Air Serbia is ripping out the business class seats on its A319 and A320 aircraft used for flights within Europe. I learned the hard way.
One of the reasons I was so excited to fly Air Serbia and paid the extra points for business class was because (I thought) the carrier has “real” business class seats on flights within Europe–
But as I boarded my London to Belgrade flight yesterday I found the following seats instead starting in row one–
The dreaded Recaro slimline seats!
I was shocked because no one had reported these seats anywhere. SeatGuru showed only real business class seats and the spattering of online trip reports also showed only the seats in the first picture above.
Everything else about the flight was nice–the service was particularly warm–but I just could not figure out what happened. Was this aircraft a one-off?
Finally, I asked a FA and she stated that just a few weeks ago Air Serbia had began retrofitting its shortahaul A319 and A320 fleet and would be removing business class on all planes except the A330 used for the New York flight.
It’s Official: All Shorthaul Business Class Seats to be Replaced
Sure enough, after landing in Belgrade I found the following press release from last month–
The slimmer seats are lightweight and designed to take less space, enabling Air Serbia to install additional rows of seats, while improving the overall living space and comfort for guests.
With the cabin refurbishment, seat capacity on the A319 aircraft will increase from 128 to 144 seats and on the A320s from 155 to 174 seats, growing by more than 12 per cent in total across the narrow-body fleet.
The new Recaro seats will also be installed in Business Class on the narrow-body fleet, which will seat two guests in each aisle compared to three in Economy, with the middle seat kept empty for extra space.
The Business Class will be separated from Economy Class by a movable class divider, enabling Air Serbia to adapt the number of seats according to travel demand. Up to 12 seats will now be available in Business Class depending on the seating configuration.
The Recaro seats are simply horrible. Despite a nice meal in business class, it is absolutely not worthwhile to spend the extra for business with such an uncomfortable seat. Furthermore, the old business class seats had in-seat power. The new seats have no power outlets. This is a huge downgrade.
Needless to say, I am deeply disappointed as a customer. More importantly, I am deeply disappointed as an analyst because I think the attractive shorthaul business class was key in distinguishing Air Serbia from the competition.
Air Serbia Loses its Competitive Advantage
But perhaps like most Etihad investments, Air Serbia is also ailing. Business was only booked 3/8 on my flight yesterday. Thus, I can understand the desire to have a more versatile, variable business class product. On the other hand, I can guarantee Air Serbia that if it had trouble selling business class before with plush seats, it will have more trouble now. Europe does not need another low-cost carrier. The beauty of Air Serbia was its full service style.
Then again, profitable American Airlines is shrinking seat pitch to 30″ and adding slimline seats. It could be greed rather than desperation driving this retrofit…
It is sad to see a product deteriorate, especially a young product like the rebranded Air Serbia. By the time this publishes I’ll be on my flight to New York. I trust that there will not be any surprise cutbacks on that flight…