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Air Serbia A330 JFK-BEG Inaugural Business Class June 2016

Air Serbia A330 JFK-BEG Inaugural Business Class June 2016

Old Jun 24, 16, 1:24 am
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Air Serbia A330 JFK-BEG Inaugural Business Class June 2016

Air Serbia Airbus A330 Business class trip report

Forty years ago on June 15, 1976, JAT Yugoslav Airlines started service between Belgrade and the United States, and at one point, JAT flew to New York, Chicago (via Cleveland), Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles using DC-10s. However due to the UN sanction (because of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia) in 1992, JAT stops flying to the United States and Canada. Air Serbia, which is an Etihad Airlines partner, decides that it is time to expand into the transatlantic market, and has leased (not sure if bought) an ex-Jet Airways Airbus A330-200 to begin this five times weekly flight between New York JFK and Belgrade. 40 years ago, JU 500 was the flight number used for the JFK flights too.

When I saw Air Serbia launching service, I immediately researched on flights and fares. Ideally, I wanted to fly the inaugural Belgrade to JFK flight, but one way fare is prohibitive, and there are not many cities that I can play with. While other airlines offer decent Belgrade to US fares, Air Serbia is not one of them. I ended up settling on the JFK-BEG-ATH roundtrip flight for a little less than $4000USD including tax and fee. It is still higher than I want to pay, but since Air Serbia is an Etihad partner, I felt more confident. While I just don’t think the price tag is justified, especially the lack of any festivity for the return JFK to Belgrade flight, Air Serbia really needs to step up on many aspects of the hardware before they can claim to be a boutique airline. The recycled Jet Airways herringbone suites are not good, and I will even prefer the Etihad updated business class suites to these herringbone suites. Catering needs some overhaul and there needs to be better amenities. The only positive asset is the flight crew and the F/As are nothing but great and attentive. There are some communication issues, but they tried very hard. Considered it was the first flight, the service flow was good, and they obviously have received good training, but caterers forgot to load some items. Anyway, here is my full story:

Full album link: (I am not sure if I will write about the shorter segments between BEG and ATH, I will add photos to the album, so if you check it throughout the weekend and early next week, there might be additional photos.)

June 23, 2016
JU 500 JFK-BEG Lv1440 Arr0530 Airbus A330-200 YU-ARA “Nikola Tesla”

I don’t normally discuss the scheduling aspect of flights, but JU schedule is definitely not ideal at all. I am pretty sure that it has to do with slots. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, the eastbound flight departs at 7:30am from Belgrade, and departs from JFK at 2:40pm, and only on Fridays and Saturdays, they have a more normal 12:55pm departure from Belgrade and 7:55pm departure from New York. The flight don’t connect well with many Air Serbia intra-European flights and the early morning departure from Belgrade almost makes no sense, and the only flights that work well is the 5am Athens flight, which I will take. Unfortunately I don’t see the issues being resolved unless JU gets many slots. Given the full load though on the inaugural JFK to BEG in economy class, I guess most passengers are point to point.

Air Serbia’s website is pretty easy to use and I am able to book the flights, get my e-tickets quickly and choose a seat from an actual seat map. I am sure Etihad’s partnership ensures a seamless booking experience.

JFK has yet to put up any Air Serbia sign this morning, but I am sure that will be fixed. To no surprise, Etihad handles all the ground operations. For business class passengers, the counters don’t even feature any Air Serbia signage. There are two bell staffs handling all the first and business class passengers, and once I mention that I am flying business, they assist with my luggage. The check-in agent was polite but obviously was still not used to Air Serbia lingual yet. You can really tell a difference between flying an American and even an European carrier and Etihad right the way. With no queue, my bag was checked through to Athens and two boarding passes were given to me with the seats that I have selected. My Etihad number was in the system. But I have to remind the agent that I am not transiting at Abu Dhabi.

Main cabin check in area

TSA was a nightmare, not because of long queues, but because of the rudeness of the staffs. The TSA agents snapped at passengers, especially those who obviously are foreign tourists.

Thankfully, I managed to be by the windows, when I saw the inbound flights landed from Belgrade twenty minutes early.

The water canon salute shot was awful, as it was far away.

Coming to gate A4 – notice the flags waving from the cockpit

Eithad Lounge:
As expected, Air Serbia uses the fabulous Etihad Lounge at JFK. As expected, the lounge was nice with the bar overlooking the apron. The staffs are friendly and helpful. The agent carefully explained the features in the lounge, and I took the chance to ask if they were doing anything special for the inaugural flights. Unfortunately, the answer was “no”. They were doing a ribbon cutting for arriving passengers (quite odd if you ask me).


Dining Room

I had a sit down meal with lentil soup and lamb rack!

Later I tried the “Shanghai” cocktail, which was a whiskey based drink.

The Etihad lounge later surprised me with this dessert plate. They felt bad about the lack of festivity and decided to do something special. It was a nice consolation price, and it was a very nice gesture.

I spent the rest of the time relaxing in the lounge overlooking the apron.
JFK’s terminal four might not fun for travelers, but still a great place for plane-spotter.

I left the lounge around 1:30pm, as I wanted to take a look at the gate.

No surprise here – there was definitely nothing telling you that it was the inaugural flight, apart from the abundant of Eithad staffs.

Close up of YU-ARA “Nikola Tesla”

A4 – To my surprise, the flight was absolutely jam-packed. There were at least six to seven wheelchair passengers, along with many families with infants and children. Not sure about the yield of the flight, but at least economy cabin was full.

Separate lanes for business class and economy class passengers…

The really nice Etihad staff checked my passport and made sure I was among the first to board. Unfortunately, we had to stand in the jetway for ten more minutes, as security checks were not completed yet. I took the chance to snap a few more pictures.

At 1:53pm, we were finally let in, and business class cabin was empty for a while, so I took the chance to snap a few photos of the cabin.

Economy class cabin – Sorry I tried to get more pictures once the flight was on the way. But the cabin was almost full with no empty row for me to try out the seats. I did not see any power outlet or USB port, but then I really got the chance to look in details.

Business Class cabin – They used the old Jet Airways business class suites, which was an improved version of herringbone seats, but I still did not like them much. Sure they are a bit wider than the first generation, but looking out the window is not an easy task. I will rather they use the more up to date business suites that Etihad Airways used. Anyway I should be grateful that they used suites type seats especially they are a much smaller airline. Anyway, they just added a bit of “blue” to the upholstery, and basically the seats are the same as before.

You can still see the wear and tear.

Control for the seats

Personal lamp

Side storage bin

Literature pocket

Entertainment console

Power outlet

Tray table

Business class cabin eventually saw a few more passengers, including a lady with a pet. I counted maybe seven passengers including me. I was not surprised, as Air Serbia was a little known airline in the US. The price was also fairly high and they did not allow people to book many city pairs. I think Air Serbia needs to lower the price a bit to get some recognition. I could see people using JU for some flights to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Greece.

Printed menus were already placed at each seat (and yes they recollected them at the end of the flight.)
Newspapers and magazines (mostly Serbian) were passed out, along with amenity kit and noise-canceling headsets.

Pre-takeoff beverage of orange juice or champagne was offered, and bottled waters are already placed at the holder.

Hot towel on a tray
Carfield is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 1:26 am
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Door was closed on time at 2:39pm and we pushed back seven minutes later.

I spotted this Thomas Cook A330 pushing back too.

We took a bit of a scenic route, before taxing towards R/W22R.

We took off at 3:12pm for our eight hours and twenty-two minutes flight.

The routing took us straight across the Atlantic Ocean and we stayed at 37,000ft for a while, before settling down at 39,000ft. We did not fly over land, till reaching Daoulas, France, and then passed cities of Lamballe, Dinan, ACH/St Gellan airport, Villach, Virovitica, Vukovar, Backa Palanka and then into Belgrade.

Seat belt sign was turned off at 3:20pm and the crews sprung into the action. Although it was their first flight, the F/As were very familiar with the plane and the service. I was told that the F/As were trained in Etihad’s own AUH-JFK flights before doing this route. They were very at ease and familiar with the a la carte dining concept.

Reading materials

Entertainment options:
AVOD but contents are a bit limited

Video Screen

Air Serbia WIFI was also available, and it was pretty expensive! EUR13.90 for full flight but 90MB limitation… I did not even do much except social media. I ended up paying for two sessions. The speed was okay, but since the interface was very bad, I could not track my data usage despite trying to login to my account many times. I think I will skip for the return.

I am really not sure about this a la carte dining concept. For Etihad Airways, it works out well because it flies at some odd hours, and there are some really long segments. For transatlantic flights, flying time is shorter and things are a bit more straightforward – eastbound – dinner and breakfast, and westbound – Brunch/Lunch and light meal. I am really disappointed at the lack of real breakfast items on the eastbound, and one of the meal options should be a continental breakfast plate.

Beverage and warmed cashews and almonds

Here is the wine list and menu:
Our Wine List
G.H. Mumm Gordon Rouge NV Champagne
Cabernet Sauvingnon Reserve/Radovanovic, Red Wine
Chardonnay Selekcija, Radovanovic, White Wine
Trijumf Selection, Aleksandrovic, White Wine
Trijumf Late Harvest, Aleksandrovic, Dessert Wine
Sofia Tamjankika, Braca Rajkovic, White Wine
Tri Morave, Temet, Red Wine
Rose, Zvonko Bogdan, Rose Wine
Shiraz, Rogan, Red Wine

A La Carte to Belgrade
Enjoy a full a la carte meal or select individual dishes from the Refreshment menu.
All the dishes on the menu are available at any time during the flight. We hope you enjoy your dining experience with us today.

Selection of breads
Assorted Breads

Smoked salmon served with dill cream cheese, olives and croutons with squid ink
*Serbian Mezze – Beef prosciutto and Serbian cheese served with corn bread with vegetables and baked beans

*Traditional Beef Stew served with mashed potato and mint
Steak served with mushroom and truffle sauce, accompanied by sautéed asparagus and mashed carrots
(VEG) Vegetarian Shepherds Pie served with cherry tomato and cauliflower

Dessert trio of Strudel, chocolate chili truffles and coffee caramel panna cotta
Seasonal fresh fruit
Assorted Ice Cream flavors

Dine Any Time Menu
Warp with smoked chicken served with cherry tomato and potato wedges
Toasted Panini sandwich with smoked beef, served with potato chips, salad and cherry tomato
Serbian cheese and spinach pies (burek) served with local yogurt
Beef steak served with green beans, potato wedges, and cherry tomato

Green Salad
A selection of international cheeses
Seasonal Fresh Fruit
Assorted Ice Cream Flavors
Selection of cookies

*Serbian specialty dish

For such a short flight, I chose to have dinner right the way (lunch time for my West Coast body clock) and then took a nap. Then I got a meal about 90 minutes prior to arrival.

Serbian Mezze

The Steak was more like “minute steaks” and could use some additional heating time.

Fresh Fruit Plate

Full flat positions

There was no turndown service, but the blanket was the same one used in coach. But business class gets a full sized pillow.

I slept only for an hour or so, because of the crazy cabin temperature. The cabin temperature waivered between hot and cold throughout the whole flight, and a business passenger bringing a dog really causes my allergy to go off the roof. I went through three packs of tissues during the last four hours of the flight.

The best part of the flight was really the F/As. The male F/A was very cheerful and enthusiastic and I gave him credits for checking the cabin frequently. All three F/As working in business class were nothing but excellent. They were the most memorable part of this inaugural flight.

For the rest of the flight, I started on this trip report, as well as watching some of my downloaded TV shows. The power outlet worked well, but the USB port was not working.

About two hours prior to landing, the F/A came around to take meal orders. I tried the Serbian cheese and spinach pies with a green salad. The pies were nice, but as I said before, I preferred a real breakfast. However I appreciate the possibility of getting some warm dishes. I had the dessert sampler later.

I was surprised to get a business class gift – a nice Air Serbia leather passport holder!

Descend began at 4:58am Belgrade local time and the sun was already rising.

We landed on R/W30 at 5:34am and the whole cabin clapped. It has been a while that I have heard passengers clapping after landing.

Air Serbia land

We parked at gate C5 a few minutes later.

Some plane spotting around Belgrade airport…

Air Serbia “Novak Djokovic” A319

Air Serbia’s Premium Lounge at Belgrade

Dining Room

The Bar

Dining Room

Last edited by Carfield; Jun 26, 16 at 1:53 am
Carfield is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 1:44 am
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Lovely TR, about a lesser known airline. Thank you for sharing!

Quick question: were you able to use EY F check-in on account of you being EY Plat?
AvidFlyer1990 is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 2:32 am
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Well I did not specifically use the first class check in... They don't really have a separate first class check in queue. Since Air Serbia does not have first class cabin and the EY flight departs later than JU, they just combine both F and J together when I checked in around 11:10am.

Carfield is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 3:32 am
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Very nice TR, never flown JU, and don't suppose I ever will with fares that high for J - but very interesting, and thank you for a 'traditional' style report with no videos
Unfortunate you don't get a better duvet or blanket for J.
travelwithross is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 4:05 am
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Air Serbia can be an interesting Option in eastern Europe. International it wouldn´t be my first or second choice
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Old Jun 24, 16, 8:57 am
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Thank you - I nearly flew with them on a short hop some months back, but that trip had changed so I never got a chance.
The Lounge looks decent enough.
roadwarrier is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 11:02 am
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Great report! Thanks for sharing
alexisonsmith is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 11:48 am
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THIS is one of my favorite parts of FT. I not only learned Air Serbia existed, but I got a nice look inside ^. Thanks for sharing.
Madone59 is offline  
Old Jun 24, 16, 1:08 pm
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Once again, a foreign flag carrier, no less a new one, looks to have a product that far exceeds that offered by any U.S. carrier!

Shame on Delta, United, and American!
worldspan is offline  
Old Jun 25, 16, 3:33 am
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Great review on a lesser known airline. J class isn't the worst out there. Thanks for posting
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Old Jun 25, 16, 7:57 am
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Originally Posted by worldspan View Post
Once again, a foreign flag carrier, no less a new one, looks to have a product that far exceeds that offered by any U.S. carrier!

Shame on Delta, United, and American!
Eh? Delta, AA look to be a league above.
5DMarkIIguy is offline  
Old Jun 25, 16, 12:00 pm
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Thanks for all your kind comments! I don't want to post the follow-up without thanking all your comments.

Yes Air Serbia is basically a replication of Etihad, but of course, it fell short in some aspects, which is fine because it is their first long haul service.

In comparison with most US airlines, I actually think Air Serbia is competitive, especially towards American and United, in terms of seats, amenities, and catering. In terms of service, Air Serbia's F/As are more attentive, personal, and polished than United, Delta, and American. The difference between good and bad crews lies on if they are proud of their airlines or not. When the morale is high, the service is better.

Air Serbia's lounge at Belgrade is also better than all US airlines' lounges, especially the fact that they have a sit-down restaurant. When I requested a bowl of soup, the waitress personally asked the kitchen (since I asked for it before lunch time) and got a bowl. The size of the lounge is small, but for the amount of traffic they have, it is sufficient.

The only US airline that might be comparable to Air Serbia is definitely Delta.

I will fly the flight back to JFK on Tuesday. Maybe I will find out how the service goes when it is not the inaugural flight.

For the one intra-European flight I flew, Air Serbia is just a league above everyone else - printed menu, personalized service, pre-takeoff beverage, hot towel, and most importantly, a real business class seat.

Anyway, I will work on it tomorrow morning.

Thanks for all your kind comments!

Carfield is offline  
Old Jun 26, 16, 1:54 am
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Ju 512 beg-ath

Aeroflot Boeing 737

I have three more segments and will do a conclusion after my return to JFK next Tuesday.

June 24, 2016
JU 512 BEG-ATH Lv1320 Arr1550 Airbus A320-200

Intra-European flight is where Air Serbia truly shines. It is simply the best intra-European business class product out there, and the fact that it offers a real regional business class seat in a four abreast seating should bring it to the top spot. There is no middle seat. While the legroom is relatively modest at 37-38 inches, the seat is more than comfortable for a short hour and fourteen minutes flight.

In Belgrade airport, you go through security at each individual gate, similar to Singapore Changi airport. You need to allocate a bit of time to go through security, as there is no priority lane. The flight to Athens was fairly busy, but the queue was relatively short.

Boarding began at 12:50pm and business class receives priority boarding. It is strictly reinforced here.

Two F/As were greeting at the door, and the male F/A immediately brought me to my seat. Unfortunately, the other three passengers were already aboard, so too late for a cabin shot. But since I was the only passenger on the left side, I took a few cabin shots after the meal. The same F/A immediately asked me for my choice of pre-takeoff beverage, which was impressive. The other airline that offers some kinds of pre-takeoff beverage is Swiss with its bottled waters.

My seat 2F

Then a hot towel was offered on a tray – same as its international flight

Printed menu

Boarding was completed at 1:19pm, but the ground crews were still busy loading bags. We finally pushed back at 1:27pm, and we took off from R/W12 at 1:41pm.

Our flying time was an hour and fourteen minutes with a cruising altitude of 37,000fet. Our flight route took us over Kragujevac, Kusevac, Prokupulje, Vranje, Padovish, Thessaloniki, Nea Artaki, and then into Athens International Airport.

Air Serbian WIFI was available, but it is simply too expensive. I don’t mind flight pass, but data limit is bogus. Then I will rather nut use it at all.

Prior to takeoff, our beverage and meal orders were all taken, and I was surprised that a beverage service with warmed almonds and cashews was offered first.

Here is the menu today and I chose the Serbian Goulash, which was all right, but I love the potato croquettes.

Greek Salad

*Serbian goulash served with Brussels sprouts, potato croquettes and mashed peas

Salmon Fillet with pistachio crust served with baby spinach, quinoa and prawns in a creamy citrus sauce

Dessert Trio with macaroons, Serbian plum dumplings and raspberry rice pudding

*Serbian specialty dish

The meal almost took up the whole flight, as each tray was hand delivered to each passenger.

Just a few cabin shot

Seat in full recline

Descent soon began at 3:34pm Athens local time – an hour ahead of Belgrade.
There is one more round of hot towel.

It was a beautiful day!

We landed on R/W3R at 3:55pm.

We parked at gate A05 three minutes later and immigration was quiet. I was through within minutes. The best part was that the first bag arriving at the belt twelve minutes after we parked at gate. My priority-tagged bag was among the first ones to be delivered.

Air Serbia is simply five stars on these intra-European routes, and my return won’t happen till Tuesday. I will add to this thread as I write up each segment.
Carfield is offline  
Old Jun 26, 16, 4:32 am
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Originally Posted by Carfield View Post
Intra-European flight is where Air Serbia truly shines.
Absolutely! It´s really the best
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