TRIP REPORT: Hainan Airlines, Belgrade - Beijing


With China reopened to foreigners I booked a ticket with Hainan Airlines on their nonstop flight from Belgrade to Beijing. Hainan actually offered the most affordable fares in business class compared to Middle East competitors which were slightly more expensive and required several hours in transfer. Furthermore, transferring would additionally complicate things as entry rules into China depend on the country you boarded your flight to China. So if transferring, rules for the country you transferred through apply. Hainan also offers a good network out of Beijing to other cities in China, which suited me for reaching my final destination. I purchased my ticket around 3 weeks prior to my flight. Contrary to what some other sites have written, you can purchase tickets for this route online through Hainan Airlines’ website hassle free.

Being a Serbian citizen, I do not require a visa for China. In terms of the remaining entry requirements, you need to fill in an online health declaration form which just requires basic information and for you to tick boxes if you are feeling unwell. Once you fill that out, you just have to save the generated QR code on your phone or print it out. The QR code, which is needed to enter China, is only valid for 24 hours from the moment you fill it out, so you have to time it correctly before your entry into China. Requirements concerning PCR or rapid testing varies depending on your place of departure. For Serbia, you are advised to do a rapid antigen test or you can do it yourself with a self-test kit. That being said, the Chinese Embassy in Serbia points out that no one will check your test result. There is also no requirement in terms of vaccinations. I wasn’t asked for either at any point on my journey.

As of the 2023 summer season, Hainan Airlines has moved forward its departure time from Belgrade to Beijing to 11AM. I arrived at the airport extra early just in case I was told I had to do a Covid test at the airport, so I was there around 8AM. I was excited for my flight. The last time I flew nonstop between Belgrade and Beijing was on JAT’s DC-10 in August 1999.

Check-in had already opened when I arrived at the airport and it was taking place inside the new central processor building. There were a number of check-in desks for economy and one for business. I also noticed that you could upgrade to business class at the airport with a sign saying that upgrades start from 580 euros. I checked-in with ease, was given an invite to the Business Class lounge and was told that my baggage was checked in to my final destination but that I would need to get my onward boarding pass at the transfer desk in Beijing, which was fine. There was also a QR code at the check-in desks which takes you to the health declaration form, if you need to fill it out. Since check-in had just begun it was rather empty but I asked the agent if the flight was full and they told me there were around 10 empty seats on the flight. The passengers that were checking-in were also a mix. Again, contrary to what some have written that the flights are for Chinese construction workers, I saw quite a few Serbian passengers, most of which seemed to have connecting flights via Beijing.

As there are no departure waves at that time, passport and security was empty. The airport has finally introduced a fast track lane both for passport control and security, which is separate from the rest. I had no need to use it as it was empty but in the past they only had fast track for security. After you pass passport and security check there is a huge empty space (where passport control used to be before), which is going to be turned into a central shopping plaza. The big flip boards are still there but were not in operation. It would be nice if they left them there. Afterwards you enter the duty free and then I headed to the lounge.

The Business Club lounge could definitely do with a bit of an expansion and refresh. I’m sure it will be upgraded with the rest of the airport.

The aircraft operating my flight from Belgrade to Beijing was the A330-300 registered B-8118, which is 7 years old. It was parked at gate C7/C8.

Hainan has two configurations on its A330s. The only difference is the business class seats, which have the same cabin layout, 1-2-1, but have a different manufacturer. They operate their “older” version business class to Belgrade since the plane has greater capacity. However, the seats are quite good, and are actually the same as you would find for example on Etihad’s B777 fleet. If you are travelling alone, then select the single window seats. The window seats themselves alternate, some are closer to the window, some to the aisle, so try and choose either seats A or K since they are closer to the window and provide more privacy.

Boarding for the flight started 40 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time at 10.20. One boarding bridge was used, with one lane open for business class passengers and the other for economy. There were newspapers and headphones for economy class passengers to take on the trolley before entering the plane. My seat for this flight was 12K. Within seconds of taking my seat, a very friendly crew member came by with a welcome drink (water, grapefruit juice and orange juice), hot towel and mixed nuts, which is served packaged due to Covid. The crew member introduced herself, asked me how she should address me and showed me the seat features.

There was a bottle of water, a Samsonite amenity pack, pillow, slippers and in-flight magazine at each seat. Shortly after, another crew member brought a blanket and pyjamas, and also offered a selection of newspapers and magazines.

I was interested to see what the meal service would comprise of, considering that Chinese carriers have cut back significantly in this department due to Covid. In fact, I read online that the first international service Hainan reintroduced hot meals on was Belgrade this January. The crew took meal orders before take off. There were no menus but the crew presented images of the meals. There were three choices for lunch: beef, pork with rice and, I believe pasta, if I understood correctly. I chose the pork. The breakfast order was also taken. Again, there were three choices, which I can't remember exactly but I selected French toast. The cabin manager came by shortly after and introduced herself as well. All the crew were extremely friendly and most seemed rather young. All spoke English well. Only the crew were wearing face masks, none of the passengers were, so it doesn't seem to be a requirement for China.

The cabin filled up and we took off just after 11. As we pushed back, the Wamos Air A330 wet-leased by Air Serbia was being towed to the gate for its New York flight. Our flight path took us north from Belgrade, over Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia and then China.

After take off, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and closed the window shades for those wishing to sleep. Within 15 minutes, drinks were served and a hot towel was provided again. Shortly after, I was rather surprised when a huge 3kg bag was handed out by the crew to each passenger featuring sweet and savory snacks and fruits. I guess the cabin manager saw my surprise and she explained that their catering from Belgrade does not reflect their true catering offer which is why they are also serving these snacks. I understood why later. The photos don't do justice how big the contents of the bag was, which couldn't all fit on the table.

The main meal was served which tasted ok but came with nothing else and I assume this is an issue they might have because they are taking on catering in Belgrade. The Belgrade Airport Catering Company (the catering provider in Belgrade) is in absolute shambles with part of the workforce on strike because a number of employees were recently replaced by workers from India at much lower wages. It is worth noting that the meal choices are exactly the same as Air Serbia is offering on their flight from Belgrade to Tianjin. I will see how the catering compares on the return service from Beijing. After the meal was cleared I did take some snacks from the bag.

Shortly after, the crew asked me if I would like a turndown service and she turned the seat into a bed, put a cover over the seat, two pillows, one of which was also covered and a blanket. It was very comfortable.

The entertainment options are rather decent. There are about a dozen Western movies and a lot of TV shows. I also found a very nice video about Belgrade. There is no WiFi on this flight (or aircraft).

The restroom was kept clean throughout the flight.

As I went to bed rather late the night before I managed to fall asleep for a few hours. As soon as I woke up the crew was quick to offer me something to drink and cookies.

Around two hours prior to landing the crew distributed hot towels ahead of breakfast and drinks. This time around I took some coconut juice, which was really tasty and refreshing. Similar to the lunch, the breakfast was nothing special but was more substantial in size.

We landed in Beijing around 45 minutes ahead of schedule at 2.15AM.

For comparison sake to Belgrade Airport's catering, this is what the meal service looked like on my connecting domestic flight.

I found Hainan Airlines in business class to be an excellent option. It was good not having to transfer via another hub. The crew were really the standout of the flight. They were extremely friendly, kind and hardworking. The seats were comfortable and the airline offers really good amenities for this nine and a half hour flight. Hope you enjoyed.

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  1. Anonymous09:18

    Very nice trip report. Did they open any cafes or restaurants where the new check in is located?

  2. Anonymous10:08

    Great report and I am positively surprised that you had time and will to write report immediately after 10 hours of flying. True aviation lover ❤️ Are there still some limitations regarding number of passengers onboard or something else?

    1. Anonymous10:15

      No more capacity limits to China.

    2. Anonymous10:58

      I have a feeling Hainan will add a third flight soon. Especially now when tourists are starting to return.

  3. Anonymous10:52

    Awesome report👏🏼

  4. Anonymous14:27

    Thank you for the very interesting report.
    Enjoy your time in China and on your final destination!
    It's fantastic that you can travel to China visa free, so you can decide "your moves", even if you are already in another country and on a short notice without dealing with visas.

  5. Anonymous18:26

    So DEMANTIJ on all sides of the djaftekurafte blog!

    1. Anonymous18:44

      There are many chinese workers apparently 🤣

    2. Anonymous19:10

      It's about time someone did it.

    3. Anonymous20:13


    4. Anonymous20:50

      Yes. And all longhaul routes from Belgrade are political.

  6. Anonymous20:12

    " The last time I flew nonstop between Belgrade and Beijing was on JAT’s DC-10 in August 1999." it would be great to see and that trip report :)

  7. Anonymous20:17

    Nice article, well done

  8. Anonymous20:53

    Great trip report as always. Detailed info, balanced review and plenty of awesome photos are your trademark.

    Sign before check-in says: Upgrade starts at 580EUR. Does Air Serbia have similar offer for New York upgrade and is the price comparable ?

  9. Anonymous22:05

    Great report. Makes me want to book my next trip to China!


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