Not too long ago (just two years ago), Air Serbia began flying from Belgrade to JFK. This was a nice option for many as it connected the country of Serbia to the US and it did it with the national airline.
With early morning departures for flights during the first part of the week, it presented a nice option to depart from eastern Europe in the morning and arrive in New York City before noon. After many plans to try out this flight did not happen, I recently had the chance to fly Air Serbia economy class from Belgrade to JFK.
Review: Air Serbia A330 Economy Class from Belgrade to JFK
Why Did I Choose Air Serbia Economy Class to New York?
If you are flying this route in business class, it would certainly be a nice flight to take. However, without cheap business class fares available anymore with them and the best award route being booking with Etihad miles, business class is not going to be for everyone.
To give the Air Serbia A330 economy class a chance, I thought I would fly with them over my usual early morning option of Turkish Airlines (which arrives in JFK about 30-50 minutes earlier than the flight with Air Serbia).
TL:DR: If you want a cheap option for one-way travel that will get you to New York early (for part of their scheduled flights), Air Serbia is a good option. But their aircraft is in need of an upgrade, the entertainment options are dismal, food service is not great, and Belgrade is not a great transit option.
The flight from Belgrade to JFK is clocked in at being a 10 hour flight. During the busy summer season, it flies daily with an early morning departure (around 7AM) during the first part of the week and an afternoon departure (around 1PM) during the second part of the week. That means you would arrive around 11:30AM and 5:30PM respectively.
One more thing to take note of – the A330 that Air Serbia uses for their Belgrade – JFK route is the only one they have! That means if there are mechanical issues, you will find your flight severely delayed and, potentially, cancelled!
When you check-in online, you will be automatically assigned a seat. I was assigned a middle seat in the back row of the plane. To select a different seat, you have to pay. I paid 15€ to get an aisle seat in the middle row in the front section of the economy cabin. Selecting an exit row seat will cost you at least 80€.
I will assume that most of you will actually be connecting in Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport instead of using it as your origination. This is what I did, connecting from an Air Serbia flight in Greece in the early morning. However, if you are originating in Belgrade, the airport itself is not large and it should not be that long of a timeframe to check in your bags and get your ticket.
When you disembark from your connecting flight, you will have to go to the transfer desk at the top of stairs/escalator. This is for all passengers going to JFK even if you already have your BEG-JFK boarding pass. It is best to wait to go to the bathroom until after this stop as this line fills up fast! I realized that about 40 passengers from my flight from Greece were headed to JFK as well so fortunately I was near the front of the line.
They will ask questions about your luggage and check your passports and visas at this desk. It also serves as a transfer desk for other flights as well so the line can get quite long.
I did not notice any expedited line for elites or business class passengers, in fact, two of the passengers in front of me were flying business class and had to wait in the same line.
If you are an elite member or flying business class, you will have access to the business class lounge. Also, when you check-in online, you are given the opportunity to buy lounge access. I believe it would be the same for all flights and was something like €30 for 3 hours or you could purchase a year’s pass for 550€!
Don’t pay for the lounge! If you have a Priority Pass membership that gives free lounge visits (like with the Chase Sapphire Reserve), you will have access to a business lounge in the airport and that lounge was not the best. It was definitely more comfortable than the terminal and had free internet and food. But, the mocha/cappuccino/espresso machine was out of order and they only had a working capsule machine. Also, the food they had out for breakfast was not the best spread – some sandwiches, hard croissants, and fruit. Not bad but definitely not something I would pay for.
Traveling from Belgrade airport is a little different of an experience than you would normally have at airports. There are no security checkpoints in the main terminal of the airport. Instead, each gate as their own security checkpoints. That means you need to plan on arriving to your gate well before the flight as you need to go through the metal detector and, since it is a US-bound flight, potentially extra screening.
As is often the case on my flights to the US, my boarding pass was tagged with the “SSSS” marking for enhanced screening so I was curious to see how they handled it here (I am likely tagged that way since I am always flying one-way tickets, often redeemed within 1 or 2 weeks before the flight and I fly without checked luggage).
To my surprise, there was no extra screening of me at all. I simply went through the metal detector and gathered my belongings. They did not even make me take my mirrorless camera out (which I normally need to, even at checkpoints without getting the SSSS).
Once you are through security, you are in the waiting area. It gets very full! There are definitely not enough seats for everyone so there were many standing. Also, while they do have men’s/women’s rooms, there was only a single stall/urinal in the men’s room. For an area holding over 250 people, I was a bit surprised by this.
They board by zones based on your seating number. It was somewhat orderly and before long, we were onboard.
I will say this – even though the seats were definitely worn a bit, the seat has more pitch (the space between the back of the seat in front of you to the back of your seat) than you will find in many economy class cabins – 32″! This meant that I had no problem at all stretching out my 6’1″ frame and my knees never touched the seat in front of me. I cannot do that on United, Delta, Turkish, Lufthansa or any other economy flights I have had between the US and Europe.
So, if you need space to stretch out, Air Serbia definitely provides that (and that likely shows how old the cabin may be since the more modern cabins do all the can to squeeze in more passengers). You wouldn’t think that 1″ can make that big of a difference but it certainly did for me!
The majority of the economy cabin is in a 2-4-2 seating configuration.
Even though the seat had some wear to it and it was not as comfortable as it likely once was, the space it provided more than made up on that for me. I found the seat to be very good.
I do not generally watch much on an airline entertainment system when traveling as I have my own stuff or I am doing work, but I always check to see how much entertainment is provided. I was surprised that it was a very small amount! There were just a handful of movies available and not that many more TV shows. If you typically rely on the seatback entertainement systems when you fly, plan on downloading some media to your device before you leave on Air Serbia!
Also, the display and controls were definitely of the older style as well. Similarly, the headphone jack does not play nicely with 3.5mm headphone jacks that you likely have on your noise-cancelling headphones. I had to play with it quite a bit to get it at just the right spot to correctly play the audio. Again, plan on using your own device.
Oh, but if you need to charge that device onboard, you will be disappointed to find that there is no power in economy class! I did find power ports beneath our seats in the row but no power was coming from it and it is listed online as not having power. That was a huge disappointment to me since I had planned on getting a lot of computer work done but needed to be plugged in for some of the time.
I can always eat just about any food in economy class on planes. I may not always like it (and I almost always go with pasta options) but I do at least try it. For this flight, I was sufficiently hungry due to the meager offerings in the lounge and the fact that I had stayed up all night before my flight due to the early departure and had not eaten that much during the night.
Boy was I surprised that hunger really did not provide the best seasoning for the inflight meal! It was the sorriest serving of “eggs” that I had ever had before, combined with some potato type thing that was also not good at all. They were soggy and just really not at all appealing. I ended up only eating some of it before I could not eat anymore.
And, yes, I did say “meal” as in singular. On this 10 hour flight, they only served a single meal. That was the main meal and then they served some small sandwich before landing. They had little snacks available to take during the flight but for such a long flight, I was really surprised they had not planned 2 meals.
A big negative for the food on this flight, both in the taste and quantity. Plan on bringing your own food or eating a good meal before departure!
The Flight Overall
For some reason, we left almost an hour late. There is not that much worse in international economy than falling asleep before takeoff and waking up about an hour later to find that you are still on the ground! 🙂
What made it worse was that my connecting flight that had originally allowed for a 2.5 hour connection in JFK (with Global Entry, TSA Precheck, and no luggage, that would have been an absolute breeze) was rapidly shrinking over the course of the trip. In the end, we landed quite a bit late and I had just 45 minutes before my flight was to depart (with the door closing in 30 minutes). I absolutely raced to the gate and got there 1 minute after the door was to have closed – only to find that the flight had left 2 minutes before that (almost 20 minutes early – ridiculous but not Air Serbia’s fault).
The flight overall was just “ok” in that it certainly got me from Europe to NYC in good condition and on the cheap (the flight was booked with Ultimate Reward points just one week before the departure date for a total of 20,000 Ultimate Reward points). Sure, 11 hours on that plane was not the best 11 hours I have ever spent in economy but I had more legroom than I am used to in economy so that was a big help!