Why is oneworld unsuccessful in Belgrade?



The presence of oneworld in Belgrade is pathetic! Not only is their passenger share below 1% but they are present in the Serbian market simply through Malév’s 5 weekly frequencies from Budapest.



It is a very well known fact that one of the most lucrative markets from Belgrade is the North American one.

However, in that particular region oneworld’s presence is impressive. This is mostly achieved through American Airlines’ extensive  network in the US, and British Airways’ far-reaching network from London Heathrow.


American Airlines has numerous bases around the United States, two of them being very important for the Balkan passengers: New York and Chicago.

Star Alliance has mounted a very aggressive ongoing campaign in order to establish itself as the dominant carrier in the ex-Yugoslav/Balkan market.

In Belgrade alone they hold an impressive 22% of the market. In June Lufthansa recorded an average loadfactor to Belgrade of 89%. The airline operates the route twice daily with their Boeing B737-300.


For years now Lufthansa has targeted passengers flying from Belgrade to North America. Its subsidiaries, Swiss and Austrian, both offer convenient connections via their hubs. Swiss even introduced a second daily flight in order to offer faster connections. As a result its passenger numbers between Belgrade and Zurich have doubled.


British Airways, as the biggest oneworld member airline in Europe, was at a serious disadvantage due to British visa requirements for Serbian citizens.

This meant that Serbs travelling to North America needed a British transit visa even when connecting through Heathrow.

As British Airways’ O&D market was taken over by Jat Airways (higher frequencies than BA) and Wizz Air (cheap!) they had no option but to direct the aircraft to more profitable routes.

Until the British government decides to remove the visa requirement for Serbian citizens it is doubtful whether British Airways will consider returning to Belgrade.

However, the British government has stated its possible intention to remove the visa restriction in the foreseeable future. This liberalization would likely encourage British Airways’ return to Belgrade, thus posing a serious threat to the current airlines dominating this market.

Not only is a London transit the most direct way for Serbs to travel to the US but it is also the city that serves the greatest variety of US destinations, and with high frequencies.


Currently the only oneworld airline from the alliance in Belgrade is Malév which is struggling to survive.

To make things even worse, both Malév and American Airlines have neglected the Serbian market and the New York flight is not coordinated with the arrivals from Belgrade. This is a major mistake as the combination of Malév and American Airlines could have been the cheapest and most convenient of all thanks to the proximity of Belgrade and Budapest.


If these two airlines had serious intentions about serving Serbia then they should have known that by poaching some passengers from the competition and developing Budapest as a transit hub for Serbs they could have planned Chicago-Budapest in the future.

Without suitable timings between Belgrade and North American flights out of Budapest, Malév will keep on struggling in Serbia.

Serbs are no strangers to Budapest. During the 1990s when air travel was severely restricted out of Belgrade the vast majority of Serbs used Budapest as their departure point.

To make things even more convenient for them, Lot has announced that they will be discontinuing Belgrade services during the winter.

With Lot gone for the winter season Malév should have jumped in with a revised schedule in order to offer Belgrade-New York at affordable prices and with fast transit times.

One major mistake Malév is currently making is that they are trying to attract passengers to connect through Budapest en route  to other parts of Europe. The problem with this strategy is that the market they are trying to get into is highly competitive and far from profitable.

One of their major threats is from airBaltic which has a massive network within Scandinavia with multiple daily departures and cheap fares: both of which Malév lacks.

To make things even worse  airBaltic’s average load factor for June jumped from just over 50% to 74% year on year.

With these catastrophic results Malév should really reconsider their operations in Belgrade. Will they keep on struggling to attract passengers to connect via Budapest to the rest of Europe or will they change their strategy and coordinate their flights with American Airlines in order to fill their flight to JFK?


oneworld’s situation will remain as is and will not improve until Niki joins the alliance.

With Niki in the alliance oneworld passengers will have much greater flexibility when travelling. Currently the airline uses their E-190 aircraft between Vienna and Belgrade. From the winter season the airline will be adding 5 additional frequencies in order to offer better connections at its hub, Vienna.


Besides Malév and Niki the only possible airline we might see in Belgrade is British Airways. The rest have too little demand to succeed in Serbia.



oneworld’s true glory in Serbia cannot be achieved without the return of British Airways!




12 Responses to Why is oneworld unsuccessful in Belgrade?

  1. dd says:

    According Budapest officials during ’90 about 20% of all passengers on Ferihegy was from Serbia.

  2. Aleks Nikolic says:

    ^ When my mom flew somewhere around ’90, she flew Cleveland – New York, New York – Budapest.. then took a bus to Beograd, because of the sanctions there were no flights.

  3. vaske says:

    I heard that there are some rumors that Qatar airways might start flights to belgrade.Do you know anything about that?

    • Hi.

      The entry of Qatar into the Serbian market is more than a logical step. Recently they have expanded into neighboring Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary with flights to Budapest recording impressive results. Due to these impressive results achieved in Budapest the airline has axed the stop in Bucharest which is now linked with Sofia.
      Belgrade on the other hand has a tight cooperation with Dubai through the interline agreement between Jat and Emirates. The delay of the launch of Belgrade was a smart move by Qatar as they did not want to provoke Emirates before securing the neighboring market.
      A major advantage of Qatar is that it can open the route with an A319 whereas Emirates have no other choice than to launch it with their smallest jet A330-200. We have heard rumors that flydubai might launch flights to Belgrade on board their B737-800 aircraft. Now, if they do that they will send a clear message to Qatar that they are not that ready to give up on the Serbian market.
      Even with flydubai operating the route Qatar will still have a clear advantage- it will operate the route with their mainline fleet thus offering incomparably higher level of service beating flydubai. Even if flydubai will provide direct flights to Dubai, Qatar will be able to provide fast connections via its new hub in Doha.
      With Emirates attempting to fight off the best airline in the world with its lowcost branch will mean that they should see a massive initial loss on the route due to a price war.

      The potential loss of the Serbian market to Qatar will be partially the fault of Jat. The airlines’ constant inability to modernize its fleet and thus offer decent connections to Dubai will cost Emirates a lot.

      My personal opinion is that it’s just a matter of time before Qatar enters and dominates the market by pushing both Jat and Emirates out of the deal. Now, the only question that remains is if Qatar will launch direct flights or will they make it via some other Balkan airport.
      Emirates will not launch flights to Belgrade on their mainline metal as simply the airport just like the economic situation in the country leave a lot to be desired. Emirates have just launched Prague, and cities such as Warsaw and Budapest have more chances of seeing their metal there than we do in Belgrade.

  4. vaske says:

    Thanks for your replay!
    I totally agree with everything you wrote.I think Qatar airways will try to attract connecting passengers,on the other hand Flydubai will try to attract point to point passengers.What do you think will Flydubai commence flights to Belgrade or it is just a Serbian newspaper joke.
    I hope both Qataris as well as Flydubai will come,soon.

  5. Pavle says:

    Hello, and many thanks for a great blog! Just a quick question – you mention that UK visas are required for Serbian passengers flying thru to the USA.

    As per the official rules ( http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/customs-travel/transitthroughtheuk/visa-to-transit-landside/ ), should we not be allowed the ‘Transit without visa’ concession, even when needing to recheck the bags?
    “If you are a visa national or recognised as stateless, you may be able to transit the UK landside without a visa. To qualify for this exemption: – you must arrive and depart by air;
    – your onward flight must be confirmed, and must depart within 24 hours;
    – and you have proper documentation for your destination, including a visa if necessary”

    …and similarly for the transit airside: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/customs-travel/transitthroughtheuk/visa-transit-airside/

    • Hey…

      I actually do not know what they mean by ”…if you are a visa national..” but I guess that Serbs do not qualify as stateless which means that we would need a transit visa. Transit visas are obtained from the UK embassy in Belgrade and to get them one needs to go through a bureaucratic nightmare. That is why the vast majority of passengers to North America transit through Germany/ Switzerland…

      oneworld has shown us that they are not interested in fighting Star Alliance in Belgrade. Their success is measured by Malev’s success in Belgrade which according to the latest statistics is failing to attract passengers.

  6. Pavle says:

    See the “Terms Explained” box on the right-hand side of the HomeOffice webpage. By “visa national” they mean “A person who is a national or citizen of certain countries and will always require a visa to come to the United Kingdom,” and the list they give includes Serbia.

    Therefore, I can’t really see why we’d need the transit visa for either landside or airside transit, if one holds a ticket and a valid visa to the USA; of course, it would help to either ask the Home Office or BA, or to hear someone’s first-hand account of their LHR transit experience…

    Malev does seem to offer the (currently) cheapest tickets to the USA (with the route BEG-BUD-BRU-ORD), and I was very happy with their BEG-BUD-CDG pricing and schedule this August, so maybe their strategy just needs a bit of tweaking and a bit more aggressive marketing?

    • Hey Pavle,

      Actually I was supposed to fly BEG-LHR-KEF and needed a British transit visa. It’s a true shame as London is linked to numerous North American cities and would make travelling to that region very easy and flexible.

      Regarding Malev and their operations to Belgrade, their lf dropped this August from 53% last year to just 35%! The problem with the flights to the US is that they offer connections only two times per week, that is when there is the 04:55 departure out of Belgrade. Malev’s passenger numbers in Belgrade have been low since January 2010 when they carried 3,036 passengers.
      I am really curious to see their numbers once Lot and CSA withdraw from Belgrade.

      • praguc says:

        Regarding the british visa. if you are holding a valid us, canada, australia or new zealand visa you dont need a uk visa. for all other destinations you do. i flew thru heathrow to chicago and didnt need anything.

  7. vaske says:

    Is there any chance of new airlines starting routes to Belgrade?What is happening with Flydubai flights?

  8. Hey Vaske,

    To be honnest the flights have not been loaded into flydubai’s system which mankes me doubt that the flights will be introduced. Usually airlines launch the sale several months in advance so that people can plan ahead.
    Now, maybe they will go ahead with the flights as initially planned however they will lose a considerable amount of money on the route.
    Another scenario is that they will not launch Belgrade until the 2012 summer season when there are more passengers and the loads are usually higher.

    Well there is SkyWork from Bern launching flights soon as well as 12 new frequencies from Vienna on both Austrian Airlines and Niki.

    I am supposed to publish a new blog post today with more information.


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