Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I have a habit, and it could be a bad one.

Whenever I book a flight, I base my decision partly on what sort of aircraft the airline is flying.

Recently, I enjoyed -- no, really -- a United Airlines San Francisco to Chicago flight.

Because it was on a twin-aisled Boeing 777-200. 

It's rare to have such a wide-bodied pleasure on a domestic flight.

Airlines, though, don't really want passengers to enjoy something like that too often.

Domestically or, increasingly, internationally.

That's why American Airlines' recent purchase of 50 Airbus A321 XLR's may fill passengers with the sort of trepidation they last felt bungee-jumping from a hot air balloon.

You see, the XLR is a narrowbody plane specifically designed to fly around 5,000 miles.

As with so many recent aircraft designs -- the ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX, for example -- aircraft manufacturers are pandering to airlines' keenness on making as much money as they possibly can.

The American Airlines MAX, should you have tried to obliterate it from your mind, enjoyed an ungodly number of seats, less legroom in both Economy and First Class, seats as thin as those on a bus and legendarily tiny bathrooms. 

These were described as "the most miserable experience in the world."

It's surely understandable, then, if passengers breathe in and refuse to breathe out at the prospect of American's A321 XLR.

Recently the airline's president, Robert Isom, revealed how the airline is thinking about it.

On an internal American Airlines videocast, he explained that the new plane will be lighter because the auxiliary fuel tanks will be part of the core design, rather than add-ons.

He said the landing gear would be "stiffened up" and the tires and brakes would be "enhanced."

That's deeply reassuring.

But how many seats might this plane -- which could fly from, say, JFK to Rome -- enjoy?

Isom explained that the airline's current A321's -- on which the XLR is based -- might have just over 100 seats or as many as 196 seats. (Theoretically, it could have up to 240.)

He insisted: 

We can configure this aircraft anywhere in between. And when you think about the opportunities, what our customers demand, if and when we fly it to close-in Europe, let's say, Philadelphia to Basel, that would require lie-flat seats, all-aisle access for business class, world class WiFi and entertainment. It would also allow for Premium Economy, and then also an Economy section as well. So when we take a look at it, it's not about the density of seats, it really is for creating a cabin that's appropriate for the mission.

Incipient optimists -- and those who fly Business Class -- will be uplifted by these words.

Those who fly in the back, however, may still be hanging their heads.

It's possible, indeed, that American will try to make the high-paying passengers as comfortable as possible and shovel in as many Economy Class seats into a very narrow space.

History suggests, however, that no one will be deliriously happy.

The whole premise of flying narrowbody planes on flights lasting 7 hours or more involves simple, indecent claustrophobia. 

There's nowhere to get up, nowhere to move around.

Yes, airlines might choose to have the slightly wider 18-inch Airbus seats in Economy, but please imagine, for a moment, how this will all be for Flight Attendants. 

There will likely be fewer of them.

Moreover, this plane has no built-in rest area, so they'll either be stuck in their galleys for the duration, or perhaps be assigned specific seats in which they can take a rest.

Asked about how crews might feel about the plane, Isom said: 

One of the things I love about this plane is that it gives us an opportunity to be more efficient.

And there it is. The Nirvana of Efficiency, one with which American is currently struggling.

American isn't alone in buying this plane. You'll be seeing more of them in the future.

JetBlue, for example, is another purchaser.

American's transatlantic service is truly among the best. At the front of the plane, that is.

How the airline chooses to configure this new plane at the back will say so much about its strategy for the future.

Is it an airline that truly considers passenger comfort? Or is it, as many suspect, one that is only interested in maximizing profit and minimizing service?

Of course, for some passengers the A321 XLR might offer the chance to fly non-stop from their U.S. home towns to Europe or South America.

Isom talked, for example, about even flying these things from Dallas-Forth Worth.

But if you had a choice, would you fly in a narrowbody plane for hours and hours -- but non-stop?

Or would you prefer to take a wide-body plane that may require a stopover?

It'll be a difficult choice. 

For the nervous system, that is.

Published on: Jul 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.