TRIP REPORT: Air Serbia and Etihad, Belgrade to Sydney


Written by Dimitrije Bošković

During those days of numerous flight delays and cancellations, lost luggage chaos and strikes across Europe, towards the end of August, I embarked on a two-day journey to Sydney, Australia for a three-week long vacation. The journey started in Belgrade onwards to Zurich, then Abu Dhabi and finally Sydney. For those curious as to why anyone would torture themself like this, there were two main reasons. The return ticket was $1192.00, which was the cheapest option among reputable airlines. Although this was a vacation for me, I have been working for a while trying to save up money for a masters degree in Australia, so I tried to save money where I could. Add to that hotel expenses and everything else, you get the picture, but it was cheaper to go there and see if this is really what I want to invest thousands in than investing and regretting later. The second reason were exactly those airline industry problems I already mentioned. I chose to have long layovers should any of the flights get delayed or whatever.

I must say I was quite lucky with this whole trip. Starting with the visa application. I did it on my own, collected all the documents they required, wrote a cover letter in which I explained why I am going to Australia. Interesting fact - when I applied for the visa, most people around the world, including several that I know from Serbia, all applied for visas months before I did. Online I could read thousands of comments and articles about extremely long visa processing times even for tourist visas. Hence, I wanted to check all their boxes. Every possible document they requested, I had it - short of documentation for real estate ownership. Additionally, as I said, I wrote a cover letter in which I told them that I am going for a visit because I plan to continue my studies there, but this is what so many people say. I also added that I have a YouTube channel which I am developing and that I want to present Australia to my audience. Literally three days after I submitted my application, they called from the embassy in Belgrade. I was shocked! They asked a bunch of questions, but some of the first ones were about this YouTube channel. The lady asked how many followers I have, if I am earning any money from this channel and what it is about. I told her that I don’t have many followers, that this channel is my project for side income so I can support myself when I move to Sydney as someone coming from a low income country (this is true, by the way) and she liked/respected this. This really goes to show that visa applications are just like a job interview and you have to stand out. (My YouTube account is Neoplantian, for those who wish to support)

My first flight was the morning flight on AirSerbia’s JU370 to Zurich. For days I kept tracking that flight online, trying to see if any delays were happening and how often, how long and then compared that to what’s happening in Zurich. AirSerbia’s JU370 flights were delayed literally every day for 10-15 days before my trip, but on the day when I was flying they were not late. Airport experience itself was dreadful, to be honest. I don’t like when people criticize everything and everyone, I am aware that construction work is in progress at the airport. Regardless, large crowds are all cramped together at the airport, as people move from check point to check point before they reach their gate, one does wonder if things could be organized better. Anyway, everything went well and the 06:50 flight took off on time. I’m quite familiar with AirSerbia’s onboard service so, as usual, passengers were served a tiny cookie (Noblica) and a small bottle of water. This all happened within the first 15-20 minutes after take-off. I swear, the rest of the flight attendants were running up and down the A319 with those devices for payment and trying to sell as much as they could. It was chaotic and funny. Devices wouldn’t work properly, they would give passengers snacks or whatever they’d order and then take them from their hands because the payment wouldn’t go through. People were confused, slightly embarrassed and all of it was just hilarious. With the whole show unfolding mid-air, time passed quickly and we were already descending towards Zurich. The passenger load on this flight stood at 99% (only one seat empty).

My next flight was in about an hour and a half. That flight was Etihad’s EY73 from Zurich to Abu Dhabi on a Boeing 789. This short airport experience in Zurich was probably the best airport experience to date. I’ve traveled around because of work and for vacations, I could definitely say good things about airports in Doha or Beijing, but Zurich really surprised me. There’s nothing flashy or luxurious about it. It’s just clean, well maintained and with lots of natural light. I’m in my twenties, I don’t need to visit premium lounges and whatnot. All I need is a functional, clean airport with good WiFi coverage. The airport staff were all very nice and helpful, everyone speaks fluent English and they will find a way to assist you with anything you need.

Soon enough I was onboard the 789 - it was my first time on this type of aircraft. I can’t really tell how many empty seats there were on this flight, but I wouldn’t say there were more than 5. The plane was pretty full. Overall, I was very satisfied with this smooth flight and service to Abu Dhabi. We departed from Zurich on time and arrived according to schedule. Unlike Air Serbia, Etihad really provides great service onboard their aircraft. On each seat there was a little kit provided with inflight necessities. Among them you get a nice blanket and a pillow (mind you, even though they are neatly packed in bags, they are not always clean. I noticed this on my way back to Serbia, as the pre-packed blanket was stained.), then a pair of ear plugs, earphones, a sanitary kit with plenty of wipes and sanitizer packages, a little toothbrush with toothpaste, face masks and a mask for sleeping. Interesting fact, in Switzerland and Australia you don’t need to wear face masks, but between these two destinations on flights to and from Abu Dhabi (and in it), you are required to wear one. However, when you are at the airport in Abu Dhabi most people wear masks on their chin or around their arms. Should airport security appear, they put them on for a minute and lower after they walk away.

After take off, flight attendants started providing service. The flight lasts 6 hours and during this time you will get food and drinks several times. In between those regular services, you can always ask them for anything else you’d like and it’s free of charge. Their onboard menu is quite rich. You can choose several different kinds of juices, teas, coffee and alcoholic beverages. Food wise, first service will get you just a simple snack, nothing special, but afterwards, the meals are quite rich. Of course, this isn’t a proper restaurant and you can’t expect God knows what, but you will still get a proper meal with meat and vegetables, a drink and a dessert (usually some kind of a cake or muss).

Six hours later we landed in Abu Dhabi. I was in for a 15 hour-long layover. This is my first time ever having such a long layover. The idea was to just leave the airport since we have visa-free entry into the country and spend time around the city or maybe get a hotel room or something. Yet, when I arrived there it was already night-time and I just didn’t feel all too comfortable roaming around during night. Thus, I’ve spent the most boring 15 hours of my life at the airport. This airport left me somewhat undecided between whether I like it or not.

On one hand, it’s a big airport and clearly they are trying to maintain the level of service. It’s quite spacious in my opinion, it’s got these large waiting areas around gates which fit hundreds of people but you don’t really feel like there are hundreds of people around you. It doesn’t feel too tight. On the other hand, judging by previous experiences around the world, this airport does not offer enough amenities. It’s very basic. There is a food corner with not many options, there are a few vendors or machines for coffee scattered around and that’s pretty much it. Comparing it to Doha airport, I would say Doha is more suitable for longer layovers. Another thing I really didn’t like and was disgusted by is the number of people who are sleeping on floors, under and around stairs or even in the smoking area. In the freaking little smoking area! All the misery of the world can be summed up at this airport, I swear. Those who have money enjoy luxurious lounges, approach aircraft in Bentley and Rolls Royce cars without even going through gates, meanwhile those who don’t, sleep on the floor and look like a truck hit them. All in all, this was definitely a valuable experience and one I do not intend to repeat again. On my return home I left the airport as soon as we landed, went about the city and booked a hotel room at the Radisson Blu. Best decision ever! A tip for those who intend to fly long-distance like I did. There is a hotel, fairly decent one, right at the airport. It’s literally a part of the airport. A night there will set you back about $80 if you book in advance via (which I didn’t). If you don’t book in advance, it will be difficult to find a room (next to impossible) and it will be more expensive.

15 LONG hours later, I was about to fly out on EY450 to Sydney. This one was actually delayed. It was about an hour or so late, because the aircraft had just returned from Melbourne and that previous flight was delayed too. A couple of hours before the flight many people were sitting at the gate and waiting. Then, maybe an hour before boarding, everyone was rushed out of the gate area by airport security. We all lined up along the airport corridor and were required to do an additional luggage and ticket check. These are specific requirements for all flights towards Australia. Generally speaking, we all know that Oz border force is very strict and their measures are implemented even thousands of kilometers away. This last part of the journey was the one I was most worried about. I slightly feared their border control (Australian) and felt I could be refused entry for whatever reason. My parents are not cozy with the Serbian government and can’t organize protests in front of the Australian embassy. The president wouldn’t be bothered to intervene either, should anything happen to me. Jokes aside, soon enough I was onboard this flight too. It was about 14 hours-long. My main goal was to try and sleep as much as possible. Exhausted by the previous hours at the airport, this was not difficult. Onboard service was equally good as on the previous aircraft, but the aircraft itself was a different type. This flight was on a B777-300 and I was familiar with it already. Taught by previous experience when I spent many hours on the 773, I knew they are difficult to sleep on. Window seats are always my preference. At least you can rest your head somewhere around the window. However, on the 773, the gap between the seat and window is too wide and it’s just very difficult to rest. Hence, I tucked the pillow between them and everything went well.

The one thing that surprised me was the state of the aircraft. Considering what destination it’s flying to on a regular basis, I expected it all to look much better. It was clearly old, the screen in front of me did not work on one of the flights, seats looked like they were ready for replacement and even the first class area was not really that impressive. There were surely more than 400 people on board, capacity utilized fully (including first/business class). That being said, I was very satisfied with the attendants' service during our flight. Shout out to the Serbian and Romanian attendants who took special care of me. Early on, as they were speaking to passengers I noticed that their accent is similar to how most Balkan people speak in English. I asked where they’re from and that’s how I found out that it is true that our people can indeed be found anywhere in the world.

As we were descending towards the airport, we flew over the city. The view was nothing short of stunning. The city in general is amazing, the most amazing place I’ve ever been to. I definitely can’t wait to return. Upon arrival at the Sydney Kingsford Smith airport everything went well. The border control was actually easy, nothing special. The only inconvenience at the airport is how slow everything is. They are still understaffed and passport control lines are long. Sydney airport is quite nice. I can’t say I’m all too impressed by it, it’s not one of those engineering/construction marvels like they build them around the world these days, but appearance wise, it is definitely better than most airports out there. One thing I really appreciated was how easy it is to get to and from it by public transportation. Sydney is a huge city but the public transportation is very easy to use and it’s not all too expensive. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this trip report and hopefully you find it useful.

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  1. Anonymous09:12

    Excellent trip report. Very well written and enjoyable and informative

  2. Anonymous09:33

    We really miss EY in BEG, an important transfer market and wide code-share agreements. But honestly I don't think they'll be back anytime soon, it has not inly to do with Covid but also with the change of JU's strategy and decision making. JU is rushing to decrease EY's stake and their dominance, not only in company but probably on the market as well.
    Great trip report btw !

  3. Anonymous10:04

    That was a long journey. The meal service between Abu Dhabi and Australia looks very, very sad. I can confirm myself that Etihad service in Economy is still really bad these days, and not even comparable to Emirates Economy. A complete different story for Business and First, where Etihad shines compared to the Dubai-based competitor.

    1. Anonymous11:04

      Indeed, for example when flying JU to JFK in economy class you get a normal meal and then a snack before landing. Nice to see JU offer a superior product compared to EY. Long are gone the days when EY was a premium carrier.

    2. Anonymous12:42

      Etihad is still a premium carrier, but only in Business and First class.

    3. Anonymous06:31

      Unfortunately not even there, I was reading some reports and it's so often that they are left without food options on flights. Also their crew is hit or miss and so on.

  4. Anonymous10:14

    Nice! Thank you for the report!

  5. Anonymous10:55

    BTW, the reason why the Embassy lady asked you so many questions about your YouTube channel was not because you stood out, but because she was vetting whether you are really going there as a tourist, or you should be applying for a work visa instead ;) be careful with this stuff.

    1. Anonymous11:41

      They can't really forbid you to record videos there and that would not require a work visa even if it brought money.

    2. Anonymous11:52

      They can reject your visa application for literally any reason, so yeah, one should be careful.

    3. Anonymous12:21

      The reason she asked was because she wanted to know how much money I had available to me and how I plan to support myself. This visa is valid for a year with multiple entries allowed. I could stay there for much longer than 3 weeks and income is important during this time. Yes, also to determine if I was a real tourist. I applied for the 3-month visa, but got the longer one.


  6. Anonymous12:11

    You forgot to take photos of main meals on EY?

    1. Anonymous12:14

      I don't think I did, but maybe I forgot to include them. Will try to find and add.

  7. Anonymous12:13

    Thank you Ex-Yu Aviation!

  8. JU520 BEGLAX12:40

    Thanks for the detailled report and glad u liked ZRH Airport. The midfield terminal in AUH is still not opened? I represented EY in Switzerland fm 2004 to 2011 and I remember that the plan was to open the new terminal by 2012 or 2013, 10 years later, it is still not open.

  9. Anonymous13:38

    Great information, I travel a lot between the US and Belgrade Serbia, I've experienced the construction fiasco in Belgrade, but on my trips I have noticed construction is moving along fast. I also do love the airport in Zurich.

  10. Nice report Dimitrije! I love the ZRH airport too. It's so clean and much more organized for connecting flights compared to some other European airports. Hope you enjoyed your stay in Sydney.


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