What does it cost for a return business class ticket from London to New York? Many corporate passengers may not know the astronomical amount, or don’t need to because their firm’s finance department pays the bill.
But Frantz Yvelin, CEO and co-founder of new business class-only La Compagnie does know the answer. It is around £4500. And he has a strong view.
“For a few hours in an aircraft? Come on, wake up. You could buy a car for that. These are insane prices.”
If you want to fly on his all-business class service on the London to New York route, which starts in April (2015), he will charge you around £1600 (after rock-bottom introductory offers). It will be, he says, the cheapest business class in the world.
Will Frantz Yvelin join Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Michael O’Leary, the bosses of easyJet and RyanAir respectively, as a name instantly associated with fundamental change in the aviation industry? Time will tell, although detractors who point to the precedent of four past failures in this sector will need serious persuasion that it is indeed possible to sell roughly the same product at around a third of the price, and still make money.
For one thing, Yvelin is confident that he can offer much the same experience as the existing “legacy” carriers offer, but for £3000 less, because he has been doing it since last summer, on the Paris to New York route.
At the launch event for the new service, in the Soho Hotel in central London, Yvelin fielded questions with candour and confidence. He name checked Ryanair and easyJet and the other low class low-cost operators as the “real movers” in the field. He said La Compagnie, which describes itself as a boutique all-business-class airline, with the slogan “making business class travel affordable”, proposed to do the same, as a “niche player in a niche market – like VW alongside Aston Martin”.
He believes the established carriers have room to cut costs, but they aren’t inclined to compete with one another – he illustrates this by showing their prices, all in a band above £4000. They don’t need to because travellers, and their finance departments, accept the prices as they are – in his words “way, way too high”.
La Compagnie will fly from London Luton Airport to New York Newark International Airport. Its aircraft, two redesigned Boeing 757-200 aircraft dressed in a seductive Gallic baby blue livery, will offer 74 “lie-flat” seats in a 2×2 configuration in a single aisle cabin.
The inaugural flight from Luton is on April 24th. The service begins with four weekly round trip journeys a week, rising to six weekly flights from June 2015. Flights will leave Luton at 5.45pm, arriving at Newark at 9.00pm. The departure from Newark is 10.30pm, arriving at Luton at 10.30am.
Other recognisable “personalised service” business class features include in-flight menus created by Michelin-starred French chef Christophe Langrée, former chef of Hotel de Matignon, and in-flight amenity kits featuring cosmetic products from natural French skincare brand Caudalie.
All seats will have Samsung Galaxy Pro 12” tablets, uploaded with a selection of e-books, magazines, music and recent movies. There’s a generous luggage allowance, for two bags weighing up to 32 kg in total.
The “unequivocally ‘sports-friendly’ airline” promises to transport golf clubs, surfboards and skis at no extra cost. And pre-departure La Compagnie passengers will be able to use the new Aspire Lounge at Luton and the Art & Lounge in Newark.
Newark is much further out of downtown New York than JFK, but there is merit in the choice, Yvelin believes. He promises that passengers would be out of Newark within 30 minutes, much faster than at JFK. And into relatively easy traffic, “most of the time”, at that time of night. Luton, much quieter than Heathrow, and smaller and easier to negotiate, has a good train service to London, albeit after a shuttle bus to the station.
La Compagnie was founded in 2013 by Frantz Yvelin and former Swissair and JetAirways CEO Peter Luethi. Yvelin, 38, has held a pilot’s licence since he was 21. He worked as a software company consultant before founding the airline L’AVION, which he sold to British Airways in 2008, After a spell as a consultant in the air transport industry, and as a Civil Aviation University teacher in France, he focussed on the launch of La Compagnie.
The launch of the Paris (Charles de Gaulle) to New York (Newark) service came on the strength of a fundraising campaign that drew nearly 30 million Euros from European investors, one of the largest amounts raised in France in a year.
When you offer a product so much lower than your rivals, you’re bound to come under scrutiny. So, someone asked at the launch, why, when four previous all business-calls services had failed, would this one succeed?
Yvelin replied, with an informed analysis of each, that they had been unreliable and based on the “wrong business model”. The big, existing carriers were able to “match and kill them.”
Unlike the legacy carriers, he says La Compagnie has cut costs. For example, his salary is lower than his pilots. The company makes do with a suburban office, unlike rivals who feel they need to be in city centres. But he was satisfied that the legacy carriers, although they could reduce fares, were not trying to.
And the future? Yvelin has high hopes. He has no intention of stopping at two aircraft, and if the two services were successful, he held out the prospect of expansion onto other routes.