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WestJet mulls premium seating option

WestJet may offer a little more leg room at the front of the cabin for an extra price.

TODD KOROL/REUTERS/TODD KOROL/REUTERS

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is considering installing premium seating at the front of its Boeing 737 jets, but will stick with all-economy cabins.

WestJet chief financial officer Vito Culmone said Thursday that the carrier is examining the merits of placing new seats with more legroom in the first several rows – a move that would be geared toward providing more comfort to business travellers on long-haul flights within North America.

The Calgary-based carrier, however, will stick to its formula of offering the same in-flight menu of buy-on-board sandwiches to passengers, no matter where they sit.

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"We're definitely not going business class in any way, shape or form," Mr. Culmone said during an investor conference organized by CIBC World Markets Inc.

While WestJet is mulling over charging extra for new premium seating on its Boeing 737s, it wouldn't be the wide gap in ticket prices that exists between business class and the economy section at other carriers, he said.

Mr. Culmone said WestJet's plans to launch a wholly owned subsidiary to serve smaller Canadian cities have already created buzz at prospective new short-haul markets.

"It's a wonderful and exciting opportunity for WestJet," he said. "We love bringing our service to new communities."

WestJet intends to acquire either Bombardier Q400 or ATR 72-600 aircraft – turboprops that each seat about 70 passengers.

WestJet, which serves 30 Canadian destinations, sees opportunities to attract customers with lower fares in underserved or neglected markets, said Mr. Culmone, who noted that domestic flights offered under the Air Canada or Air Canada Express brands cover 59 key Canadian cities.

While Boeing 737s are too large to fly non-stop between some destinations, WestJet views the smaller turboprops as ideal for routes such as Regina-Winnipeg, he said.

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WestJet estimates the short-haul market in Canada could be worth a total of $1.1-billion a year for regional narrow-body aircraft, seating 50 or more passengers, and a further $1.1-billion for transborder service into the United States.

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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