La Compagnie was named the best international airline by Travel + Leisure readers — so our aviation expert hopped on board to find out why.
La Compagnie exists in a world where flying private — or at least, semi-private — isn’t limited to the elite travelers. The carrier operates a contemporary fleet of two business-class-only Airbus A321neo planes and while, no, this isn’t as exclusive as a Gulfstream jet, the airline has just 76 seats on board. Compare that with many internationally configured aircraft — such as Air France’s Boeing 777 with 300-plus passengers — and La Compagnie’s single-aisle cabin feels downright intimate.
Founded in 2014, the Paris-based airline stays true to its boutique roots, with a lean operation stateside; all flights operate to and from New York-Newark (EWR). Besides daily service to the French capital, La Compagnie also flies to Milan (five times weekly) and to Nice, France, during the summer. But instead of catering to business travelers who may value multiple flights per day and privacy on board, there’s a focus on capturing vacationers — namely couples and families — headed to Europe. The 76 lie-flat berths are arranged in a partner-friendly (or get-to-know-your-neighbor-friendly) two-by-two configuration.
With such few seats to fill, boarding and deplaning are effortless affairs. Before I proceeded to the gate in Paris-Orly’s Terminal 4, I sauntered over to the lounge. La Compagnie doesn’t operate its own airport lounges and instead contracts with third-party operators. Typically, that doesn’t bode well for passengers as quality can be hit-or-miss. However, this particular pre-departure enclave — the newly opened Extime Lounge — was a certifiable sanctuary with ample seating and an outdoor terrace overlooking the tarmac. (After all, who doesn’t love fresh air before a flight?)
After a few too many in-lounge madeleines, I made my way to the gate and stepped across the threshold of the jet bridge. I was now onboard my chariot for the journey from Paris to Newark, New Jersey, and more importantly, I finally got a first glimpse of the understated cabin. Across the entire length of the aircraft were only 20 rows of seats. Every single one, no matter how close to the front (or back), was the same. Best of all, there wasn’t a single economy or middle seat. In an industry where planes are increasingly stratified with multiple distinct classes, there’s something refreshing about a civilized and elevated experience for all passengers.
That’s one of the reasons why La Compagnie was voted Travel + Leisure readers' favorite international airline in T+L’s 2023 World’s Best Awards. The other reason? Fares are sometimes 30 to 50 percent lower than carriers who operate the same route. A round-trip flight between Newark and Paris starts at $2,400. That might seem like a hefty price tag, but consider that $4,000 or more is fairly standard for the same business-class route. (La Compagnie is also known for offering excellent sales.)
La Compagnie took delivery of its two planes hardly four years ago, and they’re both modern jets that burn 20 percent less fuel per passenger than most rivals. Outfitted in celeste blue and sporting a signature black mask outlining the cockpit windows, the exterior of the A321neo is sleek and elegant.
The inside delivers, too. The interior is chic and the service polished, all in a French minimalist sort of way. I settled into seat 20D, the last row of the aircraft. While the phrase “back of the plane” on any other airline would fill me with dread, this was no cramped, legroom-less economy perch. Instead, waiting at my seat was a fluffy pillow; a thick comforter; branded over-the-ear headphones (although I used my own); a bottle of Evian water; and an amenity kit filled with socks, an eye mask, and Caudalie toiletries.
The seat features a 15.6-inch, in-seat touchscreen loaded with about 100 movies, not extensive by any means but more than enough to fill the seven-hour-and-change flight. More importantly, fast (and free) onboard Wi-Fi was available as soon as I boarded. That meant I could catch up on some work after spending my last few days in Amsterdam and Paris, at the historic Conservatorium Hotel and the fashionable SO/ Paris, respectively.
While my seat was a bit lacking in terms of storage when compared to some of the newest first-class offerings from major airlines, overhead bin space is generous for every passenger. Travelers who have flown American Airlines’ business class between New York and Los Angeles (on the Airbus A321T) or Delta and United’s business class on the Boeing 757 will be familiar with this seat.
A few knick-knacks — including my phone, a book, and chargers — easily fit on the small shelf below the seatback monitor and the compartment over my right shoulder. As I was settling in, welcome drinks of orange juice and Champagne — served in real glassware — kicked off service from the hardworking crew.
Shoe storage is built into the underside of the seat, so once at cruising altitude, I kicked off my Stan Smiths, curled up in my seat, and watched the world pass by. One particularly nice touch is that all passengers are angled slightly toward the windows; even those who sit closer to the aisle (like I did) can get respectable views of the outside.
A couple of hours into the flight, a bistro-quality dinner was served alongside a round of drinks. I soaked up a rich sauce, from the juicy coq au vin, using several mini-French baguettes. An unfussy, yet tasty, lemon tart with a buttery crust was the ideal conclusion to the meal. (Oddly, the digital menu on the seat-back monitor didn’t match what was actually served.)
However, the crew was so attentive that I never felt uninformed. Before landing, hot towels were distributed as I nibbled on a snack, a ratatouille tart with a small green salad. I whisked through immigration at Newark’s Terminal B with Global Entry and before long, I was on my way into Manhattan.
With exemplary value for business-class and semi-private flights — not to mention a little French panache and a loyal following — it’s not surprising that the small boutique airline took home the crown at this year’s T+L World’s Best Awards.
In terms of what’s next for the airline, expect cautious growth in the years ahead. “We are in the process of acquiring one more aircraft for 2025 that will reinforce our current routes to Paris, Milan, and Nice,” Christian Vernet, the CEO of La Compagnie, told Travel + Leisure. “A fourth [plane] is slated for 2026 to open a new route from the U.S."
Find routes and book flights at lacompagnie.com; round-trip flights from $2,400.
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