If You’re Headed to Paris, This Is the Best Way to Get There

Forget all those nightmare flying stories you keep hearing — La Compagnie was a dream

July 8, 2022 6:00 am
wing of la compagnie plane

Not long ago, anyone flying between New York and Paris could avail themselves of a spectacular, low-key option: OpenSkies, a French airline owned by British Air — and named, in fact, for the transatlantic treaty, the EU-US Open Skies Agreement, that permitted foreign airlines to fly between countries other than their own. For most of its duration, OpenSkies flew a narrow-body 757-200 on the route, with the cabin divided between business, premium economy, and economy class — but the plane was so small, and the 3-3 economy cabin so relaxed, that it felt like even those of us in the back were drafting off the big spenders. Everyone got an iPad. Once, I sat two seats and a cabin divider away from French Montana. 

OpenSkies, though, shut down in 2020, a victim of the pandemic —and was replaced by Level, a low-cost airline definitely not handing out iPads to everybody in economy. How, then, to get to Paris in comfort and style? La réponse: the business class-only La Compagnie

La Compagnie flew its debut flight between Charles de Gaulle and Newark in 2014, on a 74-seat 757-200. Its founders were Frantz Yvelin and former Swissair and JetAirways COO Peter Luethi — Yvelin had previously founded L’Avion…which was subsequently sold to BA and ultimately became OpenSkies. The goal, in both cases: to create a business-centric product that could beat legacy carriers on price, while also providing a superior experience. 

The two airlines clearly have much shared DNA: Like OpenSkies, La Compagnie flies between Newark and Paris’s Orly Airport (which, in fact, is the Newark of Paris — in that it’s a better option than the bigger airport nearby). This is good news, given that Orly is smaller and more manageable than Charles de Gaulle, 20 miles northwest. (Also, Uber fares into the city are often under €35 from Orly, while trips from CDG can be closer to €80 [or more) — though if you’re taking public transport, CDG is better.) La Compagnie flies the Airbus A321neo, which, on a full tank, can go an extra 400-500 nautical miles than the original A321 — a notable fuel savings. 

For my test flight, I flew out of Newark — specifically, Terminal B. Terminal A will soon be replaced by a new, $2.7B terminal, “the largest design-build project in New Jersey’s history,” and Terminal C is my favorite terminal in the entire country. As regular EWR fliers know, Terminal B is…doing its thing. La Compagnie passengers have access to the Plaza Premium Lounge — also known by its formal name, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse operated by Plaza Premium Group. Virgin’s design-forward fingerprints are all over the space, which is cubbied off into neat little seating areas with Eames-ish chairs worthy of a European interiors magazine. I ordered grilled fish with a lemon butter sauce, which the guy sitting next to me received, and ate. Staff, when I was there, were overwhelmed but sweet and doing their best to help some pretty choleric travelers. These days, that’s probably enough. 

The true La Compagnie experience begins after boarding (extremely fast, very efficient, with no wait on the jetway), with unlimited high-speed wifi (delivered by Viasat) available from boarding. The cabin has a 2-2 layout with 76 192-cm lay-flat seats — happily, in that misanthropic sense of “happily,” I had both to myself. Everything you’d expect in a business-class seat is present and accounted for: an electrical outlet, reading light, stowaway spots for your stuff, and an amenity kit with Caudalie products. I did not see French Montana or, for that matter, any other celebrities, and I could not think that they were missing out — at least the ones who were still flying commercial. Without a few hundred people sitting in coach behind us, the general vibe was of the waiting lounge at a sleek, in-demand restaurant: Everyone, basically, was waiting, for their vacation/work trip/destination wedding/family reunion/whatever to begin — what is a flight except time spent in suspension? — but since we had to wait, it was hard to think of somewhere nicer to do it, whether stretching out, sifting through those Caudalie products, or watching a movie on the 15.6-inch screens, which makes for a paradigm shift. A special collection of French movies curated by MK2 the French film distributor and movie-house brand, currently includes Abbas Kiarostami’s Carbon Copy, the documentary Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno and François Truffaut’s Les Mistons. (Those three selections together would be an excellent way to pass most of the trip.) Personally, I passed out soon after the four-course meal — highlights of which included the smoked salmon with vegetables — designed by Christophe Langrée, known for seven years as chef de cuisine at Matignon in Paris and now head chef at Ti Al Lannec on the Pink Granit Coast in his native Brittany. I woke up as we began our descent to Orly, fully rested for the first time in memory. My ticket originally had cost less than a legacy-carrier business-class ticket, and a few hundred dollars more than an economy ticket. Even without the many other perks, that solid night’s sleep would have been worth the price difference. I was so accustomed to arriving in Europe half-awake that I didn’t know what to do with myself the morning I got there: I’d arranged my schedule around a nap I no longer needed.

Given the current state of things, the experience was perhaps most notable for what it lacked: yelling, disarray, crowding, agita, pushing, shoving, arguing. When we think back to pre-COVID days, I think this is what we miss: a sense that comity would rule the day; that where we possible we would welcome elegance and luxury; that we would leave each other alone. (Halcyon days, if they ever existed.) As I write this, I have a three-hour flight in the morning, in seat 36F of a fully packed flight with an average departure delay of “over one hour” from an overburdened airport wheezing with its effort to keep up with pent-up mid/post-pandemic demand. I would rather be on La Compagnie, anywhere they fly — for the record: Paris, Nice, and now Milan. I think this is where we are headed, metaphorically speaking: flying less, maybe, but better. In the meantime, wish me luck.


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