WestJet intends to unveil a new premium product on Boeing 737s that will be business class in everything but name.

The product will have wide two-by-two seats, and staff might serve hot meals, for instance.

But, bucking convention, WestJet will call the product "premium economy" instead of labelling it under the upscale "business class" moniker.

The reason: to ensure business travelers can book premium seats without running afoul of corporate purchasing policies that prohibit business-class travel.

"When you look at stage length domestically and how far you are flying, a lot of our corporate customers have rules in place that say you can't book business class," WestJet vice-president of marketing communications Richard Bartrem tells FlightGlobal.

WestJet will begin operating 737s with the new product in October. It says the move roughly coincides with acceptance of new 787-9s, which begin arriving in January 2019.

Executives had wanted to avoid a scenario in which they invest significantly in business-class seats only to discover business customers would be unable to purchase the product.

"Then we would only be upgrading it rather than selling it," Bartrem says.

So WestJet did some research.

It tested two-by-two seating by blocking middle seats in the first few rows of its 737s, and selling adjacent seats as premium economy.

WestJet now offers that product throughout its network.

Actually, those middle seats are not totally empty – WestJet covers the seat cushions with a drop-in plastic table that functions like an oversized drink tray.
"The way for us to test it is to block out the middle seat, and find out from a fare perspective, could we overcome the empty middle seat?" says Bartrem.

The test proved the viability of the idea.

"We knew we could actually now go to a true two-and-two product", Bartram says.

Story updated 16 May to note that WestJet expects to roll out the new premium product in October.

Source: Cirium Dashboard