Aside from launching a new regional subsidiary, Saretsky is leading a series of projects aimed at increasing revenue at WestJet’s 737 operations. The airline is set to roll out a premium-economy product on its narrowbody aircraft, which has long offered a single-class service. Simultaneously, the airline will also add eight seats to each of its 737-800s, increasing the on-board capacity to 174 from 166.
The seat changes were floated previously by the airline’s executives as a tool to boost the airline’s market share of 22% among business travellers, and were given the green light at a board meeting on 31 July.
The project involves reconfiguring four rows, or 24 seats, into premium economy seats on all of the airline’s 737 aircraft. The extra eight economy-class seats on the -800s will reduce seat pitch on those aircraft to 31-32in, down from 34in currently. This brings it in line with the seat pitches on the 737-600s and -700s, says Saretsky.
WestJet aims to begin the seat reconfiguration in the fourth quarter of 2012 and hopes to complete it on all aircraft in the first quarter of 2013. Saretsky, who expects the initiative to cost in the “multi-millions”, says the project is not likely to impact operations. Pointing out that the fourth quarter is traditionally the airline’s slowest quarter.
He says: “Last quarter, we extended leases on three aircraft that will be returned in 2013. Those three aircraft provide us with the flexibility to remove aircraft from service to do the reconfiguration.”
Besides gaining new revenue from the seat reconfigurations, WestJet is also on the cusp of its next generation in-flight entertainment offering. Keeping up with the times and with what other airlines are offering, it is hoping to eventually offer wi-fi on its fleet and equip its aircraft with on-board servers that will stream content to travellers’ personal devices.
The airline now offers live television, provided by Bell, on seatback monitors in its aircraft, but recent changes to satellite infrastructure means that WestJet flights will lose the signal on flights outside Canada. As a result, the airline will continue offering live television on domestic flights, but will open up four pay-per-view channels free-of-charge to passengers on flights to the USA.
Meanwhile, WestJet is taking delivery of new 737s that are not fitted with the system. On these aircraft, the airline is conducting a trial of renting out Samsung Galaxy tablets pre-loaded with content to passengers on flights three hours and longer. The tablets are meant to be a “bridge” as WestJet crosses over to a wi-fi-enabled in-flight entertainment solution, says Saretsky.
A test aircraft with this system is expected to start flying in the late first quarter or early second quarter of 2013, he adds. “Assuming that the test aircraft does everything that we hope it will, that’s really our proof of concept. Then we will be able to roll it out across the rest of our fleet.”