27 APRIL 2015

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Article from BTNews 27 APRIL 2015

COMMENT: Secret French airline

On any given day there are over 30 flights to New York from London, that is City, Gatwick and Heathrow airports.  You can now add Luton to that list, the French airline La Compagnie introducing a service to Newark last Friday (24 April). 

It was a bit of a secret.  Virtually no word since February but it does seem that the indefatigable Simon Calder “he who always pays for his flights” was around.  According to Simon there were only 36 passengers on board including Nick Barton the recently appointed airport Chief Executive.  He told The Independent:  “We think it will be a very strong operation here because of the nature of the traffic it’s aiming at: entrepreneurs, owners/managers of small- and medium-sized enterprises and, crucially, the leisure market as well.”

It would seem that the French do things a bit different.  BTN’s efforts to contact the airline management prior to the inaugural were rebuffed.  It appears La Compagnie wanted a low key inaugural with the promise of a press trip at a later date.  But that would not be news.  We would have thought that the airline would want to spread the word as quickly as possible in order to make it a commercial success.

A decade ago three airlines – Eos, MAXjet and Silverjet – launched their own variations on the concept.  Like La Compagnie (who are using an ex-Thomson Boeing 757 with just 74 lie flat seats) they deployed safe but elderly Boeing jets to fly the Atlantic.  Eos and MAXjet chose Stansted, while Silverjet was based in Luton.  They all failed.

La Compagnie does have some sort of pedigree.  It was born last July with flights from Charles de Gaulle to Newark.  Its father is French aviation entrepreneur Frantz Yvelin who previously sold L’Avion, Business Class only, to British Airways for a reputed £50m plus.  That is now still trading as “Open Skies”, also something of a secret.

For La Compagnie even the choice of Luton is odd.  It is a booming airport but just about to start with a massive reconstruction programme.  La Compagnie is known to have approached Stansted but it would seem that Gatwick would have made a better London base, easy to get to from the City, possibly recognised by Americans travelling in the other direction, and with the back-up of Norwegian flights to Kennedy if things went wrong (and likewise for the 787 operator too).  Business flyers would use an airbridge, have a choice of (payable) lounges and probably not check in next to easyJet and Ryanair.

La Compagnie services depart from London at 17:45 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, with Thursday and Saturday flights being offered at a later date.  Landing is at 21:00.  From Newark it is 22:30 the same day, a fine schedule that allows for a one day trip across the pond.

Will the ‘boutique’ airline be flying this time next year?  Its Paris service is surviving and for the months ahead fares are typically £1,170 return, well under half any other Business Class flight. 

Polis Polycarpou, Head of Airline Market Research at DVB Bank SE, said: “These business models tend to fail where they cannot offer the perks their full-service counterparts can – namely an ongoing or feeder network and the ability for their customers to earn loyalty rewards.

“Working for 15 years in aviation, I have learned to never say never; however, the odds are certainly not in favour.”

Business Travel News
wishes La Compagnie well. 

www.lacompagnie.com

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M Preston,

I share the pessimistic view. The French arrogance and confidence does not get them very far, and I too doubt if this venture will still be in the air a year from now. This type of operation needs to offer proper connections in order to attract high revenue traffic.


Alastair Dickenson, London

They also seem to have taken the trouble to have an inventory in the GDS, but no plating or GSA agreement to actually quote fares or issue tickets?


Andrew Sharp, Surbiton

There used to be a Belgian company operating sleeping cars on European trains - including the pre-Chunnel London-Paris Night Ferry. It was grandly entitled 'Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grandes Expresses Europeans" - but known by its employees as "Madame La Compagnie"!


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