Tried & Tested

VLM economy, London City-Brussels

1 Dec 2004 by business traveller

First impressions:I arrived at London City Airport at 1.45 for a 2.30pm midweek flight, to find both the airport and the VLM check-in desk almost deserted. Check-in was swift, then it was a blissfully short walk to the gate; even the furthest gate here is only a couple of minutes' away.VLM operates five daily weekday flights from London to Brussels (8am, 11am, 2.30pm, 5.30pm and 8.30pm) and one Sunday flight (5.30pm).

The flight was called 10 minutes before departure time and once again there was not far to go, as the plane, a Fokker F50 turbo-prop, was parked right outside the gate. With the plane only about a third full, we were seated quickly and left the stand just after 2.30pm. Strangely, the passengers had been allocated seats in a clump towards the back of the plane, prompting many to ask if they could move seats to have a row to themselves.

The seat:The seats were configured 2-2 and, while slightly narrow, were perfectly comfortable for such a short (50-minute) flight ? although leafing through a broadsheet newspaper while not disturbing the person next to me did require some acrobatic skill.

The flight:The captain made a heartfelt apology in advance for an unexpected delay before take-off because of a queue for the runway, but this turned out to be no more than a five-minute wait and we were in the air by 2.45pm. Soft drinks and a choice of cheese or meat roll were served soon after, along with, appropriately, a packet of Belgian-style crispy waffles, followed by tea and coffee. My ham roll was literally just that ? a piece of ham in a rather dry roll; definitely a no-frills snack.

Arrival:The cabin crew's welcome announcement was slightly wasted since it began as soon as we touched down and was drowned out by the sound of the engine. Within about three minutes of landing at 3.35pm, we were filing off the plane and heading for baggage reclaim (I was able to walk straight through with just my hand luggage). Trains to Brussels city centre depart frequently from the airport's lower level and after buying my ticket I hopped on a train that was about to depart. I then realised, in astonishment, that exactly 10 minutes after touching down I was seated on the train and pulling out of the airport.

Verdict and Prices:An excellent way to travel to Brussels quickly and with no fuss, with courteous staff and a service that runs like clockwork. The small scale of everything means there are no lengthy walks or delays ? although nervous flyers might not enjoy travelling in such a small propeller plane, in which you feel every bump. Return economy fares start from £91 including taxes (contact 020 7476 6677 or

Sarah Maxwell

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