In a story I wrote in 2016 about La Compagnie, the all-business-class airline offering service between Paris and Newark, I said that industry observers were already surprised that the startup had made it to its two-year anniversary.
Fast forward to the end of 2018, and the airline has not only survived but thrived. Coming off of its four-year anniversary in August, La Compagnie has a pair of Airbus A321neo aircraft on order -- the first is scheduled to launch in April and the second next August -- that will increase its capacity by nearly a third. This year, the airline flew more than 62,000 passengers, 15% more than in 2017, and it now represents a quarter of the business-class market between New York and Paris. It also just announced a seasonal route between Newark and Nice.
The new planes will give La Compagnie a fleet of three, as it plans to shed one of its Boeing 757s. The A321s will have 76 full-flat seats and unlimited high-speed Viasat WiFi that La Compagnie promises will work over the Atlantic Ocean and rival on-the-ground connectivity; it will even enable passengers to stream video.
La Compagnie's success has not come without growing pains. It canceled its service between Newark and London's Luton Airport in 2016, citing Brexit fallout. But it has done far better than most people would have guessed, especially given the history of all-business, transatlantic airlines like Silverjet, Maxjet, and Eos, which all went out of business at the end of the last decade. L'Avion, launched by La Compagnie's founder, was purchased by British Airways, which converted it into the low-cost airline Level.
Part of La Compagnie's success is in its timing: Those other airlines didn't survive the recession, while La Compagnie has been in existence during the U.S. economy's second-longest expansion on record. Another factor is that it merged with low-cost airline XL into a single airline group last year, giving it better leverage in terms of items like supplies, fuel and insurance, said Jean-Charles Perino, La Compagnie's cofounder and executive vice president of sales and marketing.
"All the things you don't see," he said. "It's been very positive for us."
Perino, who was in New York this week to meet with travel partners, said that while the La Compagnie staff remains "humble," he is also happy the carrier has passed the three-year mark, an important milestone, he said, for any startup. Perino attributes La Compagnie's success to staying focused on its original promise: To offer not the very best business-class experience in the sky, but a high-quality one with fares about 30% to 50% lower than its premium-cabin competition. La Compagnie does this by keeping its overhead and operating costs low.
"You can't have the same costs as the other airlines and offer half-price tickets," he said. "You need to be lean, and that starts with aircraft and continues with the way you distribute to the market. You need to be a hybrid; since Day One you could purchase our tickets on every segment: from travel agencies, our website, our call center. You must maximize your potential to reach your desired target."
This is one of the reasons La Compagnie is so popular with travel advisers. Almost 45% of its business is booked via agencies such as American Express, Carlson Wagonlit, Altour and Tzell, which can offer their customers a transatlantic option that's practically a secret: An all-business class flight at a reasonable premium-cabin price.
"The market is eager for a competitive offer that brings value to the customer," Perino said. But as far as being a secret, he thinks those days are over.
"The secret is out," he said.
Luxury eNewsletter editor Jeri Clausing is on vacation.