Check-in, security, and immigration were a breeze in Podgorica. The airport is so small there’s no real gates, just one large room on the other side of immigration with multiple doors leading out to busses. There was a VIP lounge as well, but unfortunately (for some odd reason) Air Serbia had no agreement for business class passengers to use it. Yes, I said Air Serbia. So what happened to flying JAT? Well, for once, I trusted my travel agent (who knew JAT was gone) that I was JAT, but they’d actually rebranded several months prior to Air Serbia when Ethihad took a 49% ownership stake.
Air Serbia flight 173
Podgorica, Montenegro (TGD) to Belgrade, Serbia (BEG)
Depart 15:40, Arrive 16:30, Flight Time 0:50
Airbus A319-100 Registration YU-APE, Manufactured 2007, Seat 2A
15:40 came and went, and no sign of boarding, although the area leading to the door outside was a madhouse. Finally 5 minutes after scheduled departure, the floodgates were open, and everyone madly rushed our plane:
I was expecting the usual crappy Euro Business by this point, but it was proper 2×2 US-style seating up front…quite nice!
Quickly was asked for a pre-departure, and I asked if by chance they had sparkling wine. She went to the galley, and brought it on a tray with my glass to pour in front of me, and OMG it was Veuve! Now THAT is seriously impressive on a 50 minute flight gate to gate!
Just because it was novel…the in-flight magazine:
Due to the delay, we ended up taking off right at sunset:
The sunset only got better as we climbed:
Now the shocking part…a full cold meal on a 50 minute flight. That meant more Veuve, since nobody else was drinking and I couldn’t let it go to waste!
…and without the saran wrap:
Was seriously impressed by Air Serbia, and I went into it expecting a pretty crappy flight. No trouble getting a taxi, and was maybe a 20 minute drive to my hotel, the Metropol Palace, an SPG Luxury Collection property. Approaching just after sunset:
So, my thoughts on the hotel:
The staff all-around were excellent, especially the one at the front desk who checked me in. Every time I’d walk by after that she’d remember to ask me by name if the last thing she helped me with worked out well – from restaurants to directions, etc. Also, the staff in the health club and spa were good. Yes, I said spa…the SPG platinum benefit was (on top of the normal 500 points) a 30 minute complimentary massage…which I upgraded to 60 minutes for only 30 euros. What a deal! Wasn’t the best massage I’ve ever had, but for the price paid it was outstanding! I also used the gym, which was pretty good for a hotel gym. Plenty of cardio machines, and a decent small weight area. Back to the staff, I used the hotel car service to the airport since I had to go at oh-dark-thirty, and although the driver loved going over 140kph on the highway and was way too chatty and caffeinated for that hour of the morning, it was a comfortable trip.
The room was an upgrade to something the size of a junior suite, but was called an executive deluxe or some such thing. Very comfortable, nicely furnished and all-around pretty good. Nothing outstanding, but solid. Nice rain shower, comfortable bed, and good workspace with lots of outlets.
The biggest drawback of the hotel to me was the executive lounge. Don’t get me wrong, the happy hour munchies were decent, and there was plenty of wine, but the ambiance was a serious shortcoming. Remember me mentioning above that Etihad had taken a 49% stake in Air Serbia? Well, both nights I was there, I was one of maybe 3 non-Etihad employees in the lounge, and there were 20+ ethihad crew clearly on layover turning it into their own private party room. They talked as if nobody else was there (and in fairness they WERE 90% of the people there) and the staff clearly knew all of them well and laughed and joked with them. So, just a note to the hotel, I know you’re probably making a fortune off them, but it’s important to be considerate of your other guests as well.
Only ate in the hotel one time, and that was breakfast because it was included in my corporate rate. Breakfast spread was absolutely fantastic. I normally don’t drink juice unless it’s fresh, and they had amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice. Great pastries, lots of hot items, cold cuts, fruits, cheeses – you name it. The breakfast was a huge positive.
All in all, I’d definitely return again when I’m in Belgrade. I’m sure had I reached out to the staff about the lounge issue they would have proposed something, and it really was a very minor distraction…considering I love airline talk most of the time!