Travelling amid a pandemic from Australia to Belgrade

TRIP REPORT | INDEX



Route: Perth – Doha – Budapest – Belgrade
Date: June 14/15


Following the closure of Belgrade Airport in March, we were unable to return to home. We were originally meant to come back from Perth in late March, but instead only managed to come back in the middle of June. Following the border closures, we rebooked on Qatar Airways to Belgrade for June 1. However, in April, Qatar moved the Belgrade resumption by a month to July 1. After swapping around dates, in the end we decided to try to return in the middle of June when Qatar launched Budapest and then drive back home. Hungary opened its border and lifted all entry restrictions for Serbian citizens early on so this was a possibility.

Upon entering Perth Airport, the police checked everyone’s passport to make sure you are not an Australian citizen or resident. They are currently banned from leaving the country. There are special circumstances where travel can be permitted but it requires special approval from the government. Perth Airport was eerily quiet, with the Qatar flight the only one departing that evening. Qatar usually operates Perth with an A380 on a daily basis. Now flights were being run with the A350-900 four times per week. Qatar has been flying to Perth throughout the pandemic, and never suspended the flights.


Check in went smoothly. We obtained a letter from the Serbian Embassy in Canberra indicating that we can travel, just to be on the safe side. In the early days of the pandemic and border closures, the embassy told us that some 130 people had phoned them trying to get assistance to go back to Serbia. Some in Sydney were put on an Austrian Airlines repatriation flight but this was no good for us as inter-state travel in Australia was (and still is for the most part) banned.

Masks are not obligatory inside the terminal in Perth. As in most places in Australia, which had very few local cases at the time, masks are rarely worn. Our flight had around 90 passengers. Upon entering the aircraft was where most passengers had their first shock since crew wore hazmat suits, masks and protective glasses. I noticed that just a few days ago, at the start of July, they revised their uniforms. I can only imagine how warm it must have been for the crew to work in them. Despite that, they were outstanding. They were very proactive with passengers, provided good assistance and service.


We were shown to our seat which was a so called “Q suite”. There was very little difference in the way the crew interacted with the passengers as pre pandemic. They came around to show how the seat works, offered welcome drinks of choice and handed out menus. On each seat there were packaged blankets, pillows and an amenity kit - like before.



Tail camera

The flight was smooth. The most notable difference in service was the meal, which was served on one tray and some of the components like bread and butter were covered with plastic. The meal still tasted good. We slept for the majority of the flight as the times fit naturally with night time in Western Australia. The crew came by to make up your seat for sleeping, which includes a sleep cover. Masks are compulsory on board, except during meal service. The Q suite provides the extra convenience of closing the sliding door which gives your added privacy, not that there were many passengers in business class - around ten.


The airport in Doha was also very quiet, especially compared to before. The flight to Budapest was being operated by the B787. It was the first flight to Budapest after the route was suspended. There were around 70 passengers on the flight, around 20 of which were Serbian nationals trying to get back home from various parts of the world. The service was similar to the one on the flight from Perth. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos. There were around 12 passengers in business class.


After landing in Budapest, there was a special passport counter only for Serbian citizens. We passed without question and got our bags. The mask wearing at Budapest seems somewhat lax as I saw people without them, and there didn’t seem to be a rule about entering the terminal if you were not flying, or at least it wasn’t being enforced so strictly in the arrivals hall. We arranged transport from Budapest to Belgrade. The ride was quick since there were no delays on the border crossing.

Overall, I was really surprised by the level of service Qatar Airways provided on these flights. With most airlines downgrading their service or using the coronavirus as an excuse to cut costs, this really wasn’t the case on Qatar. The crew are also to be commended, who were obviously working in very difficult circumstances but still managed to be extremely friendly and attentive. The whole experience of flying via Budapest reminded me somewhat of the 90s when there were sanctions and no international flights from Belgrade, so everyone travelled through Budapest.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous09:21

    Commendable of them not to have downgraded their service.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous10:59

    Thanks for the nice report. Looks like a memorable trip.

    As for Qatar Airways, the Qatari government is obviously deliberately sinking money into the carrier as a geopolitical project, especially aimed at their neighbours, somewhat like they do with Al Jazeera. So I would neither be surprised with their high level of service nor consider it a success.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous15:50

      As somebody who worked there, I completely agree. It's sad how people sometimes choose to turn a blind eye to what goes on there. It's like the sweatshops in SE Asia - "I got cheap Nikes, I don't care what it took to produce them", much like "I got the cheapest JC seat with the world's best service by the world's most mistreated crew, i don't care about any of that though".

      Delete
    2. Anonymous15:59

      Kids working in sweatshops are usually forced to work there. People that work at Qatar Airways apply to work there. Nobody chases after them and snatches them from their own country. So it's not the same.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous23:53

      Kids in sweatshops aren't forced. They start working there at a young age because they need money to feed their families, much like QR crew members coming mostly from third-world countries. Ever wondered why EK and EY have crew coming from all continents, while QR is full of Indians and FIlipinos?

      Delete
  3. Nice post. I also flew with them in May to Australia and was perfect. Good luck back in Serbia.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice post, Qatar airlines are the best in the world. I always travel with Qatar. ❤, and they have the best services and food.❤

    ReplyDelete
  5. I totally agree, the Qatar staff is amazing. The service is outstanding although they cannot feel very comfortable in their uniforms. They all deserve to be rewarded for their excellent service.

    ReplyDelete

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