Virgin America is planning to launch its first flight of the Airbus a321neo aircraft on May 31st, 2017 on its San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Washington’s Regan National Airport (DCA). The airline has had orders on the Airbus a321neo since 2010, well before any plans of a merger with Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines is an all-Boeing fleet (except for the smaller Embraer E175s run under Horizon Air). Virgin America by contrast is an all Airbus fleet.
Virgin America took position of the first 321neo from Airbus in Hamburg Germany earlier this month. The “neo” in a321neo stands for “new engine option”, and on the Virgin America’s a321neo Airbus has included CFM International’s LEAP-1A engines. The higher efficiency design helps make the new a321neo a more fuel efficient and environment friendly ride. The new Airbus has a host of other features including significantly reduced noise levels, and updated air filtration systems and updated materials used in the construction. All this makes the a321neo the most advanced a320 family aircraft to date.
Looking at Virgin America’s current a320-200 aircraft, total seating is 149 persons including 8 first class, 12 main cabin select, and 129 economy seats. The a321neo will up that number to 185 persons which is an increase of 24%. The new layout is most notable different in the Virgin America’s upscale economy product, Main Cabin Select. The current a320 have a total of 12 seats situated in rows 3 and 10. In the a321neo there are 18 Main Cabin Select seats, located together in rows 3,4 and 5.
Another interesting aspect of the a321neo seating arrangement is the inclusion of three pairs of two-only economy seats. Two of these pairs are in exit rows which usually also have more leg room. These might be a nice option when traveling with one other companion.
Virgin America Airbus Comparison
|Current a320-200||New a321neo|
|Main Cabin Select||12||18|
24% more overall seating
50% increase in Main Cabin Select
23% increase in economy
Virgin America has had the updated aircraft loaded into the system since February and it is currently shown for the inaugural flight on May 31st, 2017, SFO-DCA. I’ve never done an inaugural flight and prices seem reasonable for coach and main cabin select. First is a little expensive at $1,699.00. Unfortunately, my current schedule isn’t open on the May 31st or June 1st, so I’ll have to wait to see the Airbus a321neo on a later date.
Screen shot of Virgin America SFO-DCA direct on May31st, 2017
It’s a bit ironic that Virgin America, now owned by Alaska Airlines, is the launch partner of Airbus’s newest a320 family plane. Virgin America, when it was independent, was an enthusiastic supporter of Airbus and the a320; Alaska Airlines has been a stanch Boeing 737 supporting for their operations. Alaska has made some statements that cast doubt on Airbus being included in the future combined operations. Even so, with the leases and commitments they have inherited with Virgin America, the Airbus aircrafts will be around at least until the early 2020s – and then things can change.
From a passenger perspective, I’m interested in flying Virgin America’s newest aircraft. I like the way main cabin select is located toward the front of the cabin and that there are 50% more possible seats for an upgrade. Now if I can just get away from the office.