“ Continent: Europe / Country: Netherlands „
I used to use this airline to travel from London to Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Manchester and found them to be a very good airline and one that easily gets my recommendation. This airline is in a different league to the now frills airlines and a much better choice than BA.
I only used this airline for business travel but it was a pleasure to use each time. All seats are pre-assigned although you can specify where you want to sit earlier when booking. The crew are smart dressed and very professional providing good customer care.
The planes are small with just 4 seats across, separated by the walkway and about 13 rows. The leather seats are high quality and are very comfortable, more so than BA seats. The inflight magazines seem to be geared towards the business travellers but provide an interesting read for the short journey. One thing people who are above average height will appreciate is the legroom that VLM offers.
During takeoff the crew will come by and offer you boiled sweets. This is followed by a beverage and a cheese or ham roll. You also get a square of Belgian chocolate. While the snack offered isn't particularly delicious, it is appreciated and welcome on short haul flights.
I used this airline frequently and they were always punctual. On the odd occasions that we departed late, this time was made up during the flight and we always managed to arrive on time or early.
While the price of your flight may not be as cheap as the low cost airlines, the service you receive is much better. If punctuality, lack of delays and comfort is important to you then VLM is worth the extra.
When I first started traveling for business, flying around all over the place was still quite good fun. You got fed, you got free booze, if the airline lost your luggage they paid compensation, you amassed zillions of air-miles to use for free holidays and if you missed a flight the airlines would go to extreme lengths to find clever ways to get you to your destination. But over the years the fun got squished and the stress increased. It can sometimes seem as if the airlines and airports are competing with the terrorists to induce ever more complex and unpleasant barriers to actually trying to enjoy yourself. Ryanair of course is the master of the art of pissing off the paying customer and I'm sure that Michael O'Leary lies awake at night thinking up ever more nasty ways to punish his fare-paying passengers for flying with the shabby blue and yellow airline. It's surely only a matter of time before he introduces 'strap-hanging'.
Turning up an hour before a flight used to be standard - the terrorists put paid to that and caused massive delays for security searches. Parking near the airport was standard - the greedy airports put paid to that one by whamming up the fees. Carrying your nail scissors or eyebrow tweezers soon became an imprisonable offence and attempting to actually enjoy travel became more and more of a challenge. So why all this pre-amble of misery and depression? Simply because I've found an airline that actually makes flying almost fun again. But don't get to excited - unless you are able to use Manchester, London City or Frankfurt (or your own private jet) and you want to go to Antwerp or Rotterdam, you're probably out of luck. My favourite of my regular business journeys these days is the route between Manchester and Antwerp that's run by the lovely little airline VLM.
~ How VLM get it right - at the Manchester End ~
VLM use terminal three which is the quietest of the three Manchester terminals. It's within easy walking distance of the Long Stay Car Park and since the plane holds only 50 or so passengers, you'll never find a long queue for check in. My morning flight is at 8.25 and so long as I'm in the terminal 50 minutes or more beforehand, I can be pretty confident of not needing to worry.
~ How VLM get it right - in the air ~
This little airline hasn't forgotten how to treat passengers as human beings. You get a pre-assigned seat - hoorah, no fighting for a space on the plane. The planes are Fokker 50s - small planes with just 4 seats across and about 13 rows. The seats are leather and you get one of those rare things that our budget airline friends have long abandoned - LEG ROOM! The crew are smartly dressed, although the flight attendants tend to be a bit bossy but they treat you nicely. A boiled sweet before take off - how twee! A cheese or ham roll and a drink on the short flight and best of all a nice square of Belgian chocolate after your drink. Yum! When did you last get chocolate on EasyJet?
~ How VLM get it right - at the Antwerp End ~
Antwerp is a really tiddly little airport. I believe they have just 10 flights a day - to London City, Manchester and Frankfurt. There are no gates to park up at - the plane just taxis up to within about 40m of the arrivals and lets you off. They have loads of umbrellas on standby so that if it rains someone will rush out and lend you one so you don't get wet on your short walk to passport control. As there are never more than 50 passengers arriving, the passport line is always short and with such a short distance and so few bags, you never wait more than a minute or two to get your bag. It's entirely realistic to be out of the airport within 5 minutes of landing. The only thing to watch out for is that once the taxis have gone, that's it - there won't be any more so don't hang on and hope - you'll need to go and find someone to call you another if they run out.
Check in at Antwerp is open until just 15 minutes before the flight is due to leave. Check in, drop your bag and you can be sitting in the departure lounge five minutes later. You might have to wake up the security guys to get them to check your hand-luggage because it's fair to say they aren't over-worked. But whatever you do, don't turn up 2 hours before your flight because there's absolutely nothing to do. Since none of the destinations are covered by duty free, there's very little to buy in the shop. You can buy alcohol but since the shop is on the landside rather than airside, you'll have to shop BEFORE you check in so your booze can go in your bag. It's all very weird.
VLM is part of the Air France/KLM group. The V stands for Vlaamse (which is Flemish for 'Flemish') and the LM stands for whatever it is that the LM in KLM stands for (the K in that case is Dutch for 'royal'). I'm told that within a few months the VLM flights will be more integrated into the KLM/Air France organisation and should be eligible for KLM Flying Dutchman loyalty points which will be nice as I have a load of those already and must check they don't expire although it will be sad if the VLM name and livery disappear completely.
Whilst sitting around Antwerp airport it's not unusual to see tiny little private jets standing around waiting for the fantastically wealthy diamond traders that trade in Antwerp. These are the only planes that can succeed in making a Fokker 50 look like a Jumbo Jet by comparison. Whilst I've only once been lucky enough to have the 'private jet' experience (and I got a little over-excited and I'm sure I went wheeeeeeeeee on both take off and landing) flying VLM is the closest I can get without breaking the bank.
I've flown the Manchester-London route a few times now. It often works out cheaper than getting the train. London city airport links directly to Docklands Light Railway (DLR) so you hop off a plane, onto a train then to whatever underground lines you need.
The planes are propeller rather than jet which I found scary first time, but once you get used to the noise it's fine. The service is fantastic, breakfast is included in the price for the morning flight, croissant, coffee and yoghurt. Evening meal is also included on your return, sandwich and muffin. Drink of your choice mid-flight. I chose red wine. Can't complain at £25 plus fuel with a free meal and friendly staff.
I did feel a little under-dressed as it was a dress down day for me and everyone else was suited and booted, but I got over it! The early morning and late flights are used mainly by business men and women and it seems like most use the route regularly. I use it 4-6 times a year, just enough to keep it novel :)
I have flown with VLM airlines a couple of times now and each time the service is absolutely fantastic!
I have only flown on the London City to Manchester route but it's a flight that I enjoy going on. The staff are very friendly (even late at night when we were the last flight of the day) both onboard and in the terminal.
They are also using e tickets now which is really handy because I can just keep the number in my phone and so it's easily accessible when I get to the airport.
I didn't have to queue at the airport to check in either, mainly because there weren't many people on the flights. In fact one of the flights I took with VLM ended up with only 9 passengers, although this does mean that you get a bit of extra attention from the cabin crew.
The flights, if you time the right can be really cheap as well. I chose to fly with them because they are the second cheapest airline that flies London to Manchester and it even worked out cheaper that taking the train and although they are cheap, you don't miss out on the in-flight extras, like the complementary food and drinks.
VLM airlines actually started off on the continent but realised that there was money to be made by flying out of London City Airport which means that it is close to the city centre and convenient for business passengers too.
The flights are very frequent and all the flights that I have flown on have been on time, so even better for business people. I've just looked and in May 2005 92% of VLM flights were on time.
Unfortunately they haven't yet developed a frequent flyer program which is a bit of a shame but when I emailed them, they explained that they were developing one.
All in all, a very good airline with cheap fares. Definately a must when you are flying short distances out of London.