- French leisure airlines French Bee and La Compagnie are returning to the US with inexpensive flights to Europe.
- Both are flying between Newark and Paris with plans to expand US routes.
- France is open to all American tourists but European tourists still cannot come to the US.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In the summer of 2018, Americans heading overseas to Europe had their pick of airlines ranging from the cheapest low-cost carrier to the most expensive premium carrier.
Low-cost transatlantic carriers like Wow Air, Primera Air, and Norwegian Air Shuttle offered inexpensive fares that opened up Europe to more travelers and lowered fares across the board. That was until those airlines started disappearing one by one starting with Primera in October 2018, Wow in March 2019, and Norwegian (at least from the transatlantic market) in March 2020.
But the summer of vaccinated travel is seeing the return of two transatlantic airlines aiming to make it easier and cheaper to access Europe once again as the continent reopens to Americans.
Low-cost leisure airline French Bee is returning to the US on July 15 with a brand-new route between Newark and Paris, France. It’s the carrier’s second US route behind Paris-San Francisco, which remains temporarily suspended.
“We think the crisis is behind us because of the vaccination process all over the world,” Marc Rochet, French Bee’s chief executive officer, told Insider. “The European people cannot travel without any constraint to the US but we think it’s time to move on.”
European tourists still can’t enter the US under travel restrictions dating back to March 2020. But Rochet says there’s enough demand from American tourists and from the cargo industry to offer the flights, noting that the airline is successfully filling its planes with cargo to help offset passenger revenues.
Operating the service will be French Bee’s flagship Airbus A350-900XWB plane with economy and premium economy seating.
In-flight entertainment is offered via seat-back screens and the new planes offer unseen advantages like a lower cabin altitude to reduce jet lag. In true low-cost fashion, however, French Bee’s high-density offering calls for 376 economy seats with between 16 and 17 inches of width and 32 inches of pitch, according to Seat Guru.
In-flight amenities vary based on the purchased fare. The very lowest fare, called “basic,” only includes a ticket to ride, a carry-on bag, and a personal item while extras like meals, advance seat assignments, and checked baggage costs extra.
La Compagnie has also resumed flying between the US and France with its first flight on June 17 between Newark and Paris. Unlike French Bee, however, the boutique airline is appealing to premium leisure travelers with an all-business-class offering, albeit at a lower price than traditional carriers.
Two routes are currently offered between Newark and the French cities of Paris and Nice. New routes to Milan, Italy and Tel Aviv, Israel will be added this year from Newark with a layover in Paris.
Both carriers had to adjust during the pandemic’s worst months by fling a mix of cargo and charter flights, as well as participating in the worldwide COVID-19 airlift to transport personal protective equipment. The advantage they now have over traditional carriers is that their customers are primarily leisure travelers, which have been more willing to fly than the business segment.
“We think we are on the right market demand at the right moment,” Rochet said.
France has reopened to all Americans — vaccinated and unvaccinated, the latter with proof of a negative test — and tourists have been flocking overseas as a result. As to whether the French people will be as eager to go abroad as Americans were when travel restrictions lifted, Rochet’s guiding principle is that “everybody in their lives wants to see, one day…New York.”
“I think there is a strong demand today waiting in France for many people,” Rochet said. “Young ones, families want to get out of this crisis. They want to travel and New York is at the top of their list.”