Alaska Airlines based out of Seattle, Washington, has been working towards a single fleet for its mainline and regional partners Horizon Air and SkyWest operations. The final step for Alaska Airlines mainline operations to go single fleet will be the divestment of its Airbus A321neos.

The aircraft

The A321neo is the second generation of the Airbus A321. This second generation of A321s came with a new engine option – hence the term “neo” – and other improvements like Sharklets. The new engine options would be the CFM International’s LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM geared turbofans. For Virgin America’s order of A321neos that became Alaska Airlines’ equipment to operate, the A321neo engines were the CFM International LEAP-1A33 turbofans offering 35,000 pounds of thrust per jet engine.

Airbus A321-253neo of Alaska Airlines - N921VA - Pulling In the Gear
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

The A321neo has a passenger capacity of either 244 in single-class configuration or for Alaska Airlines, according to, a 3-class configuration of 190 passengers – slightly more than a 737 MAX 9’s or 737-900ER’s capabilities of 178 passengers. The A321neo can go 7,400 km / 4,598 miles before refueling.

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How did Alaska Airlines get A320 family aircraft?

How did an airline based in Seattle, also home to Boeing, end up flying Airbus aircraft? The simple answer is by acquisition – or by Alaska Airlines buying Virgin America. The merger resulted in Alaska Airlines absorbing all of Virgin America’s Airbuses – A319s, A320s, and A321s.

N855VA, An Airbus A320-214 of Alaska Airlines Climbs Away
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

According to’s database, the small Airbus A319s were phased out between 2020 and 2023 with intentions to be scrapped. Initially, the 10 A319-100s were delivered to Virgin America between 2006 and 2008.

The Airbus A320s like N836VA above and below – although being called “uneconomic relative to others” by now-CEO Ben Minicucci – enjoyed a long departure from Alaska Airlines starting in November 2019 culminating in March 2023. At least some of the A320-214s are now flying for the US’s Allegiant Air, South Korea’s Aero K, and Indonesia’s Pelita Air, while others are in maintenance or stored as they, according to’s database, retain $18.2 million in value a piece.

Rising N836VA - A320 of Alaska Airlines - on 23 Sept 2022
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

During the long departure, an air leasing deal was reached in 2020 to swap out 10 A320s with 13 737 MAX 9 jets. The A320s were delivered to Virgin America between 2006 and 2016, 2016 when Virgin America was acquired by Alaska Airlines.

20170163_A321neo-707x1000 - Airbus explainer on the A321neo
Graphic: Airbus

It's worth noting that Virgin America was the world’s first A321neo operator. The plan back in Virgin America’s day was to acquire 10 A321neos at first, with a later option for 30. Still, after Alaska Airlines’ acquisition, Alaska Airlines management canceled the option without accruing a penalty. The 10 A321neos taken on do have 10-year lease agreements, causing headaches for Alaska Airlines’ management.

Alaska Airlines’ efforts to divest the A321neos

In fact, according to the 1st Quarter 2023 Alaska Airlines earnings call transcript by Insider Monkey transcripts, Shane Tackett – the airline’s Executive Vice President of Finance – announced not just, “September 2023 will be the final month we operate the Airbus fleet” but also Alaska Airlines accepting $300-350 million in “special fleet transition charges.”

Some of those charges include finishing cross-training Airbus A321neo pilots for the Boeing 737 in the last quarter of 2023. Below is an author's photo of the A321neo cockpit - and note the sidestick that is not used with Boeing 737s.

Pilot's Seat of A321neo
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

Ultimately, as Nathaniel Pieper – Alaska Airlines’ Senior Vice President of Fleet, Finance and Alliances said,

The last hurdle we’ve got to get over is to come up with an A321 exit plan, and we’re getting close. Late-stage discussions with a bunch of parties, lessors, financial firms, other airlines, and our objective is to paper the transaction for the 10 aircraft by the end of the second quarter.

Considering the work to get Alaska Airlines' mainline to a single fleet again started upon acquiring Virgin America, this is quite an accomplishment.

One of the last Alaska Airlines A321-qualified pilots…

Jodi Rueger, the young airshow pilot, did get an A320 rating that covers the A321neo in March. Rueger is now qualified in the De Havilland of Canada Dash 8 family, the 737 family, and now the A320 family.

Alaska Airlines Airbus A321neo passenger experience

The author has flown aboard the A321neo in Alaska Airlines’ care several times. The aircraft has clean leather seats – seats that are too eerily like the Boeing 737. Perhaps that’s because Alaska Airlines has had Recaro seats installed into its Airbuses and Boeing 737s to attempt to create a modern, unified in-flight experience, as you can see in the below photos. Since 2019, 100% of Alaska Airlines' fleet has been fitted with Recaro seating, which also extends to the economy cabin.

Ultimately, only aviation enthusiasts would notice or care if they were flying with Alaska Airlines on an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 family. The airline still has trained, kind, but when necessary, firm professionals working on each flight. I would say that the A321neo and A320 seem to have their wings shake more in turbulence than the 737 family... and that the seatback in-flight entertainment is missed, even though the functionalities are now handled via the aircraft's WiFi to stream via your mobile device's browser. Below is a photo of before the renovations:

Looking Thru the A320 Cabin With Passengers Enjoying the Seatback Screens
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

Bottom line

As the end is coming for the A320 this September, the long-term goal of Alaska Airlines to go truly single fleet is near. Earlier this year, Alaska Airlines retired from the regional subsidiary Horizon Air the Bombardier Q400, now the de Havilland of Canada Dash 8-400 on a flight covered by Simple Flying. Now the last of the Airbuses of the mainline is near, Alaska Airlines will be able to run a more efficient operation with a thinner training pipeline, more commonality with spare parts and other airframe demands, and the ability to negotiate in bulk.

A 2019 AIRBUS A321-253N Waiting to Board at KSEA
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

What are your impressions? Please share with civility in the comments section.

Sources: Insider Monkey Transcripts,;

  • Alaska 737-800
    Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
    Alaska Airlines
    IATA/ICAO Code:
    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier
    Anchorage International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Portland International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
    Year Founded:
    Ben Minicucci
    United States
  • rsz_airbus_50th_years_anniversary_formation_flight_-_air_to_air
    Stock Code:
    Business Type:
    Date Founded:
    Guillaume Faury
    Headquarters Location:
    Toulouse, France
    Key Product Lines:
    Airbus A220, Airbus A320, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350, Airbus A380
  • 787-8 Dreamliner
    Stock Code:
    Business Type:
    Date Founded:
    Dave Calhoun
    Headquarters Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Key Product Lines:
    Boeing 737, Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787