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WestJet to offer premium economy seating

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is looking to court travellers willing to pay more for a little bit extra room on the plane by bringing in a premium economy class.

The discount airline, which has focused on luring the coveted business traveller, especially those who fly with rival Air Canada, announced Wednesday that it will be adding this new class later this year.

It will set aside four rows of this type of seating, which offers more legroom with a 36-inch seat pitch, and new features such as priority boarding and other in-flight amenities.

“We believe that both business and leisure guests will appreciate the added value a premium economy product will offer and look forward to providing further details as we roll it out early next year,” said Gregg Saretsky, in a news release.

Details on pricing are to come later. Modifications to the fleet of Boeing 737s will begin this month, with all planes reconfigured by the end of this year. All economy seats will be standardized with a seat pitch of 31 inches to 32 inches.

The airline, which has been studying ways to lure business travellers over from Air Canada, is certainly not alone as other airlines, including United, have adopted this class.

Virgin Atlantic introduced the concept in 1992, saying it was “aimed at the cost-conscious business traveller who for budgetary reasons travelled economy but still required extra space in which to work or relax.”

WestJet also confirmed that it has firmed up orders for 20 Q400 Bombardier turboprop planes, with options for an additional 25, that it plans to use to launch a new regional service next year, so it can expand to smaller markets.

Seven are to be delivered in 2013, with the remainder to be delivered in stages until 2016.

The news came as the Calgary-based airline reported strong second-quarter earnings, with a net profit of $42.5 million, or 31 cents per diluted share, up from $25.6 million, or 18 cents per diluted share, reported in the second quarter of 2011.

Despite the big increase, WestJet missed consensus estimates for profit and revenue.

The average analyst estimate was for a profit of 33 cents per share and revenue of $816 million, according to Thomson Reuters.

WestJet’s revenue was up 9 per cent from the same time last year, rising to $809.3 million from $742.3 million.

The company says its quarterly dividend will increase to 8 cents per share, up 2 cents per share, starting in late September.

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