BACKGROUND French all-business class carrier La Compagnie was launched in 2013 by L'Avion founder Frantz Yvelin and former Swissair and Jet Airways COO Peter Luethi, with flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle to New York Newark (EWR). Last April, the “boutique” carrier began four-times-weekly direct services to EWR from London Luton (LTN). It later went to five times a week, with a 1745 departure from LTN (landing in the US at 2100) and a departure of 2220 from EWR (touching down in the UK at 1030 the following day). In September it will go daily. At the moment the airline has just two planes (B757s) in its fleet, but by the end of the year it is expecting to have a third. It is also offering promotional return fares for as little as £850, which is a steal. (Standard fares will be about £1,700 return in the future.) La Compagnie is not part of an alliance but does have its own loyalty scheme. CHECK-IN I arrived at New York Newark Liberty International airport at 2015, two hours before my flight was to depart, with drop-off just outside the La Compagnie zone in Terminal B. There were no queues at check-in so I was able to drop my case off and get my boarding pass straight away. I then walked around the corner to the landside lounge, which is shared with El Al (Priority Pass members can also gain access). THE LOUNGE The Art and Lounge facility has various seating areas including a chill-out space with a TV – a few of us sat down to watch the Oscars here. There was free wifi and a staffed bar serving free alcohol. Food was available from a buffet with pasta, pizza, salmon en croute and salad available. The lighting was quite bright and the space busy, but there was enough seating to go around. There was the odd announcement for boarding. BOARDING I was told we would need to leave the lounge at 2115 to go through security but in the end this was delayed because of the late landing of the incoming plane. In the end we left at 2145, and then faced a 35-minute delay to get through screening – there weren't even very many passengers to process. There was only one lane open and a very long hold-up because of some liquids in someone's case. I was finally through at 2220 (shoes off and laptop out) at which point I headed to Gate 56. There was no line at the gate so I was able to enter the airbridge after having my documents checked. The flight was about one third full so it didn't take too long for everyone to get settled. Once in my seat (14A) and my luggage stowed in the overhead bins, I was offered a small glass of cranberry juice or cranberry and champagne at 2240. THE SEAT The B757 is fitted with 74 forward-facing, angled lie-flat seats manufactured by Contour. They are arranged 2-2 throughout the entire plane, with rows 16-20 in a slightly more private section behind a pair of washrooms. The aircraft feels new, modern, clean and fresh, with white and pale blue lighting that echoes the company's branding. Windows are more square in shape than on other airlines. Note that there is no row 13 (so 19 rows in total); the exit rows are six and 16. There is a huge amount of extra space here but some people might feel too exposed. The product is equipped with 12-inch Samsung Nexus tablets that are placed in a seat-back slot but can also be removed. (Exit row seats have mounts built into the central armrests.) The seat-backs are low (46 inches tall in total) so you can see down the length of the plane – in a way this feels less private but it definitely made the environment feel bigger. When the headrests are raised, this adds a few more inches to the silhouette. Reading lights are built in. The hard shell surrounds are off-white and slate grey, while seats are upholstered in navy and grey fabric. The effect is very smart and business-like. There are no print magazines so seat-backs aren't cluttered with tatty literature. (Menus and reading material is instead stored on the tablets.) Seat controls for recline and lumbar support are in the central armrests but the buttons are quite fiddly to operate. Another button releases the tray table. There is no wifi but there are EU plug sockets. I didn’t have an adaptor with me but fortunately the crew had a few spares. Every passenger receives a beautiful soft pillow and pale blue fleece blanket. Branded over-ear headphones are also provided, along with bottles of mineral water and a chic blue and grey cotton amenity pouch. Inside was a shoe bag, eye mask, socks, mirror, pencil, Caudalie eye and face cream, toothbrush and paste, and ear plugs. Drop-down screens over the aisle showed the flight map and time at our destination. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Exit row seats offer plenty of extra space if you want it but all seats have a generous amount of legroom anyway. If you want direct aisle access go for a C or D seat. If you want to avoid sitting over the wing, don't sit in rows ten, 11, 12. Seats in row 15 are nearest the washrooms, and rows one and 20 are nearest the galleys. Sitting in the middle of the plane will probably mean you are served food and drink last as service is from the front and back (you won't have to wait long though). Other than that you can't really go wrong. THE FLIGHT The plane pushed back at 2245 after an apology from the captain for the late departure of the flight, followed by take-off at 2305 (45 minutes behind schedule). We were informed that the journey to London Luton would be five hours 55 minutes. Once cruising at 2320, the meal service began from the front of the plane with two trolleys. As this was a night flight the meal was quite light. My pre-ordered vegetarian tray came with a starter of ice-cold salad (slices of tomato with lettuce cucumber and dressing) and some berries and dried fruit for dessert. It wasn't very interesting but the presentation was nice. There was also a choice of warm bread rolls and drinks including Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Brut champagne. A vegetable soup was also on the menu, and a fig and goat's cheese tart, which I wasn’t offered. The cheese and the dessert of passion fruit mousse wasn’t available to me either, as I was having a special meal. I wasn’t hungry enough to ask to try it anyway. (To read my review of the food on the outbound flight, click here.) A second round of drinks was offered at 0005. There were three wines: Bourgogne Chardonnay La Part des Anges, Saint Emilion Chateau la Bienfaissance, and Bordeaux Sauternes Bastor Lamontagne. Tasting notes were provided for each on the digital menu. By 0030 I was ready to convert my seat into an angled lie-flat bed. I slept quite well for about four hours. Once or twice, turbulence woke me up. By 0330 it was light outside and not long after, breakfast was served. I didn't want to eat so slept a bit longer until 0420, at which point we were over Ireland. Tablet computers and headphones were collected at 0435. ARRIVAL The plane landed earlier than expected, at 0500 (1000 local time) – we had made up time en route. After taxiing to our stand at Luton, we disembarked via steps at the front and entered the terminal. Immigration was quick – I used one of the biometric passport gates – and was soon in baggage reclaim waiting for my case. It took about seven minutes to appear. VERDICT A relaxed, speedy service from New York, despite the late departure. La Compagnie has come up with a concept that will suit the business traveller on a budget – its business class prices are very competitive. (BA's all-business class London City service costs over £2,800.) You won't get a fully flat bed, hundreds of movies or top-notch food and wine, but the cabin is tranquil, the product comfortable, and the flights times convenient. Everybody should try this airline at least once, if they don’t mind travelling from Luton. FACT FILE:
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2 (A-C, D-F)
- SEAT WIDTH 26in/66cm
- SEAT PITCH 62in/157.5cm
- SEAT RECLINE 175 degrees
- PRICE Internet rates for a return flight to New York (non-refundable promotional rate) started from £850 in April.
- CONTACT lacompagnie.com