Boeing 757 vs. Airbus A321: How Do They Compare?

The Boeing 757 and the newer Airbus A321 are both narrowbody twinjet aircraft that have benefited immensely from ETOPS (Extended Range Twin Operations) approvals which allowed them to operate on long-distance over-water routes traditionally operated by 4-engined widebody aircraft.

Commercially, the A321 is a more successful aircraft than the 757, with 6 times the orders of the 757. And, whilst the 757 is no longer in production and operational numbers are starting to dwindle, the A321 is still in production and orders continue to be placed for its newest variant, the A321XLR which is now expected to debut in 2024.

In this article, I’ll chart the histories of these two similar aircraft, and outline how they measure up against each other.

Boeing 757 vs. Airbus A321

History

The A321 is part of the A320 narrow-body twinjet family and first flew commercially in 1994 as the A321-100, but was quickly followed in 1997 by the A321-200. The A321-200 came with an increased fuel tank capacity, maximum take-off weight, and range.

The A321neo (new engine option) variant first flew commercially in 2017. With more efficient engines and other efficiency improvements, including wing sharklets (available as an option on the original A321 too), the A321neo provides improved fuel economy, longer ranges, and additional payload compared to older variants.

The neo engines – CFM International’s LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM geared turbofans – are also quieter, improving travel comfort in the aircraft cabin.

Airbus A321neo

With the introduction of the neo variants, older A321 versions became known as the A320ceo (current engine option).

The longer-range A321LR first started flying commercially in 2018 and offers a range of up to 4,000nm.  Production and testing of the A321XLR (extra-long range) are in process, but Airbus recently announced that the first deliveries would not now take place until early 2024:

On the A321XLR, the Company continues to work towards a first flight by the end of Q2 2022. Initially planned for the end of 2023, the entry-into-service is now expected to take place in early 2024 in order to meet certification requirements.

The A321XLR is expected to feature 15% more range than the A321LR. Airlines are showing strong interest in the XLR – Airbus has received sizable orders from a variety of carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, IndiGo, Wizz Air, and Qantas.

Aircraft ModelFirst In Service
A321-100ceo1994
A321-200ceo1997
A321neo2017
A321LR2018
A321XLR2024 (est.)

The 757 first flew commercially around 40 years ago. It is no longer in production, with the last airframe rolling out in 2005. The 757 was produced in two main variants – the 757-200 and the 757-300. The 757-200 was later developed into freighter and convertible models.

Significant customers for the 757 included major US airlines, European charter airlines, and cargo companies. The 757 is well suited for short- and mid-range services including transcontinental US routes. In 1986, the 757 was approved to fly ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards) operations allowing it to operate on intercontinental routes.

The 757 variants are listed below:

Aircraft ModelTypeFirst In Service
757-200Passenger1983
757-200PFFreighter1987
757-200MConvertible1988
757-200SF/PCFConvertible2001
757-300Passenger1998

Dimensions

Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other:

Aircraft ModelLength/mWingspan/mTail Height/mFuselage Width/mMTOW/ tonnes
A321ceo44.5135.8011.763.9593.50
A321neo (LR)97.00
A321XLR101.00
B757-20047.338.013.63.76115.66
B757-30054.438.013.63.76123.83

The 757 variants are longer, wider, and taller than the A321 variants, but interestingly the fuselage is slightly narrower. The 757 internal cabin width is 3.54m compared to the A321 internal cabin width of 3.70m.

Boeing 757-200

Range

The A321ceo range is around 3,200nm, whereas the A321neo offers a slightly longer range of 4,000nm, thanks to its LR variant. The game-changing A321XLR will offer a further extended range of 4,700nm. With a flying time of 11 hours, the A321XLR will be suited to a wide range of routes not previously possible with narrowbody aircraft.

All A321 variants are ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) certified for 180 minutes since 2004 (EASA) and 2006 (FAA).

Aircraft ModelRange
A321ceo5,950km/3,200nm with sharklets
A321neo6,850km/3,700nm
A321LR7,400km/4,000nm
A321XLR8,700km/4,700nm
B757-2007,130km/3,850nm
B757-3006,288km/3,395nm

The 757 variants have ranges varying between 3,400nm and 3,900nm. Whilst the 757 was originally targeted at hub and point-to-point carriers operating short- to mid-range transcontinental routes, its ETOPS certification in 1986 allowed it to operate intercontinental routes, including transatlantic ones, boosting sales.

Boeing 757-300

Seating Capacity

Airbus’ typical 2-class and maximum seating capacities for the A321 variants are shown in the table below.

AircraftTypical 2-Class Seating CapacityMaximum Seating Capacity
A321ceo170 – 210220
A321neo/XLR180 – 220244

In practice, we see a variety around these numbers as airlines have fitted out these aircraft in 1-class, 2-class, 3-class, and even 4-class configurations. In some premium cabins, there are lie-flat seats which reduce overall seat density.

Looking at a variety of airlines operating A321 aircraft (Air Asia, American Airlines, British Airways, Cebu Pacific, easyjet, Frontier Airlines, Indigo, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Spirit Airlines, Starlux, Vistara, Wizz Air), actual fitted-out seat numbers typically vary as follows:

Aircraft1-class2-class3-class4-class
A321200 – 239154 – 240138 – 196102*

*American Airlines A321-200 V1 (First Class – 10, Business Class – 20, Premium Economy Class (Main Cabin Extra) – 36, Economy Class – 36)

The 757 typically carries anywhere between 180 and 240 passengers, depending on the number of classes in the aircraft cabin. For 757 seating numbers, I looked at Azur Air, Condor, Delta Airlines, Icelandair, and Jet2. Typical seat numbers are set out in the table below:

Aircraft1-class2-class3-class
757-200235 – 238183142 – 199
757-300225 – 262234

You can see that seating numbers vary significantly even for the same aircraft with the same number of cabins. This is because different airlines dedicate different amounts of the cabin to premium travelers and not all premium cabins are equipped with flatbed seats.

Customers and Orders

As of the end of July 2022, a total of 6,307 A321 aircraft have been ordered, of which 2,589 (41%) have been delivered. This means that Airbus has a significant backlog of A321neo orders yet to be delivered, with less than 20% of A321neo orders delivered to date.

The graph below shows the number of orders and deliveries for the A321ceo and the A321neo as of the end of July 2022:

Airbus A321 Orders and Deliveries

As of the end of July 2022, the top 3 customers for each aircraft variant are as follows:

Top 3 CustomersA321ceo Orders
Delta Airlines127
US Airways121
ILFC91
Top 3 CustomersA321neo Orders
Indigo386
AirAsia366
Wizz Air359

Low cost airlines are very significant A321 customers, taking the top three spots for the number of A321neo orders. 

Boeing received 1,050 orders in total for the 757. The majority of these (87%) were for the 757-200.

Airline customers that ordered the 757 were spread worldwide. That said, it was the large US carriers that placed the biggest orders as the 757 offers flexibility to operate on US domestic routes and, following its ETOPS certification, is also able to fly on transatlantic and inter-continental services.

Of the 757 aircraft operators remaining in service today, Delta and American Airlines are by far the largest ones. 

Airbus A321

Seating Configurations

The single-aisle A321 typically offers six seats across each row in economy and premium economy classes.

The versatility of this aircraft to offer efficient operations over short and longer-haul routes means that many airlines have fitted out premium cabins, including some with lie-flat beds. Where premium cabins are installed, airlines typically adopt a 2-2 seating arrangement in business and first class, although where lie-flat beds are installed the arrangement may even be 1-1.

For example, JetBlue’s A321 premium cabin layouts with lie-flat beds include a 2-2 + 1-1 alternating layout where there are 5 rows in the premium cabin, three rows are laid out 2-2, and two rows are laid out 1-1.

The 757 interior also allows cabin configurations of up to six seats per row in economy class with a single central aisle. Where business class is fitted, the seating configuration is typically 2-2.

Boeing 757 vs. Airbus A321: Summary

The Boeing 757 and the newer Airbus A321 have one key thing in common – they are both narrowbody twinjet aircraft that have benefited immensely from ETOPS approvals allowing them to operate on long-distance over-water routes traditionally operated by 4-engined widebody aircraft. This has allowed the A321 and the 757 to become highly versatile aircraft that can be deployed on a wide variety of routes.

That’s perhaps where the similarities end.

The 757 production run ended some time ago and whilst there a still a fair number of 757s in airline fleets across the world, numbers have dwindled more significantly in recent times. In contrast, significant numbers of A321 aircraft continue to be produced by Airbus, and the A321XLR has given this aircraft type a new lease of life.   

1 thought on “Boeing 757 vs. Airbus A321: How Do They Compare?”

  1. I enjoyed your article, only small additional comments:
    The 757 was created as replacement of 727s. Looking in the time of 757, the numbers of orders is quit hugh. An aircraft, in early 90s, had a life expectation of 30 years. After that a small number was converted to freighter.
    Today, A320 series or 737-800s are parted-out on an aged of 13 years! Conversions to freighter starts with an age of 13-15 years for A320 series and 737-800s.

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