TRIP REPORT: From the US to Belgrade

TRIP REPORT | INDEX


Written by Nemjee

Good morning everyone!

It was time to leave wonderful, warm, sunny and surprisingly not so humid Florida! My itinerary today is Jacksonville - Chicago - Munich - Belgrade both on United and Lufthansa.

The last time I've been on United was in 2015 when I flew LAX-SLC and then SLC-ORD. Back then their onboard product was disappointing and the overall experience was quite bad. So for the past five years I avoided flying on them. This year I decided to change that since they offered the best schedule in and out of Jacksonville.

Funnily enough, the first option I had was on JU, AZ and DL flying via Milan and New York while the return flight would have been via Rome on Alitalia instead of MXP with JU. Luckily I did not book this option but rather I went for the LH-UA combo despite being 23.000 Dinars more expensive. Had I gone for the initial one, not only would have Alitalia cancelled my FCO-BEG leg but the Serbian government would have quarantined me for two weeks. At least I got out of dealing with Serbian healthcare officials.


Anyway, it was Monday March 9 and it was time to complete the check in process at the airport. As I was flying internationally, United could not issue me a boarding pass during online check-in as a United agent needed to check my passport first.

Check-in area at JAX


Security was a breeze and I was at the departures area. Surprisingly, it was a nice airport with lots of natural light, restaurants and bars. Mind you, JAX handles about the same number of passengers as BEG does.

B6 to BOS


Double DL, both flights heading to New York, CRJ to LGA and the C-series to JFK.


And here she is, our A319 that will take us to Chicago! The fuselages looked a bit worn out given that paint was missing from many parts.


Full flight today. Interestingly the cabin didn't feature the standard United seats, these ones were ugly but comfortable enough.



Flying close to the Florida-Georgia state border.


Service started, they offered a choice between Oreo cookies, pretzels and the caramel waffle.


Later on the crew offered a variety of soft drinks, water, coffee or tea. About an hour later they passed through the cabin offering cups of water which I found to be a nice gesture.


Welcome to Chicago, the weather gives you an indication why flights to Florida are sold out in winter time.


Better view of the ugly seats during deplaning. The plane featured a dedicated business class product with two rows and an economy plus section where you have a few more inches of legroom.


Welcome to Chicago Terminal 1, home of United Airlines... and Lufthansa.

ORD


Our plane for today was this 27.7 year old B767-300 with a botched nosejob. A few hours ago it arrived from Brussels.


Light load on this flight, there were 10/30 people in business class and maybe around 90 in economy, so about 45% LF. The seats you see here were all empty throughout the flight. In the corner you will see curtains, that's where the crew rest is.



IFE was the best part about flying on United. It was extremely responsive, high quality and they had a great selection of films, tv shows and so on. Interestingly enough, unlike most airlines out there, United Airlines offers whole seasons of tv shows and not a few episodes like others do. It was a touchscreen so you could zoom in and zoom out as much as you wanted to.


Take off was bumpy which was expected given the weather out there. What was interesting is that only after 15 km from the airport, pilot stopped climbing, maintained 1.550 altitude and only after some 10 minutes we continued climbing. I guess there was some traffic around us.


There was a choice of three main meals: chicken (pictured), vegetarian or pasta. Even if it might look disgusting it really wasn't, it was quite tasty. That said, the salad was pretty bad.


Once the meal was over, the crew passed through the cabin and offered us dessert.



Some 45 minutes before landing breakfast was served. I have to admit on most airlines they are quite bad but here it was pretty ok since the croissant was soft and warm and the yogurt was quite refreshing.


Almost there! What was really interesting is that UA lets you keep the earphones until the very end, as in until we've reached the gate and have to leave the plane. On our Lufthansa flight to ORD the crew collected the earphones about 50 minutes before landing.


Here comes United #4. Actually, we had to wait for about 20 minutes on the taxiway until another UA B763 left gate so that we could move in.


There she is, spotted from the new MUC terminal building.


This is our A319 to Belgrade. I was really curious to see what the load would be since corona had already started attacking the air travel industry. To my surprise there were 6 passengers in business and about 85% full in economy class. The plane next to us was going to SJJ and from what I could see there were 70 to 80 people sitting there, waiting.

My general impression is that United has really improved and stepped up their game after a few extremely unfortunate PR moments. In recent times they beat up an Asian doctor, killed a dog after the f/a insisted the owner put it in the overhead compartment, shipped another dog to Japan by mistake...

Flight from JAX to ORD was smooth, crew was professional and polite, onboard product was good, their app runs the whole time and has all the information you need, from the moving map to letting you check if your flight has arrived on time from its previous destination.

On the other hand, their long-haul product has become vastly superior to Lufthansa which I took in the other direction. I flew FRA-ORD on the retro B748. Our flight was 60% full but the crew no longer offers warm towels after take off, the quality of their meals has deteriorated while the legroom is just 31' which is extremely tight once the person in front of you reclines their seat. IFE on LH is extremely limited and outdated and I feel that besides a convenient schedule, Lufthansa no longer has much working for it.

Their short-haul product is ok as flight times are not that long. Our BEG-FRA flight was operated by an A321 (10 in business and about 90% in economy), a cookie was served with a round of drinks. Quite ok for a 1 hour and 37 minute flight. On MUC-BEG we got to choose between a cheese or salami sandwich plus there was a round of drinks.

Overall, I think we are getting to a point where US carriers offer a better onboard product than their European partners and competitors.

Of course, it also helps that major US carriers have almost completely removed any domestic competition by buying them out or merging with them. Think about it, the last time a newly founded US airline made it was in 2000 when jetBlue was launched! A massive market is basically divided between 5 or 6 airlines - I am talking about relevant ones, not small, regional carriers like Silver. It comes down to American, Delta, United, jetBlue, Alaska and Southwest. Yet only the first three cover the whole country while others are strong only in certain areas of the United States. For example if you are flying around the east coast then Alaska is not really an option just like jetBlue isn't if you are flying around in the west. If you don't mind flying between two random airports in the middle of nowhere on a Thursday afternoon, then Allegiant might suit you. However, only the big three cover pretty much all areas of the country.

Given all that's happening right now, I think the Euro-Mediterranean region will go through a consolidation process whether it wants it or not. Many airlines that have once served certain regions might not make it. It's one thing to survive corona but it will be as difficult to make it through the 2020/21 winter season.

Anyway... United is a perfectly fine carrier offering a smooth flying experience. I will definitely consider flying with them in the future.


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


Comments

  1. Anonymous09:06

    Nice report Nemjee. People complain about US airlines so much but to me United's offer on your transatlantic flight looks very decent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous22:15

      Thank you, indeed it was! I was quite surprised. :)

      Delete
    2. Nemjee22:17

      Oops that was me above lol

      Delete
  2. great report, so detailed...Thanks...

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  3. Anonymous09:09

    The catering on your Jacksonville - Chicago flight reminds be a lot of Air Serbia :D

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous09:11

      But JU doesn't give you a choice? It's Toto one way chips the other, no?

      Delete
    2. Anonymous09:49

      No choice, but they are switching between several items per each flight - as far as I know 3 types of biscuits (Toto, Noblice classic, Noblice cremoso) & chips.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous11:50

      I didn't know they give out Noblice, is it something new? How do they decided what's offered when?

      Delete
    4. Anonymous12:13

      No, Noblice (classic, lets call them that way :) are included from very beginning, switching between them, Toto & chips.
      Recently I've got this "cremoso" version of Noblice on some of the flights.

      Delete
    5. Nemjee22:16

      I actually hate Noblice and on all flights I've been on I got them. Is there some rule when they are served and when not?

      Delete
    6. Anonymous23:04

      Well, Toto is very similar to Noblice :) :)
      As far as noticed, chips or usually served on bit longer flights (ie. Copenhagen, Helsinki) and on shorter (Athens, Bucharest, exYU etc.) they serve Toto/Noblice and actual choice of biscuits brand looks completely random to me, maybe based on current stock.

      Delete
    7. Anonymous07:33

      Interesting that they are using Noblice again, it was also served during the Jat Airways era. By the way they are also branded, they have the Air Serbia logo on them.

      Delete
  4. Anonymous09:16

    Your comment on United’s past PR disasters had me laughing! Great report!

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    Replies
    1. Nemjee22:17

      Thank you! Unfortunately for them there were quite a few examples!

      Delete
  5. Anonymous09:38

    767 is such a nice plane!

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    Replies
    1. Nemjee22:18

      It is! I especially like the wing with the massive winglet.

      Delete
  6. Anonymous11:46

    Nice report. Interesting flight to Belgrade was almost full

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous12:34

    United new livery is so ugly but the cabin looks nice.Interesting report.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous15:17

    Shame JU doesn't have a partner, you could fly through JFK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Prepelica16:13

      They have - Jet Blue

      Delete
    2. Anonymous16:26

      Flights are no longer bookable on their website thought that probably has to do with the virus.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous18:01

      Flights to various US destination via JFK & JetBlue are still bookable on AirSerbia web.
      I've just checked, you could also...

      Delete
    4. Anonymous18:32

      Yes flights can be booked online but the problem is that JU doesn't have many flights to JFK in winter so they are not very competitive. Also shame that B6 is weak in ORD so connections with them are bad through JFK.

      Delete
    5. Nemjee22:20

      I actually checked JU's website before booking flights and even though JAX was available in the menu, there were no flights offered during March. My guess is that flight times do not match.

      Delete
  9. LeteciLinoleum16:53

    A consolidation process that will end up by doubling average ticket prices :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nemjee22:21

      Unfortunately that is something that has happened in the US as well. In the end I don't think that process can be stopped at this point especially as corona keeps on damaging the air travel industry.

      Delete
  10. Nice report.

    Difference between North American and European carriers is the number of countries in question. In USA/Can you have 7-10 major airlines in two countries. In Europe you have 50-60 countries with major airlines like; BA, Iberia, AF, KLM, LH-group, Аэрофло́т, Alitalia, Turkish, SAS, LOT, Tap, Aegean, and many others, plus 5-6 major LCC, plus many regional carriers. So where as in Europe you have potential for each country to prop up/pump money into it's national or preferred airline (i.e. Wizz in MK). In the USA individual states do not fund/subsidize the big 5-6 airlines. Same for Canada, Ontario does not offer (direct) tax breaks to Air Canada.

    So the the vast number of European carries will remain for the foreseeable future because no government want's to be remembered for ending it's national airline. Especially since most countries view their national airline as a symbol of that country.

    However it is natural for some consolidation to occur. Look what happened to LH, Swiss, Austrian, Belgian, and other examples. In our region because of politics it is not possible to form an alliance between JU, OA, & YM, even though the consolidation of services like; maintenance, booking and admin, non-overlapping of flight times etc. could benefit all of them.

    Sorry for slight off topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous18:39

      Bosnia shut down its airline and it wasn't the end of the world, same in Slovenia. Not like the government collapsed with Adria.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous18:53

      for most it's about corruption and employing unemployable people, at least that's the case with YM. Look at the losses they are making, they no longer make sense.

      Delete
    3. Nemjee22:27

      Actually Illinois supports United. I was told that the city of Chicago is actually paying for United's office space in downtown. That was one of the offers they put forward in order to keep the HQ there after the merger with Continental which was based in Texas.

      However, I do agree with what you are saying but things are already changing in Europe. Take the Baltic region as an example, both Estonia and Lithuania have given up on having their own airlines and they handed over their markets to airBaltic.
      Same thing has happened in Sweden and Denmark where SAS still dominates and plays a key role over there. Norway had an opportunity with DY but we are all seeing how it's turning out in the end.

      In Europe the situation might still be a bit better than in the US. Since 2000 we did get a few new carriers which managed to survive so the situation is not as bad. I guess it's still too early to make any predictions. We will have to see how many airlines last until the end of 2020.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous22:30

      Charlie, you are not from Canada. Air Canada is based in Quebec, not Ontario.

      Delete
    5. I tend to agree that Europe does have too many airlines, and some consolidation is not only needed but would be beneficial. It is unrealistic that virtually every country has a state sponsored national airline. Airlines should be geared to represent regions rather nations, Just like SAS, or Air Baltic. How about a new combination of the ex-YU carriers into a new airline, Balkan Airlines, Jadran Express anyone? ;-)

      I know Air Canada is bases in Montreal, my point was that neither Ontario (it's biggest market in Canada), nor Manitoba, nor New Brunswick pumps money into their own 'national' or provincial airline. But rather Canada with a population of close to 38m, and huge distances, has three airlines, and a few charter airlines, not ten provincial airlines.

      Adria was run by 4k for the last 3-4 years of it's existence, so at least officially it was not the Government of Slovenia that closed/bankrupted/ended Adria. Bosnia really had no 'national' airline of any consequence to speak of.

      Delete
    6. Anonymous07:34

      Yeah but don't forget that the Canadian government subsidizes and protects its national carrier against competition. I think EK doesn't even have daily flights into Toronto.

      Delete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

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