Air Serbia BEG to JFK (Belgrade to New York) on A330 – JU500 JU501Tak's dispatch released on 21 September 2016

Wasn’t planning on doing a review so don’t have photos at the moment. I’ve flown this a handful of times.

Short story: Great Service, Subpar, Ratty Airplane

Long Story: Air Serbia took delivery of a used Jet Airways A330 for the New York (JFK) to Belgrade (BEG) route. As of now, this is the only A330 they have. You step onto the plane and immediately notice the faux wood floor separating the coach and business sections. Both coach and business are carpeted as usual. However, the entry, along with the very neatly manicured/dressed flight attendants may give the impression that you are entering something much better than you are.

The Etihad Lounge in JFK Terminal 4

If you are flying business or have gold or higher status on Etihad or its sidekick airlines (Alitalia, AirBerlin, etc.) You might find yourself in the Terminal 4 JFK Etihad Lounge or Belgrade’s Air Serbia Lounge (Etihad Silver gets you access to the Belgrade Air Serbia Lounge as of this review, but AirBerlin & Alitalia you need Gold or higher). Both of these are a delight.

Without question, Etihad’s JFK lounge is the finest lounge in the US that I have found myself in, even better than the Etihad First lounge in Dallas back some years ago. The bar (which has power at every seat) has an array of complimentary cocktails and mocktails, beer, wine, et. al. There is also a nice complimentary ala carte menu which you can order from anywhere in the lounge with service. Unlike most US lounges, this one was not over-run with 70% of the airport guests.

Upon entry, you are greeted by Etihad personnel (as this is an Etihad lounge) and taken inside and shown the lounge if it is your first time. They also note that you will be alerted when your flight is boarding. This is a nice perk that many lounges nowadays don’t bother with. Given that however, it was slightly disappointing that they forgot to alert me and I nearly missed by flight, getting there at Final Call. I believe they are mostly accustomed to the Etihad departures and the Air Serbia departure maybe wasn’t the norm for them.

Update: I just flew this route again and was told when we were boarding. I grabbed my stuff and headed for the gate (you have to go downstairs and its perhaps a 10 minute walk at a fast pace). Before I was halfway there, I started hearing final call messages and quickened my pace, finding myself getting to the gate (sweating) as they announced “this is the last and final call”. I made mention that I had just been informed of boarding and they need to give more time as it is certainly not pleasant racing through the airport to make your flight. They informed me they make all these final call notices to “scare people” to the gate and “that is works” as evidenced by my actions. I do not at all like being manipulated and fooled and starting a long-haul flight hot and sweaty because they like to play tricks. Major thumbs down with that. (Also – a notice says the gate closes 40 minutes before flight departure from JFK)

The Air Serbia Lounge in Belgrade’s Tesla Airport

Belgrade’s lounge, which is an Air Serbia lounge, is very new/clean and perfectly sized/appointed for the airport. A warm greeting meets you upon entry, along with smiles and perfect professionalism. Good luck finding a sloppily-dressed busboy dragging plastic dishbins around in here. It also features a bar and ala carte menu which begins late morning although special requests may be granted. Service is definitely a centerpoint.

Breakfast, which is not ala carte, is okay even if the foods are not the most interesting (potatoes, sausage, yogurt, etc).

There is one shower and due to the light attendance during my visits, it was very easy to use. A request for a towel also garnered a shaving kit, a toothbrush/toothpaste, a comb and some other amenities. The shower & bathroom are very nicely decorated. There is a small unit under the sink in the shower room that can be used to put your stuff on. Otherwise, counter space is hard to come by. Shower functioned well.

Power plugs are not the strong suit of the lounge, you may have to unplug a lamp to get to them but the universal sockets are welcome.

The absolute highlight of the Air Serbia lounge in Belgrade (BEG) is the people in charge of it. Top shelf professionalism, class and assistance.

The Air Serbia Advantage

As mentioned, the flight attendants do an impeccable job and the fingerprints/feel of Etihad is very noticeable here compared to the old JAT Airways. Nothing seems to be a problem and the Air Serbia FA’s are consistently busy doing something. I can’t count how many times I saw them visit the bathrooms to ensure everything was in good order.Unlike the US-carriers where you are quite prone to getting snide attitudes and lackluster service, everything feels like it does if you were in Etihad’s business class. This is the best part of Air Serbia – the service level of the personnel. The personnel and their professionalism go a long way given the issues with the hard product.

The Flights Between New York (JFK) and Belgrade (BEG)

Each passenger in economy coach is given an amenity kit which is certainly a nice touch. The kit contains ear plugs, blindfold, toothbrush and socks. This is certainly a nice touch. (Update as of March 2017: No amenity kits were given out – I have to assume this was cut out now that the route is established)

Food is pretty lackluster, although the metal flatware is appreciated. Expect a meal, a snack or two and a sandwich for the 9 hour or so flight.

Most of the flights currently leave JFK at around 240PM or so, and arrive into the dark morning of Belgrade (5AM or so). Strangely, they turned on the cabin lighting and served breakfast several hours before landing which ruined a good chunk of potential sleep. Why is a mystery. On the return flight, no oddities in service were noted.

On the night flight leaving JFK at approximately 9PM, the meal service took about 90 minutes to get going which is far too slow for my tastes. I like to try to get some sleep in before landing and waiting 90 minutes to begin means you aren’t done with the racket and lights for over 2 hours into the flight.

When the route first rolled out, the temperatures on board Air Serbia were uncomfortably hot! I heard others, including females (who biologically run cooler than males), note the same unabated. Further, the Airbus A330 does not have personal air nozzle jets for you to adjust so you can’t even get a nice jet of air on you.

Most drinks are served without ice which is not strange for those in the Balkans, but is another heat escape you can’t count on. If you ask for ice, prepare for two small cubes. The ice supply on these routes is appears severely under-stocked compared to most airlines. At one point, they were digging cubes out from the beer stash which didn’t have much cooling the beer.

UPDATE: On two flights, it was very hot, the next two flights, the temperatures swung from hot to chilly throughout, the next flight was chilly and my most recent flight it was perfect. As such, it seems that there is no rhyme or reason to Air Serbias A330 temperature controls – dress in layers! One older man had a winter coat on throughout the flight. (I personally prefer a cold cabin cause you can warm yourself up versus a hot cabin where you suffer – especially without the option of an air vent jet). Blankets are provided.

While seat pitch is quite good, and the 2-4-2 layout is appreciated in an age of jamming sardines in narrowbodies or doing the 10 across in the wides, the seats themselves could certainly be improved. The recline functionality will usually get the seat to go down, but for it to go up, prepare to manually pull the seat as you press the button. This was experienced on a multiple of seats. The seats, and the plane, are ratty and tired. Expect things not to work.

Also note that the aisle seats suffer from placement of the entertainment boxes. Also note that while some sites tell you the bulkheads are a great place to sit – expect a lot of activity in front of you, the monitors showing flight status, and really not that much legroom unless you put your legs up on the wall (AB has more room than HK it seems per the eye – at least in row 7).

The aisle seats in the middle section have more legroom given being able to stretch under the dividing curtain but I witnessed passengers countless times crossing from aisle to aisle in front of these passengers…and did I mention the bathroom/FA activity going on? The nice point about these is not having the heavy recline in your face but I’m not sure its the most restful place to be.

Update: 7H and 7K don’t have a ton of legroom and that is what I was referencing in the paragraph above. What you want is row 25 (A,B,H,K). You can request it at the airport and they need approval to unblock. These seats give you about 2m/6ft of pitch ; ). The problem with the middle (D,E,F,G) on the bulkhead both in row 7 and 25 is the amount of people who think its a highway from one set of bathrooms to the other. My favourite seat for sheer legroom is 25A and 25K or 7A.

Legroom on all seats is relatively fine.

Another issue with the seats is that the headrest has the permanent wings as I call them splayed out. Typically, a head rest is flat and the nice ones have two wings on either side that you can extend outwards to rest your head on. Good wings make a huge difference in being able to sleep in economy – for instance, the wings on the Azul & Azul-issue TAP planes. However, on this Air Serbia Airbus A330, there those wings are replaced with wedges. The wedges don’t do a great job for resting your head on and, because you can’t flatten them, make using a pillow difficult. Successfully combining a pillow with these headrests is a puzzle for Gary Kasparov to solve.

Lastly, the In Flight Entertainment (“IFE”) is pretty bad, with a very small selection of movies and TV shows to choose from. And, because this plane is the only plane on the route, expect the same exact movies in both directions (update: movies don’t really get updated often either). Furthermore, the touch sensitivity is not very good on many of these units. Expect to use the remote more often than you would typically. And in other instances, the IFE arm in 25K didn’t stay in the upright position so you have that to deal with.

As noted, the plane is not in great shape and it is continually getting worse.

The audio jack is one of those old legacy relics that require the two prongs. As such, if you use your own headphones, expect to play the game of inserting the jack just enough to get the feed in both ears. Otherwise, pushing the jack all the way in will only get you one earful of audio. They do give out free headsets (low quality ear bud junk as is standard)

Some of the power plugs don’t work. First I tried the AC outlet under the seat. That had the red light illuminated and no power fed. I also tried the USB ports in two bulkhead seats and those did nothing either. I tried all of these at multiple points in the flight as it is typical for power not to be turned on on various flights until cruising altitude. But nope, no power was getting fed to any of these ports. UPDATE: my next trip my power plugs works – so maybe this was FA error of some sort. As a note, if you are in row 25, there is a plug hidden behind the IFE. NEW UPDATE: My last flight the power didn’t work and the flight attendant shrugged it off. The guy next to me said “Welcome to Air Serbia”.

Lesson: prepare for the power ports to not work for your flight. Further, there is no USB port in the IFE.

Conclusion on the JFK to BEG Air Serbia Flights

So overall, the plane temps can be anything, the seats are aged with decent legroom, the headrests aren’t the best designed, the audio ports are an annoyance, the power plugs don’t work and the plane is generally just ratty. On the upside, the service is mostly excellent. I didn’t come across one grouchy flight attendant; they were all excellent. And, if you have lounge access, the lounges are definitely a pleasure to visit. The front desk lounge attendants in Belgrade are generally delightful!

Overall, flying with Air Serbia is a mixed bag. For me, service is so important, and the nice little amenities (amenity kit, metal flatware, etc.) in conjunction with the wonderful flight attendants makes it something I will be on again and view positively overall. It is certainly a better experience than you might receive on some legacy airlines start to finish but the hard product is certainly a bit ratty and outdated with too many annoyances (e.g. power, IFE, IFE boxes, headrests). The schedule is also not the best. The price point is certainly fair.

UPDATE: I am growing less fond of this route each time I fly it. The route has been cut back causing price increases. As such, the price points are no longer anything special. Given the substandard plane interior and all the things that aren’t working, I don’t think I’ll be flying this much more. The only thing at this point that makes it worthwhile is the flight attendant service and the fact that it is the only non-stop to Belgrade from New York.

Without the professionalism and class of the hard-working flight attendants these days, Air Serbia would feel much more like the old JAT. And if you have lounge access – that is a huge plus.

Don’t believe AirSerbia branding – they put new paint on an old plane and are letting them fall apart on the inside. The only thing you are getting, as noted, is good service onboard.

All the best!

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Tak

New York, NY
Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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