Off to London City Airport, comparing VLM with CityJet
There we go. I had to fly with KLM to keep the balance on my FlyingBlue account, and since I’ve no status, but quite some mileage, I wanted to keep those. Since I didn’t want to spend too much money, I decided for a oneway on KLM from London City Airport to Amsterdam. Outbound would be on VLM, my preferred carrier for those hops. And, for now a good moment to compare VLM with CityJet. Since the VLM brand is now owned by the Air France-KLM group as well, the VLM brand will be merged with the current CityJet. Can we keep up the high service level I’m used with from VLM? We will see…
August 17, 2009
Leaving my house at 07.00am, a human time. Bus to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, were from I take a non-stop Intercity trainservice to Rotterdam. The train was packed, but I managed to find a seat anyway. Lucky me! The train was on schedule, and so was my connecting bus to the airport. In Rotterdam, several buses run to the local airport, e.g. line 33, a all-stop bus which takes about 25 minutes for the ride. I got on line 50 now, which is non-stop and in about 10 minutes. Due to current reconstruction of the railway station in Rotterdam, and the square in front, you might need some time to navigate yourself to the correct busstop. It was in area ‘AA’ this time, but it might change again.
Rotterdam City Scene in the morning
The small terminal in Rotterdam was alive. Two desks were checking in for HV to Girona. This was to be a Boeing 737-700 service, with about 140 passengers. The VLM desks were quiet. No staff, but 4 passengers waiting to check-in. Not a good start! It seems the staff was smoking outside the building, and quickly appeared to assist us. Since I checked in online the day before, she just grabbed a real boarding pass from the system and handed it.
The usual complimentary newspapers, from a stand next to VLM’s desks, were ‘out of stock’. Strange. I think the club of Transavia passengers took their chance for a free copy that morning, while the VLM staff was smoking outside.
Security was a breeze once again. Despite about 5 of the Girona bound passengers in front of me, I was checked quickly. Unfortunately for me that morning, I was to be the random check, so a manual search was performed anyway. Staff was friendly though, and then, I have no big problems with it.
In the departure lounge a single taxfree shop, a self service bar and a coffee counter. I like the coffee from the counter, so I got a latte machiato. Friendly staff, and enough seating. Views on the apron are good, but traffic is slow. A French registered private Beechcraft came in for general aviation, later a VLM from Hamburg, a VLM from London City (my aircraft) and a Transavia B737-700 from London Luton. That B737 would continue to Girona later on.
My flight was said to board from gate 1, so I had to go along passport control. Done in seconds at this airport. Very convenient. In the end, just before boarding, I counted the total of 24 passengers on this flight to London. So, nearly 50% load. Not good, maybe not bad either, taking in mind the time of the day. Most business men are already in their offices, so this might be off-peak anyway.
Waiting area near gate 1
My aircraft with another VLM Fokker 50 on the apron
Boaring started from 10.10am, 15 minutes before our scheduled departure. From the gate, a short walk over the apron to the waiting Fokker 50, which was named after the City of Brussels. Boarding was done in minutes and I was greeted by a friendly female Dutch cabin attendant.
Doors closed at 10.22am, and a quick manual safety demo was performed.
Such a good looking aircraft!
The interior on this Fokker 50 was fresh and I think recently updated. Slimline seats with brown leather. Legroom very good, according the VLM information 32’’.
Inside view on the Fokker 50 OO-VLR
Before engine start, also sweet candy was handed out. Engines were started exactly on time and we taxied out.
Flight No.: VG279 Date: 17AUG09
STD: 10.25 ATD: 10.25
STA: 10.30 ATA: 10.21
A/C: Fokker 50 Reg No.: OO-VLR
Seat: 03D – Economy (Single) Class
We taxied to runway 24, which is the far end away from the terminal. Meanwhile another VLM Fokker arrived. I think this was the flight from Manchester. Without delay we did a rolling take-off. Engine sound was a bit loud inside the cabin at row 3. I had the feeling that is was louder then usual, but I can’t be wrong.
Lining up runway 24
And off we go!
Some right turns brought us in the direction of the North Sea, for our crossing. Good views on the area below, including parts of the large port of Rotterdam and ‘Hoek van Holland’, a city named by the ‘corner of Holland’. This place is also departure point for Stena Line Ferries to the UK.
Heading towards the coastline
See all the glass houses below
Hoek van Holland (Corner of Holland), Stena Line Ferries leave from this place
Container terminal on the ‘Maasvlakte’ (part of the Rotterdam harbour)
We levelled at 17,000 feet, and cabin crew came in action. A choice of sandwich was available, either cheese or egg. I opted for egg, and it was actually a ‘plain omelet on a soft white roll’, to give it a name. The sandwich was good, though the egg a bit plain indeed. It came with a coffee, and an orange juice. Beverages are served in glass and china on VLM. They still have the classy product.
After about 20 minutes, coffee was refilled, and Leonidas chocolates were offered in 3 choices: dark, milk or white.
Mealservice on this VLM flight
For the rest an uneventful flight. A weather update was given from the flightdeck, westerly winds in London, a lovely day as the captain said. For sure an Englishman! We flew along the coastline onto British land around a place called Holland on Sea. How nice!
Still good views on the ground, although no views on the city this time, since we did a straight-in for runway 27. No shakers on approach, just nose down and a typical London City experience.
Nice shadows on the sea, approach the British island
Approach runway 27 at London City Airport
Always nice. We landed smoothly and after vacating the runway it took only minutes to be on stands. Block in was ahead of schedule. The crew was friendly saying goodbye.
It was by foot into the terminal, a short walk over the apron. Immigration was done in seconds here as well, 3 counters open for 24 passengers. What a luxury nowadays, and with no other inbound flights, it was a real treatment.
Marshaller guiding the Fokker 50 for parking
Since I had to go home also again, I opted for a return on KLM. One-way fares for the London City to Amsterdam flights are bearable, and it would give me some Flying Blue mileage, so at least my previous mileage won’t be withdrawn. I do not use Skyteam too often actually, and we’ll see what happens in the future. I’m so far not the biggest fan of the alliance, although some airlines are good enough though.
Since this flight was to be operated by Cityjet Airlines, and codeshared with VLM, it was the right opportunity to see what Cityjet has on offer. With the upcoming merger from VLM into Cityjet, it makes me feel worried about the quality level received until today on VLM. Will it be gone when they also become Cityjet? We will see!
I obtained by boarding pass already in the morning, first row in Economy Class for me, just behind the curtain. Hopefully a bit of view on the engines. The boarding pass is a very thin piece of paper only, and gives a cheap look. There is also no tear off part.
Before going through security, I made a shot of the City Airport hall, and then a police men came to me to tell me, in a friendly way though, that these pictures are not allowed. So I had a little chat with him, and although he agreed with my opinion that it really doesn’t make sense if I make such picture or not, he friendly requested me not to so again at the airport, on request of the owner of the airport. Fair enough, we had a good chat, and we understood eachother. No problems with it.
City Airport terminal/check-in area
Security was a breeze. About 4 lanes open, not more then 1 passenger in front at each lane, so done in a minute. Just today, they wanted to check my camera equipment. So everything had to come out of the bag. But, friendly staff also here, so then it is all okay with me.
The lounge behind security is rather small. A lot of bars here, even a restaurant. And a few taxfree shopping opportunities. As usual the steady amount of business men and women around, waiting for their flights home. I felt that I was maybe the only person not wearing suit and necktie!
Still 30 minutes to spend before departure. Boarding was said to start from 15.50pm. So I ordered a half pint at the bar and took position in front of the windows, with a good look on the apron. To my surprise, just minutes later my boarding call was made… From gate 8, so a long walk included. I quickly finished the drink, and walked down the long way to gate 8.
My next goal to fly on…
View on the back of my aircraft
My flight; it’s giving incorrect weather information about Amsterdam!
Another view on my aircraft to operate to Amsterdam
Stairs down to the boarding area, limited amount of seating. By far not enough to cover the passengers for this flight. Including 2 crying babies, it made me feel like being in an overcrowded bus or so, and not in a waiting lounge to catch a flight at this downtown airport.
After waiting for about 10 minutes, we were allowed to walk over the apron to the waiting Avro RJ-85. Up to row 6 had to use the forward entrance, 7 to 16 had to use the rear door to enter.
Flight No.: KL2758 Date: 17AUG09
STD: 16.05 ATD: 16.09
STA: 18.20 ATA: 18.00
A/C: BAE Avro RJ-85 Reg No.: EI-RJY
Seat: 05F – Economy Class
Photo © James Richard Covington
Photo © Michael Brazier
4 Engines, Longhaul? …. Nice view though!
I was asked to show my boarding pass while boarding. Friendly staff though.
My other seatmate was in 5D, the middle seat remained unused on this flight. I must say, legroom was poor. Cityjet says 31’’, but this feels less though. The seats are small, and the 3-3 layout in the RJ-85 makes it feel more small. Seats are blue leather, good condition. A Cityjet logo is embedded on the backside of the seat. And they use Air France headrest covers. Cabin gave a good maintained impression, maybe because the aircraft is not yet too long in service with this airline. It was previously flown for Northwest Airlines by Mesaba, in the USA.
But, my seatpocket was filled with rubbish from a previous passenger though! And, I do not need 2 copies of the VLM Velocity inflight magazine. I also had a copy of the large Air France inflight plus a Business & Finance magazine. This reduces my seatpitch even more.
Ouch ! Why is this not cleaned up…
For everybody who want to catch a flight on these machines, row 6 is NO window!
Although boarding completed on time, with the final touches and door closure, it made a little delay on departure. But, traffic was slow at the airport, so without further delay we taxied to runway 27 (you have to use the runway to taxi and make a 180° turn at the end (or use the small taxiway to be standby with arriving traffic on finals). During taxiing, a manual safety demo was given. Difficult to see for me, since part of the separation curtain from business class was in front of me.
Taxiing to the active runway 27
… and more taxiing, to runway 27
The aircraft was at full brakes once the engines were put on full thrust. A brake release made it a very powerful takeoff roll, and brought us in the air safely and before the runway end.
We turned away from London with some right turns.
Inflight info from the flightdeck learned me that the we levelled at 19,000 feet on this leg.
And of we go again, back home to Amsterdam!
Some turns after departure
Once we reached a safe altitude, the service started promptly. 2 females did the cabin, and they were stressed now. With a load of maybe 75%, a lot of work for them. Sandwiches were handed out, either cheese or turkey & tomato. I had the Turkey & Tomato on a buttered wholemeat bap.
What a name! The bread itself was very dry, and you almost didn’t taste the turkey or tomato. For sure not the best quality sandwich.
The other crewmember came with drinks. I asked for a white wine, and that was given. With a plastic cup. The wine was a Chardonnay ‘La Baume 2008’. Not really my taste.
The cabin ciew (this is a look into business class, exactly same seating)
Mealservice on this Cityjet flight
The flight itself went quickly and calm. Good weather all route, and with the Dutch coast already insight, descent started. So, with my bottle of wine in the hand, the plastic cup in the other hand (how can I make pictures now!), I seated myself for approach.
Crossing the North Sea
We overflew the metal industries of IJmuiden and a right turn brought the plane for the ILS approach on runway 18R, also called ‘Polderbaan’. This would mean a taxitime of about 20 minutes. Landing was smooth and they kept the speed up during taxiing.
Overflying Ijmuiden, on approach for 18R
Taxiing on taxiway A (North), Air Berlin leaving for PMI
Some changes on the taxi route due work in progress on taxiway A, between A10 and A9S, so we changed to B taxiway and right via A9S to the apron. Gate was D21, the inner side of the D-gates. I personally use these gates not too often, so it was nice for a change. Block-in ahead of schedule, engines running for 3 more minutes due to ‘no GPU available yet’, so we stayed in our seats. And another 3 minutes were needed for the ladies from KLM to attach the passenger bridge on the aircraft.
A ‘have a nice day’ goodbye upon deplaning. Goodbye Cityjet!
Rotterdam Airport; a very convenient place, but, can be less good when a few holiday charters are due to leave. The terminal is small, and security only 1 x-ray (+ one priority lane), so it might give irritation in busier times. You can reach it by bus only from downtown, but connections are good.
VLM, still a very good airline. Wonderful friendly groundservice and on board friendly staffs, well maintained comfortable cabins on the Fokker 50. Inflight catering is at a high level, large and fresh sandwich, 2 drinks, and coffee refill, chocolate. Really good.
London City Airport; very convenient location of course, easy to take the DLR to downtown Bank Station and change on the tube. Security is always quick here. In the lounge, not enough seating for waiting passengers, especially during rush hour. Also the seating in the gate area is limited, and not suitable for departing RJ85 or RJ100 flights, let along a Emb170/190 which will serve for BA later this and next year (I will take the inauguration BA Emb170 flight LCY-AMS in September, so report later again on the situation).
Cityjet, not sure. Not too good in my opinion. With 2 cabin crew service towards each passenger is brought to a minimum. Crew was in a hurry to serve everybody in time. Crew has to work harder then on VLM (also 2 crew for the cabin, max 50 passengers).
Seats are not comfortable and also the 3-3 layout in the RJ85 is not so good. Catering was average only, only time for 1 drink (no refills) and the sandwich was not really good either.
I think we have to be afraid that the current VLM experience will be gone forever soon, once the merger is completed. Air France-KLM will never keep up the current level and maybe also fares will become higher in the end, with flight reductions between City Airport and the Netherlands. And with no replacement for the Fokker 50 fleet, the real future of VLM seems undecided yet.
Thank you for the interest, your replies are appreciated of course.