Tried & Tested

La Compagnie business class B757-200

1 Mar 2016 by Jenny Southan
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, it 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 took the train from St Pancras International to Luton Airport Parkway station, which took about 35 minutes. (You need to buy a ticket to Luton Airport itself, which will then cover the shuttle bus, which otherwise it is £3 return.) Although it is a short journey to the terminal, the bus is a bit of a faff as won't leave until it is full. It runs roughly every ten minutes, though. You can also take a taxi if you think it's worth the extra few pounds. I arrived at the airport exactly two hours before my flight. I hadn't travelled out of Luton for some time, so was surprised to find it in the middle of an expansion project, with the outside forecourt a construction site. The £100 million development will see the addition of 8,700 sqm of retail and dining space added, along with sleep pods and a spa. Increased capacity will allow it to handle 18 million passengers annually by 2026, up from 12 million now. The terminal will also be given a facelift and a 1,700-space car park added. There is also talk of adding a direct train line from central London or light-rail connection from Parkway. Once inside the terminal, I followed signs to the check-in area – the two desks for La Compagnie were 28 and 29. There were no queues so I was seen to immediately. There is a generous baggage allowance (two cases up to 32kg) but I was only taking hand luggage (you can take two pieces plus a handbag/laptop case). I was given tags for my carry-on items and a paper boarding pass. I then went around the corner to security, where there was a fast-track lane for business class customers. La Compagnie provides plastic bags for liquids free of charge – other people have to buy them from a vending machine. Screening was quick. Once airside at 1555, I made my way up the escalators to the Aspire lounge. Various areas en route were boarded up for further construction work. THE LOUNGE The London Luton Aspire Airport lounge is accessible to the public for £23, although Priority Pass members and those flying La Compagnie can get in for free. Formerly a Servisair facility, it was revamped and rebranded last autumn at a cost of £1 million. The lounge is accessed via stairs or a wheelchair lift inside of which you have to hold down the button to operate. The venue turned out to be pretty busy when I arrived at 1600 and, at first, I struggled to find a place to sit. It thinned out after a little while, though, and I relaxed with a drink from the staffed bar (you need to pay for cocktails, prosecco and champagne) but other drinks such a G&Ts and beer are complimentary. There were three self-service counters where you could help yourself to wine and soft drinks from the fridges, as well as soup, hot pasta arrabiatta, rolls, salads, crisps and cake. Other facilities included three space-age sleep pods, a work zone, free wifi and a spa. Windows looked down into the airside shopping precinct. There were no announcements. BOARDING I headed down to the gate at 1705, before my flight (BO6) was on its final call. It was only a few minutes' walk away and, again, there were no other passengers waiting. My documents were checked and I was ushered down a flight of stairs to the tarmac. From here I crossed to the steps at the front of the plane to board. I made my way to my seat, 11C, with minimal fuss. Quite a few passengers were also already seated (the flight turned out to be only half full) and there was none of the frantic stuffing of bags into overhead lockers and queues up the aisle. It was probably the most peaceful and relaxed boarding experience I have ever had. I placed my luggage in the empty bin over my seat and made myself comfortable. Within a minute, I was offered a choice of a small glass of cranberry juice or cranberry and champagne, with a strawberry-flavoured sweet floating in it. THE SEAT The B757 is fitted with 74 forward-facing, angled lie-flat seats manufactured by Contour (there is no divider between them so don’t feel very private). They are arranged 2-2 throughout, 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 are also fold-out footrests. 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. Unfortunately the sockets in my seat pair (A-C) weren't working so I had to charge my phone via the seat adjacent. 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. I was sitting over the wing so if you want to avoid this, 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 Take off was at 1800. At 1830 a Piper Heidsieck advert played on the overhead screens, followed by the handing out of menus for a special champagne and food pairing. (La Compagnie does brand promotions from time to time.) At 1840 there was an announcement about the concept, which would see three types of champagne served: Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut; Piper Heidsieck Vintage 2006; and Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2002. The crew then followed with a trolley of aperitifs. At 1900 I was presented with a glass of bubbly and a small bag of nuts and pretzels (these were stale). The crew were polite and hardworking, but lacking a little in confidence and warmth. I was also mildy frustrated by the fact that on two occasions my glass was taken away before I had finished my drink. Dinner was served at 1920, with proper cutlery and china. I was given my pre-ordered vegetarian tray, which featured a cold roasted vegetable salad and white rice to start, along with some fresh fruit (strawberries and melon) and a warm bread roll. The salad looked nice but didn't taste very special. I asked a fellow traveller about the steamed salmon and young shoots salad and she said the greens were fresh but the salmon was a bit too fishy. My main was a chickpea and vegetable curry, again with white rice. It lacked salt (the crew had cleared my sachets of seasoning when taking away my starter) and flavour, except for a lot of chilli. I also had to wait ten minutes to eat it was so hot. Compared with the mains of confit duck with braised vegetables and seared tuna with chilli lime butter that the other passengers were getting, I felt a bit second-class. I have definitely had better meals in business. Because my dessert of fruit came on the tray already, I was not offered the cheese or “dark chocolate expresso delice” that were listed on the menu. I later asked if I could try them but a member of crew explained there were no extras. However, he later returned with a passion fruit cheesecake and two chunks of cheese. (This was excellent but there were no crackers to with it, just bread.) The wine selection was limited to a Bourgogne Chardonnay la Part des Anges, a Saint Emilion Chateau la Bienfaissance, and a Bordeaux Sauternes Bastor Lamontagne. Tasting notes were provided for each on the digital menu. I watched a movie and was impressed with the picture quality on the tablets, which was superb. There was a pretty good choice of movies, a few TV shows and a moving map. Unlike on some airlines these days, the entertainment is shut down for take-off and landing (devices are actually collected before touchdown). My film froze eight minutes in but was fine after a restart. The cabin lights went out at about 2100. After finishing my movie, I reclined the seat as far as it would go to get some rest. I find it a little difficult to get comfortable on angled lie-flat seats as constantly feel like I am slipping down. Sometimes it's actually more supportive to be in the midway armchair position but at least you can sleep on your side when it's fully extended. The washrooms were quite small but clean. There was no special hand wash or lotion provided, which was a missed opportunity, I thought. These small details make business class feel special. Crew wear attractive uniforms – men in white shirts and grey waistcoats, while women are in navy shorts and blazers with a silk neck scarf. The cabin lights went out at about 2100, and not long after I reclined the seat to its angled lie-flat position and got some rest. The cabin lights came on at 0030 and trays of afternoon tea were brought around. There were two finger sandwiches filled with egg mayo, a small fruit scone with jam and cream, and a couple of mini cakes. I wasn't hungry so just had a cup of tea. ARRIVAL Customs forms were handed out at 0055 and headphones collected. We began our descent into New York Newark at 0110, with landing taking place at 0200 (2100 local time). It was quite a long journey, at eight hours. After taxiing to our stand, we disembarked via an airbridge and walked eight minutes to immigration. To my amazement it was empty, so I was through in just a couple of minutes. VERDICT La Compagnie has come up with a VIP 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. Whether the all-business class model can work for La Compagnie when it has failed for Eos, Silverjet and Maxjet, remains to be seen. FACT FILE:
  • 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.
Jenny Southan
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