Tried & Tested

VLM Fokker 50 business class

1 Oct 2006 by business traveller

First impressions I arrived at London City Airport (LCY) at 1545 for my 1625 flight (passengers can check in up to 15 minutes before departure). LCY can be reached on the DLR from Bank Underground station, or the Jubilee Line, changing at Canning Town. VLM has three check-in desks (all manned), and despite three or four people waiting at each desk check-in was swift. I was through security in a matter of seconds and was airside by 1555. There are no business class lounges, and just a couple of duty-free shops and a café, but with such a short check-in time little else is needed.

Boarding I made my way to Gate 8 and down a flight of stairs to the waiting area. The gates are right on the tarmac, so it was a short walk to the aircraft when we boarded at 1610. As soon as I took my seat I was offered a drink and a snack. We were delayed by 20 minutes due to a late passenger, but were airborne a few minutes after he arrived.

The seat The twin-propelled Fokker 50 is configured in a 2-2 formation, with a capacity for 50 passengers. This summer VLM announced a revamp of the interiors of its 15 strong fleet (see online news, July 13), and the first refurbished aircraft is now in service, with two more expected by the end of this year. The biggest change is the new ergonomic seating, with the familiar blue replaced by a sleek-looking beige leather. The new seat includes a side jacket hook, and is built out of a single carbon-fibre shell, allowing a slightly increased pitch at 81-84cm. The single shell allows for a unique style of reclining, where the bottom of the seat tips up as the seat reclines. VLM also claims the new style increases blood circulation to the upper legs.

The flight I was sitting in 2A (actually the first row on the left of the plane), which meant I had slightly more leg room than normal. I was the only person in business class – not surprising given my Sunday afternoon departure – but economy was fairly full. The main advantage of flying business class is the ticket flexibility (allowing refunds and changes), but there are a few added benefits including lounge access where available – at Amsterdam, for instance, the airline shares a lounge with others including Iberia. Where possible VLM also provides business class passengers with a free seat next to them. The meal was served soon after take-off – a light dinner of salmon, rice and a cucumber salad, rolls, and some fruit salad. Champagne was offered but I stuck to tea served in a Wedgwood cup. In-flight entertainment is limited to Velocity magazine and a newspaper, but on such a short flight this was fine. The twin-prop aircraft was slightly noisier than a jet plane, particularly on take-off, but the journey was smooth.

Arrival We touched down at 1840 having caught up 10 minutes of the delay, and were inside the building in a couple of minutes. If only Schiphol were so convenient inside – it's a long walk to passport control, but once there the queue was minimal. I bought my train ticket to Amsterdam Centraal from a machine before passing through customs, and was on the platform by 1900.

Verdict A convenient service, with courteous and attentive staff. The new interiors feel clean and modern, and once rolled out across the fleet, can only enhance VLM's reputation as a business traveller commuter carrier. PRICE Internet rates for a midweek return flight in early October started from £104 in economy (including taxes and £4 booking fee), and £459 in business class.

Contact flyvlm.com.

Mark Caswell

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