A week after my return from the workshop in Warsaw sees me going up in the air again. But this time it is a private trip. After a lot of humming and hawing about where to go and what to do for the long Easter weekend, eventually I settled on something not quite so far afield as my recent trips, but certainly just as interesting – at least from a flying perspective. For the first installment, I’ve decided to give the new Air Serbia a spin. For those of you who may not be familiar with the carrier, Air Serbia is the latest incarnation of what used to be JAT – Yugoslav Air Transport. The carrier is now under new management and funding, courtesy of Etihad Airways, and the future is looking much brighter than it has for a long time for this carrier.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Departs from: Basel SBB, the station of the Swiss Federal Railways
Frequency: every thirty minutes
Journey time: ca. 75 minutes, which includes changing at Zurich main station
Fare: CHF37 one way, second class
I awake to find it’s another beautiful day, there isn’t a single cloud in the sky this morning. There’s still a nip in the air, but still it feels as though spring is finally only just around the corner.
My flight this morning leaves at 09:55 from Zurich, so I figure I might as well take the train at 06:33 to Zurich, which is the one I normally take to go to work. With that one, I should arrive at Zurich airport just before 08:00. Of course this may be a tad early, but what with it being the long Easter weekend, I’m not really quite sure what to expect in terms of queues at the airport.
The train is definitely less crowded than it normally would be – presumably because it’s Maundy Thursday – and there’s a very lazy atmosphere in the carriage that you don’t normally notice.
Location: Check-in 2, row 4 – the area is currently undergoing reconstruction
Facilities: No self-check-in available
Counters: The handling agent for Air Serbia is Swissport, there are dedicated Business Class check-in counters which are available for the passengers of all the airlines handled by Swissport.
Row 4 of Check-in 2 is located in the newly refurbished part of what used to be Terminal B. The numbering is perhaps a little confusing right now. Row 4 is in fact at the back of row 1. Perhaps all of this will make sense once the other half of the departures concourse has been renovated.
Before heading for the lounge, I decide to go out on the viewing terrace to have a look at what’s going on outside. Entrance to the terrace is CHF5.- and there are lockers if you don’t fancy carting your belongings through the security check. There is a depot of CHF2.- to use the lockers.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to see this morning is a Swiss A 330-300 which is heading for Athens. Presumably it’s substituting for Swiss’ A 321 which recently suffered rather substantial damage went it experienced a tail strike on touch down.
Location: On the upper floor of the shopping centre, I mean airside…
Type of Lounge: Oneworld contractor lounge
Facilities: Cold food and drink, coffee and tea making facilities, there are no toilets inside the lounge
Internet: Free internet for one hour only inside the lounge
Air Serbia uses the Oneworld lounge in Zürich, which is a pleasant surprise. For a moment I was worried they might use that god awful DNATA lounge opposite, which really doesn’t have enough space to swing a cat.
This is my first visit to this lounge. I quite like the design of the lounge, kind of rustic with a modern twist.
Priority Boarding: There is no separate queue, but a boarding call is made inviting Business Class passengers to board at their leisure.
There’s a bit of a mix up with the seats. Originally I should have been on 1A, the window on the left side of the bus. Once I’m on board though, I take a look at my boarding pass and realise that I’ve been moved to 2C, an aisle seat. I’m really not quite sure what the point is in having advanced seat assignment when the airline is not in a position to honour that seat assignment later on. But that is just a minor detail and so far my impression of Air Serbia is pretty good.
Configuration: 2 + 2 in a dedicated Business Class cabin
Seat: 2C, aisle on the left side
Facilities: Small tray table attached to the armrest in the middle, between the two seats
Audio and Video: NIL
Blimey! The cabin and the seat on this bird are really something. First of all, it’s highly unusual to be on an aircraft with a dedicated Business Class cabin on a short intra-European hop of only 95 minutes. Secondly, the aircraft is obviously still quite new, or at least was only recently refurbished. I like it!
There are two rows of Business Class and today, all eight seats are taken. The back of the bus looks rather full as well.
There is a large pillow and a blanket at every seat. I have a quick peek into Economy Class and there are pillows in every seat there too, although they’re slightly smaller.
Quite simply charming, that’s really the only way to describe the crew on this flight. Passengers are greeted at the door by a pleasant young man with a genuine smile. Service in the Business Class cabin is done by a petite and very chic young lady while we’re still on the ground.
First there is a round of welcome drinks. I choose a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
This is followed by the distribution of the menus for the flight and warm, rose-scented hot towels.
Later on the flight attendant passes through the cabin with newspapers. As she does, she apologises to me because there are only local papers on board today.
And finally, just before the cabin is secured for departure, the crew pass through the cabin taking orders for drinks and the meal after take-off.
Welcome drink on the ground: Yes, freshly squeezed orange juice
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, war and scented
Pre-meal drink: Orange juice with a ramekin of warm mixed nuts
Choice: Beef or chicken
Delivery: Individual tray service
Type of meal: Lunch, hot meal
- chicken, feta and spinach roll with potato and grilled yellow pepper salad
- beef tenderloin with mushroom sauce, served with chunky vegetables and roasted sliced potatoes
- chocolate cheesecake with whipped cream
- a slice of herb bread
As soon as we’re airborne, the purser springs into action. By the looks of it, he’ll be doing the service all by himself in Business Class. As he delivers the orange juice with the nuts he smiles again and even makes a point of addressing me by name.
With excellent timing he appears again at my seat just as I finish the nuts. He opens the tray table for me and lays a crisp white linen tablecloth down. The presentation of the meal is good. The only thing you could complain about, and really just for the sake of complaining, is that there is no butter or olive oil to go with the meal.
The gentleman sitting next to me has ordered a vegetarian meal, fortunately he doesn’t mind me taking a picture of his meal before he digs in. Thanks a lot.
The quality of the meal is excellent. The beef is incredibly tender and flavourful and the vegetables have even managed to retain their flavour.
I give the dessert a try. It’s very chocolaty and rich, but way to sweet for me, so I only end up having a couple of spoonfuls.
As soon as he notices I’ve finished with the meal, the intrepid young man whisks away my tray and asks me if I’d like a coffee, hot chocolate or a tea. The milk with the coffee comes in this really cute little pot.
The meal concludes with the distribution of another hot rose scented towel.
And shortly after that it’s already time for us to begin the descent into Belgrade.
In Belgrade I shall be spending about two hours – I’m only in transit. My onward flight will also be with Air Serbia. So far so good, though. In fact it’s more than just good. The level of service provided by Air Serbia on this flight really is outstanding. All the crew are just so nice, they interact with their passengers, who are treated more like guests than travellers on a plane. And all the time they’re very charming and pleasant. The quality of the meal is also very good, moreover, the quantity of the meal really is something else.
Let’s see what happens next…