Hello and welcome to a new short series of reports. As I've gotten more and more behind in publishing reports, I'll start with my most recent flights.
Last month I took a trip to the motherland to attend a wedding. Normally, I prefer to take my summer vacation trips home to France in August, but this year my dates were fixed. One problem with going to Europe so early, is that it's not technically summer season yet in the airline world. That means that Business class tickets aren't yet at the lower summer tourist season discounted rates that I usually take advantage of each summer. Not wanting to spend over $3500 for a short Transatlantic to stick with oneworld, I shopped around and found a really good deal with La Compagnie. I'd been really curious about this new All-Business class airline and decided that, for the significant price difference, it would be worth cheating on oneworld.
There aren't many reviews out there on La Compagnie, and opinions seemed to be a mixed bag. In fact, this is the first Flight-Report in English on this airline. However, I've been intrigued about this little airline–I'd been following the progress of this new boutique carrier from the start. So many before had failed at flying across the pond in All-Business class configurations. The economic climate is different now than it was in the pre-2008 boom times during which we saw several All-Business class airlines launch and sink. Perhaps, the post-World Financial Crisis shell shocked business travel environment is now ready for the low-cost All-Business class model. La Compagnie has now been operating for over two years and flies to London as well as Paris from Newark Liberty–it would seem that the airline is doing something right.
Living in Washington, DC, there aren't too many options for direct flights to France. Only Air France and United fly direct from DC to Paris. OpenSkies briefly flew IAD-ORY in 2010-2011–I definitely miss having that extra option. With so few direct options, connections in another hub are often necessary. Evening connections in the Northeast can be risky in the summertime due to regular afternoon thunderstorms or just normal air traffic congestion. That being said, when possible, taking the train to either Philadelphia or New York, is always a viable option for me. Taking a train to Newark is actually more convenient than a connecting flight as the ride is only 2.5 hours direct from Union Station in downtown DC to the Newark Airport train station. So the fact that La Compagnie flies out of Newark is basically the next best thing to flying out of DC.
The Airport Experience
We arrived at Newark Liberty Airport a little over 3 hours before departure. We found the La Compagnie ticket counter easily enough; unfortunately it wasn't open yet.
The empty ticket counter
I checked on the La Compagnie website from my phone and saw that it was indeed written that check in opens 2.5 hours prior to departure. This seems really late to me–most airlines that only have one flight per day will open at least 3 hours prior to departure, if not 4. This seems like a cost-saving measure, which is understandable, but not friendly to the leisure travellers, who most likely make up a large part of La Compagnie's traffic.
Waiting outside for the counter to open. Ah…that seventies aesthetic that is Newark Airport!
About 15 minutes before the counters are due to open, we head back inside. At this point, a long line has begun to form and many people are wondering why the counters aren't open yet.
Several waiting passengers went over to ask the agents at the Icelandair counter next door if they knew when the La Compagnie counters would open. Those poor Icelandair agents must get harassed all the time.
At 2.5 hours before departure, the ticket counters are still not open. One cool feature of the ticket counters at Newark is that screens display pictures of the airline–a nice #AvGeek touch IMO.
Finally, 15 minutes late, the ticket counters open and the carpets are rolled out. I had to laugh because they put a "Business Class" sign at the end of the queue stanchions. Not really necessary, when the whole flight is Business class. I suppose they were trying to be cute.
The check-in was very fast and efficient and the agent was smiling and friendly. She gave us directions to the lounge and informed us that it was outside of security. I'm not a fan of lounges outside of security as you have to leave earlier to make sure you get to the gate on time, but with only 72 seats on board our 757, the aircraft only boards about half an hour before departure, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the lounge.
La Compagnie uses a third party lounge also accessible to Priority Pass members in Terminal B, called Art & Lounge
As we were among the first to check in, we are among the first to arrive in the lounge. The decor is pleasant, though it is small and will get quite crowded as we get closer to departure time, especially when the London passengers start to arrive.
The food offering is rather decent for a U.S. lounge, with several warm options including pasta and egg rolls.
There was also a nice selection of alcoholic beverages and wines, including rosé and sparkling.
Not knowing how long the wait at security would be, we left the lounge about 20 minutes before boarding was due to begin. Security moved rather quickly, but it was funny to note that there were way more people in the "Premium" lanes than in the regular lanes, since our whole flight is "Premium".
Move Seventies-ness airside
Here is our bird. F-HCIE, a 21 year old former Thomson Airways Boeing 757-200. It is La Compagnie's 2nd aircraft; acquired in early 2015 to open up the Newark-London route.
I really like the metallic blue livery. It's certainly more interesting than most boring Euro-white liveries out there.
Speaking of boring liveries, there's a good example right there :-)
Because there is no priority boarding on a plane where all seats are Business class, I hung around near the podium to board early so that I could get some decent cabin shots. I normally don't like gate lice, but in the absence of a priority lane, you do what you gotta do as a Flight-Reporter :-)
Boarding started right on time. Only a few people were waiting by the boarding door with me. Most others were in no rush at all–this was a nice change of pace from the usual North American stampede to get onboard.
The metallic blue looks nice up close as well. The blue glow of mood lighting looks good as you board and I find the La Compagnie FA uniforms to be quite chic.
The first impression of the cabin is good. It looks really fresh and modern despite the age of the aircraft. The luggage bins are a new round design, which along with the mood lighting, helps to give the cabin that modern look.
The seats are the same as Lufthansa's old Business class seats. I'm not sure if La Compagnie got them from LH directly or not.
These seats are not the same as on La Compagnie's first aircraft, F-HTAG. The cabin from H-TAG only is featured in all promotional material and adverts, such as the photos displayed on the screens at check-in. I must admit it is odd that an airline with only two aircraft has such different looking seats on each plane. I imagine that cost has something to do with it. The seats may look different, but in the end they are both angled-lie flat seats.
Lots of space at the exit row.
My seat in the mini cabin at the rear of the aircraft.
Views of the rear mini cabin
Legroom is great with seats pitched at 62 inches.
The seats are showing some signs of wear and tear. My seat was missing a part in the armrest. The German labels are another clue to the seats' Lufthansian origins.
Amenity kits were handed out during boarding.
The contents are decent, with the typical eyemask, ear plugs, and socks combo, in addition to a pen, a small mirror, toothbrush and toothpaste, and Caudalie hand creme.
Welcome drinks are served in plastic cups–and here I thought only U.S. carriers did that. There is a choice of water or a champagne cocktail. There is no pure champagne on offer for pre-departure beverage service. The champagne cocktail consists of champagne, cranberry juice, and a Fraise Tagada–a Haribo strawberry candy very popular in France.
That's a nice winglet!
It feels funny to be behind the wing and still in Business class. Granted, I've experienced this before on OpenSkies–still, it's a rare occasion.
We pushed back a few minutes early
The safety video is played on the overhead screens.
Video of the takeoff
Steep turn after takeoff
We fly back around just to the north of the airport
We fly right over Manhattan
Lights are lowered and the cabin is bathed in blue mood lighting after takeoff
The In-Flight Entertainment is a Samsung Galaxy tablet.
The headphones are La Compagnie branded, but the quality isn't great
I don't mind tablets over seatback/integrated IFE, especially since you can read news articles or magazines right on the tablet.
This was a few days before the Brexit vote.
The choice of movies and TV shows could have been better, however
One thing that is nice, and surprising, is that an airshow is available. Other flights on other airlines I've been on that have featured tablets, did not have a moving map feature.
And here we are flying past the Cape just as dinner is about to be served
You can also see the drinks and dining menu on the tablets
Except that the dinner that was served was completely different from what is described on the menu.
The wine list was accurate, however.
There are only 3 flight attendants for 72 seats, so they are rather busy and don't have much time to chat, but they were all very friendly and efficient. There is no aperitif service on this flight and there is only one meal option served on one tray. Our friendly FA described the dishes orally since the menus were incorrect: A chicken salad is served with a butternut squash soup. Cheese and dessert are also all on the same tray.
The light supper concept is fine and everything was tasty, but it is a shame not to have any options at all. This is where the low-cost aspects of the carrier are most evident.
There is a separate digestif service, which is nice. I had a Poire Williams to help me get to sleep.
View of the main cabin after dinner
We're just about to leave the Canadian Maritime provinces for the open ocean as I settle down for some sleep.
I slept a good 4 hours and woke up as breakfast was being served.
While the evening meal service was light, the breakfast is quite hearty for a short transatlantic flight, compared to other airlines. Air France, for example, only serves a light continental breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and pastries.
The weather in the Paris area was grey and rainy
Landing on the north runways, it was short taxi to Terminal 1
Past a Thai Airways A380
And a French government jet
Last view of the cabin on deplaning
We had received Accès No. 1 cards upon disembarking which gave access to the priority queues at immigration.
We were through in just a few minutes and into the famous tubes of CDG's aging Terminal 1
The Euro Cup was going on at the time
After grabbing our luggage at the carousel, we were out to the rental car within 45 minutes of arrival. Not bad for Paris!
Spotted our plane as we drive away towards the city.
Thanks for reading!
Art & Lounge
Newark - EWR
Paris - CDG
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend La Compagnie. If you're not too worried about miles and points on the big alliances, this is a really good option for flights between New York and London/Paris. La Compagnie does not have the best Business class product in the Transatlantic market, nor does it pretend to. The product is basic for Business class, but much better than any Premium Economy. Some reviews I've read have compared the product to a superior Premium Economy--anyone who compares this product to Premium Economy is just flat out wrong.
Despite the heavy workload with only 3 flight attendants on a full flights, the FAs were always very courteous and friendly. But with only 3 FAs for 70+ passengers, you can't expect too much personal attention. The catering is probably where the low-cost aspect of the company is most obvious, but again, it's really not the end of the world, for the price. Still much better than anything you'd get in Economy or Premium Economy. The champagnes and wines were good for Business class.
Bottom line, La Compagnie is great value for money. For often just a few hundred dollars more round-trip than Economy, you are getting a Business class experience and a good night's rest.
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