Written by Miroslav Mešanović

The trip started as most trips do – planning. I was impatiently waiting for Air Serbia to publish the flight schedule for Mostar and to start sales. So, on February 14th I bought my return ticket to Mostar for 11.500 Serbian dinars (around 100 euros). The flights are operated on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays, and I opted to depart to Mostar on Friday and return on Sunday. Both flights were bound to be operated by Marathon Airlines. Following the unpleasant events on February 18th, the scheduled aircraft was changed to an Airbus A319 and then in early April again switched to Embraer 190 operated by Bulgaria Air.
On the day of the departure to Mostar I boarded the regular bus line 860i (Beograd BAS – Baric Industrial zone) because this line is very convenient – after Belgrade Waterfront the bus heads onto the Belgrade – Zagreb highway (making stops on the way) until it reaches the cargo terminal at Belgrade Airport (the most convenient stop in the airport zone). From there, it takes less than 5 minutes to reach Terminal 1 of Belgrade Airport. While the bus was passing the C pier, I could already see my bird parked after its previous flight from Nuremberg. In the back, widebody aircraft belonging to Air Serbia (YU-ARB) and Qatar Airways (A7-BCI) were visible. The bus ride took 21 minutes.

Although I always check-in online whenever possible, I do like to pick up the standard industry boarding pass and have my cabin luggage and personal items labeled. This is the second time I had to stand in line since Menzies Aviation took over the ground services operations on behalf of Air Serbia. After waiting for 14 minutes, it was my turn to approach one of the check-in counters at 11:44. After that I went upstairs to clear immigration and security control. By 12:01 I was standing in the recently opened new Duty Free Shop. I almost never shop in Belgrade; the prices aren’t welcoming but I did walk a bit since this was my first encounter with the new establishment.

My next stop was “Biznis Klub” Dufry operated Lounge at Belgrade Airport. The lounge appears to have been reduced in size, it no longer has dedicated restrooms and cutlery, and coffee cups are disposable. From what I understood, listening to the staff – the lounge is to be moved into another area at the end of the summer season and until then everything will be low-cost as at this moment. Nevertheless, the lounge still offers cold cuts, Serbian bottled wines, beer, juices, water, coffee, and additional (two) options for lunch and dinner. The well-known prepacked Dufry bun sandwiches have been replaced by larger 3rd party sandwiches. Since both Lounges at Belgrade are located near Gate A4, and my assigned gate for this flight was C12, I left the Lounge at 12:55, passing by huge crowds waiting to board the flight to Lisbon at gate C02.

Seven minutes later at 13:02 I was at my gate, pleasantly surprised by seeing a bunch of passengers. As it would later appear during the passenger count by the crew, there were 69 passengers on both of my flights! The capacity of the Embraer E190 is 108 seats. Boarding commenced at 13:18, and apart from boarding special assistance passengers and passengers traveling with children, there was no zoned boarding in place. I took my seat 01F by the window. By 13:30 boarding was completed, the passenger manifest, including a celebrity – Mr Ivan Curkovic (Mostar born football goalkeeper of FK Velez, FK Partizan and Saint-Ettienne, as well as the former president of the Serbian Olympic Committee). An interesting detail – safety demonstration was in English only – a fact that actually confused my parents back home: “You are flying our national airline; they are supposed to instruct you in your mother tongue”. The doors were closed at 13:40 and at 13:50 the plane started taxiing to Runway 12. Before being cleared for take-off I was content to see planes in line waiting to enter the runway.

Flight JU634 took off at 14:01. 10 minutes into the flight the cabin crew completed the complimentary service consisting of now standard “Plazma keks” package and a small bottle of mineral water. This was my second flight onboard this Bulgaria Air E190 jet (the first was JU350 to Frankfurt on April 18th). The first two row of seats (Business Silver) are comfier and more premium than the rest, however, rows 1-3 boast quite some leg space. Twenty minutes into the flight we overflew cloudy Sarajevo and continued south to Mostar. The magic begins with stunning Herzegovina scenery that runs all the way to the Adriatic Sea. During final approach we flew over Buna River which is one of many contributories to Neretva River (on which Mostar lies). After 35 minutes up in the air, the plane touched down at Mostar Airport at 14:36. The airport has no bridges and the passengers disembark the aircraft using two pair of stairs then walking to the immigration control. I was among the very first passengers to disembark and by 14:46 I was landside sporting my “Mostar” passport stamp. Immigration control boasts two stands only. The small arrivals area was packed with people waiting for the arriving passengers. Since regular bus service is non-consistent, I took a cab to the city, which costs around 8 convertible marks for a 7-kilometer ride.

Mostar is one of the most charming cities in the former Yugoslavia and I would personally advise everyone to spend 2 days, ideally 3 in case you decide to visit the surroundings as well. Apart from the Old Bridge (Stari Most) the city is known for its many mosques, the highest church belltower in Bosnia-Herzegovina, poets Aleksa Santic (2 monuments in Mostar, depicted on 10 convertible marks banknote), Osman Djikic, Svetozar Corovic… and its beloved football club Velez (the other football club wasn’t competing 1945-1992), double winner of the Yugoslav football cup in 1981 and 1986. The architecture is a true mix of Venetian Adriatic architecture, Ottoman, Austrian… For stunning views of Mostar, one should climb the Fortica Belvedere and outside Mostar charming towns of Pocitelj, Stolac and Medjugorje await visitors.

Two days later it was time to say goodbye to Mostar and Herzegovina. I arrived at Mostar Airport 1 hour and 45 minutes before flight JU635’s scheduled departure to Belgrade. There were around 20 people outside/inside the terminal, a rather peaceful atmosphere. The terminal building is about the same size as Nis Airport in Serbia, but everything is well organised and brand new with a lot of space. Departures and arrivals landside are practically one medium sized hall with 4 check-in counters, one café bar, toilets, medical room, several travel/rent-a-car offices, one small store and a VIP Lounge (which seems to be still in the final phase of construction). Three check-in counters were dedicated to Air Serbia, one of them for Business Class passengers (definitely for transfer passengers) and one counter for Sky Alps flight to Rome. The airport staff were all extremely helpful and enthusiastic. The departure and arrival boards show all the flights during the week. Quite interesting! Unfortunately, there still aren’t so many flights. The café is lovely because it has tables inside and outside the building with views toward the runway. Is there a better setting for an avid aviation enthusiast? I waited until my Bulgaria Air E190 LZ-PLO landed and only then went through the security and immigration control. The boarding passes and passport are checked electronically before accessing the security control which is performed by the Bosnian Border Force agents, same as the immigration control. Oddly enough, my hand gel in travel size was taken away “because it is flammable and therefore restricted onboard”. Needless to say, I didn’t feel any need to protest.

At 14:39 I was finally airside. I was able to see Gates No 2 and No3, but not Gate No1, however, this space is really limited – it has that Nis Airport feel. There is a small shop and a kind of bar available, as well as toilets (at Gate No 2 area). There is no audio announcement system but the airport staff speaks at loudly. And so, at 14:48 our boarding commenced. Boarding passes were scanned once again, with the longer part being kept by the ground staff. Once seated at my “Business Silver” 02F seat I was able to spot Sky Alps Dash 8-400 9H-ALE arriving to Mostar in order to perform the scheduled flight to Rome (BQ1975).

The plane took off at 15:08, flying southwards and while making a slight turn to west one could wave back to Mostar Airport for one final time. As soon as we were on our route, the captain turned off the fasten seatbelts sign, however, while the crew was distributing the complimentary snacks and beverages, the sign went on again and was kept so until landing in Belgrade. The flight itself was rather uneventful, and I was browsing the Air Serbia in-flight magazine that features a full-page Ad about Mostar being the new destination as well as a news bulletin about the first flight to Mostar. After 38 minutes of flying, the Bulgaria Air E190 landed at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport at 15:46. At 15:55 I was inside the incoming passengers’ area of the airport and by 16:12 outside waiting for Bus Line 600 that goes all the way to Belgrade Centar (aka Prokop) train station.

Overall, both legs of this trip were a pleasurable experience. Things to note – Belgrade Airport info screen in Cyrillic somehow have an error and show nothing for Mostar. Ground operations at Belgrade are way smoother than before, immigration control being the weak point (but this is a matter for Serbian Ministry of Interior). Mostar Airport is small but run with passion, and people working there do their best. Bulgaria Air – nothing to write home about.

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