Pros: Pilots and fares
Cons: A travel agent's nightmare, and sometimes a passenger's as well
I have been selling Alitalia for a very, very long time, because unfortunately, in Italy where I live and work, Alitalia is by far the largest airline, also because of the Italian government's involvement (it's the biggest stockholder and weren't it for the Stato Italiano, Alitalia would have gone broke eons ago),therefore, domestically and European-speaking, there aren't many options.
But I strongly advise not to take Alitalia if you have other choices.
Overbooking is practically the daily basis. More often than not my passengers - and they're all frequent flyers, with platinum cards and everything - are bumped off, especially on long haul flights, even if you're traveling code-share (the plane is operated by Alitalia, but you've purchased it as Delta or Continental).
This can be a great thing for those that travel for leisure purposes, since the IATA (the airlines' association) must provide for ground assistance, i.e. hotel accomodation, food, maybe a cash refund, in case you're left on ground.
But NOT for a business traveler. Add to that that they'll be inanely rude at check-in and will NOT reprotect you on another airline even if you're flying full-fare business class, and I'm already getting a whole lot of complaints.
In the LAX and SFO airports, the ground personnel isn't even Alitalia, it's a leased company, so they could care even less about Alitalia customers.
Those who are lucky and get on the plane will find in the following order:
- delayed flights.
This is another synonym with Alitalia. It has to do with a number of reasons, which I won't even begin to explain, but you can rest assured, 8 out of 10 flights with Alitalia are late on departure schedule. If you're connecting to some other airline upon destination, they won't even help you out with re-planning the rest of your trip. However, if you're bounding to Milan from JFK or LAX, you might get on time anyway (they've got that route down pat and usually get tail winds).
There goes another set of nasty complaints.
- terrible, terrible service, especially on board.
Now, this must be explained. The Italian government still has a WWII Mussolini-law job policy which practically excludes the possibility of firing an employee. Alitalia is also basically a state-run business, and does not have an incentive program among their employees -theirs is a fixed, monthly salary - that's also why they're often on strike.
This all means that no Alitalia attendant will go out of his/her way to do an inch more than the minimum required to his/her job. The result? No advance seating is 100% guaranteed, the most innocent requests on your behalf (an extra bottle of water or a pillow, bread unless they're making rounds for seconds, exchange seats on a half-empty flight, whatever) will be regarded as a nuisance and often not fulfilled. They'll bump into you and not even excuse themselves. If you asked for a vegetarian meal and you don't get it, their reply will be that you didn't ask for it upon making reservations. Enquiries on what to do once you've landed, customs, flight connections, accomodations, will make them laugh - seriously.
Did I mention complaints?
- Seats, food, movies: awful (except for Magnifica class).
Alitalia's flight includes the 747's, which are great if renovated, but since in the Alitalia case the equipment is usually dated to the '70s, it's old, ruined, coach seats are unbearably small (3 - 4 - 3, 368 seats) lap tables are broken and the whole cabin often smells of mildew. Now, if you're flying Magnifica, that area (upper deck especially) has been thoroughly renovated because Alitalia has grouped Business and First together for about the price of Business class , and gives better service and better food.
If you're flying coach, aside from the seats, on the 747s you won't be able to watch the movie in half of the cabin, and the food is worse than in your office cafeteria.
They also have two new Mc Donnell Douglas MD11, smaller but newer aircraft, with better monitors for movies in coach and a little more room and leg space - especially on the left hand of the aircraft, it's a 2- 4 - 3, but the food and the service remains the same. Occasionally you'll get to fly a code-share with another airline's aircraft (if in the U.S. and Canada it'll be with Air Canada or Delta, East may be Qantas or Cathay if you're really lucky) you'll get better seat, food and service there.
No 777s until the end of next year.
What may save my overall opinion on this airline is the reliability of the pilots, because all of them have been thoroughly selected among the best of their military course (service is mandatory in Italy). The flight is usually smooth and takeoff and landing are done with precision.
And the usually marketable fares. But don't be fooled, you can get better airfare with a number of other airlines,(KLM, British, Air France, Lufthansa, even the U.S. airlines) you might have to make an extra connection, but it may be worth it if you don't want to touch land feeling exhausted and angry against Italians. And you'll save a lot of paper work to us travel agents.
Their fidelity program (Millemiglia) isn't bad, either, with Delta and Air France just joining, but Star Alliance and Qualiflyer are far better.