Bosnia is only a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. But very few European airlines bother to go there. From London there is no direct flight – your best bet is a stopover in Vienna or Munich.
When I was planning the journey recently, I opted for leg one with Lufthansa and leg two with Austrian Airlines. I thought that they might be a bit more reliable than Malev, the Hungarian national air carrier that runs a daily flight from London with a tight 45-minute transfer in Vienna.
How wrong I was. The Lufthansa flight from London was delayed for nearly two hours (we were eventually told there had been technical problems) and when we finally arrived in Vienna the weary Austrian Airlines staff explained that the connecting flight had departed and there were no more flights to Sarajevo until the next day.
I had to be grateful in a way. I ended up sleeping in a comfortable four-star hotel next to the airport. The Balkan travellers stranded on the same flight were not so lucky.
“I’m going to miss a really important meeting tomorrow morning,” said one, desperately hoping for a sign of effort being made to solve her problem.
“You don’t have a Schengen passport. You are not allowed to leave the airport,” the young female passenger was told. She was handed a blanket and a flimsy airline pillow and burst into tears. The blank-faced airline staff then informed other passengers to move to a different queue because their shift had ended.
This week, the EU has decided to lift visa requirements on Bosnian and Albanian citizens and from mid-December they should be able to travel freely for up to 90 days in and out of EU countries that are signatories to the Schengen agreement.
Bosnians are delighted and have reportedly been flocking to passport offices to apply for the biometric passports required under the new arrangement. Bosnia and Albania are the last of the Balkan states to be given this freedom. Visa requirements for Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia were lifted last December. All are still a long way off getting EU membership, but the chance to travel more freely is a relief in the meantime.
Old, western European countries may still have the political model that small eastern European countries aspire to. But western Europe may have a thing or two to learn these days from up and coming eastern European nations when it comes to airline efficiency and customer service.
I’ll definitely be trying Malev if ever I need to get to Bosnia again.