Just as prefixing any activity with the word “drag” is an attempt to infuse it with a sense of fun (drag bingo! drag beer pong!), airports in the south of England tend to use “London” before their name with all the shamelessness of someone using “Lord” on their business card after buying an ersatz peerage online. Perhaps the worst of these is “London Luton”, which is 18 miles north of Watford, and should be closed, razed to the ground and forgotten about. They are, apparently, throwing millions at it. So now there’s a Pret a Manger and a bigger Duty Free, but you still have to queue up for a bus (cash only, for maximum inconvenience) from the nearest railway station to take you to the terminal. Also, they charge you £1 for the plastic bag to take your liquids through security, and £2.50 if someone drops you off in their car out front. Everything about Luton is contrived to insult the no-frills passenger and put them in their place. It wants to big itself up with putting “London” in the name, fine: on its own terms, then, it’s a national disgrace.
I haven’t flown via LTN since Silverjet went bust. Silverjet was one of the ill-fated noughties all-Business class airlines, and effectively it had its own terminal at Luton. You still had to deal with the issue of getting to the airport, but once there you were spared everything else, and you flew to New York in style.
Perhaps the worst of these is “London Luton”, which is 18 miles north of Watford, and should be closed, razed to the ground and forgotten about
Sadly La Compagnie doesn’t have the old Silverjet terminal, but then Silverjet didn’t make any money and that’s why it’s long gone. La Compagnie currently charge as little as £399 each way for Business class between Luton and Newark, New Jersey (often faster for getting in to Manhattan than arriving at JFK, albeit pricier in a cab), and you get what you pay for. In contrast, a British Airways London City to JFK flight will cost you more than £5,000. Now, BA001 is my favourite flight in the whole world. It’s ruined Transatlantic travel for me forever – it takes off 20 minutes from my house, the all-Club World cabin is like a private jet, and you pass immigration in Ireland so you land and leave the airport without the tedium of the TSA interrogation. But, you know… it’s strictly for when someone else is paying, while La Compagnie is… £399.
What you get for that does involve the horror of Luton (you do, however, on checking-in with La Compagnie, receive a free Waitrose freezer bag to get your Eight Hour Cream and lip balm et al through security), but after that it’s pretty much plain sailing. I was pleasantly surprised by the Aspire Lounge (“located next to Accessorize”). The Virgin Clubhouse it is not, but it’s comfortable, nicely furnished, there’s hot food and (apart from cocktails and fizz), an open bar. It cushioned the blow of an apparently rare hour’s delay.
I couldn’t quite fathom why, on a half empty flight with 74 seats, I had been seated next to a stranger. The flight attendant I queried this with didn’t have a manifest, but I worked things out via where blankets had been placed and removed myself to a window seat.
The cabin is bathed in a cool blue light. It’s attractive, but borders on the glacial, though it does give the impression of a premium Anglo-French product. The cabinet itself doesn’t feel too far removed from BA001, although British Airways’ 32 seater A3138 is far shorter. When booking La Compagnie, I recommend requesting a seat in the back of the plane – the rows beyond the toilets feel like a private cabin, particularly suited to night flights.
Is there anyone left who hasn’t seen the original Hangover and still wants to?
The seat itself is perfectly comfortable. On the return journey I slept perfectly from take off to landing (albeit with the assistance of half an Ambien). On the way out, the positioning felt a little high for the entertainment system, but you are encouraged to go free range with the Samsung slate through which everything is channelled. And I customarily pack my own AVOD anyway, which is just was well, as that component of La Compagnie’s service could be amped up significantly. I needed to reboot the slate a couple of times, but the main problem is the lack of English-language movies. This feels like an area where corners have been cut: films on board seemed outdated (is there anyone left who hasn’t seen the original Hangover and still wants to?), and where other airlines now have box sets, La Compagnie still has only a handful of episodes of this show or that.
Quibbles aside, the La Compagnie experience is slick. The staff couldn’t be more on the ball, or friendlier. The beef dish I had was top tier for in-flight catering, and drinks service was frequent, with a well stocked bar and good wines.
While I can’t stop grumbling about the very existence of Luton Airport, it’s the whole reason that La Compagnie can offer its product at the price it does. I wouldn’t have been happy if the seat next to me had been occupied as there are no dividers for personal space. But currently the flight loads mean you’re likely to travel solo without making the acquaintance of a stranger. And if I’m travelling as part of a couple (and La Compagnie consistently offer very attractive duo deals – currently £1,500 return for two), then it’s perfect.
I will definitely use La Compagnie’s “boutique” all-Business class again between London and New York. Given the choice of the marginal upgrade that Premium Economy offers, for the same price or more, I’d rather just throw money at a taxi both ways, and know there’s a proper flat bed waiting for me – once I’ve dealt with LTN. C