My interview with Frantz Yvelin, CEO of low-cost transatlantic airline La Compagnie

On Tuesday I spent 90 minutes with Frantz Yvelin, CEO of La Compagnie.  If the airline name is not familiar to you, La Compagnie is a low cost ‘all business class’ airline operating between Luton and New York (Newark).  It also operates from Paris CDG to Newark.

La Compagnie operates 74-seat Boeing 757 aircraft with ‘lie flat but not horizontal’ seating in a 2 x 2 formation.  Most importantly, it often sells its seats for as little as £450 each way based on two travelling.  If their Duo deal is not currently running, or you are travelling alone, fares start at just £500 each way.

La Compagnie 3

These are NOT headline grabbing fares which cannot be bought.  If you visit La Compagnie’s website, you will see that £500 each-way fares are available for the majority of flights, except at very short notice.

If you are planning on redeeming Avios points to fly to New York, La Compagnie could make you think twice.  Is it worth paying over £500 in taxes per person plus 100,000 – 120,000 Avios points when you could buy a cash ticket outright for £1,000 return?

Yvelin is an experienced operator in this market.  He founded L’AVION, the first European ‘all business class’ airline, in 2006.  British Airways bought the business two years later and it became the foundation for the Open Skies airline which still flies between Paris and New York.

Five years later, Yvelin decided to do it again with La Compagnie.  Flights from Paris to New York started in July 2014 and Luton to New York was added in April 2015.  Our chat marked the first anniversary of the Luton route.

La Compagnie 1

Yvelin is keen to highlight the fact that, frankly, many people were queuing up to predict the swift demise of the airline.  As it turns out, two years in, the Paris service is running at 70% – 90% load factors.  The London service is below that but is still in the ‘ramping up’ stage and will benefit from a frequency increase to six flights per week from May.

Frantz is the first to admit that the airline had initial teething problems, as well as an unlucky run of technical issues with its aircraft.  These seem to be behind it now, although you are always taking some risk booking an airline with one flight per day rather than 10 flights per day to your destination.

La Compagnie in-flight

The product is surprisingly accomplished given the price point.  Last year I ran a review of one of their first flights submitted by a reader, who was impressed.

There are no hidden charges for seat reservations, luggage or meals.  Piper-Heidsieck champagne is served, passengers get lounge access (the Aspire lounge at Luton which Anika reviewed positively here) and toiletries are from Caudalie.

La Compagnie 2

IFE is provided via 12 inch Samsung tablets which come pre-loaded with a wide selection of entertainment.  The airline is currently in discussions about adding wi-fi – the planes are already wired for it and a new satellite, currently settling into orbit, would allow a high speed connection that would be superior to existing products.  And, of course, passengers already have a tablet they could use for browsing.

The main differentiator between La Compagnie and BA / Virgin is that your seat, whilst lie flat, slopes downwards at an angle.  For the day flight to New York, this is unlikely to make any difference whatsoever – I can’t remember the last time I wanted to sleep on a day flight.

It is more of an issue on the overnight return, but I have done a number of flights over the years on similar seats and, frankly, you will survive perfectly happily.  The thought of the large sum of money you are saving over flying BA or Virgin would keep you going!

And a frequent flyer scheme

Whilst not a member of any airline alliances, La Compagnie does have its own loyalty programme – MyCompagnie.  You earn points for each flight taken, with the number depending on your ticket type,Points can be redeemed for future flights with the airline.  If you have a family, it is worth noting that every passenger over the age of 2 is allowed to earn points.

Just two fully flexible return flights is enough for a free one way ticket – although that increases to 10 if you are travelling on their cheapest £1,000 return tickets.

Going forward, a third Boeing 757 is scheduled to join the fleet in early 2017.  Whether this will be used for increased frequencies or new routes still appears to be undecided – the economics of London to New York, in terms of the inflated prices charged by the incumbent players, are not easily matched elsewhere.

The airline has done well to negotiate its first two years, albeit helped by a favourable fuel price.  If you are looking for a low cost but not necessarily low service way to get to New York in comfort, it is worth serious consideration.  HFP will hopefully be trying out the service soon so we can give you first hand feedback.

You can find out more on their website.

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  1. Where’s the interview? This is just a summary of their service….

    The schedule is LTN 17:40 – EWR 21:00, so wouldn’t call it a true “day flight” unless you’re normally nocturnal or you stay awake until 3am for a few days before flying. But sloping seats will do.

    Can’t find info about “MyCompagnie” on the website. Is it a completely free flight after 10 flights? That would make it an average of £909 return, which is even better than £1000.

    Lastly, initial teething is a tautology :)

    • Barry cutters says:

      Ok mr positive , it’s a good service and yes a flight to nyc leaving at 5pm is a day flight. I often use the 8pm ba182 out of Heathrow and that’s a day flight. Nobody sleeps otherwise it would make it hard to get in to much time , lands at 11pm and I go to sleep at my hotel, wake up early the next day and you don’t suffer at all. I do this every 2-3 weeks

    • RIccati says:

      British newspapers have interviews written up by the interviewer, it is different from the Q&A genre.

    • Duncan S says:

      Info on MyCompagnie is right on the page!

      * Earn *
      Full Flex: 5 points
      Semi Flex: 3 points
      Best Buy: 2 points
      Promo: 1 point

      * Redeem *
      One-way: 20 points
      Round-trip: 40 points

      It’s unclear to me whether points earned are for a 1-way flight or a return flight. From the website:

      “Every flight with La Compagnie (one-way or round-trip, depending on your fare class) allows you to earn points”

  2. Anthony Davis says:

    I have flown La Compagnie return to New York from Luton and it is fabulous. The point that people often miss is that economy/premium economy on major carriers is now so unbearable, due to high density seating, fewer toilets and peoples lack of manners, that an alternative airline such as this offers something far smarter, classier and more comfortable for around the same price. Honestly, I felt like a private jet passenger. The aircraft is beautiful, the staff French chic, and the service highly efficient.

    If you are just heading for points, stick to a legacy carrier paid for by your boss. But for everyone else, La Compagnie is very special.

  3. whiskerxx says:

    Who maintains the planes?

    • My question as well.

    • ‘La Compagnie has decided to entrust the maintenance of its fleet to Icelandair Technical, a subsidiary of Icelandair and Europe’s main operator of Boeing 757s.’

      The planes came from Icelandair originally as well.

      • That’s not right Rob. One was a “lifer” with Thomson/Britannia. The other was originally with Iberia but spent most of its life with Atlas Jet of Turkey (being wet leased out to airlines like Saudi and Ethopian) before going to Titan who leased it to Icelandair for a summer.

  4. No luck getting a competition prize huh? 😛

    • May be possible medium term. Those sort of promos make sense for a business with spare capacity to offer and no ability to match BA / Virgin on marketing.

  5. Can you book the flights as true one ways for £500ish? Seems to me you could book one way to New York, use 34,000 avios & £60ish to fly iberia business to Madrid, then another 12,000 points back to London.

    Total cost under £600 and you could even book the flight back to London on the afternoon A330/340 iberia flight and have flat seats all the way.

    • 44,000 Avios have significant value though so it’s more than £600. At 1p/avios more like £1000 (i.e. similar to flying return with La Compagnie) though I normally expect to get more than that in terms of redemption value.

      So unless you’re very Avios rich it’s more a trade-off between the Madrid stop and a sloping flat bed.

      For couples collecting Lloyds redemption upgrade vouchers doing a WT+ to Club upgrade on the return leg with BA may also be an attractive option, albeit for less Avios and more tax.

  6. Peter K says:

    While this does feel a bit like an advertorial, thankfully Raffles does still put relevant info in to help you make an informed choice as to whether you want to investigate further out not.

    There are many things I would never have the time to find myself that come up on these pages. Keep up the good work and never sell out or you’ll lose what makes HfP work :-)

    • It was a friendly interview, not the Spanish inquisition! Frantz wanted to make his case, and as I haven’t flown it I am not in a position to critique it. The HFP reader review I ran was also very positive.

  7. What’s the price difference for an airline between a slot at luton and one at lhr? Or gatwick for that matter.
    Luton seems *such* an effort to get to!

    • Heathrow slots cost $20 million upwards because they are all taken and you need to buy one from another airline.

      Luton slots are free. Gatwick is full at peak times but Flybe only got £20m for its entire (well, almost entire) Gatwick portfolio.

    • The effort is one of perception more than actuality – at 25 mins from St Pancras and a 5 min bus transfer it’s easily comparable with Heathrow Connect and quicker than GEX.

      Still in Luton though 😉

    • Luton is a 20 minute drive from home :thumbsup:

    • Horses for courses! 😀 I would probably have said something similar until I discovered that there is a direct bus from home to LTN Terminal.

      Imagine: using my Oyster card to get to a premium service.

    • Richard says:

      Luton is actually much easier to get to for some of us “northerners” that live in the feral wilderness beyond the M25. Gatwick on the other hand is a complete pain in the proverbial…

      Given the ridiculous costs some airlines charge to fly from Manchester long haul and that every other airport outside of London seems to exist only to shuttle people to/from the near continent, I’m quite interested in this and any potential expansion of Luton for more long haul travel.

  8. Thanks for the reminder! Looking to take a little shopping trip in the next month or two and had forgotten about this alternative.

  9. This seems like an advertorial rather than an interview…

    I wonder if the product ‘review’ will be objective if it was ‘paid’ for through this advertorial.

    • If you interview somebody, you report back what they say. If that person runs a company, he’s going to be positive about his company. What were you expecting??? Raffles has reported back what Frantz has said, and has also provided some information about La Compagnie. Since he has never flown them himself, he has obviously got his information from the company itself. I don’t see what the problem is.

    • Feel free to let me know what you would have asked had an airline CEO offered to give up fundamentally his entire morning for your benefit.

      All I got out of it was 2 cups of coffee and a biscuit. If we do a review flight, it will be Anika who does it and not me – and I have to pay her on top.

  10. Anthony Davis says:

    I drove to Luton from Central London in 50 minutes. Parked up and got into the Aspire lounge within around 15 mins. No queues at check in, no gigantic Heathrow to navigate. Luton is surprisingly good and a 1 min walk to the gate rather than six travellators! I’m an aviation journalist and frequent flyer, who mainly flies economy. The 757 is like a pocket rocket and incredibly comfortable. Also Newark is closer to Manhatten than JFK.

    As much as I love the legacy carriers, I’d rather fly on something a bit more personal and exclusive. Economy has become a cattle market, and at these prices La Compagnie really is a cut above.

  11. For August the prices are the same as Virgin economy – could mean the perfect airline for teachers: fewer kids and free champagne!

  12. did he say why they use Luton (with painful connections) rather than Stansted (at least it has a direct train line) ?

    and did he talk about whether they will continue to combine the Paris and London flights each time an aircraft goes in for servicing (as happened last summer, i think) ?

    • Stansted was never an option. Apparently Gatwick slots were available but Luton worked better for them.

      Whether this was due to landing fees, slot times, terminal issues or something else he didn’t say. He was very keen to praise the efforts of the airport team, and the airline is a bigger fish at Luton than it would be at LGW.

      I raised the combining issue and was told that it should not reoccur. Obviously, if one plane is unexpectedly out of service, it is a sensible fall back option.

    • Nooo… Stansted is a real pain…

      For us anyway, but we’re back to relative locations again – we’re down the M3, so Heathrow is an easy half hour, Gatwick and Luton both workable for worthwhile saving and Stansted a pain in the bottom.

  13. “These seem to be behind it now, although you are always taking some risk booking an airline with one flight per day rather than 10 flights per day to your destination.”

    That seems a bit unfair. A lot of BA routes are one flight per day and that’s not put people off travelling to those destinations.

    • Two issues though: BA, as an airline, has spare aircraft and crew permanently on standby so that even if a plane goes tech they can usually swap it over, albeit with a couple of hours delay. LaC cannot do that.

      And, whilst I wouldn’t normally criticise an airline for flying once per day, it is relevant here because the competition do have multiple frequencies. I could (but didn’t) have mentioned that buying a fully flex ticket for £3,000 for an airline with only one flight per day is not necessarily as sensible as buying a semi-flex ticket for similar money on an airline with 10 flights per day.

      • seems a totally fair comment to me.

        you could even have hammered home the point about only two aircraft in total !

        you pays your (less) money and you takes your chance.

  14. OT regarding LaC but:

    I start reading articles stating that BA may shut down Open Skies and uses the NY slots for his own services to LHR…

    It will be interesting to see if the rumor is based on real internal analysis and decision from IAG.

  15. Janeyferr says:

    First you have to wait for the collection quarter to end – 5th May.

    If the points haven’t transferred to your Avios account a fortnight or so after this then they may have taken it upon themselves to open a new Avios in your name. In which case you’ll have to contact customer support to get them moved over. I’ve used the online chat help feature on Avios to do this before.

  16. Genghis says:

    Transfer to avios / BAEC at end of Tesco cc quarter (next one start of May I believe). Having a HH account for BAEC has no effect though not sure about avios as from hearing previous comments it can get messy having an avios HH account. If you don’t need the avios yet though, perhaps turn off autoconvert and wait for the next bonus (we might be waiting a while though…)

    • A HH account prevents transfers to/from BA Exec Club (possibly Iberia and, soon, Aer Lingus as well). So if you need to move Avios around (as most serious collectors probably do) it’s generally a bad idea.

  17. avioshunter says:

    An advertorial for a product you have never used.

    What was your cut?

    • 2 cups of coffee and a biscuit, as stated above!

      I am genuinely confused as to what sort of article you would have expected me to write. The guy is an airline CEO, he has a track record of building and selling airlines, he gave up 90 minutes of his time to meet me and his airline has – the odd reliability issue aside – received excellent feedback from those who have flown it including those people who have commented in this article.