The Sad Decline Of Air Serbia Business Class

The Sad Decline Of Air Serbia Business Class

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Last week I flew Air Serbia business class from Belgrade to New York, which is the carrier’s only long haul route (I redeemed Aeroplan points for the flight, thanks to the partnership between Air Canada and Air Serbia). While I’ll have a full review soon, I just can’t help but first write about how much worse Air Serbia’s business class has become, which is sad.

Some background on Air Serbia (and the Etihad connection)

For some context, Air Serbia is the national airline of Serbia (as you’d expect). The airline used to be known as Jat Airways, but had a bit of a rebirth in 2013. Specifically, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and the government of Serbia started the airline as a joint venture, with the two parties initially owning 49% and 51% stakes, respectively. This was part of larger scale cooperation between Serbia and Abu Dhabi.

Not only did Etihad own nearly half of Air Serbia, but the airline also had a contract to manage Air Serbia for a period of five years. As part of this, Air Serbia acquired a former Jet Airways Airbus A330, and the airline began operating a long haul route between Belgrade and New York.

Air Serbia’s old Airbus A330 business class

One of the (only) nice things about Etihad getting involved in an airline is that they get them to invest in the soft product. Under Etihad’s management, Air Serbia had a menu in the lounge, and a great onboard business class product, with cappuccinos, mattress pads, pajamas, dine on demand, etc.

To get a sense of what this used to be like, see my review of the Air Serbia Lounge Belgrade, and my review of Air Serbia’s A330 business class (again, this was from back in the day).

Unfortunately Etihad’s investment strategy hasn’t worked out at all, and the airline has progressively been decreasing its stake in Air Serbia, and Etihad now only owns an 18% stake (with the Serbian government owning the other 82%).

Air Serbia still only has a single A330, but it’s a different one than what the airline initially had. In 2021, Air Serbia took delivery of a former Aeroflot Airbus A330. So it’s the same type of plane Air Serbia initially flew, but with a different configuration.

While I don’t have strong feelings about the change in seats as such (neither the old or new cabin were cutting edge), it’s sad the extent to which Air Serbia’s soft product has gone from exceptional to below average.

Air Serbia’s business class: not great anymore

I had flown Air Serbia business class a few times before on the Belgrade to New York route with the old product, and the soft product was always a treat. This time it wasn’t. It’s not that any one thing was horrible, but rather it was “death by a thousand cuts,” if you will.

Let’s start with the Air Serbia Premium Lounge in Belgrade. Back in the day the lounge had a la carte dining, while that’s no longer available. Now this lounge is also open to Priority Pass members (presumably to generate extra revenue), and has a pretty average contract lounge food & drink selection.

Air Serbia Premium Lounge Belgrade
Air Serbia Premium Lounge Belgrade

By the way, don’t you think that out of self respect, Air Serbia would remove its Etihad Airways Partners sign from Belgrade Airport? The concept doesn’t exist anymore, as three of those airlines liquidated, and three went through bankruptcy or underwent radical transformations, and have new owners.

Air Serbia’s Etihad Airways Partners sign

Let’s start with the positives — Air Serbia’s new business class cabin is perfectly nice. It’s a pretty standard staggered configuration, which you’ll find on quite a few airlines. Furthermore, the crew was friendly and well intentioned.

Air Serbia A330 business class cabin
Air Serbia A330 business class cabin

However, it’s all downhill from there, at least based on the experience on my flight:

  • Air Serbia used to offer pajamas, but those aren’t available anymore
  • Air Serbia doesn’t even have amenity kits anymore
  • There used to be a mattress pad, while that’s not available anymore
  • Air Serbia used to have great espresso and cappuccino based drinks; now Air Serbia just has disgusting powdered instant coffee (the menu listed espresso but not cappuccino, but I was told the machine has been broken for some time)
  • Air Serbia used to have Wi-Fi, but the “new” A330 doesn’t have Wi-Fi; it has been quite some time since I’ve had a 10 hour daytime flight without Wi-Fi
  • With the lack of Wi-Fi it would be nice if there were at least a great entertainment selection, but the library was pretty lackluster

Now let’s talk about the meal service. The flight departed from Belgrade shortly before 8AM and arrived in New York shortly before 12PM. Air Serbia continues to have a dine on demand menu, but in practice everyone had breakfast after takeoff and a second meal before landing.

The breakfast was okay. Oddly everyone was served nuts before breakfast, so I switched my drink order from coffee to white wine (lol?).

Air Serbia business class breakfast

Breakfast started with a greek yogurt with walnuts and strawberry sauce.

Air Serbia business class breakfast

Then for the main course I selected the Spanish pie with potatoes and vegetables, grilled tomatoes, and grilled mushrooms.

Air Serbia business class breakfast

Then for dessert there was a fruit plate.

Air Serbia business class breakfast

That was a perfectly decent breakfast, but let’s talk about the pre-arrival meal. Like everyone else, I ate around two hours before landing. Well, I should say that I tried to eat.

There were four things on the dine on demand menu that weren’t breakfast.

“Could I have the Greek salad with grilled chicken?”
“We are out, I’m sorry.”
“Okay, then the ravioli with cheese and spinach and cream sauce?”
“I’m so sorry, we don’t have any of those left either.”
“Umm, okay, then I guess I’ll take a cheese plate?”
“We’re out of those. Would you like the sweet omelet?”
“Is there another option?”
“We have some fruit plates left from breakfast.”
“Okay, I’ll take the omelet then.”

Air Serbia’s menu states that “all the dishes on the menu are available at any time during the flight.” Well, so much for that. I can appreciate sometimes running out of a couple of things, but something isn’t being done right in terms of catering if you run out of just about everything.

Then again, running out of food is the most Etihad thing ever, so I guess Air Serbia has maintained that element of the Etihad experience.

Air Serbia business class pre-arrival snack

Bottom line

I flew Air Serbia business class from Belgrade to New York for the first time in recent years, and was disappointed to see how the experience has gotten worse. Air Serbia used to offer one of the best soft products across the Atlantic, while nowadays I’d say it’s slightly below average.

While in the past I thought Air Serbia was worth seeking out even if connecting beyond Belgrade, based on my experience that’s not the case anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not worth avoiding Air Serbia either, though — if Belgrade is your final destination, you find a good business class fare, or Air Serbia is one of the only options with award availability, flying with the carrier could still make sense.

What do you make of the changes to the Air Serbia business class experience?

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  1. Martin Guest

    The centrepiece of the breakfast looks like a bowl of ketchup with a side of walnuts. It all looks very Air Koryo.

  2. Misha Radulovic Guest

    I flu AirSerbia years ago business class from New York to Belgrade on board all Airbus 330 leased from Etihad Airlines. It was 9 pax and service was excellent . On the returned flight from Belgrade to New York was disappointed . Business class was full with free passengers with the kids. They were politicians and it was ony few of us who paid business class . It was not enough food and stuardeses apologized...

    I flu AirSerbia years ago business class from New York to Belgrade on board all Airbus 330 leased from Etihad Airlines. It was 9 pax and service was excellent . On the returned flight from Belgrade to New York was disappointed . Business class was full with free passengers with the kids. They were politicians and it was ony few of us who paid business class . It was not enough food and stuardeses apologized but they are serving mostly those free upgraded passengers .

  3. Walt Guest

    Knowing Serbia over the past four decades, I am not surprised at all with the decline of Air Serbia. A typical (political west Balkans) ploy of a foreign investor pumping some money in, then the state taking on responsibility (i.e., decline) once the funds have been sucked out (into private pockets) and the initial capital has dried up.

    Having said that, I was really looking forward to flying J on YU in late August. I...

    Knowing Serbia over the past four decades, I am not surprised at all with the decline of Air Serbia. A typical (political west Balkans) ploy of a foreign investor pumping some money in, then the state taking on responsibility (i.e., decline) once the funds have been sucked out (into private pockets) and the initial capital has dried up.

    Having said that, I was really looking forward to flying J on YU in late August. I guess I know what to expect now?

    As for BEG lounges, the other "Business" lounge was equally disappointing when I went there at the end of June. Really mediocre food selection (it used to be great!), service was, well, typical Balkan lack of interest. I suppose it comes with the dire financial situation?

    The biggest qualm I have, however, are the utterly disastrous conditions around the airport created by the ongoing construction. God forbid if you are returning a rental car and have a couple of large suitcases. Not a fun experience dragging bags at 30+C to check in from that parking garage, then walking around the construction site to return the rental keys; then back to terminal. I absolutely hated this.

  4. Gene Guest

    Serbia is pro putin and his criminal war in Ukraine. So you can see why they have gone to hell.

  5. Morris Guest

    I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about their massive decline in European business class, either. That used to be phenomenal: real business class seats, full meal and drink service offered on even the shortest of flights (incl. a great selection of Serbian wines), etc. I was heartbroken when they switched to regular European business (middle seat blocked), since the experience was literally the next flight on my travel list at the time!

  6. Robert Guest

    Maybe my experience differs but I still think Air Serbia offers one of the better business class experiences. The biggest downside is the lack of WiFi, though I've come to expect lack of WiFi across most flights crossing oceans.

    The lounge is a non-issue. I wouldn't buy a business class ticket for lounge access because there are usually always other ways to get into a lounge. There are two lounges at Belgrade airport. Both are...

    Maybe my experience differs but I still think Air Serbia offers one of the better business class experiences. The biggest downside is the lack of WiFi, though I've come to expect lack of WiFi across most flights crossing oceans.

    The lounge is a non-issue. I wouldn't buy a business class ticket for lounge access because there are usually always other ways to get into a lounge. There are two lounges at Belgrade airport. Both are fine, but I prefer the other lounge than the one described here.

    The food I've had on flight has been good. I've gotten the amenities. The seat and bed were comfortable. The staff were friendly.

    This is still the best way to get from Serbia to USA. There are no other direct flight options unfortunately. KLM is another option that offers a good business class option with a layover in Amsterdam. I'd still rather choose the direct flight option when starting in Belgrade.

  7. SpaceCadet Guest

    Interestingly, I took the same product in both direction within the last 3 weeks. Flight from New York to Belgrade did offer pajamas, amenity kits and a mattress pad. The return from Belgrade was similar to your experience: none of those where available. The running out of food was the same both ways. Entertainment options were dismal both ways.

    1. Milan Guest

      I think they only offer pajamas and mattress pads from NY because it is an overnight flight and that’s when people usually want to get a good night’s sleep, though I would still expect the bare minimum of an amenity kit, but the financial situation around the world is pretty bad so…

      And then there is the possibility that their PJs, pads, and kits are produced in the US?

    2. Milan Guest

      I think they only offer the PJs and mattress pads from NY, as it’s an overnight flight, and that’s when people usually want to sleep more comfortably, though I still would want the bare minimum of an amenity kit either way. The financial situation around the world is pretty bad so…

      There is the sheer possibility that their PJs, pads, and kits are produced/provided from the US/NY?

      As for the catering, it’s a disaster. No...

      I think they only offer the PJs and mattress pads from NY, as it’s an overnight flight, and that’s when people usually want to sleep more comfortably, though I still would want the bare minimum of an amenity kit either way. The financial situation around the world is pretty bad so…

      There is the sheer possibility that their PJs, pads, and kits are produced/provided from the US/NY?

      As for the catering, it’s a disaster. No matter which direction you’re going from. It seems as though both Air Serbia Catering and their provider at JFK are careless, and/or just do not have the resources, and there is the possibility of the JFK caterers wanting to see Air Serbia facing difficulty, because….

      That isn’t something that’s different with Etihad either, so looks like they really found the perfect trait to adopt from them.

      The IFEs just don’t even matter at this point, because there’s so much other bullshit.

    3. Milan Guest

      I read a comment down below, and maybe the catering was loaded on, but was eaten by the crew, including in economy, and so the solution might be Air Serbia requesting crew catering?

  8. Kevin B Guest

    That sucks! I flew on Air Serbia Business class back on the old plane. I really loved the 1/1/1 set up they had before, the seats seemed a bit narrow but felt really private. Also their amenity kit was one of my favorites. Sad :(

  9. ArnoldB Guest

    What is up with that first omelet? Looks like its covered by mold

  10. Bobo Bolinski Guest

    Russia. Putin. Fascism.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      Chinese abortion clinics

  11. Lukas Guest

    I fly Air Serbia in a month. I was looking forward to it based on your previous review and now my expectations were significantly adjusted downward :(

  12. Andrew Diamond

    lol that partners sign. The whos who of defunct airlines.

    Sorry to hear about your experience. That sucks.

  13. Stuart Guest

    Compared to what's being offered on UA and others these days I honestly don't see much difference. The meal actually looked quite tasty compared to the slop UA Polaris has had of late. Puzzling why you alluded to this being such a shocking decline.

    Ok, lack of amenity kit, no wifi, and limited movie selection is a tad annoying. But Egyptair or Tunis level bad this is not. It's still a fairly competitive product...

    Compared to what's being offered on UA and others these days I honestly don't see much difference. The meal actually looked quite tasty compared to the slop UA Polaris has had of late. Puzzling why you alluded to this being such a shocking decline.

    Ok, lack of amenity kit, no wifi, and limited movie selection is a tad annoying. But Egyptair or Tunis level bad this is not. It's still a fairly competitive product and they often have very cheap C fares to the U.S. I don't need to spend an extra $3000K for an amenity kit I never even open. Besides, virtually everyone has slashed offerings the past two years, so why would you assume that Air Serbia would not as well?

    If they had a $1500 one way last minute fare to the U.S. and the rest were wanting $3000, you bet I would fly this in a second and be perfectly happy with the value.

  14. VT-CIE Gold

    It’s these kinds of insights on lesser-known airlines that truly set apart OMAAT from the rest. It’s sad how Air Serbia and all the other Etihad-affiliated airlines have fallen.

    By the way, I do hope you’re including Jet Airways among the airlines that have restructured with new owners, and not those which have liquidated. As an Indian it will be a huge offence to me if you continue to classify 9W as liquidated/grounded/defunct, because soon...

    It’s these kinds of insights on lesser-known airlines that truly set apart OMAAT from the rest. It’s sad how Air Serbia and all the other Etihad-affiliated airlines have fallen.

    By the way, I do hope you’re including Jet Airways among the airlines that have restructured with new owners, and not those which have liquidated. As an Indian it will be a huge offence to me if you continue to classify 9W as liquidated/grounded/defunct, because soon it will take to the skies again — something very few airlines have been able to do..

    1. 02nz Guest

      "As an Indian it will be a huge offence to me if you continue to classify 9W as liquidated/grounded/defunct, because soon it will take to the skies again." I applaud your optimism, but doesn't the fact Jet isn't currently flying make them grounded by definition?

      Also, India has many things of which it should be proud, but if I were Indian I would most definitely not stake my national pride on anything having to do with India's civil aviation.

    2. VT-CIE Gold

      Of course you’re right — it still is grounded, but I do hope that 9W is at least lumped along with Virgin Australia, ITA and Air Serbia, which are at least flying in a significantly reduced form, and not Air Berlin or Etihad Regional, which will never fly again. Indeed, Jet’s A330 was a huge reason why Air Serbia used to be so good in prepandemic times.

      Not that either ITA or VA are paragons...

      Of course you’re right — it still is grounded, but I do hope that 9W is at least lumped along with Virgin Australia, ITA and Air Serbia, which are at least flying in a significantly reduced form, and not Air Berlin or Etihad Regional, which will never fly again. Indeed, Jet’s A330 was a huge reason why Air Serbia used to be so good in prepandemic times.

      Not that either ITA or VA are paragons of modern aviation — far from it — but I do hope that 9W, under its new management, can indeed prove the naysayers wrong and bring Indian aviation a tiny bit closer to the glory days of old. To be resurrected (well, almost) is a monumental achievement in itself, and I hope it knows what it’s doing to not die like it did at the hands of Etihad.

    3. Eve Guest

      9W really has a poor business plan if I am being honest, especially considering the entrance of TATA ownership of Air India and the already existing Vistara. I doubt it will survive even in this new transformation, unless they somehow revolutionise with a new product and find a middle ground in the market, just like JetBlue or FlyDubai, serving as a mixed carrier role. But it will be very difficult to fit against already established...

      9W really has a poor business plan if I am being honest, especially considering the entrance of TATA ownership of Air India and the already existing Vistara. I doubt it will survive even in this new transformation, unless they somehow revolutionise with a new product and find a middle ground in the market, just like JetBlue or FlyDubai, serving as a mixed carrier role. But it will be very difficult to fit against already established airlines who has superior slots and network

      Also I don’t know why you would say ITA is “reduced”, it is already expanding in a huge way with a large order of new aircrafts, alongside a takeover move from a consortium of Lufthansa and a particular shipping company. I would rather not even put 9W and ITA at the same pace, the latter has a future, the former, I doubt

    4. Milan Guest

      The only airline Indians can take pride in is Vistara.

    5. Luke Guest

      Vistara is quite decent and the exception out of India's airlines. However they havent been profitable since inception 7 years ago and not sure it will be sustainable in a hyper price sensitive market where most will chose an ultra low cost carrier over a full service one even for slightly lower fares.

  15. stogieguy7 Diamond

    Online travel bloggers love to go on and on about the lounge experience and frankly (in most cases) it's not that huge of a factor to me as long as there is one and it's decent. Sad that this has been cheapened by Air Serbia, but we'll get over it.

    What can't be gotten over is spending business class money for the flight experience you described. No wifi? And that food!?! I'm sorry but...

    Online travel bloggers love to go on and on about the lounge experience and frankly (in most cases) it's not that huge of a factor to me as long as there is one and it's decent. Sad that this has been cheapened by Air Serbia, but we'll get over it.

    What can't be gotten over is spending business class money for the flight experience you described. No wifi? And that food!?! I'm sorry but none of the food in your photos is the least bit appealing. Nearly all of it looks nasty to me. That "Spanish Pie" looks like it contains frogs eggs and that's the highlight. A sweet omelet? Walnuts for breakfast with a strawberry sauce? WTF are you feeding us? So yes, I'd be po'd if I spent the coin to be up front and spent 10 hours being bored and hungry. It would drive me nuts. This is obviously an airline that needs to get their excrement together.

  16. ECR12 Guest

    I vaguely remember reading your review of Air Serbia back at the time but remember it as a mildly pleasant surprise from low expectations... this post makes it seem like pre-covid was a great experience. Either way I guess I'm sorry I didn't experience it.

  17. ECR12 Guest

    I vaguely remember reading your review of Air Serbia back at the time but remember it as a mildly pleasant surprise from low expectations... this post makes it seem like pre-covid was a great experience. Either way I guess I'm sorry I didnt experience it.

  18. Tim Dunn Diamond

    This is what happens to a government owned, and likely subsidized, airline in a small country that is disconnected in many ways from the rest of Europe. The free market has incentives to provide better service and Etihad undoubtedly cut its ties here to avoid another investment disaster seeing that there is limited upside even if all worked "as plan"

  19. VladG Member

    While I'm not going to defend Air Serbia's mediocre product, that sadly seems to be the only sustainable business model for the airline.

    Etihad punched way above the weight of a third-world flag carrier with very limited premium traffic, and the airline basically had to ask for a state bailout and cut down on service drastically in order to stay afloat in the face of low yields and LCC competition.

    The only reason the JFK...

    While I'm not going to defend Air Serbia's mediocre product, that sadly seems to be the only sustainable business model for the airline.

    Etihad punched way above the weight of a third-world flag carrier with very limited premium traffic, and the airline basically had to ask for a state bailout and cut down on service drastically in order to stay afloat in the face of low yields and LCC competition.

    The only reason the JFK route survives is convenience for O&D traffic and good connections to the rest of the Balkans. For any other purpose there are way better carriers out there.

  20. Nick Guest

    Also, regarding the lounge. A la carte dining is still offered. You have to request for the menu. The buffet came back just 2 weeks ago. Until then (due to corona) it was all just a la carte dining.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Nick -- I also asked about a la carte dining in the lounge, and was told it was no longer available.

    2. KATA Member

      I spent some time at the lounge back in mid-June, and the buffet was definitely there back then. There wasn’t an a la carte menu on offer either as far as I was made aware.

  21. Nick Guest

    Air Serbia still offers PJs, slippers, amenity kit and bedding. You just have to request it.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Nick -- I requested all of them, and was told they didn't have any of those?

  22. Stanley C Gold

    What a disgusting looking Spanish Pie from Air Serbia. At first glance, I thought it was eggs with mold or eggs with snot. The dining experience seems to have gone really downhill in terms of food presentation as well.

    1. KATA Member

      I agree… seeing that picture gave me trypophobia.

    2. Vancouver - Char Gold

      yikes - unfortunately, i have to agree with Stanley; at first glance I also thought the eggs were moldy.. what a decline from your previous Air Serbia experience.. Sad in that a Flag Carrier sets the tone of a travel experience of their land

  23. Motion to Dismiss Member

    That’s a shame. Last summer when I was there the Belgrade lounge still had a la carte dining and the food was decent.

  24. Adrian Guest

    I felt so sad on the state of Air Serbia, and it is clear that it is not worth to go out of my way to fly it anymore. I wonder if they have loaded enough pre-arrival meals to begin with or they just have those dishes to themselves. I can understand the cutback on PJ, but no amenity kit. That is just a bad move. The only thing that I wish that I have...

    I felt so sad on the state of Air Serbia, and it is clear that it is not worth to go out of my way to fly it anymore. I wonder if they have loaded enough pre-arrival meals to begin with or they just have those dishes to themselves. I can understand the cutback on PJ, but no amenity kit. That is just a bad move. The only thing that I wish that I have done is to fly Air Serbia one more time prior to Covid-19. Thanks for the update and I will never fly Air Serbia again unless things are improved again.

    1. Murkymonkey Guest

      My 1st thought when you mentioned there was not any food left that the crew probably ate it. Possibly the plane wasn't catered with crew meals, sadly.
      Whoever chooses the food, such as the disgusting Spanish omelet needs to do a visual because we eat with our eyes first. That was not appetizing.

    2. Milan Guest

      That is a very good point. I doubt there could be that many meals just not loaded on, though they should start requesting crew catering, because this is all just so pathetic.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Stanley C Gold

What a disgusting looking Spanish Pie from Air Serbia. At first glance, I thought it was eggs with mold or eggs with snot. The dining experience seems to have gone really downhill in terms of food presentation as well.

3
02nz Guest

"As an Indian it will be a huge offence to me if you continue to classify 9W as liquidated/grounded/defunct, because soon it will take to the skies again." I applaud your optimism, but doesn't the fact Jet isn't currently flying make them grounded by definition? Also, India has many things of which it should be proud, but if I were Indian I would most definitely not stake my national pride on anything having to do with India's civil aviation.

2
VT-CIE Gold

It’s these kinds of insights on lesser-known airlines that truly set apart OMAAT from the rest. It’s sad how Air Serbia and all the other Etihad-affiliated airlines have fallen. By the way, I do hope you’re including Jet Airways among the airlines that have restructured with new owners, and not those which have liquidated. As an Indian it will be a huge offence to me if you continue to classify 9W as liquidated/grounded/defunct, because soon it will take to the skies again — something very few airlines have been able to do..

2
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