During a briefing in New York on Tuesday previewing next month's launch of Newark-Paris business-class airline La Compagnie, co-founder and deputy CEO Peter Luethi assured the press that they were not experiencing "déjà vu."
Yet, it's easy to get that familiar feeling after a decade that saw the arrivals and departures of such premium-oriented transatlantic brands as Eos, Maxjet, Silverjet and L'Avion, the latter of which shares some DNA with the revivalist La Compagnie.
Those operators folded, except L'Avion, which instead was purchased and incorporated into the British Airways-owned OpenSkies. Yet, even OpenSkies, which still operates between Paris and New York, since has abandoned the all-premium-class model and now offers three classes of service.
This time, Luethi said, it's different. Casting the current era as one shaped by consolidation and deeper airline alliance cooperation, both of which have driven supply down and fares up, "We concluded that it's the right time to introduce a new sole-business-class operation over the Atlantic," Luethi said.
La Compagnie is starting small. The airline brand of holding company Dreamjet Participation SAS on July 11 will launch between Paris Charles De Gaulle and Newark Liberty International airports "four to five" weekly services on Boeing 757-200 aircraft. Service will feature 74 lie-flat, angled seats in a two-by-two configuration.
The airline was co-founded by L'Avion founder Frantz Yvelin and has secured €30 million in funding from dozens of European investors.
By the end of the year, the airline expects to add frequency on the route, going up to daily service, and either boost frequency further or enter other business-oriented citypairs after taking on a second Boeing 757-200 in December.
The carrier is targeting its services to the individual, "the entrepreneur" and small and midsize businesses, Luethi said.
While the airline has not yet received permission to begin selling in the United States, executives on Tuesday gave a preview of sample base prices. La Compagnie will offer three roundtrip fare options, ranging from a $4,600 fully flexible fare, an $1,800 restricted fare and a $2,400 mid-tier roundtrip option. The airline also will feature occasional promotional pricing, like the introductory summer-season sale at the France point of sale of €1,776 for two roundtrip tickets. (La Compagnie already has received clearance to launch sales from Europe.)
Asked whether La Compagnie would negotiate discounts with corporations, Luethi replied, "We are looking at 30-50 percent lower bases on our airfares, so by this we are already on the level of what big corporate packages are."
Yet, he later noted that "over time, there will be a package that companies that do decide to use us will be attracted to."
Luethi indicated fares would be sold through the airline's website and call center, and "we'll also obviously be available through the major GDSs." Executives indicated the airline would provide commissions to travel agencies commensurate to fare levels.
As for passengers, lounge access and two fare-inclusive checked bags will be offered to all, and onboard amenities include inflight entertainment accessible via individual Samsung Galaxy tablets, Caudalie amenity kits, inflight meal services focusing on "seasonal" ingredients and, coming this fall, wireless Internet access. The airline expects to provide a "paperless" inflight experience for passengers, with newspapers, other reading materials and entertainment options available via tablets.
While La Compagnie does not yet offer a loyalty scheme, "We are working on the frequent-flyer program," said co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing Jean-Charles Perino, "but let's face it: We are a very small airline; we are not offering the world."
Instead of a mileage-based scheme, the airline's program would be based on the premise that after a passenger "flies X segments," he or she would be eligible for a free roundtrip, Perino said.