WestJet passengers willing to pay more for extra leg room will be able to fly "premium economy" in four rows - but some nonpremium customers might notice a little less space in the other seats.
Aiming its premium seats at business travellers with an eye on revenue growth, WestJet will increase the distance between the back of the seat and the one behind it to 36 inches in four rows of its planes across its fleet - an increase of four inches on some of its aircraft.
But that also means the rest of the seats will be reconfigured to 31 to 32 inches of leg room, a move WestJet says will bring it "in line with North American competitors."
"I don't expect our guests to feel any impact from that reconfiguration, but we'll certainly see the revenue benefit," president and CEO Gregg Saretsky told analysts Wednesday.
However, the number of lower-cost seats available on each flight is going down, Saretsky said after WestJet announced a second-quarter profit of $42.5 million and raised its dividend.
The seat change is aimed at WestJet's business class to compete with Air Canada.
WestJet does not offer a first-class cabin, but the new premium class will bridge a gap in ticket prices between economy and traditional first-class, which is too costly for many travellers.
"We don't have any concern about seats going empty," Saretsky added.
WestJet will also have a new online storefront and consumers will be able to select from a variety of fare categories, instead of seeing just the lowest fare.
The planes should be reconfigured by December and the premium economy seats will offer passengers with the Calgary-based airline early check-in.
Currently leg room comes in at 32 inches on WestJet's Boeing 737-600s and 737-700s and 34 inches on its Boeing 737-800s.
Non-premium seats on all of those planes will be reconfigured to 31 to 32 inches, the airline said.
WestJet's move follows a trend of similar upgrades to economy-class seats at international airlines.
Cathay Pacific announced Monday that it has accepted delivery of a new Boeing 777-300ER fitted with the new premium economy configuration.