After a productive few months in Europe, the time came to return home to the US in late July. I was planning somewhat of a risky trip: I intended to bring my desktop PC tower (and its accessories) in my checked luggage. As expected, economy fares for the Paris-New York route were very high in the summer season, and, given that I would need fairly generous luggage requirements, I started to browse premium fares. I quickly came upon an offer that caught my eye: La Compagnie, a relative newcomer to the premium transatlantic market, were were charging 699 euros ($780) for a one way Orly-Newark fare in the business class of their brand new A321neo, which had only entered service two months prior. This fare generously included two 2 checked bags weighing a maximum of 32kg (70lbs) each--which I figured would be more than enough for a desktop PC. This worked out to around 100 euros more than the cheapest economy options: Norwegian and Level, when considering seat selection, catering, and luggage surcharges.
So... I faced a very difficult question: did I want to spend 8 hours at the back of a 787 or A330, either of which would be operated by a cancellation and delay-prone LCC, or sample a brand new and highly acclaimed business product equipped with a lie-flat bed? After much hesitation--and having carefully weighed all the pros and cons of each option--I eventually decided on the latter, and so my first ever flight on the A320neo family was booked and fast approaching! I had been very impressed by the J-product on La Compagnie's (now retired) B757-200 back in 2016, and had read that their A321neo offered nothing but improvements, with individual IFE screens, free wifi, and lie-flat beds in the all-business cabin among the most proudly advertised new features. As the fateful morning in July crept closer, to say I was excited would be a tremendous understatement. July 20th
My morning began with a workout: lugging two exceptionally heavy suitcases down from a 5th floor apartment and into the trunk of a waiting cab. I had carefully spread my PC components inside the two suitcases, protected by a thick layer of clothing. After insisting that he help me with my luggage, the cab driver warned me that it was far too heavy to be accepted by any airline. Although I assured him I was flying on a premium ticket with looser restrictions, I admit I was slightly nervous, since my assumption that they each weighed less than 32kg was based on sheer guesswork!
Anyway, following a quick and seamless drive from southern Paris, I arrived at Orly's Terminal 4 (previously known as Orly Sud) at 8:20am. Mid-morning on a clear summer day might be my favorite ever time to embark on a long journey, and I was in excellent spirits as I walked towards the terminal, glancing upwards as the last few traces of an orange sunrise disappeared from the near-cloudless sky. My great mood took a slight hit as I wandered into the terminal and looked at the departure board, which forecasted a 1 hour delay for my flight to Newark. Still, I had nowhere important to be in New York, so I wasn't too concerned! An extra hour in the lounge might not be too bad, either!
The check-in desks for our flight were tucked away in a quiet basement which I had never been to before. When I arrived, a sizeable queue had already formed, and the desks were still closed, which surprised me since La Compagnie's website indicates that check-in opens 2h30min prior to the originally scheduled departure (10:30 in this case). Check-in eventually opened at 8:40, and the line moved very quickly. Shamelessly eavesdropping on discussions between the check-in staff, I heard that the rumored reason for the delay was a "changement d'équipage"
: crew change.
As it turned out, the heavier of my two suitcases was 500 grams below the limit! Now, all I could do was hope that my makeshift packaging would be enough to protect my precious PC from the perils of baggage handling...
I made my way upstairs and was through fast-track security by 9:15, giving me at least an hour before boarding. La Compagnie uses the Salon Icare
at Orly, which is a small lounge used by a variety of airlines in Terminal 4. As such, it was very crowded, to an extent that taking any pictures inside would have been quite invasive of other people's personal space. The food offerings were decent, though, and I treated myself to several helpings of eggs and sausage, along with a few delicious fruit cups and some juice. Also on offer were an abundance of pastries and alcoholic drinks, and a scary-looking waffle machine which I didn't dare use! I chose one of several remaining seats by a window and took advantage of the lounge's complimentary wifi.
The views from the lounge were... well...
Before long I grew restless, and at 10:30 I decided to head towards the gate area, which, as it turned out, was very spacious and ultimately a much more relaxing place to kill time than the busy lounge.
Walking by one of Corsair's three gorgeous B744's, soon to carry some holidaymakers from sun to more sun!
Wonderfully designed gate area in a recently refurbished part of Orly
Within a few minutes, boarding was announced. Since most of the passengers were still trickling out of the lounge, I was one of the first onboard! With only 74 seats on each aircraft, in an all-business configuration, there are no boarding groups on La Compagnie. By 10:45, I was making my way down the jetbridge towards my waiting Airbus. This would be my first ever transatlantic crossing on an aircraft smaller than the 757.
A contestant for one of today's best-looking liveries? It's certainly up there!La Compagnie 100
Scheduled Departure (Actual) : Paris Orly - 10:30am (11:29am)
Scheduled Arrival (Actual) : Newark - 1:00pm (2:03pm)
Seat : 19F
Flight Time : 8 hours
Cruising Altitudes : 34,000 feet, 32,000 feet, 38,000 feet
Aircraft : Airbus A321-251NX
Registration : F-HBUZ
Stepping onboard, I was greeted warmly by the three female cabin crew: Alicia, Anaïs, and Karine. My first impressions of the cabin were extremely positive.
Waiting et each seat was a pillow, blanket, well-stocked amenity kit, noise-cancelling headphones, and a bottle of water. Each seat also comes equipped with multiple universal power ports and USB charging points. I was sitting in the second to last row, in window seat 19F. The seat next to me remained empty, as did all four seats in the row behind me! At a guess, the load factor was around 80%. Boarding was complete within 10 minutes, and the cabin crew soon came around with orange juice and champagne. I had both
I know I'm in the minority here, but I really don't mind these window decals! I heard they've been removed by now, anyway.
Lots of room here even at 6'7''... note the (very comfy!) La Compagnie socks.
Our parking bay seems to be adjacent to the stop for Ouibus
, a low fare long distance bus service in France
Captain Xavier Dôme made an announcement at 11:15, explaining that the delay was caused by heavy congestion over the North Atlantic, resulting in a 1 hour slot delay imposed by ATC. On a Saturday in late July, I suppose that's understandable. Still, a delay due to oceanic congestion is a first for me! Captain Dôme predicted that with a "quick" flight time of 7 hours and 45 minutes, we would make up most of the delay. We eventually pushed back from the gate at 11:29, some 59 minutes late, and began a slow taxi to Orly's southwesterly runway 24 as a stylish, yoga-based safety video was played. It began by boldly claiming it was "the most relaxing safety video ever" and certainly wasn't wrong... the background music practically put me to sleep!
F-HSEA would soon leave for Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe
Can you guess where this Tunisair A330 is heading?
Definitely one of Orly's more interesting visitors today! This A319, owned by HiFly Malta, was being wet-leased by Transavia France for holiday flights around Europe
This beautiful Air France B777-300ER is bound for Fort-de-France in Martinique...
... and this one is bound for Pointe-à-Pitre!
The Orly Ouest short-haul crew!
We reached the end of the runway within a few minutes, and then held short for a while, even though there was very little traffic around. There was no word from the flight deck, so I assumed we were waiting for our ATC slot time. I was curious later on so I listened to the LiveATC recording; it turns out that a previous departure had hit a bird on takeoff and a runway inspection was needed before we could depart!
Before long, we lined up on Runway 24 and commenced a powerful rolling takeoff at 11:53am. It was a windy day in Paris, and the initial climb was very bumpy indeed! Sitting at the back of the bus, I got shaken around a fair bit. You can watch the takeoff video here
It had become quite cloudy throughout the morning
The free wifi service was enabled around 5 minutes after takeoff, and I was immediately impressed by its speed. It dropped momentarily several times over the Atlantic, but was restored within seconds. Well done La Compagnie!
Our route today was quite a northerly one, presumably to take advantage of the prevailing winds. Cruising initially at 34,000 feet, we flew northbound towards England, then started a gradual left turn over London which set our course toward central Ireland, from where we began our transatlantic crossing.
We encountered some moderate turbulence over northern France that elicited quite a few gasps among the passengers, and I even heard some loud crashing in the back galley. It subsided after a few minutes once air traffic control cleared us to a higher altitude.
Somewhere over London
I love Flightradar24 because of things like this! We're flying parallel to (and far above) G-BYGC, a BA 747 heading to the Royal International Air Tattoo in Gloucestershire for a fly-past with the Red Arrows!
Crossing the Irish Sea
Nearly an hour after takeoff, the meal service began with some salty snacks and a drink of choice. I went for a ginger ale.
The starter (there was no choice) was a quirky poached egg dish with caramel sauce and popcorn. It tasted quite good!
The main course offerings were gnocchi or chicken. I went for the latter, which took quite some time to arrive. Its presentation wasn't particularly appetizing, but it was cooked to perfection and the mustard sauce was flavorful and delicious.
Finally, at 8:20 NYC time--some two and a half hours after takeoff--dessert was finally served. It consisted of a rather underwhelming cheese plate, made up for by a superb fruit pudding.
In the meantime, we were well into our oceanic crossing, and had descended to 32,000 feet because of traffic congestion at the higher levels. The cabin lights were dimmed, and I decided to recline my seat into a lie-flat bed, which was comfortable enough, but, as expected, I couldn't stretch out all the way. This shouldn't be a problem if you aren't excessively tall like I am, and you'll likely find the bed perfectly fine for a good night's sleep. Anyway, I managed to get about an hour's worth of very sound sleep, and a few more of peaceful R&R.
When I awoke, I briefly explored the IFE selection on our (gigantic!) personal screens, and found that it was more than adequate, with 54 films on offer. However, the screens were extremely
reflective. This made photography difficult, and it was near impossible to watch anything without staring at yourself in a mirror! As per usual, I mainly used the IFE system for the excellent moving map, and spent most of the flight resting my eyes and browsing the internet on my phone. I even managed to call some friends using the wifi, although it cut after a few seconds.
Busy skies over the North Atlantic today!
Before long, we made landfall over Newfoundland and climbed gradually to 38,000 feet.
Talk about cozy!
The horizontal stabilizer!
At 12:20pm, a pre-landing snack was served and there was choice between sweet and savory. I had gotten quite hungry again so I asked if I could have both. My request was flatly denied by the flight attendant, so I went with the savory option which consisted of a very mediocre cheese sandwich and a tasty white chocolate pudding on the side. By this point, we were well into US territory and were flying over Maine.
We soon began a very gradual descent towards Newark, which was accompanied by a bunch of abrupt heading changes to sequence us behind traffic ahead. 50 minutes to landing was announced at 12:56.
After dodging a nasty-looking weather cell near Albany, we were cleared to rejoin the FLOSI3 arrival from the north and we followed the Hudson river down towards Newark.
Glad we're not flying through that!
The whole east coast was suffering from a massive heat wave at that point, and I winced when the captain announced a temperature of 36C (97F) on the ground!
There seemed to be a visible heat haze as we continued our descent.
This is Greenwood Lake Airport in northern New Jersey! Can you spot the Lockheed Constellation sitting on the ramp?
Interesting mood lighting as we commence our final approach!
Before long, we were turning final for Runway 22L
After a rather bumpy approach, we made a beautiful landing at 1:53pm, exactly eight hours after taking off from Orly. You can watch it here!
During our speedy taxi towards Terminal B, the captain informed us that we would need to be towed into the gate with our engines off; this is common practice for several stands at Newark.
This Austrian B767-300 had arrived from Vienna just minutes earlier
Hey good lookin'
With the help of a tug to negotiate the tight final turn, we pulled into gate B57 at 2:03pm, some 63 minutes behind schedule. After a quick visit to the bathroom and taking my time to gather my belongings, I bade farewell to the three flight attendants and was the last one off F-HBUZ. During the walk to customs, I managed to get some cool angles of the gorgeous jet that had just flown me across the Atlantic.
Customs itself was busy, but my U.S. passport got me through in a matter of minutes. When I arrived at baggage claim, I was impressed to see that both of my bags were already waiting for me. I was soon stepping outside into the sweltering heat and humidity, and immediately thanked myself for having chosen to wear light clothing earlier that morning in Paris. After an annoying paperwork screw-up with the taxi dispatcher that took far too long to resolve, I was eventually in a cab (A/C on full blast, of course) at 2:50pm. By 3:30, I was home (and considerably poorer), and was thrilled to discover that all of my PC parts were very cold, but otherwise completely undamaged and in perfect condition!
After two months away, there's nothing quite like the view of Manhattan coming over the GW bridgeConclusion
La Compagnie lived up to my high expectations in almost every respect. The lounge at Orly was well-stocked (if rather small), the seat/bed was quite spacious and very comfortable, the service was mostly friendly (albeit annoyingly slow at times), and the catering was slightly better than what I would expect in the Premium Economy cabin of a legacy carrier. The biggest upgrade I noticed (compared to their older B757) was in the entertainment: the free wifi worked quickly and consistently throughout the flight, and, despite the annoying reflections in the massive IFE screen, it's still a very welcome change from the clunky personal tablets they used to distribute to each passenger!
While some might find La Compagnie's offer underwhelming for a business product, it's important to remember that it's not intended to match the standards of a full-service airline. They routinely offer fares around $1400 RT
for transatlantic business class (usually less than a third
of the roundtrip price of transatlantic J on, say, Air France or United)--and occasionally have sales where prices drop considerably lower! In the current market, I think it's safe to say that this is absolutely unbeatable
value for money.
Moreover, whatever they're doing seems to be working, as they're allegedly on the road to profitability!
I wish them every success, and I'm excited to see what the future holds! While I certainly can't afford to make a habit out of flying La Compagnie, I'll be keeping an eye out for low fares whenever my travels take me back to Europe.
... oh, and thanks for not breaking my PC!