Best Seats: Flights of Fancy

Courtesy La Compagnie

Many airlines have tried, but only British Airways has managed to crack the business-class-only route from New York to London. Can new boutique carrier La Compagnie soar?

British Airways’ all-business-class service between New York J.F.K. and London City Airport has been a favorite among fliers since the Airbus A318 route debuted, in 2009. Consider its amenities: just 32 seats in eight rows, 72-inch fully flat beds, preclearance at U.S. immigration on select flights, true last-minute check-in (20 minutes before departure from London to New York, if checking luggage), the only B.A. route that allows text messaging, and business-class-lounge access. What’s not to love?

For one thing, the price, starting at $3,600, says one-year-old all-business-class French airline La Compagnie, which in July launched a daily service to London Luton from Newark Liberty, in addition to its route from Newark to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Eyeing a gap in the market La Compagnie has set out to offer, if not the best business class, at least the cheapest, with flights starting at $1,950. “Most travelers experience two kinds of discomfort when traveling,” La Compagnie CEO Frantz Yvelin says. “Either the physical discomfort of traveling in economy, or the financial discomfort of paying for a business-class ticket. We wanted to change that.”

The reason to fly La Compagnie is the spaciousness for the price. The carrier operates two Boeing 757-200s that it leased from Icelandair and retrofitted with 74 seats in 19 rows. The 26-inch-wide seats (6 inches wider than B.A.’s) are perfectly comfortable even if they are a bit flawed: They don’t lie fully flat (it feels more like a 160-degree angle), and the 62-inch pitch can leave a taller passenger’s feet dangling slightly off the footrest’s edge. The other services and perks, like onboard meal service (average, though we appreciated the French twist), universal outlets, personal Samsung Galaxy Pro tablets, and access to luxury lounges, are industry standards.

It’s hard not to compare La Compagnie to similar carriers—EOS Airlines, MAXjet Airways, Silverjet, and L’Avion—that all appeared in the early 2000s and disappeared during the 2008 recession (other than L’Avion, which Yvelin founded—it merged with B.A. to create OpenSkies, now operating between New York J.F.K. and Newark and Paris Orly). “In the short-term? I think La Compagnie will be successful,” says former Silverjet CEO Lawrence Hunt. “About 12,500 people fly between London and New York daily. All La Compagnie has to do is capture 74 of them.”