TRIP REPORT: Air Serbia, Belgrade - Brussels

TRIP REPORT | INDEX


Written by Miroslav Al. Mešanović

Belgrade to Brussels onboard Air Serbia JU304 (July 26, 2019)

Air Serbia flies to Brussels four times a week (morning flights on Mondays and Wednesdays and evening flights on Fridays and Sundays). Last month when Brussels had shown up on Web Specials Sale, I decided to buy the Economy Light fare for 119 EUR and spend a weekend in Brussels. Flight times are ideal and there is no need to take a day off from work since Air Serbia’s JU304 departs Belgrade at 17:40, while JU305 departs Brussels at 20:20. This time I bought my ticket via my mobile phone, and I must say that Air Serbia website is totally fine on Android OS phone. I do hope they will roll out a dedicated Application soon.

Booking process

My city break started at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (BEG) around 2 hours before scheduled departure to Brussels. Here is the departures’ monitor showing flights due to depart on Friday afternoon. The flight to Brussels was the last flight shown at the time.


I usually show up at check-in / baggage drop-off counters to have my carry-on baggage checked if it complies with the carrier's standards and to have my boarding pass printed (I am avid collector of industry standard boarding cards unlike print at home A4 pages). There was no queue at the Air Serbia check-in counters at Terminal 2; I was done in less than 5 minutes. The ground handling agent had a very friendly attitude - smiling, noting that he will enter the miles for my flight into Etihad Guest (seems he did not see the fare – I get nil when flying Economy Light) and also made a comment that we are both Leos (if one takes astrology seriously).

Customs and Passport Control were done swiftly and I was on my way to Belgrade Airport’s Lounge - Business Club operated by Dufry. I am a regular at this lounge thanks to one of the several available credit card schemes in Serbia. Business Club is a good lounge. The major disadvantage from my point of view is that there is no view from it at all. Other than that, there is a decent offer of warm food (this time there was minestrone soup, pasta with carbonara sauce and risotto). Cold cuts are available 24/7 and for lunch, there was an assortment of sweets. The news at the buffet is that Dufry switched its wine supplier - now they offer wines from Aleksic Winery from Southern Serbia (these wines are also available in the Elevate Deli & Bar offer). Interesting to note, one of Air Serbia’s Captains dropped by for a quick meal.




The first sign that something was wrong came at 15:48 when the Check My Trip application informed me: “Your flight has changes - estimated departure 18:10”. I took a quick glance at the departure boards in the lounge; these were stating that JU304 is “on-time”. Soon came the first announcement: “Air Serbia announces departure destination Brussels, gate C2”. No worries, Business club is by the gate A4, which is no more than 3-4 minutes away from gate C2. Besides, I tend to arrive at the gate in Belgrade no more than 35 minutes before the stated departure time (as there is really not much to do at the gates). 40 minutes before the planned departure, so at 16:35, came an announcement - Final Call for Air Serbia flight JU304 to Brussels, gate C2.

Delays JU304

Here is the photograph of my bird of the day - Airbus A319 YU-APC named after tennis player Novak Djokovic.


After arriving at the gate, I could see that the plane assigned for today’s flight was deboarding, which was not a good sign in terms of departing Belgrade on time. At 17:10 we were still stuck at the gate, no announcements, no information, however, a couple of passengers were called to the counter. The captain and cabin crew went to board the plane. My application sounded again, this time - estimated departure 18:20. Finally at 17:25 a recorded announcement calling passengers to board the plane was played.


At 17:40, Captain Banda addressed the passengers and stated that the earliest gate departure time would be 18:20. Crew soon started to dispense complimentary glasses of fresh water to all the passengers. Plane was still at gate C2, but now disconnected from the air bridge.

JU304 seat map







Finally, at 18:45 we started to pushback and then taxi towards runway 30. As we were approaching the runway, TAROM’s ATR-42 landed from Bucharest - Otopeni. We were up in the air at 18:55.

Before going high above the clouds, I was able to take these photographs of the Sava and Drina rivers. Flight path was rather strange for this route, since the plane flew over Croatia, Slovenia, Italy then Germany and finally into Belgian airspace.




As soon as the captain had turned off the fasten your seatbelt sign, cabin crew started the complimentary service which got upgraded (Air Serbia went out with the announcement of complimentary service upgrade several days after my trip). What a surprise to see a package of Cacak Chips!



Flight was uneventful. Airbus A319 touched ground at Zaventem at 20:53 (scheduled arrival 19:35). The fastest and easiest way to downtown is one of the many trains from the airport. Worth noting is that train tickets bought online for trip Friday-Sunday include a 50% discount (at least return tickets).


Belgium in sight, Liege Airport

Final approach

First neighbour at the gate - ANA

Zavrentem train station

Brussels is really an interesting city to visit. Apart from Manneken Piss, Grote Markt and Atomium, be sure to visit The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, St. Katerijn quarter, and so on. My personal pick is the Royal Museum of Central Africa located in the suburb of Tervuren, which was closed for ages due to massive refurbishment.




Smurfs are omnipresent

So are Brussels waffles


Crocodile Room - the only unchanged room at the Afrika Museum

Afrika Museum


Brussels to Belgrade onboard Air Serbia JU305 (July 28, 2019)

My trip back home to Belgrade started at Brussels Central Train Station, the place where all the trains to the airport get packed with so many passengers. The ride to Zaventem Airport takes around 15 minutes. The train station is located directly below the terminal, so it is very easy to find your way either to arrivals or departures. Flight JU305 to Belgrade was scheduled for 20:20, and I arrived at the departures hall at 18:40 and to my shock, there was a queue in front of the Air Serbia counters.


Unfortunately, flight JU304 was again delayed from Belgrade (departed at 18:13). At this point, I must give all the praise to Air Serbia’s Station manager who seems to be a very hard working person. At the time of my arrival to the counters, he was surveying everything and he approached passengers with babies and children and redirected them to the Business counter. Since the queue was really long and I had only carry-on baggage I went to the Manager to inquire about the flight delay and the possibility to have my documents checked at the gate. He told me – no problem, my colleagues would take care of you at the gate (check identity and print out the standard boarding pass). You may proceed to the security control with a mobile boarding pass that you already possess. To check the status of the plane from Belgrade, he used the tool that all of us aviation enthusiasts use FlightRadar24. The plane from Belgrade was to arrive at around 20:20 but the manager informed me - I am doing all I can to shorten the plane’s turnaround time in Brussels and have you all sent to Belgrade as soon as possible.

Check My Trip informed me that the estimated departure would be 20:55.



Zaventem is a nice airport, at least on a Sunday afternoon. Security check took less than 10 minutes and the same goes for passport control. A traveller tip - once you clear immigration, there are bottles of water provided by the airport. Suggested donation is 1 EUR per bottle, which is of course much better than the usual duty free price and all the money goes to charity.

I went to the Diamond Lounge located on level 3 (one level above the departure gates). The lounge is a bit run down when it comes to furniture, but it provides a decent choice of beverages, some cold cuts and a couple of hot meals (mostly Middle Eastern and Asian on that Sunday evening). Front Desk staff were extremely helpful. One of the good things at the Diamond (Non-Schengen) Lounge is the airside view and it allowed me to spot Air Serbia’s Airbus 320 (YU-APH) taxiing towards the gate at 20:05. The departure board stated that boarding to Belgrade would commence at 20:35 at gate B10.

Diamond Lounge




JU305 in sight from the lounge

Brussels Airport has an open-gates system, so there were no additional checks in front of the gate nor are the gates physically separated. I went to the counter, had the identity check and asked for my boarding pass. The professional Station Manager was there, doing phone calls and assisting if necessary. All done. People were already getting nervous and most of them were already standing ready to board. At least 1/3 of the passengers seemed to be foreigners. Boarding commenced at 20:29. Boarding was completed at 20:50. The A320 was 4/5 full. Captain Slobodan Lalovic addressed us before takeoff to inform that the flight would take 1h 50 minutes and that the weather on route was fair. We took off at 21:03.







Service started some 20 minutes later. As on my previous flight, complimentary service consisted of Cacanski chips and a small bottle of water. Interesting to note - Elevate Deli & Bar had an extremely limited choice; the crew was making jokes with the passengers while offering the products. There were 4 sandwiches on this flight and all were sold by the time the crew reached row 5. Orasnica sweet was not available at all. Captain Lalovic addressed us once again to give the usual information about the route, altitude and the outside temperature. Our route took us over Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Lake Balaton and Sombor. YU-APH touched tarmac at Belgrade at 22:54 Passengers awaiting their flight to Beirut were already at the gate when we disembarked.




Overall, an expected service quality. I generally prefer flying Air Serbia. I am sorry to see so many delays during this summer season but after such a huge expansion and almost no new aircraft added, I am afraid it was inevitable.


Share your travel experience by submitting a trip report to exyu@exyuaviation.com


Comments

  1. Really nice trip report. As for delays, many are caused by ATC restrictions over Hungary due to a workforce shortage. Certain parts of Austria and Croatia also have restrictions so JU planes end up being delayed, FCO seems to be a regular victim of this phenomenon.

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    1. Exactly. I am flying often FRA-BEG-FRA and both JU and LH have issues with European Air Space control that does not allow plane to depart on time as there are too many flights in the air (especially over Austria and Germany).

      I am quite sure that pilot has mentioned it also on the above mentioned flight as a reason for delay but Mr.Mesanovic probably did not hear it or forgot to mention it. It would provide clearer picture to this already nicely composed article.

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    2. Great report Miroslav! For Namjee and others blaming always ATC I would point out that for JU it is the same situation for the airspace with Romania, Bulgaria and many others. The point is that they are incapable to fly on time and that is no excuse! 60% of the last 10 reviews on Skytrax give them a "1" for being always late. FR24 has "delayed" displayed across almost every JU flight and that is not the norm. Last week to SVO there was not a single JU flight that departed / arrived from Beg on time while Aeroflot gets you there ahead of schedule. Are they not using more or less the same airspace? even though JU has an advantage as they often fly across Ukraine while SU avoids UKR airspace. Poor scheduling, old fleet, waiting AC from another flight and lack of accountability are the main issues for JU delays and not ATC as you always try to justify.

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    3. You obviously don't understand how a hub model works. If BRU or ZRH are delayed then a chain of delays is created which affect all flights. ATH is also extremely restricted, the other day the flight was delayed by an hour due to airport congestion. Do you think SVO just departs without those passengers or do they sit and wait for them? ;)
      Look at other airlines throughout Europe, a lot of them are delayed, this is not an issue that's exclusive to JU.

      Delete
    4. Thank You.
      If I could somehow transfer WhatsApp Voice messages from my phone, I would be glad to share Captain's Announcements with You. Captain Banda did not mention any specific reason for the delay. On the other hand, on my JU360 flight to Amsterdam May24th, Captain Radosan clearly stated that due to Eurocontrol restrictions the plane will not depart before 07:15 am.

      Delete
    5. I wrote my impressions based on the personal experience when JU flight was more than ready for take off but could not departure because of ATC.

      As you try to compare it with other air carriers let me tell you that on my flight AYT-FRA crew did not even want to let the passengers enter the plane as pilot could not get approval from ATC for engine starting. So, it happens massively, but it is always easier to blame Air Serbia especially by domestic population thatn saying anything about foreign.

      Every time I flew BEG-FRA JU334 was ready for departure at 17:35 but it was not allowed to depart before 18:00-18:15 the earliest.

      If you check JU650 (BEG-SVO) flight schedule you will see that it landed on time this week, but due to the fact that it is morning flight. During the day other planes get delay mostly due to ATC and they automatically cause delay of the other flights.

      https://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/ju650

      Why do you say there was no on time JU fligh to SVO when it is so easy to prove you wrong?

      Talking about Tarom? Their flight FRA-OTP has only 40% on time performance - it would be smarter to check the facts before you post ridiculousness.

      Just in first half of 2018 ATC delays 133% more flights than year before. The situation in 2019 is unfortunately even worse.

      Still believe it happens to JU only?
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/18/french-air-traffic-control-causes-third-of-europes-flight-delays

      It is astonishing how peole who know nothing or almost nothing about aviation are so "convinced" they know everything.

      Delete
    6. A11:37
      E neka si im reko. Kad god se pojavi iole neka pozitivna vest o AS,hejteri su odmah spremni da krenu u napad i traze bilo sta negativno. Nema sumnje da odredjeni broj letova kasni zbog velike ekspanzije linija ove godine i lose organizacije ali tako je bilo i pre 5 god. kad je osnovana AS i kad je dodata masa letova,pa su se posle godinu dana konsolidovali i tacnost letova podigli na preko 90%.

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    7. There might be some ATC restrictions but still JU has massive problem to perform its traffic on time. Delays are terible since the full season started. My friends were delayed more than three hours to Antalya few days ago - that has nothing to do with German, Austrian or Hungarian airspace congestion.
      On the other hand yesterday I had a wonderful flight with JU to Thessaloniki. Everything was by the book and on time. Except lack of orasnica cakes which was real disappointment.

      Delete
    8. Average delay at BEG is 24 minutes, that's not too bad. BUD is 20, ATH 35, WAW 16, ZRH 40, MXP 26... source: FR24

      Delete
    9. Talking of delays why isn't anyone mentioning Wizz Air? They also have horrible delays quite often. Even today their flights are late between 20 and 45 minutes.

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    10. Maybe because people who comment on forum fly more often with JU. Plus they are not subsidized by Serbian government so it is far less problematic. 20-45 min is nothing. JU now has frequent multi hour delays almost every day. Shame they will loose massively on compensations. Awareness of right to compensation is rising among our flying public.

      Delete
    11. 'JU now has frequent multi hour delays almost every day.'

      Absolute bullshit, what multi hour delays did they have today and yesterday? What do dwindling government subsidies got to do with anything especially when a lot of delays are caused by ATC restrictions?!

      Delete
    12. Anon 16:22
      Mind your language!
      Unfortunately that is the case. Every other day friends and colleagues point to some delays. If you kept track of BEG departures since early July you would be aware of this. They probably operate without reserve plane. Trying to utilise fully existing fleet over summer and lower losses (yes they have losses when state aid is deducted). So you see - everything is connected.

      Delete
    13. So your multi hour delay became some delays. Which is it, make up your mind because you are just proving how you are writing nonsense.

      Delete
    14. *dwindling state aid

      Delete
    15. Miroslav, thank you for this trip report. Very detailed with many pics and city break notes, I enjoyed it.

      It is pathetic when generally neutral or positive Air Serbi trip reports get attacked and vandalized by Air Serbia haters. They don't know and don't want to understand cause of delays are often outside of JU control. They don't care when other airports and carriers have far more delays than BEG/JU during peak season. They are simply here to make as much damage as possible, akin to grafitti "artists" on new or renovated buildings. As grafitti are removed from buildings so shoud haters comments from trip reports.

      Delete
    16. Maybe they just had to wait in airport for hours and have grounds for their anger!
      It seems to me that Miroslav's flights delays were just under 2h treshold to ask for compensation. Otherwise I would advise him to do so.
      Bad news, JU has rejected some of my friends for compensation claiming extraordinary circumstances, where it was clear that their charter to Skiathos in July was delayed due to JU inability to perform all flights scheduled. They are now waiting for Civil Aviation Directorate decision and might need to take JU to court.

      Delete
    17. I flew on Wizz Air recently and there was a delay due to a mechanical issue. They told us that the delay would be 01.55 and then after a two hour delay they started boarding and we ended up sitting in the plane for another 30 minutes. At least JU doesn't engage into such practices. Wizz Air is the worst. Or maybe it isn't, there was a case the other day when Delta Air Lines kept passengers in a plane for 8 hours despite knowing there will be delays due to ATC restrictions.

      Delete
    18. I think this is a report on Miroslav's experience on JU flight. It is not about Delta or Wizz. Of course it happens with many companies. Thanks Miroslav for such a nice report. Keep them coming.

      Delete
  2. Great report. As someone who regularly flies BRU-BEG-BRU I can confirm that those ques at check in at Brussels Airport are always long. I don't understand why JU just doesn't get another check in desk. They only have two and one is for business class.

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    Replies
    1. Every time I flew to BRU the plane was half empty yet check in queue was bit long. That is indeed strange :)

      Delete
  3. How were the loads on both flights? I see the A320 was quite full?

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    1. Belgrade to Brussels around 75%, Brussels to Belgrade around 85%.

      Delete
  4. Just a note - ground agent should always enter your Etihad guest regardless of fare you have because:

    -even when flying on lowest fare (like you in this trip), you will not get miles but you will get tiers calculated on your account. Status can be earned on both miles or tiers.
    -based on your FF status you might get additional benefits like priority boarding, fast track, additional baggage...

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  5. Wonderful report Miroslav! Would you mind sharing what credit card are you using for lounge access?

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not writer of this report, but as far as I know there are premium cards from both Visa & MasterCard offering lounges access from almost every bank in Serbia now. In the past there was also Priority Pass included in some of premium packages. Best thing to do is ask in your bank, or even to look on net for competitive offers.

      Delete
    2. Anon 12:32 is right.
      MasterCard scheme in Serbia was the first to start these Lounge Privilledges starting from Gold Cards and above. However, access is granted at Belgrade, Sarajevo and Vienna.
      Visa scheme is way better but privilledges star from Platinum level and are at ones disposal through Lounge Key partnership ( Priority Pass is no longer offerred).
      Both schemes are open to anyone willing to pay montly fees of 5-10 EUR in RSD since cards are mostly Debit.

      Delete
  6. Wonderful report Miroslav! Thank you.
    Very comprehensive and informative. Looking forward to your future reports.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It may or may not be the case that Air Serbia has its own problems with reliability, but BRU experiences constant flight delays across the board. As a regular traveller, a curse to have to use that airport. probably congestion across european skys is an important factor.

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    Replies
    1. I fly to and from Brussels several times a year and never had massive delays. Really like the airport. Always a good experience

      Delete
  8. Serbia Air looking like an average lowcoster but still not bad.
    The boutique days are now history...

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    Replies
    1. Much much better than a lowcoster, but I guess you can never please people...

      Delete
    2. @Anonymous 18 August 2019 at 19:24

      You look like an average Air Serbia hater - zero knowledge of aviation, just hate. Here is why Air Serbia (not Serbia Air as you said) for flights out of BEG as in this trip report does not look like an average lowcoster: unlike average LCCs, Air Serbia has: transfer/connecting flights, snack/water included, loyalty points, business class, premium lounge, long haul flights, service to many primary airports, codeshare/interline partnership with other airlines to increase available destinations, varied aircraft type/size, free cabin baggage, charter flights etc. You're welcome!

      Delete
    3. BTW, this is not AirSerbia lounge but airport business lounge (aka Business Club), accessible to all airlines flying from BEG.
      AirSerbia Premium lounge is different facility.
      But, one should read read the article to understand this...

      Delete
  9. They were on trajectory to become low cost service type of airline two years ago. But then they got their act together and reintroduced many little things that distinguish you from LCC. We are still waiting for them to bring back free seat selection in standard fare (or blue fare as they call it) and hot drinks, and they will not look cheap anymore. It is just not possible to charge full fares and offer LCC product which their declining passengers numbers demonstrated last year.

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    Replies
    1. MM they are not offering LCC product. See post above for a difference. Keep learning and stop hating Air Serbia.

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    2. They were down that road but got their act together. I do happen to know thing or two about airlines. It happens when you fly different airlines on average once weekly. ;)

      Delete
    3. MM frequent flier status does not make you qualified to call shots on how to run an airline. Air Serbia was never on a path to turn into an LCC. Post at 23:24 can help you, if one day you decide to come off your frequent flier high horse.

      Delete

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