How Long Haul Narrow Body Flights Are Taking Over

Short haul flights used to be operated by narrowbody aircraft while long haul was operated by wide-body aircraft. As the aviation industry evolves, this is no longer the norm.

Aircraft manufacturers are constantly making their aircraft better than before, increasing range through increased fuel efficiency. This means that airlines are using narrow-body aircraft for quieter routes which were traditionally out of range of smaller aircraft, but not busy enough for wide-body aircraft.

Copa Airlines

Copa Airlines is leading the world in long haul B737 flights. The airline has a unique location of their hub in Panama City. This means they are able to operate many long routes without requiring ETOPS certification. This is due to the fact that they can fly over land to destinations in North America and South America, meaning a diversion airfield is always within reach. One of the longer flights they operate with the B737 is from Panama City to San Francisco, California. With a flight time of 7hr 40mins and a distance of 2,885 miles, the airline is really pushing the aircraft close to its limits of 3,100 miles.



BA001 is the flight number for arguably the most interesting long haul flight operated by a narrow body aircraft. The A318 service takes off from London City Airport, this flight operates to New York City with a stop at Shannon, Ireland. The business class only service cannot take off from City Airport’s short runway with enough fuel to get to NYC, hence, the stop in Shannon. Whilst the aircraft is stopped in Shannon, the passengers have their documents checked by US immigration meaning the flight can land as a domestic flight in New York.

BA A318 in full business class
BA001 has 32 Business Class seats onboard. Photo: British Airways

The return flight is non-stop, covering around 3,600miles in around 7 hours 15 minutes. The overnight flight has just 32 seats which become 6ft lie flat beds at the touch of a button. Landing right in the centre of London in the early morning, the flight is very much aimed at business workers heading to meetings. In contrast, on the 25th of November, the airline will be retiring the last B767 from its fleet. In recent years the wide body 767 has been used for short haul domestic flights to destinations such as Edinburgh.

Southwest Airlines

Over the other side of the US, Southwest Airlines are proving that narrow body aircraft are also useful with full loads. Using their fleet of B737 aircraft, they are set to start launching flights to Hawaii. Taking just over 6 hours, and flying mostly over the water, these flights are set to launch some time in 2019 once the airline receives its ETOPS certification from the FAA.

Southwest B737
Southwest operates over 700 B737s, with more than 300 on order. Photo: Southwest

With a full route network across the US, this isn’t the only long route to be operated by the airline. WN2206 is currently Southwest’s longest flight. Scheduled to take 5 hours and 50 minutes, it travels a distance of 2,447 miles between Baltimore and Oakland.

Are Lingus

Using their new A321LR aircraft, Aer Lingus shows that you can operate such a flight with a mix of business class and economy passengers. The CEO of Aer Lingus said that the airline was considering 3 North American destinations for the A321LR. Aer Lingus has 4 A321LR deliveries scheduled for both 2019 and 2020. It is only a matter of time before these narrow-body aircraft will start gracing the skies over the Atlantic.

Aer Lingus New Livery
Airbus will start delivering A321LRs to Aer Lingus in 2019. Photo: Airbus

All of this shows how versatile narrow body aircraft are. It would seem absurd to operate an A380 from London to Manchester. In contrast, it is becoming the new norm to complete a long haul flight in a narrow-body aircraft.


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