When the all-business-class airline La Compagnie announced a major upgrade to its planes—new Airbus A321neos flying between Newark International Airport and France—the news fell on deaf ears. Well, my deaf ears. I’d flown the French boutique airline from Newark to Gatwick a few years ago and was unimpressed. Despite offering a more-than-competitive fare when it launched in 2014—tickets for $1,000, half the typical cost of a round-trip business-class fare to France—the plane itself, an old loaner from Icelandair, felt tired. The food was so-so, the seats didn’t lie flat, and the TV screen was a tablet. Sure, I know you get what you pay for, but it was honestly only marginally better than economy class. And I couldn’t top up my air miles (#SkyTeamforlife).
Still, there’s always room for improvement—and who’s aggressively clocking air miles these days anyway? I decided to give La Compagnie another try on a December 2021 flight from Newark to Paris Orly. The new Airbus A321neos are touted as quieter and more energy efficient. Thanks to their advanced engines and Sharklet wingtip devices, the amount of fuel burned is 20 percent less per seat—which is something you can’t not consider in 2021.
Checking in at EWR
At Newark airport, check-in and security were a breeze. La Compagnie offers priority access in the TSA PreCheck lane; although unnecessary on a Sunday night in a quiet Terminal B, it’s nice to know it’s available. The airline’s lounge is currently closed, but I didn’t have to jostle for a seat in the empty terminal.
We boarded on time and would have taken off early if it wasn’t for another plane blocking the runway (the French pilot was audibly annoyed by this delay, which I appreciated). It was at this moment when I remembered one of La Compagnie’s best qualities: When boarding is complete, which happens quickly on a plane with only 76 seats, the flight takes off. It’s the type of efficiency and ease usually associated with flying privately, at a fraction of the cost.
Business-class seats for all
Seats are configured in rows of two, which is perfect for couples or two friends traveling together. That said, there are partitions so you can partially block off your neighbor. I settled into seat 1F—a lie-flat seat like all the others, with a big in-seat screen (no longer a tablet), well-stuffed pillow, a light comforter, over-the-ear headphones, and an amenity bag was filled with socks, an eye mask, and Caudalie products.
After takeoff, warm towels were handed out and a light meal was served (masks are still required during the flight when you’re not eating) . The menu is available on the screen: Options were seared tuna and quinoa, or a burrata and asparagus salad, served alongside a coconut soup, a selection of cheese, and apple crumble.
It’s the type of efficiency and ease usually associated with flying privately, at a fraction of the cost.
The flight was hard to fault. I chose the tuna, which was as simple and fresh as any good grocery-store-bought salad, and served with real knives and forks and Piper-Heidsieck champagne, cool and crisp. The flight attendants moved swiftly through the cabin aisle and allowed me to take a peek at the meals before selecting without hesitation. Wi-Fi was free and the seat, blissfully, lay totally flat.
The entertainment selection includes about 50 older English and French movies and TV shows—think Blood Diamond and Something’s Gotta Give, not 2020 Oscar nominees. They did offer meditation for nervous fliers—a nice touch. One of the most impressive moments on the 6.5-hour journey was when I went to the bathroom only to find the flight attendant aggressively cleaning the stall from top to bottom. In all my years of flying, I have never seen a flight attendant clean a stall like that.
The Paris Orly and immigration experience
Before touching down in Paris, the flight attendants delivered regular airplane coffee, croissants, and a fruit plate with pineapple and melon, accompanied by nutella French toast or a chorizo omelet (I was still full from dinner, so chose neither). We exited the plane quickly and whizzed through immigration thanks to La Compagnie’s access to the priority lane. Our bags arrived on the belt within 20 minutes. Honestly, it took longer to find the Uber than it did to get through the airport.
On the return flight from Orly, I once again had priority access through security and immigration and felt slightly bad scooting past nonpriority passengers as they shuffled forward inch by inch. The lounge at Orly was small and average with a display of tiny croissants and cheese. There was, however, chilled champagne. For one last hurrah! Our flight time back to Newark was nine hours–longer than expected due to headwinds–but the free Wi-Fi meant I could work.
When we landed, we disembarked the plane in a matter of minutes, and I cruised through Global Entry to collect my bag. While waiting at the carousel, I heard my name over the loudspeaker, asking that I please wait at carousel five. An airport attendant frantically rushed over to me, my AirPods in hand. “You left these behind,” she said, handing them over. Having lost my set of Bose headphones on a flight to Tokyo (and numerous other things on planes), I was gobsmacked. All I could think was, who needs airline status when you have next-level care?
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Paris