Long-haul narrowbody routes are set to explode in a few years as new aircraft types reach airlines. The entry of the Airbus A321LR, the upcoming A321XLR, and possibly the Boeing NMA could all change the way we fly. However, many have express concern over flying 7+ hours in a smaller narrowbody aircraft compared to traditional widebodies. But long-haul narrowbody flight won’t be too bad for passengers. Here are a few reasons why.
For better or worse, long-haul narrowbody flights will only grow in popularity over the next few years. Looking at the order book for the A321LR and XLR, it’s clear that major airlines globally are planning to jump on the wave of these hyperefficient jets. Let’s understand what this will mean for passengers.
From the get-go, Airbus has designed ways to make the up to 9-hour journey more comfortable. The manufacturer has long been working on its “Airspace Cabin” designs, which will feature larger entrance areas (allowing passengers to move around midflight as well), larger windows to let in more light, leaner sidewalls to improve seat space, and much more.
The Airspace cabin is currently being tested on the A320 family, but we could see something more specific for the A321XLR in the future too. But why would airlines choose to put such spacious cabins on their plane?
It is airlines that eventually decide what kind of cabins they want to see on their aircraft. While the first instinct might be to think that airlines would try to stuff as many seats as possible, this may not be the case every time.
While ultra-low-cost airlines will likely put as many seats as possible, others might offer passengers much more comfortable layouts. Budget carriers can justify their meager cabin offerings with low fares, more traditional airlines cannot.
Speaking about the future of long-haul narrowbody cabin layouts, former Vistara COO and Alton senior advisor Sanjiv Kapoor said,
“While passengers may not know which plane they are flying while booking, they will form an opinion after flying and word of mouth is important. If airlines pack the seats too tightly, passengers might opt to pay slightly more and switch carriers on their next long-haul flight. The aircraft type in itself doesn’t make much of a difference, it’s how airlines choose to configure their plane. For example, some of the most coveted seats among enthusiasts in the mini-cabin on the 747 upper deck, with six seats or four seats across, and everyone loves it.”
The jetBlue example
Perhaps the best example of long-haul narrowbody done right will be jetBlue’s much-awaited A321LR flights. The carrier recently unveiled its business class cabin design for the A321LR which features a sliding-door suite in a 1-1 layout. With a lie-flat bed, folding table, storage surfaces, and room to move around, one might forget they are on a narrowbody.
The American low-cost carrier has not yet revealed its economy class design on the A321LR, which most passengers will fly on. However, we can expect some unique touches there too, especially offering more seat pitch and width.
Overall, long-haul narrowbody flights may not be as bad as many fear, but it depends on the airline you fly. While the plane might be getting smaller, it opens the market to many more unserved routes in the future.
What do you think about the future of long-haul narrowbody flights? Would you pay extra for a widebody aircraft? Let us know in the comments!