La Compagnie, a new business-class only airline in July plans to start flying its single plane between Paris and Newark, New Jersey.
The airline will lease its plane from Icelandair, and that airline will serve as a back-up if La Compagnie's plane is ever out of service, company officials announced Tuesday.
The business-class plan harkens back to the days prior to the Great Recession when several start-ups, including Eos, MAXjet, Sliverjet and L'Avion, all tried and failed with all-business or all-first class models.
"It is not the same model as has been tried before. It is not a deja vu," La Compagnie co-founder and Deputy CEO Peter Luethi said Tuesday at a press conference in New York announcing the launch. "It is not going to be the most luxurious business class, but it will be the best for the price."
Tickets went on sale in France on Monday with round-trip airfare priced around $1,800, $2,400 and $4,600 depending on change and cancellation options. A summer sale will offer round-trip tickets for less. Tickets are expected to go on sale in the United States around June 25.
Pending approvals from French and U.S. government agencies, La Compagnie aims to start flying July 11 from Paris' Charles De Gaulle Airport Terminal 1 to Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal B, Luethi said. The company plans to start flying five round-trips per week, departing Paris at 5:50 p.m. and arriving at Newark at 8:30 p.m.; the return trip will leave Newark at 9:45 p.m. and land in Paris at 11:15 a.m.
The plan is to fly six round trips per week by September and move to seven days per week in November, with a day off every other week for maintenance, Luethi said.
"It is not going to be the most luxurious business class, but it will be the best for the price."
The one-plane schedule leaves little wiggle room. "We have a back-up with Icelandair," Luethi said.
The single leased B757-200 plane, which Icelandair previously flew to the United Kingdom from 2000, will be equipped with winglets to help improve with fuel consumption, Luethi said.
Icelandair, which had to cancels flights Tuesday due to a mechanics strike, will handle regular maintenance of the La Compagnie aircraft and back-up service. That back-up service might need to route through Iceland, if the business-class only plane is out of service, Luethis acknowledged.
A second aircraft is on order for December, and it will either add service on the same route or add service to another European business center, Luethi said. That plane will be leased by DreamJet, the operating company for La Compagnie.
Plans call for more cities down the line. The company's 42 investors, mainly from France and other European countries, have put up equity amounting to 30 million Euros, Luethi said. They see a customer base of about half a million passengers mainly of individual entrepreneurs, small businesses, midsize companies and some leisure travelers.
The "tech-driven" airlines will offer Wi-Fi by "the later part of the year" will and provide French- and English-language entertainment on Samsung Galaxy Tablets that can be undocked at each seat, Luethi said. There will also be USB ports and power outlets at each seat, plus the option of mobile check in.
The 74 seats, configured two on each side of a central aisle, will lie flat and will be 26 inches wide. Passengers will have access to TSA priority screening.
The French-licensed crew's uniforms were designed by Vicomte A, the seasonal-driven menu will be created by chef Christophe Langree of the Michelin-starred Hotel Matignon in Paris, and the in-flight amenity kits will be provided by Caudalie.
Passengers will be allowed two free checked bags per flight and sports equipment such as golf clubs, skis or surf boards can be checked for free.
"We are convinced this is going to work very well," said Luethi, who has experience at SWISSAIR, and India's JET Airways. Founder and CEO Frantz Yvelin in 2006 founded the premium-only L'Avion airline, which was sold to British Airways in 2008 to become Open Skies.
La Compagnie is awaiting its Air Operation Certificate from France, and will then seek U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration approvals. Luethi said there has been no opposition to its application thus far.
Indeed, the Air Line Pilots Association International said in May that it is fighting the application of another airline, Norwegian Air International, but not Dreamjet. "ALPA does not oppose Dreamjet's application, just as we have not opposed the many other European airline applications under the U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement," Capt. Lee Moak, ALPA's president, said in a statement.
The new La Compagnie will compete with British Airways' Open Skies, which flies between Newark and Paris Orly Airport, and JFK and Orly. It started in 2008 with three cabin types (Biz Bed, Prem+ and Econ,) then switched toBiz and Prem+ only, and then switched back to the three types, including economy, Michele Kropf, the British Airways PR manager for the Americas said in an email.
Separately, since 2009 British Airways has been operating a London City to New York service that is an all-business class, 32-seat service configured A318, Kropf said. The Club World London City flights stop in Ireland for refueling, and in some cases, pre-clearance before heading to the United States. "Changes in the staffing regime at Shannon Airport, by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has shortened the opening hours of their pre-clearance facility in Shannon," Kropf said, so some passengers on some of the planes must still go through regular customs and immigration in the United States.