United Airlines New Airbus A321XLR Fleet – What We Know So Far

In December 2019, United Airlines placed a firm order for 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft as part of a plan to phase out older models. The US carrier also noted that the plane would be used to expand its transatlantic offerings from key US hubs such as Newark/New York and Washington Dulles. Since it’s been about six months since this announcement was made, has anything changed? Have we learned anything new?

United A321XLR
More than 450 units of the A321XLR have been ordered so far. Photo: Airbus

Replacing the Boeing 757

When United and Airbus mention that the A321XLR will be used to phase out older models, they are referring to the aging Boeing 757. According to Airfleets, United has over 70 757s – the majority of which are the shorter -200 variant.

We also know that the 757 has been used for lower-demand, transatlantic services, and the A321XLR will be used for that same purpose. As noted above, the new jet will launch from hubs in Newark/New York and Washington, DC.

United Airlines had to delay retiring its Boeing 757s because of the 737 MAX crisis. Photo: Emirates EK27 via Wikimedia Commons.

“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” – Andrew Nocella,  Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, United Airlines

Highly likely to have lie-flat seating

With such intense competition on transatlantic routes combined with the long-distance and international nature of such services, it’s a near certainty that United’s new A321XLRs will have lie-flat seating in business class with a 2-2 configuration.

Lie-flat seating for United Airlines means that we would see its signature Polaris product on the A321XLRs.

lie-flate polaris bed
The Polaris business seats on the A321XLR will offer passengers a comfortable transatlantic experience. Photo: United Airlines

As for the remainder of the cabin, we can expect to see a section of extra-pitched Economy Plus and then regular economy. Both sections would take on the usual narrowbody configuration of 3-3 seating.

Where the A321XLR is at

An extension and evolution of the A321LR, the A321XLR will be capable of carrying 240 passengers up to 4,700 nautical miles (8,704 km) – a feat that was previously only achievable by widebody commercial jets. Since its summer 2019 unveiling, Airbus has been taking steps to adapt its production line to begin production of the new type.

In April, we reported that Airbus had already begun work forging the aircraft’s central wing box. Parallel to this, manufacturing company Safran has started to produce the parts it is responsible for supplying. These include the nose and main landing gear.

The A321XLR has a 4,700nm range. Image: Airbus

Fortunately for both Airbus and United, the planned entry into service is far enough away that commercial aviation should have recovered substantially for the A321XLR’s first flight.

United plans to take delivery of the first A321XLR in 2024 and expects to begin international service with the aircraft in 2025.

Do you think the pandemic and its devastating effects on commercial aviation will change anything about United’s Airbus A321XLR order? Let us know what you think in the comments.