Up in the air: the patchy implementation of Kosovo-Serbia air travel deal

Despite an agreement reached years ago to allow Kosovars to fly to and from the Belgrade airport, whether passengers will successfully arrive in Serbia’s capital is a game of chance.

Gezim Krasniqi was set to fly to Belgrade during the first week of May from Geneva, but he was blocked by his chosen airline, EasyJet, who told him that people with Kosovo passports are not allowed to fly to Belgrade. Despite his repeated assurances to the airline that according to a deal reached in September 2014 allowing Kosovars to fly to and from Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport, Krasniqi was rerouted to Prishtina.

Krasniqi, who lives in London, flew successfully to Belgrade using his Kosovo ID twice, once from Ljubljana and once from Podgorica, where there were some queries but he was able to fly without a problem. On his third attempt to fly to Belgrade, from Geneva, Krasniqi was denied.

“Although I explained to them that I had flown to Belgrade twice with Kosovan ID, they were not convinced,” says Krasniqi. “The company seemed not to be aware about the travel arrangement between Kosovo and Serbia and they refused to contact the Belgrade airport on time. They did contact the airport only after I was denied boarding and my checked-in suitcase was taken out. Later, the company’s manager at the airport claimed that they had never had a person with Kosovo documents flying from Geneva to Belgrade.”

Krasniqi missed a conference he had been invited to attend. On Wednesday, Kosovo entrepreneur Kushtrim Xhakli, was set to travel from Warsaw airport to Belgrade to speak at a conference about “Net Neutrality and the Commons,” but he was not allowed to board the plane, blocked by the staff of LOT Polish Airlines. 

“I’m stuck in here losing the entire day, the organizers lost a speaker, freedom of movement in 21st century lost its hope,” he posted on his Facebook page.

He was later placed on another flight to Frankfurt, where he hoped he would be able to persuade airline personnel to let him board a flight for Belgrade.

“It’s a nightmare, I will spend all day in airports,” he told Prishtina Insight.

In such cases, there is no refund for the flight. The agreement on air travel is part of the agreements Serbia and Kosovo reached on freedom of movement. On September 16, 2014, representatives from Belgrade and Prishtina agreed in Brussels that Kosovo ID card holders could transit through airports in Belgrade and Nis.

It depends on the airport and the airline, says Kosovo Liaison officer to Serbia Valdet Sadiku. Sadiku has been representing Kosovo in Belgrade for more than two and a half years, but says flying to Belgrade after participating in meetings in Brussels or Vienna can be a game of chance.

“It depends from airport to airport,” says Sadiku, who has held his official post in Belgrade since Summer 2013, “but from Brussels airport it is almost impossible.”

Sadiku said he often has to cajole the airline employees to let him fly to his layover destination, where he once again needs to convince the airline that he is allowed to land in Belgrade.

Other airline passengers have reported flying without incident.  Krenar Gashi, who is working on his PhD in Belgium, has flown three times to Belgrade from Brussels three times without incident.  Gashi said that while he endured lectures from police “preaching how I should get Serbian documents since it is possible and it would make the travelling easier; the very same discourse with a dose of contempt that I would get whenever travelling to Serbia in the past, with UNMIK travel documents and special permits,” he was never denied entry.

Shpend Kursani, a researcher who is working on his PhD in Florence, was successful when he attempted to fly for the first time from Florence to Belgrade via Rome on AlItalia.

“On 27 September 2015 I took a flight from Florence to Belgrade, via Rome,” he told PI. “At the Nikola Tesla airport I did not have any problems, except that I had to wait a bit longer until the poor border police officer had to go and find the nitty-gritty document issued for Kosovo citizens when entering Serbia. Flying back from Serbia to Florence via Rome was as seamless as it could possibly get.”

Less than one month later, on 19 November, he set off to make the same journey: “I was going to take exactly the same flight route, with the same airline, and actually even through the same gate,” he said. He made it through check-in, but was blocked when he attempted to board the plane.

“The airline employees were just sorry about the fact that their computers were showing that Kosovo passports are denied entry; hence I was turned back. I did try to explain that there is an agreement between the two parties that Kosovo citizens enter Serbia with an ID card, but to no avail. He asked me to show him my ID, and when he saw that it is a Kosovo ID card, said ‘I’m sorry you cannot go with this.’”

Kursani said he lost so much time and money that he will not try again.

“I did not try flying [there] ever since, and I don’t think I will or even try risking again. Why take the risk when they did this once. Too dangerous to waste money.”

Kosovo authorities said as early as March 2015 that the agreement was already functioning but with difficulties in implementation. According to Sadiku, there have been no complaints from Kosovars trying to fly out of Belgrade, only with arriving.

It remains unclear if Kosovo, Serbia, and/or EU institutions have issued any official document that can be circulated to airlines in order to improve traffic travel. Queries to spokespeople at the EU External Action Service and the Kosovo government went unanswered.

“The Kosovo government should get their act together, and use their “digital diplomacy” which they treat as a personal toy,” says Kursani. “They should be more proactive in informing not only airlines, but states, corporations, etc. regarding the agreements they are signing with Serbia. Well if somebody sees those agreements, which look like second grade elementary school assignments, no one will take them seriously. But I guess they can try.”

Gezim Krasniqi and Shpend Kursani are both opinion columnists for PI. Have you had a similar experience? Send us your story at [email protected].

18/05/2016 - 15:27

18 May 2016 - 15:27

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.