By the time I'd gotten off my La Compagnie flight from Paris to Newark last month, I felt like I was in on one of the travel industry's best-kept secrets.
La Compagnie, which in June celebrated its fifth anniversary, is the only all-business-class airline. It currently offers twice-daily service between Newark and Paris Orly and seasonal service from Newark to Nice, France, at prices that it says are about 30% to 50% lower than its premium-cabin competition.
The airline's survival has come against all odds, as history has not been kind to the all-business, transatlantic airlines before it. Silverjet, Maxjet and Eos all went out of business at the end of the last decade.
La Compagnie, however, appears to be thriving. This summer, it debuted two new Airbus A321neo aircraft, the first launching in June, the second in September.
The new hardware significantly improved the airline experience and enabled La Compagnie to add the seasonal Nice flight using one of its older planes. La Compagnie will only use the new aircraft going forward: In summer 2020, one of the A321s will fly the Newark-Nice route.
The crabcake appetizer that preceded a choice of two hot entrees. Also on the menu was a French cheese course, and French wine and spirits accompanied meals. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill
The Compagnie experience
Having flown one way on one of La Compagnie's much older Boeing 757s (which were secondhand when La Compagnie launched five years ago), I can attest to the far better experience offered on the A321neos.
The black-and-blue, 76-seat jets have fully lie-flat seats (as opposed to angled lie-flat on the 757s). The flight had perhaps the best in-flight WiFi I've experienced. It stayed strong throughout the eight-hour trip from Paris, even over the Atlantic Ocean, and is unlimited and complimentary.
In-flight entertainment is served up on 15.7-inch touch screens with noise-cancelling headsets. The movie selection (45 titles) included some French ones. It is not as extensive as some airlines' selections, especially given that no television shows are offered.
I enjoyed the cheekiness of what La Compagnie promised would be the most relaxing in-flight safety briefing in the sky, with a soothing voice and a man and woman demonstrating seat-belt and oxygen-mask procedures in yoga poses.
La Compagnie offers an impressive in-flight culinary experience, with a crabcake appetizer and a choice of two hot entrees (chicken or salmon, on my flight) and, of course, a French cheese course, all accompanied by French wine and spirits.
Check-in and boarding for a 76-seat plane is fast and easy. There are no boarding groups necessary, and passengers can walk on when they want once boarding begins. Once onboard, there is no concern about overhead bin space, and there was never a line for the bathrooms. Service was excellent, and all communication is in French and English.
While I felt I'd stumbled upon a secret, it might already be out: The plane was almost entirely full.
La Compagnie said this summer that since launching, it has flown more than 250,000 passengers with an average load factor of 80%, commanding one quarter of the business-class market between New York and Paris.
Travel advisors are a big reason for that. La Compagnie has engaged the trade from the beginning, and it has paid off. More than a third of its business is booked via agencies such as American Express, CWT, Altour and Tzell.
It is clear why they do it: La Compagnie enables agencies to offer their clients a transatlantic, all-business-class flight at a fraction of the cost of most premium-cabin fares. And 36% of La Compagnie customers return to the airline.
La Compagnie's success is in great part due to the fact that it does not aspire to offer the best business-class experience in the sky, and it doesn't.
The two-two seat configuration means that the passenger in the window seat (in this case, me) will be stepping around the person in the aisle seat (or over her, when she was sleeping).
I found the main drawback of flying La Compagnie to be the lounge experience at Newark. Called Art & Lounge, it is a windowless, cramped space that was so full it was difficult to navigate inside with luggage. Although La Compagnie passengers in theory have a separate seating area with cheese, bread, wine and Champagne, it had been overtaken by passengers on the other airlines that share the lounge.
The lounge is also located before security, which was not an issue for me, because I did not want to spend much time there. The lounge at Paris Orly is much nicer. It's larger, with plenty of windows and a courtyard, and it offers better food options.
But those are not deal breakers, considering the value of what La Compagnie offers: a very high-quality business-class experience, now on brand new planes, at rates far below its competition.