Tried & Tested

Flybe BAe146 economy plus

1 Jul 2005 by business traveller

First impressions I arrived at Gatwick South Terminal at 1520 for my 35-minute flight to Jersey at 1615. Three check-in desks each had a three-deep queue – including the desk for economy-plus passengers with hand luggage only – but within five minutes I was heading for the Executive lounge (next to Gate 7). When I keyed in the code I'd been given at check-in, the door to the lounge wouldn't budge; luckily a member of staff spotted me and let me in.

The lounge is basic but comfortable with dry snacks and a machine serving hot drinks. There were wall sockets so I could plug in my mobile phone, which was running low on battery, and make some quick calls before the flight. The lounge also has a credit card-operated phone, fax machine and wired internet access (wifi is not available).

Flybe flies up to five times daily to Jersey from Gatwick between 0845 and 1940. BA also departs Gatwick with three daily weekday flights (0845, 1155, 1550), while VLM operates turbo-prop planes from London City Airport with three daily weekday flights (0900, 1610 and 1930).

Boarding At 1550 a member of staff came in to announce boarding so I left the lounge to find a throng of people at the gate. I wasn't sure if we were boarding by seat row so I waited behind and joined the back of the queue. It was a long slow shuffle towards the plane as we waited for boarding passengers to settle themselves and their families, including many young children (I vowed to be more selective in future of my flight times on business trips during school half-term).

I was in the front row so I had plenty of legroom, and my soft blue leather seat was very comfortable. The seat configuration on the BAe146 is 3-3 and the middle seat in my row was blocked, with "business" emblazoned on it. Economy plus passengers can pre-book their seat, which is included in the fare, while economy passengers can pay £8 to pre-book a normal seat and £16 for a bulkhead seat.

The flight With Flybe, food and drink is paid for, unless you fly in economy plus, in which case you receive two vouchers – one each for a snack and drink – at check-in. The choice of food was limited to chocolate bars, muffins and biscuits, which I found disappointing as I was hoping for a sandwich.

Arrival We arrived on time at 1710 and it was a quick walk to baggage reclaim and a five-minute wait for the bags to come through. There was no priority tagging and my bag came out towards the end of the pile.

Verdict Despite my flight being packed with young families on leisure breaks, it was easy, fast and comfortable. The main advantage of economy plus is lounge access – although you're not there long enough to get much work done – as well as the pre-booking possibility, but on such a short journey it is a matter for debate whether these perks justify the extra cost of an economy plus ticket.

Prices Lead-in fares are from £60 return in economy and £145 in economy plus.

Sarah Maxwell

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