This is the cheapest way to fly to Italy in style.
The flight time from Newark to Milan is approximately eight hours and twenty minutes. Via La Compagnie, it’s a largely blissful experience to boot.
La Compagnie isn’t a new airline—it debuted in 2014—but the all-business-class flight, 76 seats in total, has a new route. It goes straight from the New York City Metropolitan area to Italy’s fashion capital. The new service was celebrated at a launch party in Manhattan in March, and a few weeks later, I had the opportunity to experience this chic airline myself.
The story of La Compagnie isn’t unimpeachable. Past reviews, particularly of its older, repurposed aircraft (Boeing 757-200s), weren’t exactly glowing. Seats reclined but did not lie flat and the service was deemed fine but unexceptional, while the food was not rave-worthy.
Still, the cost of flying business via the French airline was—and is—remarkably inexpensive compared to the cost of a business class ticket from New York to Italy via one of the major carriers like Delta, where a recent search showed comparable Delta One class tickets going for $9,596, and La Compagnie for $2,030. Now that La Compagnie has added new airplanes to its contained fleet, it’s easy to make a case for flying in the upper echelon of air travel.
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“La Compagnie addresses a population of travelers who want to fly in premium style but not pay premium prices,” says Christian Vernet, President of the airline. “Since the beginning, our promise has been to give travelers uncompromised service at the most attractive fare … It’s the closest thing to flying private without the price tag.”
On the new Newark to Milan route, which debuted in mid-April, travelers are gifted with a brand-new plane (a 321neo) outfitted in the company’s signature soft blue and pale gray hues. It’s a soothing sight after grabbing a beverage in the garish-yet-fusty Virgin lounge at Newark, a supposed perk for La Compagnie ticket holders.
The seat pods, arranged in twos on either side of the single-aisle, are spacious and comfortable. That said, those accustomed to flying business class on overseas routes or from NYC to LAX on one of the major carriers won’t find too many surprises here. There’s the standard pillow and blanket (though the La Compagnie quilted blanket may be of slightly higher quality than that distributed by Delta or United), large over-the-ear headphones (they’re just ok; if you have your own noise-canceling Bose or Beats, you’re better off), a bottle of water, a very cute amenity bag stocked with the usual suspects—foam earplugs, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste—and surprising ones—Caudalie lip balm and hand and nail cream.
Boarding is a breeze. This would be true on a full flight of any aircraft with so few seats, but on a recent Monday night in April, boarding and settling into the quarter-full flight proved especially unharried.
Many airlines have demonstrated their creative chops through their requisite safety video, and La Compagnie has joined the competition. Its zen video is performed by two Yogis, who stretch and move nimbly as a voiceover, and video captioning explains how to obtain oxygen and buckle up properly.
On the overnight flight, a light meal is served shortly before landing, and on the day return, a full four-course lunch. Across both flights, there were just a couple of delicious bites to be had in a sweet potato soup and a lemon tart. Still, pretty much everything else was disappointing: a soggy Caprese sandwich, rubbery codfish, too-salty smoked tuna.
Fortunately, Milan is a city that takes its food and drinks seriously, and if you arrive hungry, you won’t stay that way for long. As if ordering a Negroni in the Brera neighborhood while waiting for a table at the darling Latteria San Marco and having it arrive in a huge goblet weren’t enough, consider the aperitivo snacks that are set down alongside it: toothsome green olives, slim, salty potato chips, and oily Marcona almonds. With bar snacks like these, who needs an appetizer?
But Milan is not a place for deprivation. It’s one for enjoyment and discovery. The city is rarely if ever, talked about with the same adoration bestowed on other Italian cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice. It’s not often cited as an Italian locale people really want to visit, like Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, or Lake Como, but unless you have an aversion to eating beside locals, checking out art galleries and designer showrooms, and shopping one-of-a-kind vintage finds with Milanese on their lunch break, to skip Milan for other Italian pastures is ill-advised.
Venice is just two and a half hours by train, Rome, a little more than three, but not to worry: These highly touristed Italian cities will still be there after you’ve spent a couple of days exploring cosmopolitan Milan.
Every city has its fair share of excellent hotels, and Milan is no different. Big spenders wanting to be in the center of it all, near the gob-smacking Duomo, which is literally the city’s middle core, won’t be disappointed with the Park Hyatt’s accommodations. Galleria Vik Milano offers a unique stay for something a little different and just as close to the main action. Each of the 89 rooms at the property, the first in Europe for the South American brand, features an artist’s work. No two rooms are identical in decor or layout, with dozens of rooms overlooking the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
From Galleria Vik, where eager, helpful staff make up for any guest room style-over-function flaws, it’s a short 10-minute walk to Brera, an area teeming with students and vintage shops. The wares at some, like Pauline Frommer and Vintage Delirium, with their gently used Dolce & Gabbana dresses and Versace jackets, don’t come cheap, but Urzi, run by a husband-and-wife team, is the kind of small shop that makes you glad you stayed the vintage course. It’s affordable, too — jewelry pieces hovering around 40 euros, a sharp pin-striped spring blazer for 45 euros—and far more original than shopping along Via Monte Napoleone, home to Prada, Balenciaga, and Fendi, to name a few of the high-end retail places found here. Speaking of Prada, the Foundation, on the outskirts of town, attracts visitors largely because of the Wes Anderson-designed cafe, Bar Luce.
Milano & Partners recently unveiled the YESMilano campaign in an endeavor to showcase all that Italy’s second-largest city has to attract visitors. Sure, Milan is the gateway to much of Italy and much of Europe too, but it’s absolutely charming and inviting in its own right, the city’s promotional arm promises. A current initiative highlights stylish Milan’s distinct neighborhoods, such as City Life, where lunch at Ratana, a sustainably focused restaurant with outdoor seating, feels like an even better idea once you realize you’re seated among locals. The bone marrow risotto, a staple in Milanese cuisine, is the thing to order here, its bold yellow hue a result of saffron—a signature seasoning in this region.
This being Italy, the fun doesn’t stop at the main course. Not when there’s so much gelato around. New York visitors missing the Italian gelato outpost Grom, which closed several years ago, will be delighted to find their favorite flavors like fior de latte or pistachio on the streets of Milan.
Milan’s nightlife technically begins at happy hour when employees finish their workday and shuffle to the nearest spot for an aperitivo—this city will make you fall hard for Italian bitters like Campari and Select Aperitivo—before enjoying a multi-course meal followed by after-dinner drinks. Visitors wanting to soak up the energy and buzz that is lately defining Milan ought to head to the Canal District, where the most coveted spots like at Mag Cafe are in high demand. The pizza and house red at Fabbrica Pizzeria are especially delightful when paired with the sunset over the Naviglio Pavese canal. Here you can marvel at all that Milan has become. Venice can wait another day.