The Incredible Rise Of Transatlantic A321LR Narrowbody Flights

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As the Boeing 757 declines, the A321LR rises. Six airlines will use the A321 between Europe and North America this year, with JetBlue coming. Aer Lingus is top, but it’s Air Transat that has the most routes. The shortest route is from Terceira to Boston, while the longest – Stockholm to Chicago – has a block time of over nine hours.

Aer Lingus A321neo
Aer Lingus is the #1 A321 operator across the North Atlantic. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

Six airlines have A321-operated routes bookable between Europe and North America this year, twice as many as will use the Boeing 757. Aer Lingus leads the pack by total capacity, followed by TAP Air Portugal, Air Transat, Azores Airlines, SAS, and La Compagnie. JetBlue will be the seventh; it’ll put its London routes on sale shortly and says it will reinvent economy class.

Air Transat A321neo
Air Transat has the most A321 routes to Europe this year, but it isn’t the biggest operator due to more seasonal and thinner routes. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

Big rise over 2019

The A321 so far has nearly 10,000 flights scheduled between Europe and North America this year, up from fewer than 4,000 in 2019, with such fast growth inevitable given how new the LR is. But while it is rising strongly, the decline of the B757 – the previous choice for long and thin routes – has necessarily meant that the share of narrowbody capacity across the Atlantic has declined in most years: from 13% in 2011 to just 7% in 2019.

Widebody vs. narrowbody
The big rise in widebody seats was partly from Norwegian’s fast growth. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Terceira to Boston is the shortest

42 routes are scheduled to be operated by the A321LR between North America and Europe this year. Going to the USA and Canada, so typically with headwinds and therefore longer, they have an average elapsed time of seven hours and 49 minutes.

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At five hours and 50 minutes, Azores Airlines’ Terceira-Boston has the lowest block time. And at 2,299 miles, it also is the shortest; it has a shorter distance than Boston to the US West Coast. It is one of five transatlantic A321 routes for the carrier this year, all mainly based on visiting friends and relatives demand:

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  1. Ponta Delgada-Boston: up to five-weekly
  2. Ponta Delgada-Toronto: up to five-weekly
  3. Ponta Delgada-Montreal: up to twice-weekly
  4. Terceira-Boston: once-weekly
  5. Terceira-Toronto: once-weekly
Azores Airlines A321
Azores Airlines has five transatlantic routes with the A321 this year. Photo: Arran Rice – Simple Flying.

Stockholm to Chicago is the longest

With an elapsed time of nine-and-a-half hours (!) and 4,272 miles, Stockholm to Chicago is the longest. SAS will operate it three-weekly from August 1st, rising to seven-weekly from September and into October, before the A330-300 takes it back in November. The route links two Star Alliance hubs.

SAS filed four A321LR routes to the USA with OAG on April 5th. Alongside Stockholm to Chicago are:

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  1. Stockholm-Newark
  2. Copenhagen-Boston
  3. Oslo-Newark
A321LR routes
The longest and shortest transatlantic A321 routes this year. Image: GCMap.

Lisbon to Newark #1 route

Despite Aer Lingus having the most capacity, helped by its coming Manchester to New York JFK route, it is Lisbon to Newark that is the thickest A321LR-operated route. TAP Air Portugal will use the narrowbody to Newark 14-weekly from July onwards, one of six routes from Lisbon to North America with the aircraft:

  1. Boston
  2. Montreal
  3. Newark
  4. New York JFK
  5. Toronto
  6. Washington Dulles

Although out of this article’s scope, it is worth saying that TAP also uses the A321 to five Brazilian cities from Lisbon: Belém; Fortaleza; Maceió; Natal; and Recife. All are in the northeast and therefore closer.

Top A321 routes
Aer Lingus operates six of the top-10 routes when flights are considered. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Does the A321 make sense?

Analysis by anna.aero in 2020 showed that the A321neos should boost Aer Lingus’ long-haul performance, especially on thinner routes and/or those underperforming. Indeed, its A321s require 42% fewer passengers than its A330-300s to breakeven at 85%.

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Aer Lingus A321LR
Aer Lingus’ A321LRs have a 50% lower fixed/variable cost than the airline’s A330-300s. Photo: Airbus.

Because of the plane’s smaller size, the publication found that Aer Lingus’ A321neos would have a 15% higher unit cost, meaning a 15% higher average fare would be needed to break even. This indicates the routes that the aircraft could be used on: thinner and perhaps less competitive, or on less demanded days/times if there are multiple frequencies. As the analysis showed, this would be offset by a significant 50% lower fixed/variable cost saving per sector.

Have you flown long-haul in an A321? Comment below!

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