am all Boeing, as are all flight attendants I’ve talked with. The Airbuses are impossible for me and my dogs. They’re also quite uncomfortable. Please get rid of them!!!

On another note, I used to be able to tell a Boeing flight from an Airbus. Boeing’s flight numbers were 3 digits. Airbus’ were 4. Now, they’re all 4. This makes it way more confusing.