This series covers a two-week vacation to Europe that will feature stops in SOF, BEG, TIV, LIS, ARN, and ATH. For background and planning, please refer back to Part 1. As a reminder, the routing for this series is:
Sofia – Part 4 Kotor – Part 6 Belgrade – Part 7 Lisbon – Part 9 Sintra – Part 10 Stockholm – Part 12 Athens – Part 16
This report will cover the flight from SOF to BEG aboard JU. This route is only operated by JU, FB doesn’t touch it. JU sends an ATR 72-500 once daily so the options were very limited. When I booked the award ticket, I just arbitrarily picked a window seat at the back of the plane to avoid the wing. Train service looked particularly unreliable between these two cities so I don’t know how else you would get between them quickly/efficiently. There will be a Sofia bonus at the end of this report.
After lunch, I retrieved my bag from the hotel and took the metro to the airport. As I mentioned at the end of the last report, the metro in Sofia is clean, efficient, and cheap. I bought my ticket from a vending machine for 1лв (€0.50) and got on at Su St. Kliment Ohridski Station in downtown Sofia.
Twenty minutes later, I arrive at SOF.
SOF Terminal 2 is fairly new and modern with a nice façade.
The check-in lobby.
The JU check-in counters. They have two counters with two agents. Ground services in SOF are handled by Swissport. The agent tags my bag to BEG and hands me my boarding pass. He doesn’t mention lounge access so I enquire. He says to use the Swissport Lounge and explains how to get there after clearing security/passport control.
FIDS on the old CRT monitors.
Security was empty and passport control also had no line. However, the immigration officer leaving was not as friendly as the one entering the country. He was talking on his cell phone the entire time and never spoke a word to me. After clearing passport control, I head off to the Business Lounge 1, which is the Swissport Lounge. Business Lounge 2 was a pay lounge.
Walking to the lounge.
The entrance to the lounge, it was just an open door into the room. As you can tell, almost everyone that serves SOF uses this lounge.
The “Vitosha Lounge” is a single room. The agent scans my boarding pass and lets me in. Right next to the counter is the bar and food/drink offerings. She was watching me so I didn’t take pictures up close of the lounge offering.
I grabbed some food and took a seat.
View of the lounge from my seat, there were maybe 10 people inside, most look like they were going to be leaving on the LX flight.
The food/drink offering in the corner. It was like a convenience store, all the food was packaged snacks and drinks. There were large bulk containers of food on the ground where the agent would replenish stuff from. Not very elegant at all.
My boarding documents.
The view from the lounge. The sunny morning quickly vanished into rain clouds. Not a lot to see, but on a clear day you would get spectacular views of Vitosha (ironically the namesake of the lounge).
Questionable baggage handling at SOF observed from the lounge. Hope your bag doesn’t fall off…
Near the boarding time, I hear an airport announcement requesting me to my gate. I pack up and head out. The airport is large and feels empty.
Some spotting on the way there.
LH Technik hangars along with a 9U A320, LX A321, and FB Avro RJ70.
FB ERJ-190 leaving for BCN.
4U A319 (same one that I spotted on arrival missing an engine) and Bright Flight Antonov An-26B.
Down to Gate B2, which is going to be paxbus.
The paxbus waiting room.
I go up to the counter since on my way to the gate, there was a second airport announcement requesting me to my gate. The agent asks me for my passport. He looks concerned as he types, which is never good. He asks me about my middle name. My boarding pass and ticket don’t have my middle name (never really an issue in the US), but it seems Bulgaria was scared to send me to Serbia since the names don’t match. He eventually handed me back my passport and boarding pass, so I think it was okay.
LX Avro RJ100 arriving from ZRH.
Air Serbia, JU 123 Equipment: Aérospatiale/Alenia ATR 72-500 [YU-ALV (ex-XK), delivered March 2006] Departure: 16:05 (ATD: 16:15) Arrival: 16:20 (ATA: 16:05) Flight time: 0:50
Boarding started 10 minutes late, no priority boarding was done. It was just a general boarding call since this flight is Y only and will be handled by paxbus. I join the queue and my boarding pass flashes red. He asks me to step aside until he finishes. After the last passenger went through, he took my passport and again typed some more into the computer before waving me through.
Onto the paxbus as the rain starts to sprinkle.
The bus pulls up next to our plane and we step out to board through the rear.
The beautiful JU logo.
Entering the plane, a FA welcomes me on board in Serbian and then English. The cabin entering the rear.
The seat behind mine.
Seat pitch is okay, nothing fantastic. The ATRs have a seat support that means you can’t have underseat storage for the window seats.
The cabin during boarding.
Safety card for this ATR 72.
In the Elevate magazine, they advertise their social media image, so I think JU is open to photography on board and supports the free advertisement.
JU route map.
We taxi off as the last passenger boards. The FAs do the safety demonstration in Serbian and English. Turning onto the runway. The windows were scratched so most of the photos today will be a little blurry unfortunately.
I won’t be the only photographer today.
We lift up giving aerials of SOF and the city in the distance.
Farmland in the outskirts of Sofia.
We make a U-turn to the northwest and clear through the clouds.
After leveling off, the FAs come through the cabin and distribute snack bags. There is no drink service, which is kind of a disappointment, but at least there is a water bottle inside the bag.
The contents of the snack bag: a water bottle, chicken sandwich, and wet towel.
The cabin mid-flight. Load was around 70%.
It was cloudy the whole way.
Shortly after the trash was collected, we were into our descent into BEG.
Crossing the Sava River.
Flying over the apartment complexes in the outskirts of town.
More housing as we cross into the farmland outside of Belgrade.
We touch down ahead of schedule into BEG on a sunny afternoon.
We pull into our stand next to to our twin that arrived from Sarajevo before us.
Our paxbus arriving.
The seats deplaning.
The FAs thank me for flying as I step out and onto the bus. The bus ride back to the terminal gives some nice spotting.
JU ATR 72.
LO, YM, and LH ERJ-190s.
At the terminal, there was no one in the line for “All Passports” so I was quickly through and off towards the baggage claim.
Welcome to Serbia.
The arrivals information this afternoon.
Interesting Fiat baggage claim exit.
After collecting my bag, I stop at the ATM in the baggage claim to pick up some Serbian dinar (РСД). Clearing customs, I force my way through the sketchy taxi drivers and straight to the shuttle bus to the city. You buy a ticket from the driver for 300дин (€2.40) as you board the bus. The bus takes 40 minutes to reach the center of Belgrade and you can get off at the train station.
Leaving the airport.
I’ll leave off this series here as I begin my stay in BEG. Tune into the next report for a look at YM’s service. I’ll withhold the Belgrade bonus until Part 7.
——————————————– BONUS: I spent two days in Sofia (София), which is a beautiful city with a vibrant history. One day was rainy and one day was sunny so they pictures will have mixed skies since they were taken on different days.
National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria.
Monument to the Tsar Liberator.
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”
National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”
Church of Saint Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, which is the Russian Church.
Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which although only completed in 1912 is the most iconic site in Sofia.
Saint Sofia Church, which dates back to the 6th century.
Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria.
Streets in downtown Sofia.
Quadrat 500, which houses the National Gallery for Foreign Art.
National Art Gallery.
City Garden, a nice park in the city center.
Church of Saint George, which dates from the 4th century and is considered the oldest building in Sofia.
Nezavisimost Square, which is surrounded by Communist era government buildings known as the “Largo”.
The former Party House.
The Council of Ministers of Bulgaria.
The President’s Office.
Saint Nedelya Cathedral, which dates back to the 10th century.
Statue of Saint Sofia.
Streets in the suburbs of Sofia.
Flowers in bloom.
I stayed at the Hotel Sense Sofia, which is the new trendy hotel in the city. The rooms had nice hardwood floors and a large bathroom.
National Museum of Military History, which was a very interesting museum highlighting Bulgaria’s diverse history. There had a large collection of tanks and airplanes at the museum as well, which might be of interest to this community.
The cats of Bulgaria.
Independent Sofia Business Lounge
Sofia - SOF
Belgrad - BEG
A nice flight on JU, they offer a good product for regional flights in the Balkans. Ground services in SOF with Swissport were average. The in-flight service with JU was about what you’d expect from an EY operation. Nice catering, but a drink service could be done with the snack bag since there was about 15 minutes after the bags were distributed and descent started. The Vitosha Lounge in SOF was mediocre at best. Not very private seating areas and the food/drink offerings were all pre-packaged.
Cabin comfort: This is an old ATR so the seats were well broken in, which also means they were comfortable. The pitch is fine for a flight of this length and there wasn’t too much engine noise. I prefer Dash8s to ATRs, but this was perfectly fine for a 50-minute flight.
Crew: A decent JU crew. They all spoke English and did service with a smile. Pilots gave updates and route information in English.
Meal and catering: A snack bag was handed out containing a sandwich, bottled water, and a wet towel. Probably time for a drink service on this 50-minute flight, which is my only criticism. For a flight of this length, this is pretty good service.
Entertainment: Standard seatback literature. No IFE.
On-time performance: We left on-time and arrived early.
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