VLM debuts on Amsterdam route

VLM Airlines this week announced its intention to launch flights toAmsterdamfrom London City (LCY) on April 4. It will pose stiff competition to KLM, which operates five flights every weekday from LCY and currently enjoys a monopoly on theAmsterdamroute.

Return fares start at around £100 between LCY andAmsterdamwith VLM, which is less than a third of the current fares offered by KLM. On its website, KLM is offering return fares of around £350 unless passengers are willing to stay inAmsterdamfor two nights or more.

The VLM flights will be operated by the same aircraft used by KLM, a 45-seater Fokker-50, offered in a two-class configuration.

The VLM service will operate three times a day, Monday-Friday, with the first flight leavingLondonat8amand arriving at10.20am, and the last flight leaving the Dutch capital at6.05pmand arriving back at6.20pm.

VLM already operates flights out of LCY toRotterdam,Antwerp,Brussels,Jersey,Liverpool,Luxembourg, andManchester. Although LCY advocates a check-in of ten minutes, VLM advises passengers to arrive at least 20 minutes before scheduled departure.

The carrier recently relaunched its website to improve the booking process and begin a migration to e-ticketing, or ticket-less travel. The site also allows passengers to save flight itineraries to make repeat bookings quicker. Go to www.flyvlm.com.

Flat beds in business for SAA

South African Airways has stepped up to compete with the likes of BA and Virgin following the completion of lie-flat beds in Business Class.

The airline has now fitted lie-flat beds across its fleet of B747-400 aircraft, which operate betweenLondonand both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The new beds take the seat pitch in Business from 55 inches to 78 inches, which beats BA’s Club World at 73 inches and is close to Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product at 79.2 inches. As all 14 flights per week toJohannesburgand nine toCape Townoperate overnight, the beds, which come with duvets and pillows, will offer a welcome rest to business travellers arriving for morning meetings inSouth Africa.

But following the product upgrade Business Class fares have risen. “Fares will rise slightly,” an SAA spokeswoman told businesstraveller.com, “because we feel we can now compete with BA and Virgin with our Business Class product.”

Business Class fares currently start at £2,400 return including taxes to both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Travel in Business Class includes seatback video with on-demand movies, complimentary airport transfer within a 65-mile return trip and access to departure and arrival lounges.

Malaysia Airlines, British Airways and SAS are among other airlines to have recently revamped business class.

Easyjet toys with ‘frills’

Easyjet has completed a trial at Luton Airport offering passengers priority seating for a fee.

The trial, which lasted a week and offered passengers at check-in the chance to pay £10 to board the aircraft first, was a success according to an Easyjet spokeswoman.

“As we do not allocate seats, priority boarding means travellers can pick whatever seat they want,” she told businesstraveller.com. She added that the airline was considering a second trial at a UK airport this year.

But reports in the national press that Easyjet was straying from the no-frills model to consider airport lounges and a frequent flyer scheme, were denied by the spokeswoman.

Previous attempts to woo time-conscious business travellers and keep costs down saw Easyjet last year trialling self-service check-in machines at Nottingham East Midlands Airport. After a successful trial they were installed at Geneva airport, one of the carrier’s key business routes, and could be rolled out across other airports this year.

Easyjet ventures west

The UK’s leading no-frills airlines went head-to-head last week when Easyjet launched flights to Ireland.

The orange-branded carrier operated its first flights from Gatwick to Cork, Shannon and Knock on January 28 ? its first venture into the Irish no-frills market, dominated by Ryanair.

The two airlines will compete directly on services from Gatwick to Knock and Shannon, as well as Ryanair flights from Stansted to Cork, Shannon and Knock and Luton to Shannon.

Despite the competition, Easyjet says it has had strong advance sales and expects to carry half a million passengers on the routes in the first twelve months. It is offering fares from £18 return including taxes compared to fares from around £20 return on Ryanair’s website.

Ryanair has included Cork, Shannon and Knock in its 99 pence seat sale, but Easyjet is sceptical. “They add all sorts of taxes and charges so they can advertise a fare of 99 pence, which is nothing like what you actually pay,” Easyjet spokesman Toby Nicol told businesstraveller.com.

Easyjet is offering flights to Cork twice a day, to Knock daily, and to Shannon daily, increasing to twice-daily on April 21. Go to www.easyjet.com.