JetBlue Airways and European ULCC Wizz Air are two of the highest profile customers for the Airbus A321XLR, but the two carriers plan to utilize the long-range narrowbody quite differently.
The A321XLR, which completed its first flight in June and is slated to enter service in 2024, will be the longest-range single-aisle aircraft currently in production, with a range of 4,700 nm–that’s 30% farther than the baseline A321neo and 700 nm more than the A321LR variant.
JetBlue currently operates the A321LR from Boston (BOS) and New York Kennedy (JFK) to both London Gatwick (LGW) and Heathrow (LHR). The Queens, New York-based airline is eyeing deeper penetration into Europe with the XLR, of which it has 13 on order.
The carrier is putting the emphasis on a premium offering, with plans to configure its A321XLRs with 24 of its Mint-branded lie-flat seats. “We expect two-thirds of the revenue to come from one-sixth of the seats,” JetBlue’s route planning director Eric Friedman told Routes World 2022 conference in Las Vegas. “That’s how important premium is.”
The configuration is expected to be similar to JetBlue’s A321LR aircraft, which feature 138 seats, including 24 Mint seats. Passengers on JetBlue transatlantic flights are also given access to high-speed wi-fi at no extra charge.
ULCC Wizz, which has 47 A321XLR aircraft on order designated for its Wizz Air Abu Dhabi affiliate, on the other hand will configure the aircraft to the maximum capacity of 239 seats in a tight, all-economy layout. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s commercial manager Krislen Keri said the carrier is determined to retain its ULCC status, even as it operates long-haul 6-8-hr. routes from Abu Dhabi with the A321XLR.
“It can only be successful if we can stick to the [ULCC] model,” he said. “There will be no installation of [in-flight entertainment systems] or premium seats. Customers can bring their own cushions and their own iPads in exchange for lower fares.”
Wizz is an all-A320 family aircraft operator, all of which are configured in a single-class format.
When asked how confident Wizz is that passengers will be willing to sit in ULCC seating for 8 hr., Keri responded: “The passenger will be quite happy because their pocket will be happy. The A321XLR’s range capabilities will give more options to VFR passengers currently flying on very expensive airlines. It will fly to some very exciting destinations. For us, this is a clear win. It’s just a case of launching the routes. We want people to fly more, but pay less. If they’re flying twice a year now, they can fly 4-5 times a year for the same price.”
Highlighting the importance of VFR traffic to Wizz’s A321XLR ambitions, he added: “We’re going to have a lot more friends and a lot more relatives aboard our aircraft.”
JetBlue’s Friedman said the airline needs the aircraft, along with its A321LRs (of which it has five in service) to operate transatlantic service from Boston and New York, its two largest markets.
“From New York and Boston, there was a clear lack of ability in the past to get to some of the most relevant markets in Europe, so the choice for us always was between a widebody or the LR and XLR,” he explained, adding that widebodies do not make economic sense for JetBlue.
Friedman said JetBlue will announce another A321LR European destination in addition to LGW and LHR “very soon.”
Airbus so far has 560 orders for the A321XLR from 26 customers with “more to come,” Airbus head of market intelligence and consulting Yves Renard told the Routes World conference.
Pointing to JetBlue and Wizz, he said: “These guys are going to find routes we’ve never thought of. This is a very flexible aircraft. It can operate long and short routes.”
Broadly outlining potential routes, Renard cited transatlantic, “US to deep South America” and Australia to Japan as examples.
He added: “The A321XLR also will complement widebody aircraft by serving the same routes at off-peak times or in cases of significant seasonal variation in demand.”
Airbus currently has three A321XLRs in flight testing.
Though they will deploy disparate strategies in using the aircraft, JetBlue and Wizz agree that the A321XLR will expand route opportunities for airlines.
“We believe the XLR has the potential of being a disruptive technology in the industry,” Keri said.
“I think this will be more of a game changer than the [Boeing] 787,” Friedman said.