I know this is going to be a great flight before I even get on because Jean Reno is sitting across from me. Yes, Léon the Professional himself is leaning onto a navy chair just outside of the gate, a black leather jacket around his shoulders, one leg crossed over the other, looking into his phone. He flies La Compagnie regularly, I’m told later, and soon I will learn why.
Since 2014, independently owned, all-business-class boutique airline La Compagnie has been flying once a day from Newark, NJ directly to Paris and back again. The aircraft, a Boeing 757-200, has only 19 rows, with 74 large, comfortable leather seats that recline at 175 degrees, each separated by over five feet.
La Compagnie is built on the premise that flying business class can be more affordable and enjoyable than it has been in the past—a round-trip flight on La Compagnie starts at $1800, but there are regular promotions that drop the cost by $300, $500, or $800 depending on the time of year. A business class flight on other airlines can be upwards of $800 more expensive; and if you usually fly economy, you may find the extra investment is worth it to not land feeling jet-lagged, cranky, and starving.
A flight on La Compagnie offers not just access to the airline, but to airport lounges on either end of your trip; meals designed by Christophe Langrée, the former chef at the official residence of the French Prime Minister; unlimited snacks; access to their “wine cellar” which includes Piper-Heidsieck champagne; use of a personal Samsung Galaxy Pro Tablet on which movies, books, magazines, and more are all available; a travel kit that includes a toothbrush, a sleeping mask, a laundry bag, socks, earplugs, a mirror, a pen, and Caudalie skincare products; a hypoallergenic pillow, a blanket, and headphones; and storage of sports equipment like surfboards and skis, all compliments of the house. You can also book a car service from the airport in Paris at a fixed cost.
Boarding La Compagnie, it isn’t cramped or stuffy, and there’s so much leg room for my five-foot-two frame I don’t really know what to do with it—neither does the six-foot-two man sitting across the aisle from me. What sort of alternate universe am I in? I am used to crowded flights where attendants roll over my foot with the snack cart then look at me like it’s my fault.
Instead, before the flight even begins, flight attendants bid everyone a good evening first in French then in English, bringing us all champagne and cranberry cocktails. When I finish mine, a particularly eagle-eyed attendant zeroes in on my empty glass and immediately asks if I would like another. And it’s all with a genuine smile that I had forgotten was possible from flight staff.
It’s not a bad place to work, after all: the interior resembles a stylish James Bond-circa-Sean Connery lair, decked out with details in the airline’s signature powder blue. LED lights overhead change to blue at night to ensure a hospitable sleeping environment. Etta James comes through the speakers in a downtempo remix, “Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling. I get a feeling that I never, never, never had before,” on repeat. How astute, La Compagnie. But the music selection gets even cheekier when, as the engine whirrs to takeoff, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” oozes through the plane with extra bass.
Shortly, a flight attendant comes past with a tray of hot towels and with a pair of white tongs plops one into my waiting hands. I charge my phone in the USB/European outlet bank under my armrest. Other flight guests walk past me to the bathroom: a woman in a dark tweed suit and round, ‘60s-style glasses; a gray-haired gentleman with elbow patches on his blazer; a guy in a black baseball hat that says DOPE in big, white, embroidered letters. La Compagnie bills itself as an airline “for those who like to be taken care of in their own particular way,” and it seems to be accurate.
I peruse the tablet for its wares, and encounter several French and American films older and newer (sadly, Léon The Professional is not among them, but maybe that is in good taste) from V for Vendetta to The Accountant. Music from Bruce Springsteen and Daft Punk. And, interestingly, a plethora of events that are hosted on board every month. In the past, there have been book signings, where everyone on board receives a free copy and the author is available to speak in their seat to guests; a rosé tasting; a shoe personalization workshop courtesy of J.M. Weston; and today, where I discover we will be receiving an aperitif of Petrossian Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar and Piper-Heidsieck champagne. On the returning flight, we’ll have two courses—a salmon salad and a cod in champagne sauce both topped with caviar by Alexander Petrossian himself. No sooner do I read this in the tablet do bottles of Piper start rolling past me on carts. I’m served an actual glass of champagne and a bauble of caviar with its own tiny plastic caviar spoon.
I can’t believe this is only business class, I think to myself, remembering a time I flew first class domestically and was handed a sad, limp turkey sandwich with an aluminum packet of mayonnaise on the side. This is so much better than that.
In the pause between courses I smooth on some Caudalie hand cream. I have been spoiled and this is my norm now: caviar and high-end lotion made from grapes.
Dinner is available in the airport lounge, so the “light snack” created by La Compagnie chef Christophe Langrée shortly arrives: a lentil and sausage salad presented in a zucchini bowl with a baked potato and vegetable soup, seasonal cheese selection, and passion fruit mousse covered in chocolate. I devour all parts of the meal, practically licking my plate.
Post-meal, I decide to see what the deal is with this reclining seat. I’m happy to see there is none of the usual annoyance that comes from a person in front of me leaning back and decreasing an already small amount of personal space. The seats, each designed to be an individual workstation if need be, simply capitalize on their five feet of real estate when they extend. I tilt my seat backward and engage both the lumbar support and massage features. I once barely slept on an eight-hour transatlantic flight, so I do not have high hopes, but my eyes close with no problem. Could it be that I…I’m sleeping? I curl into my pillow and snuggle under the blanket just to be sure, and it seems to be true. Hours pass. I wake up effortlessly in time for the sunrise out my window and a breakfast of crepes, croissants, tea, and fresh fruit. Orange lights energize slowly waking passengers. There are downtempo remixes again, this time Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You, Baby” as we descend onto the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle airport.
This entire flight is better than my real life, where there is not caviar and champagne handed to me when I walk in the door, gentle lights waking me up, or Etta James putting me to sleep. I love La Compagnie. I realize I even love to love it, like Donna Summer said. But I also hate it: I may never be able to fly economy again.