United is reportedly considering the Airbus A321LR to replace its Boeing 757-200s currently operating a handful of transatlantic routes.
Last week I asked if United will remove seats from business class. Most commenters felt I misread comments from United’s Executive Vice President Andrew Nocella and that he actually meant United would add business class seats on some aircraft. United already offers a better premium cabin ratio to American and Delta.
And that may well be for the 767 retrofits. But if Paul Lyons is to believed, if United does pursue an A321 program it will feature a layout of:
- 16 Polaris Business Class
- 72 Economy Plus
- 90 United Economy
Currently, United’s transatlantic 757s feature:
- 16 Polaris Business Class (older B/E Diamond seat)
- 45 Economy Plus
- 108 United Economy
What stands out to me is such a huge Economy Plus cabin while business class remains at 16 seats. There is no mention of Premium Plus, United’s new premium economy cabin. This seems to buck all recent trends from United.
Who exactly is Paul Lyons? He is Head of Advisory at IBA Group, a UK-based aviation technical consulting firm. While his firm mostly advises budget carriers, I take his statement seriously because he is well-connected to Airbus and willing to go on the record. Per AIN Online:
Lyons also noted that the A321LR’s cruise speed of Mach 0.78 is “relatively low … compared to some of its competitors” such as the Mach 0.85-cruising Boeing 787, possibly producing a negative “knock-on effect for utilization on some of the shorter-length but still long-haul sectors” operated by the A321LR.
I’m fairly agnostic about whether a 757-200 or A321LR offers a better experience, especially if the seats are identical. It is hardly surprising that United is looking ahead to replace its aging 757-200 fleet. It is a bit surprising, though, that it would consider a configuration with so many Economy Plus seats unless it will concentrate these aircraft in more leisure markets. Thus, I’m skeptical about this report.
image: Clemens Vasters / Wikimedia Commons