With hopes that the pandemic will be behind us by the summer, airlines begin preparing for a predicted competition: transatlantic Airbus narrowbody routes. The reach of these re-engined A321s could change the way some think about crossing the Atlantic.
It was bound to happen. Like Boeing with the longer versions of the MAX, Airbus developed its A321LR and XLR models with an eye on transatlantic flights. The key difference, of course, being that Airbus’ A321LR is already here.
JetBlue had announced that it intended to fly to London from the US. Speaking in this year’s on-line World Travel Market, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes confirmed that’s still the plan this year. The airline has not indicated which London airport they have in mind, however. On the US side, they will fly from New York’s JFK and from Boston.
There have been some movements lately in London’s airports, with slots opening up in Gatwick. It will be interesting to see if JetBlue snaps up some of these slots, of if they will prefer another base. Either way, the airline aims to shake up the transatlantic market. Although they are nominally a low-cost carrier, JetBlue aim to attract business travellers. They have already offered business seats in the US market, so it will be interesting to see how this translates for transatlantic flights with its new Airbus aircraft.
While JetBlue had to postpone their original plans in the pandemic, Hayes is bullish that the route will be successful. He believes the industry will have recovered enough by the summer for the operation to have substantial demand. The airline will take delivery of its Airbus A321LR aircraft early in 2021, early enough for transatlantic summer schedules.
Aer Lingus’ Manchester Transatlantic Airbus Fleet
We had already seen reports that Aer Lingus was discussing with UK officials about a likely UK-based operation. Observers believed this would likely involve Manchester or even Edinburgh. There are now reports that the company has formally applied for a Manchester base. Of course this isn’t the first time Aer Lingus offers transatlantic flights with narrowbody Airbus aircraft. But that was from Ireland. From Manchester, the airline will likely use three of its A321neos and one A330.
The now-defunct Thomas Cook flew several transatlantic routes from Manchester. They had enough popular routes for many to believe that there is a substantial transatlantic gap, that the all-Airbus Irish airline will hope to fill. In addition to New York, the airline could fly to Chicago, Boston and Orlando, among others. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with Virgin Atlantic, who also has a substantial Manchester base.
Earlier reports suggested that Aer Lingus believes that US regulatory authorities won’t oppose transatlantic routes from a majority EU-owned airline. This could be a crucial detail for a UK-based operation, after Brexit. This was the topic of discussion the airline (and its parent company, AIG) had with UK transport authorities last week.
Others With Long-Range Airbus Plans
Frontier Airlines is another US-based low-cost carrier with orders for A321XLR aircraft. But they are not planning transatlantic flights for these Airbus planes at the moment. Frontier is looking at the possibility of flights to Hawaii, central and even south America. These are still hypothetical plans, since deliveries of the aircraft are 3-4 years away. One thing they will definitely do is transcontinental flights, not previously possible with their Airbus A320s. But they feel that the transatlantic market is currently saturated. A lot can change by 2023-24 when they get their new jets, though.
It certainly seems that the long legs of the A321 long-range variants will make them popular with airlines. Away from transatlantic markets, airlines like IndiGo and others in Asia are keen to use their Airbus aircraft for destinations to Europe.
One thing that will be interesting to see is how these Airbus interiors are configured, for transatlantic and other long-range journeys. Observers spotted a JetBlue A321 tail with an unusual paint scheme in production lately. Some have taken this as an indication that JetBlue will have dedicated Airbus aircraft for transatlantic flights, at least at first.