WestJet Adds More Room by Blocking Out Some Middle Seats

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WestJet Airlines Ltd. will block the middle seat in its premium economy cabin and charge more for the extra room as Canada’s second-largest carrier bids to boost revenue.

“It’s a completely different product,” Chief Executive Officer Gregg Saretsky said on a conference call Tuesday. “Today we have three abreast, tomorrow we have two abreast.”

WestJet’s “enhanced” premium economy product will be available Wednesday for travel starting Sept. 14, the Calgary-based airline said. Tickets will cost 3 percent to 9 percent more than under the current configuration, yet allow for savings of as much as 75 percent versus competing airlines, Bob Cummings, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said on the call.

WestJet, which introduced its premium economy cabin in 2013, is preparing to add Boeing Co. 767 aircraft to its plane family by the end of the year. Until then, WestJet will continue to fly only Boeing 737s in its main fleet. It also uses Bombardier Inc. Q400 turboprops at the Encore short-haul unit.

Passengers on both the Boeing 737 and 767 will have the choice of a window or aisle seat.

On the Boeing 737, the middle seat in premium economy class -- called Plus -- will be outfitted with a new tray table, allowing passengers more space. On the Boeing 767 jets, the Plus section will include wider seats with each set of two seats separated by an aisle, the company said.

Passengers flying Boeing 767s on longer routes will have access to “premium” food and beverage service, including hot meals.

Earnings Beat

WestJet disclosed the changes after reporting first-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates. Net income jumped 58 percent to C$140.7 million ($116.8 million), or C$1.09 a share. The average analyst estimate was C$1 a share.

Revenue in the period rose 4 percent to C$1.08 billion, matching the average forecast.

Excluding fuel and profit-sharing, costs for each seat flown a mile will probably rise 2 percent to 2.5 percent in the second quarter while revenue for each seat flown a mile posts a “moderate decline” as industry capacity exceeds demand in certain markets, WestJet said in a quarterly filing.

WestJet fell 3.3 percent to C$27.24 at the close of trading in Toronto, extending its drop this year to 18 percent. That trails the 3.7 percent advance for the benchmark Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index.

(A previous version of this story was corrected to show that the seats were being blocked, not removed.)

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