WestJet planning July roll-out of premium economy product

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Calgary-based WestJet is planning for a full commercial roll-out of its premium economy product in July, says Bob Cummings, the airline's executive vice-president sales, marketing and guest experience.

Speaking on a 7 May earnings call, the airline's chief executive Gregg Saretsky says the premium economy installations were completed at the end of March. The multi-million dollar seat project involved installing four rows of extra legroom seats on the Boeing 737s with a 36in pitch and putting an additional eight seats on the Boeing 737-800s.

The carrier initiated a soft launch of the new fare system but needs to finish the last phases of the technology roll-out before selling the premium seats.

Customers will notice a visible difference in the new premium economy section come July, says Saretsky.

WestJet's new three-tiered fare bundling strategy allows passengers to have varying levels of flexibility by changing fares and different levels of amenities. The no-frills "econo" fare is the least expensive, followed by the mid-level "flex" fare. At the top of the three-tiered model is the "plus" fare with maximum flexibility, targeted at business travellers.

"We are seeing some early buy up with the respect to the convenience and flexibility features we are associating with our plus product, and our flex product," says Cummings.

Some of those amenities include complimentary checked bags, priority security screening and advance boarding. WestJet expects the fare bundles to contribute between Canadian dollar (C$) 50 million ($49.9 million) to C$80 million annually.

The carrier is still evaluating which platform it will choose to upgrade its inflight entertainment system. Saretsky told Flightglobal last August that it would start testing this offering in the second quarter of 2013.

Cummings says he would like to announce a deal by the end of the year, but notes that the carrier is still in discussions with a short-list of inflight entertainment suppliers.

"We've been in discussions looking at how things are rolling out, what the best solution for us," says Cummings. "We continue to get closer to announcing our direction, and when we do so it will be well thought out."

A majority of WestJet's fleet is outfitted with a satellite television product, which Bell offers to flights in Canada. A handful of "dark" aircraft are outfitted with tablets on flights lasting longer than 3.5 hours.

WestJet announced this week it placed an order for 10 737-800 aircraft, and chief financial officer Vito Culmone says these new aircraft will be consistent with its long-term inflight entertainment and connectivity strategy.