TRAVEL REPORT: Air Serbia, Belgrade
Written by Miroslav Al. MeÅ¡anoviÄ
I had originally booked the Air Serbia Economy Standard fare to Rome (23,000 RSD) in order to spend the Armistice Day holidays in Italy, but the Italian government removed Serbia from the so-called D list of countries on the 25th. October, meaning only essential travel was allowed. In researching possible alternatives, Stuttgart offered a price difference of only RSD 900. The flights were not ideal – evening flight to Stuttgart and morning flight to Belgrade, but considering that I have never been to Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg, it was a good choice.
Since the onset of COVID-19, online check-in for flights departing from Belgrade is only available to passport holders of the destination country, so the only thing to do was to show up at Terminal 2 of Belgrade airport at least 2 hours before departure. In order to speed up the check-in process, I purchased the priority check-in service, which meant it would be done at one of the business class counters. However, upon arriving at BEG, I realized that the airport was almost deserted, as you will see once we were on the airside. This strange atmosphere in a big airport in the Balkans gave me a strange feeling of guilt – there is nobody, nobody traveling, what the hell are you doing? Check-in was extremely fast and efficient. Handing over my passport, Etihad guest card, digital green certificate for COVID-19 vaccination and German passenger tracking form Einreiseanmeldung allowed me to send the PLF back to me. She was not interested in inspecting the document. Rather strange. Fully vaccinated residents of Serbia can travel to Germany without restriction. I requested a window seat at the rear of the aircraft and my request was accepted (seat 20A). Unlike my last trip in September to Vienna (morning flight JU600), there was no queue upstairs at passport control and the Fast Lane was unmanned. After going through immigration, I made a short stopover in front of the departures screen – just five more flights from Belgrade after Stuttgart with the first flight tomorrow at 5:55 am to Vienna (OS).
The virtually empty Duty Free and Tesla Square looked like a sci-fi movie. I went to check the assigned door – C4, but still without a parked plane. However, I did take a nice photo of the area with YU-APA parked at gate C5. It will actually be my plane for today. The gate assigned to JU344 constantly changed from C6, then C3, then C4 during recording and at the end C5.
Upon arriving at the Air Serbia lounge, I was greeted by two lounge attendants, one of them asking me a strange question – Excuse me Sir, are you a German citizen? Indeed, she was interested to know the conditions of travel in Germany, in particular because she has not yet been vaccinated but wanted to visit her relatives who live there. I have tried to be as concise as possible by noting that the chances of entering Germany without an essential reason are rather slim. The lounge itself was almost empty at the time, except for one passenger speaking German on his cell phone. Air Serbia’s Ã la carte menu has been updated and now offers different dishes. I opted for a typical Serbian dish – MuÄkalica with chicken and mashed potatoes accompanied by a vitamin salad. As always, the wait staff / bar really goes the extra mile. Although the menu does not have sweets, they are available on request. Over time more passengers arrived 3 of them speaking English and Russian and it looked like they were in transit.
About 40 minutes before departure, I was on my way to gate C5. Upon arriving there, I got to see another sad scene – a door with just a handful of passengers, most of them in their 40s and over. By accessing the designated application, I could see that there were 45 of us. Thirty minutes before the scheduled departure, the ground handling agent called the supervisor because the crew could not be found! Odd. Within minutes, they finally made it through security and went straight to the plane. Twenty minutes before departure we were informed that boarding would begin in a few minutes. And as I have been informed by friends who were traveling to Germany since Serbia was reinstated on the list of high risk countries, it seems that many passengers residing in Germany do not complete the German PLF! And then start arguing at the door. Nonetheless, the officer let everyone board the plane regardless of the carrier’s obligation to check whether all the necessary papers listed by the German government were in the possession of the passengers. At 5:54 p.m., the cabin attendant declared boarding completed. Our Airbus A319 YU-APA was heading for runway 12 and we took off at 6:06 pm, flying over Novi Sad. We had a beautiful night view of this city in northern Serbia with the three bridges and the football stadium illuminated. There is no need to note anything special about Air Serbia’s Recaro seat or free catering and IFE. The usual small bag of crisps and a small bottle of water were distributed twenty minutes after the start of the flight. The captain addressed us once with brief information on the route and weather conditions at destination.
Stuttgart city center is conveniently connected by 2 S-Bahn train lines and a bus line. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the city center. Despite being one of the 10 largest cities in the country, this bustling city is vastly underestimated by both Germans and foreigners. Top attractions include World of Mercedes and Porsche Museum, two excellent art galleries and several historical museums. Architecture enthusiasts will find the municipal library extremely interesting. However, the pearls of the metropolitan area are a bit further out – a regional train stop – Ludwigsburg famous for its baroque palace known as the Versailles of Germany (pictured in Air Serbia’s dedicated landing page) and Esslingen am Neckar, a town of over 100,000 inhabitants who have made its wealth by being the center of wine trading for centuries and by having preserved the old Gothic town to this day. If one wants to try German wines, Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg is the right choice. Cellars and wine cellars are everywhere.
For my return flight, I had decided to offer Air Serbia 6,650 RSD for an upgrade (a little more than the departure sum) and to my surprise the offer was accepted a few hours before my departure for the Germany. The automatically assigned seat was A01, although during online check-in I was able to make changes.
Arriving at Stuttgart airport, I must have been in another “abandoned place”. Interestingly, about fifteen passengers bound for Belgrade were already lining up in front of the check-in counters (3 in total for this flight). Check-in for flight JU341 started 1h55 before the scheduled departure and the lady at the counter was happy enough to be able to work on the JU check-in after a while. She had brought a clear zippered bag with all types of JU stickers and labels and told her colleagues – we’ll officially start. No designated booth for business passengers but by the time it was my turn to check in they were saying there would be 2 business passengers today and they should open a counter. I smiled and said – OK, one more to follow me. The lady was very attentive and explained to me how to navigate to Terminal 2 or 3 where the security check was open and I could use a separate channel. She also helped me find (and announce my visit) to the German customs officers on duty that morning to carry out the export of goods.
As previously written, the airport was largely empty on Sunday morning with most stores closed, while lounges were closed indefinitely until further notice. I was able to have a coffee in a cafe, but it should be mentioned that in order to drink the coffee there you have to present an EU-compliant certificate and register the visit using the German Lucca app. My plane for today’s flight (YU-APC) arrived early and was parked at the departure gate.
The gate of this flight was rather well-known, gate 109 of terminal 1. The 3 terminals are perfectly connected to each other and passport control is simply done in front of the two non-Schengen gates. There are no shops or cafes inside this area. And now back to passport stamps! If you are not a citizen or resident of the EU, you must have your passport stamped. The police officer scanned my passport twice and then inquired about the details of my entry into Germany. In the end, he said he would not stamp the passport in order to avoid reporting issues – please be careful with the stamp next time. Boarding began 30 minutes before departure. Again, there weren’t that many passengers – 2 in business and 47 in economy. Curiously, the crew could not agree on the total number of seconds before the departure of the ground support agent. The crew consisted of 3 members. Business class passengers were not accompanied by the cabin manager, but by a courteous member of the cabin crew, Goran. Immediately after boarding the plane, Goran took care of my carry-on baggage and jacket by stowing them in the overhead compartment. Before take off, the menu was handed over and there was an offer of dailies exclusively in Serbo-Croatian. Finally, the plane pushed back at 9:16 a.m. and took off from the Stuttgart sun at 9:26 a.m.
As soon as the seatbelt panel was off, Goran came to take our controls, first from the right-sided passenger, then from me. One notable faw – they only carry one of each meal, so after my “mate” opted for scrambled eggs, spicy fries, smoked beef, and cherry tomatoes, I just went for a vegetables, a smoked chicken breast and sataraÅ¡. Goran apologized, explaining the whole ordeal. At least they had a huge selection of drinks so I ordered bottled water, orange juice, and a cappuccino. Ten minutes after the start of the flight, everything was served, including the cappuccino. To be honest, I was hoping it would be brought in a bit later. Like that, I got it cold, but hey. Goran was attentive, wondering twice if I would need anything else. I asked if I could take the cutlery home. He replied that he had to check with the cabin manager, and that he came back a few minutes later with bad news – every piece of cutlery is being inventory, so there was nothing they could do about it. me about it.
The rest of the flight was uneventful with a breathtaking crossing of the Alps and a splendid view of Novi Sad and the mountain of FruÅ¡ka Gora. The plane landed on runway 12 of Belgrade airport at 10:48 a.m. Baggage claim worked well and my bag was among the first to get off the plane a few minutes after immigration cleared.
Overall a very good experience with Air Serbia, especially in business.
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