David Neeleman keen on A321XLR for select TAP transatlantic routes

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TAP Air Portugal co-owner David Neeleman is “definitely” eyeing the newly-launched Airbus A321XLR, as it would be a logical choice for certain flights from the United States including Chicago, the airline industry veteran entrepreneur tells Runway Girl Network.

On 1 June, TAP launched Airbus A321LR service between Newark and Porto. In reference to the new XLR, which is the latest evolution of the re-engined A320neo and will be the longest-range single-aisle airliner, Neeleman says

“It’s not as important to us as it is to everyone else because the LR’s performance didn’t come in as promised so the XLR was needed to get back that range they promised in the beginning. But fortunately for us, Lisbon is so much closer to the United States [versus] say you’re flying out of Paris, even Madrid, so it doesn’t affect us as much. But there are places we’d like to fly, [like] Chicago with XLR, so it makes some sense for us.”

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Since Airbus’ formal XLR announcement this morning at the Paris Air Show, there has been renewed discussion on social media about whether passengers really want to fly narrowbodies on longhaul routes. And indeed, your author’s own 79-year old mother was only just this weekend lamenting Aer Lingus’ use of “small aircraft” between the US and Ireland.

But Neeleman reckons that when it comes to twin-aisle aircraft “way too much” attention is given to “the grandiose space in the cabin”.

“What’s most important,” he adds, “is personal space and what you have going on in your personal space.” He notes that TAP’s A321LR features 16 full-flat beds, and is “a lot like JetBlue Mint aircraft” with extra legroom economy class seats “and even the coach seats in the back have good legroom, big TVs, it’s a very comfortable ride and your personal space is no different on the LRs versus the A330s.”

He continues, “It’s good for us too because it allows us to fly more frequency in the off-season as well.” For example, United offers seasonal services to Porto, but the LR allows TAP to do it year-round “because we’ll put the LRs in Washington [Dulles] at that time.”

Neeleman is eyeing the A321XLR for flights to Portugal from Chicago and potentially other US cities. Image: Airbus

Reuters is today reporting that the new A321XLR will pose a cabin comfort dilemma for Airbus, as “Airbus and Boeing have been promoting new carbon-fibre long-haul aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner and A350, which offer roomier cabins and help passengers avoid jet lag by providing a cabin pressure closer to that felt on the ground.”

Asked by RGN to weigh in on this notion, Neelman says, “The 787 talks about cabin altitude, but it’s not something we sold with the Airbuses.” Noting that he travels a lot and doesn’t notice a difference in jet leg, Neeleman adds, “I think it’s maybe just hype on the 787.”

TAP is touting the fact it is only airline in the world to operate all of Airbus’ latest generation NEO aircraft. Does this give TAP an advantage right now, given that Boeing’s credibility is in question?

“I don’t think so,” says Neeleman. “I think what’s advantageous for us is to have these new generation airplanes; the fuel burn is so much better.” He notes that an A321neo at TAP burns less fuel than an A319 “and one has 147 people [A319] and the other has 220 people, so we’re picking up 70 more people for less fuel burn. We’re focused on new engine options because they’re so much more efficient from a fuel economy point of view.”

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3 Comments

  1. Howard Miller

    I’m a big fan & admirer of David Neeleman (of whom I’ve had the privilege and honor of meeting and speaking with several times – and who occasionally included data and analysis during quarterly calls with Wall St analysts and journalists covering the industry when my work was regularly featured in PlaneBusiness Banter between 1999-2004), so it pains me to say this!

    But, if he’s claiming these new “longer range” narrow-bodies are comparable in comfort to wide-bodies for flights of 7-9 hours (including eastbound trans-Atlantic flights which, except for a handful on the busiest routes to/from London, are nearly always red-eyes), then how come NOT ONE (of 11 when including this article and seatguru) offer any information regarding the row pitch in economy class for this model aircraft.

    Yep, NOT ONE – as in zero, zlich, nada, nein! – web site or press release (Airbus’s) seen to date regarding this “comparable to widebodies” narrowbody for Mr. Neeleman’s version of what surely will be long-haul hell for those confined for 7-9 hours in a 30”-31” pitch row seat if that’s the pitch this plane has.

    In fact, even at 32” pitch, that’s still way too narrow and confining for a narrowbody for 7-9 hours – and especially a red eye.

    Those who may say that before the 747, flights aboard narrowbody 707s and DC8s were of a comparable length of the A321LR, or in four years, even the Airbus A321XLR’s 4,700nm (5,300 statute miles).

    However, those long-haul flights using narrowbodies were aboard aircraft where the row pitch in Economy was typically 34”; the seats had considerably more padding and reclined considerably more than the butt numbing, hard as cement blocks seats now found on most airplanes in Economy; the meals were considerably better and the lavatories were full/adult sized, not the minuscule ones in Airbus’s hilariously misnamed “Airspace” configurations where a person of 5’8” who still fits comfortably into a W32 Levi’s jeans has to crouch and barely fits into the rear outboard/left side (when facing the galley) micro-lavatory on Delta’s Airbuses flown in recent months.

    The fact that the row pitch for the Economy class seats aboard TAP Portugal’s Airbus A321LRs remains a complete mystery alone is all that one needs to know just how horrible these planes must be for those who our industry now seems to view as unworthy of flying in some semblance of comfort for long-haul flights.

    David, you know I have nothing but the utmost respect for you – but in this instance, I’m going to beg to differ as I just can’t see how being stuck in any narrowbody for a long-haul flight of 7, 8, 9, or egads! 10 hours in any seat that has less than 33”-34” pitch is even remotely comparable to widebodies that have 32” or more row pitch (especially 767s, A330s/340s, A380s, 747s, or of course Japan Airlines’ 8-abreast 787s)

    Just sayin’ 😉

  2. William

    Comfort is completely defined by seat pitch and seat width. Being in a 32 inch pitch 18 inch wide A321LR seat is much better than enjoying the magnificent ceiling arch of a 16 inch wide seat 20E in the middle of a 3/5/3 configured B777. Widebody comfort is a nonsense.

  3. Anish Abraham

    The longest I’ve been on a single-aisle is around four hours, in economy, and that wasn’t too bad (Dubai to south India in an A321, and JNB to Nairobi in a 737-800). As weird as this may seem, I’ve been on narrow bodies where the space felt a bit better than on some wide bodies. Still, 8 hours or so seems a bit of a stretch, and definitely not for the claustrophobic.
    As much as we may complain, at the end of the day, if it brings the ticket price down from what we see today, and offers new direct city pairs, there will be customers – regardless of the experience