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WestJet looks to woo more business customers with new fare bundles

A Westjet plane sits at the gate as it loads passengers at the Calgary International Airport on Sunday February 26, 2012.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Roomier seats and greater flexibility in changing and cancelling tickets are some of the perks being offered by WestJet Airlines Ltd., partly to woo more business travellers with new fare bundles.

In a sneak peek given to the investment community in New York Monday, WestJet gave more clues in how it will be moving to three on-board travel classes from its current one-size-fits-all service. WestJet's executive vice president and chief financial officer Vito Culmone said he expects the bundles to add a "very, very significant" $50-million to $80-million a year to the company's earnings.

On the lowest end is Econo class, a "no frills" service with the option to purchase extras such as the ability to change and cancel flights and other perks. The Flex class is more akin to WestJet's current service, allowing customers purchase more ticket flexibility options. The Plus is aimed at the business class, which includes faster airport security screening in some airports and other perks.

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The Plus bundle also includes much roomier seats with a 36-inch distance from the seat in front. WestJet's fleet of Boeing 737s are all being refitted to include 24 of these seats (or four rows in each of the aircraft), without lowering the number of seats in the rest of the plane. That means that most economy seats will have shortened leg room with only a 31-inch to 32-inch distance from the seat in front. In WestJet's Boeing 737-800 planes, this even let the carrier squeeze in eight more seats.

The reconfiguration of the planes is expected to be completed by the end of the month, with the bundles then be introduced "shortly thereafter," Mr. Culmone said.

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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