Narrowbody vs Widebody – Which Is Best For Long Haul?

One of the defining trends in aviation is the movement towards long and skinny routes using narrowbody aircraft. This has led to the demise of several aircraft designed for hub-to-hub transport, as point-to-point has become more common. However, much of these new long-haul routes are being operated (or will be operated) with narrowbody aircraft. So which is better? A narrowbody, or a widebody?

Narrowbody vs widebody
Are narrowbodies or widebodies better for a long-haul flight? Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Long-haul narrowbody flights

One of the longest-range narrowbodies is the Airbus A321XLR. With plenty of orders for the type, Airbus has successfully introduced a new middle-of-the-market aircraft that is capable of covering long-haul flights without compromising efficiency and causing overcapacity. While some will complain that a long-haul flight on a narrowbody will be brutal, there are some other points to consider.

Airbus A321XLR infographic
The Airbus A321XLR is one of the longest-range narrowbodies on the market. Rendering: Airbus
Pros

Narrowbodies are smaller. The A321XLR can seat between 180 and 220 passengers in a two-class configuration. A widebody, like the A330neo, can seat around 300 passengers in a typical two-class configuration. As a result, this means that, with the smaller plane, less time is spent on the ground because boarding can be completed quicker. In addition, deplaning will take less time.

At the airport, there will be fewer people queued ahead of you if you deplane last. Furthermore, with fewer passengers, it means that airlines will have to handle fewer bags so the wait at baggage claim should be less than it would be with a widebody flight.

Most widebody aircraft, like the A350, 787, and 777, have a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 configuration. The A321XLR and 737 MAX both seat six-abreast in a 3-3 configuration. So, overall, flying on a narrowbody is not entirely less comfortable than on a widebody in terms of seating configuration. In fact, on some narrowbodies, the seat width is greater than that of widebody aircraft!

Norwegian Interior
Some narrowbody aircraft have wider seats than widebody aircraft. Photo: Boeing
Cons

Obviously, with a smaller narrowbody aircraft, it means that there isn’t much room to move around. With only one aisle, there is less space to walk around the cabin. In addition, during meal services, this can lead to difficulty in terms of navigating to a lavatory.

Cabin crew may have issues, as narrowbodies do not allow for crew rests. Airlines may block off a portion of seats, or flight attendants may be restricted to the galley during flight. Ultimately, this could lead to some discomfort for the cabin crew. Moreover, with a fewer number of crew onboard, some may experience a lesser quality of service compared to a widebody with greater staffing.

La compagnie champagne service
The single-aisle can become a pain to navigate during inflight services. Photo: La Compagnie

Long-haul widebody flights

Widebodies are exceptionally common on long-haul flights. In fact, most people associate long-haul flying with widebodies. These aircraft typically have far more range than long-haul narrowbodies and operate some of the world’s longest flights.

Pros

Obviously, with twin-aisle aircraft, there is more room to move around. This allows for some flexibility for passengers who wish to use the lavatory during services. Furthermore, there is more room for passengers who can then avoid crowding the aisle.

Cabin crew also have dedicated crew rest areas. No doubt these are welcome features for flight attendants working on a long-haul flight.

Furthermore, widebodies generally allow for greater overhead bin space onboard meaning most passengers will have access to their personal items mid flight.

Overhead bin space
Widebodies generally have more overhead bin space than a narrowbody. Photo: Simple Flying

Another positive aspect of widebodies is that airlines can offer more flexible premium seating. Direct aisle access in premium cabins is more common on widebodies than narrowbodies. Furthermore, widebodies allow for more seating overall, which means more chances of either upgrades or award travel. On narrowbodies, more seating can come at the expense of key amenities like privacy or direct aisle access.

Narrowbody vs Widebody – Which Is Best For Long Haul?
Widebodies allow for more premium-cabin seats. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying
Cons

Obviously, with more people onboard, it can take longer for all passengers to disembark. For passengers who disembark last, this can mean longer lines at immigration and the baggage claim.

Some widebodies also have incredibly narrow seats and tight configurations. These configurations are possible because airlines can be more flexible with twin-aisle options. High-density widebodies can be more uncomfortable than narrowbodies.

Which is better?

Most people will prefer a long-haul flight on a widebody. However, that does not necessarily mean a widebody is a superior option. Airlines are increasingly moving forward with narrowbodies on long-haul routes. This opens up additional options for connections, new routes, and additional capacity. At the end of the day, it really depends on the passengers.

Passengers who would prefer to spend less time traveling may find that at a single long-haul flight on a narrowbody is better than two flights with one (or both) being operated with widebody aircraft.

Nevertheless, a narrowbody long-haul flight is not necessarily bad. What is great about offering both is that passengers can choose how they want to travel. After all, some of the fun is in the journey, right?

Do you prefer widebodies or narrowbodies for long-haul flights? Would you fly a narrowbody long-haul flight? Let us know in the comments!

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