Serbia Bans Montenegro Airlines Following Diplomatic Disagreement

Montenegro Airlines has been banned from flying to Belgrade Nikola Tesla airport after a diplomatic spat between Serbia and Montenegro about COVID-19 travel restrictions. Let’s take a look at what caused this ban, and what the impact on Montenegro Airlines might be.

Montenegro Airlines Fokker 100 Frankfurt Airport
In a surprising move, Montenegro Airlines aircraft have been banned from Serbia. Photo: Tom Boon, Simple Flying

The background of the ban

Montenegro declared itself the first country in Europe to be free of COVID-19, after the country’s only remaining patient who tested positive for the virus was cured of the illness. Montenegro was also the last European country to be affected by the virus and was among the first to impose heavy travel restrictions.

In February, Montenegro banned Wizz Air and Ryanair from flying to the country, on the basis that they operated flights to Northern Italy. The ban was gradually extended into a full-scale shutting of Montenegro’s borders, for the purpose of containing the inflow of contagious diseases.

Over two months later, Montenegro is relaxing these restrictions – but not for Serbia. Montenegro devised a criterion by which it will allow entry of foreign nationals through its borders: if a country has fewer than 25 active cases per 100,000 people, then its citizens are allowed to enter Montenegro.

Serbia does not meet this criterion, and so it is not part of the first nine countries to which Montenegro will open its borders. These are Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, and Greece.

Air Serbia A320 Belgrade Airport
Air Serbia can fly into Montenegro, but Serbian nationals cannot enter the country. Photo: Getty Images

The ban on Montenegro Airlines

Blic reports that the Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate has adopted a measure that it deems as “reciprocal” to Montenegro’s ongoing travel restrictions with Serbia. This decision is to ban Montenegro Airlines aircraft from arriving in the Serbian capital, at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. The measure comes at a great surprise because the countries Serbia and Montenegro maintain very close diplomatic relations, and their flag carriers Air Serbia and Montenegro Airlines have been cooperating tightly for many years.

Serbia has justified this decision by claiming that Montenegro’s continued travel restrictions for Serbian nationals are causing “serious damage” to Air Serbia because the “principle of reciprocity of the movement of people” has been violated.

Air Serbia
Serbia claims that Montenegro’s travel restrictions are harming Air Serbia, and so it chose to harm Montenegro Airlines in return. Photo: Getty Images

Which routes are affected?

The ban was particularly tricky for 115 Montenegrin nationals who arrived in Serbia yesterday as students, just at the time when the Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate announced the ban. They arrived on a charter flight because Montenegro Airlines has not resumed flying yet. However, because the ban is in place starting today, Wednesday 27th May, their arrival has not posed them any problems.

As for scheduled routes, there are many that are affected: Montenegro Airlines ordinarily flies between Podgorica and Belgrade twice daily in the summer. Air Serbia flies three times daily. Between Tivat and Belgrade, Air Serbia and Montenegro Airlines fly up to 10 times daily. Serbia is a vital source of tourism for Montenegro, and tourism is a vital sector for Montenegro’s GDP. Thus, it is likely that this diplomatic spat will be resolved very quickly.

Do you think Serbia was justified in restricting Montenegro Airlines from flying there as a way of reciprocating the harm done to Air Serbia? Let us know what you think in the comments below.