Belgium is one of the most important countries in the European Union. Whether your reasoning is because of the beer, chocolate and waffles or the political epicentre of Brussels, there is no doubt that Belgium is a premier destination for business and tourism. The U.K. is Belgium’s fourth largest import and export partner and up to 1.8m British nationals visit the nation every year.
Yet surprisingly, barring Brussels, the nation offers poor connections to Britain, by plane. There is no low-cost connection between Brussels’ main airport and London and it is notoriously difficult to reach the tourist hotspot of Bruges by air. However, this year, that has all changed. Flybe triggered the raft of new air connections to the Flanders region of Belgium, announcing even more expansion from its highly successful London Southend base.
In March, Flybe inaugurated the new four-weekly service connecting the British capital with Antwerp – the only British airline to do so. Its not just London that is now connected either, as Flybe offers convenient connections via the seamless Southend Airport to Manchester, Dublin and Glasgow.
The route was launched with great fanfare, encouraging all customers to #BeMoreBelgian. London Southend’s CEO, Glyn Jones, posed with the airport’s attempt at baking the world’s largest Belgian Bun!
I decided to try out the new connection for myself and see how simple and easy it was to fly from Antwerp to London’s Best Airport.
THE FLIGHT: ANTWERP TO LONDON SOUTHEND
Antwerp Airport is like stepping back in time (in a good way). The miniscule check-in area and landside bar with terrace all make for an enchanting experience – overlooking the apron. Being a small airport (serving just over 273,000 passengers in 2017), it was quick and easy to traverse.
There are very few facilities once airside, apart from a café and a small lounge – so don’t plan on spending extensive amounts of time duty-free shopping. I was able to try out the “lounge” for myself, which consisted of a room with blacked-out glass doors, adjoining the main departure lounge. It had all the amenities you would expect: a range of beverages (including a coffee machine and alcoholic options), comfy seating, charging points and modern, slick furnishings. Additionally, any lounge guests could ask for complementary sandwiches or snacks from the café in the main airside area. Whilst undoubtedly small, the VIP Lounge offered a weirdly luxurious experience – like waiting for your flight in the sanctuary of your own private room. It was probably as close as I was ever going to get to the luxury of LAX’s Private VIP Terminal!
As you’ll know from my previous articles, I love turboprops and the experience of flying in a small aircraft. The stereotype that propeller aircraft are old-fashioned, slow and loud couldn’t be further from the truth.
EI-FSL was just over 1 year old, and offered a modern and airy cabin, with comfort comparable, if not superior to any other mainline aircraft you’d find across Europe.
The ATR also boasts the widest seats and aisles of any other regional aircraft, allowing all passengers to enjoy 18.6” of seat width. Personal overhead panels were also available, with reading lights, fresh air nozzles and a call button, which were surrounded by ambient blue mood lighting. The cabin was configured in a one-class configuration, in a 2-2 setup, seating 70 people.
The flight summed up all the qualities I love about flying on a small aircraft, with Flybe – efficient boarding, on-time departure, friendly crew and a comfortable cabin. You simply don’t get a similar relaxed and straight-forward experience when flying with a low-cost carrier, in my experience.
Landing in Southend Airport is a pleasure, as usual, with unparalleled levels of efficiency and a modern terminal building – you can be out of the airport and onboard the 53-minute train into central London in minutes.
The best way to get to and from Antwerp? Certainly easier, quicker and more relaxing than driving to Brussels Airport, catching a ferry from Ostend or getting the train.
THE DESTINATION: ANTWERP
A place where the Belgian stereotypes ring true: Chocolate, Waffles & Beer. A fantastic combination!
The new Flybe connection from London Southend makes it easier than ever to get to Antwerp and what could be a better excuse to explore the typically Belgian city? Modern architecture in the relaxing waterside Eilandje neighbourhood harmonises with the beautiful old town, where the scent of Belgian waffles drifts through the cobbled streets. The city is just waiting to be explored and I hope that the new flights will allow more people to discover the best-kept secret of Belgium.
Disclaimer: I was invited onboard one of the first flights from London to Antwerp; the trip was provided by Flybe on behalf of Stobart Air. Views expressed are entirely my own.