The Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 – What Plane Is Best?

Whilst it is cool to talk about giant aircraft that can carry 1000 passengers, or fly around the entire world, the real bread and butter for the aircraft industry comes from short range short haul domestic aircraft. Specifically, a plane that can carry 150-200 passengers, with a range of 3,000-4,000 nautical miles.

We all know their names, and most of us will have flown on them many times before. The Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. Both aircraft families are in prolific use around the world, flying thousands of hours every day. Between them, they make up the backbone of the world travel industry. If you are going to fly, particularly short- or medium-haul, you’re probably going to be flying on one of these aircraft.

Boeing was the first to market with the 737 series, driving it to become the best selling commercial aircraft of all time. Airbus wanted a slice of the action too, and produced their own version, the A320. Sales have been neck and neck ever since.

But out of Airbus and Boeing, who builds the best one? Let’s find out!

737 MAX Software
American Airlines operates a fleet of 24 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Photo: American Airlines

How will we compare each aircraft?

Naturally, there are plenty of variants of each to choose from, and if we were to just compare one series with another, we might find ourselves with a less than complete picture. So we will try our best to match up each aircraft. Airbus only entered the market to compete with the 2nd Generation of Boeing 737s onwards, so we’ll focus on that series and onwards.

Additionally, as we all know the Boeing 737 MAX family is currently under investigation, so we will handle its inclusion carefully. Obviously, this current issue would affect performance (as a planes primary purpose is to get you to the destination safely) but for now, we’ll assume Boeing is able to fix these problems and allow the aircraft to continue production.

The Boeing 737 vs The Airbus A320

There are far more variants of the Boeing 737 than the A320, and to compare them all to each other would not make much sense.

Variant Passengers Range
First Generation 737-100 118 1,540 nmi
737-200 130 2,600 nmi
Second Generation 737-300 140 2,255 nmi
737-400 168 2,060 nmi
737-500 132 2,375 nmi
Third Generation 737-600 130 3,235 nmi
737-700 140 3,010 nmi
737-800 175 2,935 nmi
737-900 215 2,950 nmi
Fourth Generation 737 MAX 7 153 3,850 nmi
737 MAX 8 178 3,550 nmi
737 MAX 9 193 3,550 nmi
737 MAX 10 204 3,300 nmi

Below are the statistics for the Airbus A320 family. The A321 is not actually designed to compete with the 737 (but rather the 757), but as it is built on the same frame and is the same ‘type’ aircraft, we have included it for reference.

Variant Passengers Range
A318 117 3,100 nmi
A319 160 3,750 nmi
A320 190 3,300 nmi
A321 230 3,200 nmi
A319neo 160 3,750 nmi
A320neo 195 3,500 nmi
A321neo 240 4,000 nmi
JetBlue A320 in Tartan livery. Photo: JetBlue

For a frame of reference:

  • The A320 was designed to compete with the 2nd Generation 737
  • Third generation 737 to compete with the A320
  • A320neo to compete with the third generation 737
  • The fourth generation to compete with the A320neo

Passengers

Looking at passenger numbers (in a one class configuration), we can see that the A320 has been very consistent with around 190 passengers right from the start. This is more than any of the 2nd generation Boeing 737 aircraft could handle, and was only with the third generation that Boeing was able to offer a larger aircraft.

In the MAX vs NEO debate, we can see that the A320neo offers 195 seats vs the 737 MAX 9 with 193. There is a variant of the 737 MAX family that can hold over 200 passengers, and we may soon be flying on it with Ryanair.

For raw passenger capacity, it appears that the 737 family is out competed by the A320 family.

Range

Generally, an airplane manufacturer has to strike a balance between passengers and range. More passengers means a smaller fuel tank and more weight, thus less range. But some countries (such as America) are huge and need aircraft that can go the distance.

Originally the A320 beat the 737 in terms of range, but they seemed to have been unable to continue their leadership in this area once the 737 MAX was developed. Nearly every variant of the 737 MAX has a longer range than the A320neo, giving Boeing a well-deserved victory in this category.

The above is such an interesting question, as both Airbus and Boeing can technically claim equal first place. Boeing has the most sold commercial aircraft of all time, whilst Airbus have brought us the most popular aircraft right now.

Wikipedia
Airbus vs Boeing sales. Source: Wikipedia

Both aircraft are equally matched in price and it’s likely that each has been chosen by an airline down to discounts and whether or not there is a personal relationship. It is likely that in the US, airlines will favor Boeing and in Europe, airlines will lean towards Airbus.

To define which is better comes down to personal choice. We know that they are matched equally (with Airbus going the capacity route, and Boeing going the range route) and matched in price ($100 million, not that airlines pay anything remotely close to that). In a nutshell, whichever you like to fly more on is the best.

Well until the A220-500 comes out!

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments. As a reminder, Simple Flying does not prefer either Airbus or Boeing.

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Nigel

An additional point, of interest to airlines: the A320 family has a slightly wider fuselage than the 737, as a result of which the A320 can carry standardized LD3 freight (underfloor) containers, whereas the 737 can’t (it can only carry pallets). This is not of interest to LCCs (which have short turnaround times…no time to load/unload freight), but it certainly is of interest to “full service” airlines, for whom freight transport forms a lucrative extra source of revenue.

Vince

Agree. The slightly larger fuselage also provides better comfort for the passangers.

Henry Ponnefz

Airbus (especially the A-321) all the way and then if they were still build the md-80s, md90s and Boeing 717s. Those planes had personality. The 737 is uncomfortable, cheap looking and narrow. Boeing made a mistake by canceling the md-80s, 90s and 717s. As well as cancelling the 757s and the md-11s. Now it is time to pay for its mistakes.

ghiom

From a passenger point of view, Airbus win it all thanks to their wider cabin and seat width (18″ vs 17.3″).
Passenger comfort should be the leading criteria.

Barend de Klerk

The main factor is lbs/seat/NM. Airlines looks for the most economical aircraft. with the Neo and Max being so close to each other this will be the main selling point if the airline doesnt operate either Airbus or Boeing aircraft.

John Lane

I have flown on both and from a technical and comfort standpoint I have to go with the A320. I liken the comparison of a 1980’s GM product to a Toyota of today. The Boeing is a rattle trap. Something clunky about it. The Airbus it’s more refined and has a certain style to it. Fly on a former Virgin Airbus and United 737 and you will understand what I mean. I found the Airbus quieter and I loved the landing approaches. From a technical viewpoint, there is no comparison. You have to really try hard to hurt an Airbus,… Read more »

Sean

The A320 is from 1988.

Sean

Neither are today’s technology – the A320 happened to be lucky in that it was given FBW control systems from the start and introduced when civil aviation technology peaked (1987-88).

Sean

If you were born after the introduction of the A320-200 in November of ’88, is it ok to have a relationship with a 15 year old where legal (France, Germany…)?

Robo

I’m particularly impressed at how the latest A320s don’t automatically nose dive their passengers into the ground.

Woodgreen

Hi. Ever hear of an Air New Zealand A320 that stalled and crashed into the sea when on a test flight on return from lease from another operator. The angle of attack sensor froze and rendered the stall protection system inoperative. How can this aircraft be allowed to fly with such a design flaw especially since this aircraft is totally reliant on sensors for it’s totally computer controlled flight controls. Also an Air France A330 that had all sensors freeze up when flying around thunderstorms in icing conditions and ended up at the bottom of the Ocean. Airbus never trained… Read more »

Woodgreen

Why is it that EASA have an AD about not loading passengers into the last row of seats on the A320 NEO due to a nose up pitch in a go around. Obviously a well designed aircraft.

Hakon Lokken

What we see now is the beginning of the end for B737. The mix of analog and digital technology is likely to be the fate of the aircraft type, which will be difficult to get out of if you don’t start with blank sheets
hakonl

Nate Dogg

Whenever the 737 comes to an end, the A320 will also be coming to an end. If Boeing built an all composite (787 style) replacement for the 737 that can take LD3 and beat the A320 and A321 with clear viable margins, Airbus will no longer be able to charge the current rate for the A320’s and the airlines will still go for the newer design. Therefore logic says that whoever does the next move into a total new airframe will be followed by the other with a similar offering.

Gerald Brady

The A320 has more passenger room so is better for comfort but I find it depends more upon the individual airlines. I was very impressed with a dragon air A321 which had proper in flight entertainment as opposed to stripped back budget airline planes like ryanair and Tui.

sheldon

A320 probably wins out in passenger features as well as pilot comfort (less noisy and more spacious cockpit), benefits of being more easily upgradable given its newer design and hindsight gleaned from studying the B7x7 narrow bodies as well as the DC8’s easy upgradable features.

However, technically the B737 probably edges out the A320 in terms of performance as it can fly slightly higher (less drag, wear and tear, not to mention the benefit of fuel savings) due to it having a slightly more efficient wing. Perhaps this is because it has been refined so many times over the years.

Hendrik Lokhorst

Well , the fuselage of the Airbus 320 series is wider then the Boeing 737 series, so from a passenger view the Airbus is comfortabeler , has wider Seats , wider aisle , bigger toilets and the Windows are slightly larger and placed on higher position

William

You have omitted the fact that the Airbus a320 cabin is substantially wider than the Boeing 737 range . This provides more seat comfort for passengers . As well the 737 is a 40+ years old airframe design which in my view renders it an antique . The fact that Boeing has now created a disasterous stretching of this airframe with engines mounted in a very unairworthy position , ref. the 737 Max , should also have been noted in your piece . Boeing has made a very big mistake in not completely redesigning this aircraft from the ground up… Read more »

Daniel Baglietto Seymour

Like both Airbus and Boeing

Daniel Baglietto Seymour

I like both Airbus & Boeing

Zaimu

The B737 is better.

Zaimu

The 737 is a prolific Performers