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United details Airbus A321neo delivery schedule, route strategy

Date: March 31, 2022

By Zach Griff, The Points Guy

Last summer, United placed its largest single aircraft order in the history of the airline.

The Chicago-based carrier announced firm orders with Boeing for 50 737 Max 8 aircraft and 150 of the longer 737 Max 10 variant, and with Airbus for 70 of the European plane maker’s A321neo, or “new engine option.”

The order is part of the “United Next” program, which is designed to guide the company through its post-pandemic development. (The airline also unveiled a new signature interior and retrofit program as part of the grand reveal last June.)

While details of United’s new aircraft deployment strategy and configuration were initially light, we’re now learning more about the carrier’s plans.

To start, United now expects to receive delivery of its first Airbus A321neo in spring 2023, according to an internal employee communication, which was viewed by TPG and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson. This timeline is on track with the “early 2023” estimate it provided last June.

Additionally, the carrier will deploy the new A321neo fleet “primarily on domestic routes, filling a role similar to our other large narrowbody aircraft,” the internal memo reads. Right now, United’s largest narrowbody plane by capacity is the 234-seat Boeing 757-300, and the second-largest is the Boeing 737-900 (and 737 Max 9), which has space for 179 passengers.

Taking a look at the airline’s domestic routes for these jets shows that they fly a variety of flights across the country, including the 2,704-mile route from Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO), and the 147-mile hop from Houston (IAH) to Austin (AUS).

United also confirmed that its A321neos will sport the Airbus Cabin Flex fuselage, which means that there will be four cabin doors, two at each end of the plane, along with four overwing window exits. The airline will add a mid-cabin lavatory location to assist with traffic flow, and it’ll install the Airbus XL overhead bins, which should provide room for everyone’s full-size carry-on.

United will add an additional feature to the overhead bins that lowers the resting position of the lid to assist those who aren’t tall enough with closing the bins. Furthermore, those seated in first class will likely appreciate that the A321neo will have a closet near the forward galley for coat storage.

The airline also reiterated that the plane will feature its new signature interior, which includes seat-back entertainment monitors, AC and USB power outlets at all seats and the industry’s fastest available Wi-Fi (which is presumably from ViaSat).

The airline didn’t publish a seat map in the internal memo, so we’ll be sure to follow up with details once they’re public. The airline in June announced that the A321neo is expected to have a similar number of first class and extra-legroom Economy Plus seats as the new 737 Max 10, which will feature 20 and 64, respectively.

The Airbus A321neo has proven to be a popular option for airlines looking for large-gauge single-aisle aircraft. In the U.S., AlaskaAmerican and JetBlue all operate the A321neo, while Delta recently took delivery of its first airframe, with plans to inaugurate the jet in May.

The A321neo offers more favorable economics thanks to improved fuel efficiency and other aerodynamic improvements that have made it a popular choice with U.S. operators. By 2026, United expects that this big aircraft order will lower its total carbon emissions per seat by up to 15%.

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