WestJet to launch premium economy, add seats on 737-800s

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Canada's WestJet plans to launch a premium economy product on its Boeing 737 fleet and add eight extra seats to each of its 737-800s in a move aimed at growing revenue at the low-cost carrier.

The airline's board approved the plan today, months after the airline's executives first disclosed that it was studying the proposal. The carrier is expected to announce the seat reconfiguration tomorrow when it announces its second quarter financial results.

WestJet currently operates 99 737s, comprising -600s, -700s and -800s. It will receive its 100th aircraft, a -800, in December.

The premium economy product, to be rolled out across all three 737 aircraft types, will involve reconfiguring four rows or 24 seats, WestJet chief executive Gregg Saretsky told Flightglobal in an interview earlier this month.

Simultaneously, the airline will add eight seats to each of its 737-800s, taking the number of seats on board to 174 from 166. Doing so will take the seat pitch down to 31 or 32 inches from 34 inches currently, which will bring the seat pitch in line with what is currently being offered on the airline's -600s and -700s.

WestJet currently has 17 737-800s in service, Flightglobal's Ascend database shows.

The airline expects to begin the seat reconfiguration in the fourth quarter, and hopes to complete it in the first quarter of 2013, said Saretsky. He estimated that the project's cost will be in the "multi-million" dollar range.

WestJet does not expect flight operations to be impacted by the seat reconfiguration, which will involve taking aircraft out of service. Saretsky said that the airline extended leases on three 737s that were to be returned in 2013 earlier this year, and that these three aircraft provide the airline flexibility to take some aircraft out of service for the seat changes.

He also pointed out that the fourth quarter is traditionally the airline's slowest quarter, making it the best time for the seat changes to be made.