Frantz Yvelin is at it again. The man who founded L'Avion – one of the now-forgotten mid-Noughties club of niche service airlines – has announced the launch of an all "business class" carrier. From April La Compagnie will begin flights between Newark and Luton airport.
The product has everything which media messaging assigns to business class. The B757-200 service features a 2 x 2 seat configuration with a 62" pitch so only 19 rows, 74 seats. There will be lounge facilities for passengers at both airports, food designed by Christophe Langrée (whose pedigree includes working at a Michelin-starred restaurant) and tablets for passengers preloaded with entertainment (films, music and books).
This sounds more luxurious travel than normal but does it sound like "business"? Business travellers do hugely value lounges as a place where they can carry on working, seats which allow sleep with pitch which deliver comfort and privacy but extra baggage allowances (two 32kg checked bags to carry back all the shopping you will do whilst in the Big Apple), French celebrity chefs and tablets on tap are more the stuff for high-end leisure.
More seriously, there are airports at which an all-business class can work. And those at which it can't. It is what its Stansted-based precursor discovered: everyone loved the product and the service but the numbers willing to travel 40 miles from central London were limited.
What those travelling on business – whether in corporate managed programmes or self-employed entrepreneurs – value most of all is time. There is a big cost in time for anyone travelling the 30 plus miles from central London to Luton. Time, of course, does depend on location but there are many more people likely to use British Airways' all-business class London City service to New York located near that airport (22 minutes from Bank station in the heart of London's financial district). There are more people likely to travel business class living or working near Heathrow than north of London.
Luton is the UK's most important airport for private jet traffic but its potential as a business airport is also limited by the absence of feeder traffic which is what makes slots at Heathrow so valuable (link to chart of the week). Even at Heathrow the lack of connecting services can impede long-haul traffic numbers. This is what Virgin Atlantic tried to remedy with the ill-fated launch of its Little Red subsidiary.
By definition business services should be for business people. Despite Milton Keynes being headquarters to several big companies including Santander, Makita and Yamaha Europe he number of business travellers wanting to fly this kind of point-to-point niche carrier living or working in the Bedford/Milton Keynes catchment area is bound to be limited.
The service is probably great but as Silverjet and Maxjet both discovered, you can call it business class but the passengers will be high-end leisure.