05/27/2015 03:22 EDT | Updated 05/27/2016 05:59 EDT

Air Canada Rouge To Remove Middle Seat In Business Class

Vince Talotta via Getty Images
MISSISSAUGA, ON - JULY 1: Air Canada Rouge Airbus A319 takes its inaugural flight on Canada Day at Pearson International Airport. (Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Air Canada's discount leisure airline Rouge will make its premium cabin up front feel a lot more like first class, removing the middle seat on each side, and adding almost a third more carry-on space.

Next month, Rouge will convert its fleet of 20 Airbus A319 aircraft into a new configuration that will remove the middle seat on each side in the first three aisles, and widen the two remaining seats. The space created will be used for:

- An entertainment console with a charger and USB port.

- A pop-out cocktail tray between the two seats.

- A coat hook at every seat.

"Air Canada has listened to its customers and is pleased to announce product investments in the Air Canada Rouge fleet," said Benjamin Smith, Air Canada's president of passenger airlines.

The airline is also increasing carry-on space by 30 per cent with the installation of new overhead bin doors – dubbed "pillow doors" because of their curved shape – which allow carry-on items to be stowed more efficiently. The installation takes place this summer.

Ticket prices, of course, are also expected to rise along with the new amenities. But what the airline has managed to do is effectively create a first-class option for the airline it originally created for discount-oriented passengers. 

The changes come at a time when Rouge is flying to more destinations.

Originally launched in July 2013 with two planes, Rouge has grown to have 31 aircraft and flies to 50 leisure destinations on 68 routes in Europe, Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean, Asia, South America and Canada.

To many destinations, an Air Canada traveller has no choice but to fly on Rouge.

WestJet also changing

The move to beef up Air Canada's premium offering comes on the heels of a similar move, announced earlier this month and set to be implemented later this summer, by Calgary-based WestJet. WestJet will equip its fleet of Boeing 737s with a new tray table between the aisle and window seat, giving guests a guaranteed empty middle seat for more space to work or relax during their flight.

Premium seats at the front on Boeing 767s will also be wider, and arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration — not the rows of three that travellers had gotten used to.

Although WestJet acknowledges fares will be higher than regular ones, it claims prices will be as much as 75 per cent cheaper than comparable offerings at other airlines.

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