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July 29, 2017

"Getting There" - The World's Best (and Smallest) Airline

I hate to fly.  It is crowded, uncomfortable, stressful and inhuman.  But having just returned from a wonderful vacation in France, I am rethinking my views thanks to my roundtrip flight on La Compagnie, an all business-class “boutique” airline.

Founded as “Dreamjet” in 2013, this French-owned airline has only two planes and flies twice a day from Newark to Paris.  But their 757’s are unlike any you’ve ever flown, carrying only 74 passengers on planes usually crammed with 200+ coach seats.

As an all business-class operation, each seat on La Compagnie is 26 inches wide with five feet (60”) of legroom.  That compares to a typical coach seat’s 17 inch width and 31 inches of “pitch”.  Even seats in BusinessFirst on United are only 21 inches wide with 55 inches of legroom.

Because the planes are so uncrowded, check-in is a breeze and you can enjoy food and drink in a real lounge before going through priority TSA security lines and onto the plane.  Checked bags are free and there is plenty of overhead space for your carry-ons.

In-flight service is amazing and the food is great: multi-course meals catered by a French chef with plenty of wine to wash it down.  In-flight entertainment (movies, books, music) is provided on flat-tablets, one per seat.  There’s no in-flight Wi-Fi, but power plugs can keep your personal device well charged.

Flying time is the same as other airlines, but on arrival, again no stress as you don’t have to
wait with 200+ fellow travelers for customs or baggage.

This is what flying should be.  And most amazing of all, it’s affordable.

Looking at a typical one-way to Paris in August booking a month in advance, business class on Air France, Delta or United is over $7000.  One the same date, La Compagnie is $1657.  On slower dates, booked in advance, La Compagnie offers roundtrips as low as $1300.

Now, certainly even those fares are higher than flying coach.  Newcomer Norwegian Airlines offers a one way to Paris in coach for $265 while US carriers will get you there starting at $2600.  But you don’t get what you don’t pay for. 

I find over-night flights in coach are unbearable.  You can’t sleep and given the time change you’re a zombie for the first day in Europe.  But on my “Dreamjet” I actually got some shut-eye on my almost-flat sleeper seat.

La Compagnie has succeeded where other all-business competitors like MaxJet, Eos and Silverjet have failed. They’re cautious in not over-expanding.  In fact, they cancelled their London flight after the Brexit vote last year.  But their management may be looking at other European destinations as they modernize their fleet with new Airbus 321neo  jets coming in 2019.

The airline tells me that 55% of their passengers are from the US, 45% from France.  They’ve even added a frequent flyer program after testing an unlimited-flights-for-a-year pass for $35,000, a deal that got fewer than 10 takers.

I don’t go to Europe that often.  But next time I will only fly La Compagnie.  I hope that some of our domestic airlines follow their lead and make flying comfortable again. People will pay for comfort if the product is offered.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

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