In Kosovo’s attempt to become more “European,” one thing, apart from obvious statehood, has held Kosovo back: airline flights. Airline flights? If you want to go to Kosovo, you’re only bet other than a NATO flight, is to catch a connecting flight to Pristina from Vienna on Austrian Airlines or Budapest on Malev Airlines. And, if you want to leave Kosovo to visit other parts of Europe or the United States, you have to do the same thing: catch a connecting flight from either Vienna or Budapest.
To be sure, there is a wider selection of choices at Skopje Airport . . . but that’s in Macedonia. Unless you have a free ride, you’re out on at least a 120 Euro taxi ride, not to mention anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours at the Macedonian border. There’s also cheap and convenient flights from Belgrade . . . but the visa situation for a Kosovo traveler is extremely difficult (a traveler cannot come into Serbia directly from Kosovo without a prior “entry stamp”). There’s also special charter flights to Germany and Switzerland run by Kosovo Airlines, but they run only once a week. There is one true bright spot: a quick flight to Istanbul, which has direct flights to many other places, for a roundtrip which will sink you back no more than 185 Euros.
For Kosovo to become more integrated with the rest of the world, people not only need an easier way to come to Kosovo, but also an easier way to get out of Kosovo. Although many people can’t point to Kosovo on a map to save their lives, Kosovo is in a highly accessible place by way of the crow. It’s a stones throw to Bulgaria, a coffee spill to Greece, a whisper to Albania or Montenegro, and a football pass to Italy. But to get to these places by plane is either ridiculously expensive or ridiculously inconvenient. Often times, a traveler from Pristina will have to travel to Central Europe before he or she can reach a major capital in the Balkans.
Cheaper and more varied travel options need to be provided, particularly for flights within the Balkans. You have to take a 10 hour plus bus to get to Budva or Sofia. A 15 hour bus ride to get to Sarajevo. Imagine if there were more travel options than slaving in the chicken buses.
Croatia Airlines has joined the bandwagon. It will have flights three times a week from Zagreb to Pristina, starting June 16. I checked the website and a roundtrip flight will cost you about 4200 Croatian Kuna, which is about 575 Euros. True, this is ridiculously expensive but at least the airlines are coming in with flights. That’s the first step. Get the planes in. Hopefully the next step will be lower prices.
Pristina Airport is ready for more traffic. True, they need an air traffic control system to support the new renovations at their airport. But they’re ready.
It would also be beneficial if the former Yugoslavia had a more integrated train system. This may be difficult given the amount of mountain passes. But as many of the countries in the Former Yugoslavia seek membership in the EU, a revamped train system could do wonders in helping the economy, cleaning up the environment, and opening up the doors to visitors who have never experienced the Balkans.