TRIP REPORT: Air Serbia, Belgrade - Marseille on E190

Written by Tomislav Ivanović

My nonstop flight from Belgrade to Marseille was scheduled on 1st July at 6.40h. In the previous years, I have been spending my summer holidays in the south of France. I used to fly Air France or Lufthansa (via Paris or Munich/Frankfurt), and ticket prices usually soared during the summer months, ranging between 250 EUR and 350 EUR. So, I was quite delighted when I bought a return ticket with Air Serbia to Marseille for an excellent price of 180 EUR. However, as the day approached, I was becoming apprehensive after hearing so much bad news on TV about Air Serbia’s delays and cancellations and the situation at the airport overall. The evening before the flight, I completed check-in via the Air Serbia app on my mobile phone, thinking that it would help me save some time at the airport…
I arrived at the airport at 4.40h, two hours before the flight. The airport was quite crowded with people. The flight to Marseille was operated by Marathon Airlines. I checked the flights, no cancellations so far… A sigh of relief.

I proceeded to the check in desks, in order to drop off my luggage. Ouch. There was a long queue of people in front of Air Serbia check-in desks… After some 15-20 minutes, I came closer to the check in desks so I realised that the queue splits into two lines, where one line is dedicated to drop-off baggage. Luckily, that line was much smaller than the one where passengers had to check-in. So, it was a good idea to do check-in via the Air Serbia app.

However, although the line was much smaller, it didn’t seem we were moving faster. It took almost half an hour to arrive at the baggage drop-off counter. There I noticed that most of the staff at the counter are young people, endlessly slow. I was even asked by the young guy at the counter whether I have a visa for Marseille (although it’s been years that Serbian passport holders do not need a visa to enter France).
When I finally got the boarding pass, I continued upstairs. Jesus, an even longer queue was awaiting me upstairs at passport control. The queue extended all the way to the beginning of the staircase. To make things even worse, there was no air conditioning and the temperature was already higher than normal to feel at ease. The booths with police staff who control passports were almost all occupied. There were only 2 empty booths, plus several airport security guards were showing passengers available booths to speed up the pace. But it didn’t quite help. The policeman at the booth was efficient and polite, just a quick scan of the passport and stamp in the passport… and then followed the security check which actually had no waiting line… All passages for security check were open and working without fuss, so I quickly passed that section of the airport…

The flight was departing from gate C1. I walked slowly through the duty free shop, then via Tesla square and arrived at the gate some 20 minutes before boarding. So, 2 hours was the optimum time to go through the airport.

We started boarding on time. Air Serbia flight JU296 was operated by Marathon Airlines’ Embraer E190 and was scheduled to leave at 6.40h so I was happy that there would be no delay. The crew was predominantly Greek. The pilot welcomed passengers in English with a strong Greek accent. There were 2 flight attendants: one was Serbian and the other was Greek. We boarded the plane, but still we waited for someone. After some 15 minutes, a couple of Greek passengers showed up. After another 15 or 20 minutes, a group of 5 passengers with Bosnian passports also arrived. Then I realized that we were probably waiting for some transfer passengers. After half an hour, a group of 8 Arabic passengers arrived, and the flight attendant announced that boarding was completed. Then the pilot addressed passengers that we were delayed because we were waiting for passengers and that we would depart as soon as we get the slot from airport traffic control. I was observing through the window other planes departing, but it took us almost 15 minutes to start moving towards the runway.

There were about 80-90 passengers on the plane. The weather was cloudy, so most of the flight we could observe only dark clouds through the window. The flight attendants distributed water and cookies. I would like to commend both flight attendants. They were so helpful and polite when talking with passengers. I wish there were more staff like them onboard Air Serbia planes.

The flight was uneventful. When we started descending, suddenly we spotted the city of Marseille and the famous “calanques” steep limestone inlets forming narrow steep canyons towards the sea. The weather in Marseille was partly cloudy, but still the temperature was around 24 degrees C.

When we left the plane, the airport of Marseille was not crowded. Upon reaching the passport control, most of the passengers went to the line for passengers outside EU, whilst just a few went to the police counter for EU citizens. Suddenly, the policewoman came and started shouting in French to come over to the EU counter because there is no queue. People mostly stared at her (presumably not understanding French) so just about 10 of us proceeded to the EU counter. The policewoman was polite, asked me whether I was coming from Belgrade and wished me a nice stay in Marseille.

Luggage arrived quickly afterwards. At the customs zone, several customs officers were stopping passengers from Belgrade, checking luggage and asking for cigarettes. Eventually, we arrived in Marseille with a delay of 1 hour, and the delay was largely caused by waiting for transfer passengers at Belgrade Airport.
I hope the situation will be similar or better on the return. My friends often make jokes about my karma when travelling with Air Serbia, because I seldom have any problems when flying Air Serbia… I hope it continues that way. I am happy that finally I can make Belgrade to Marseille trip in 2 hours’ time.

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