Checking in on Alitalia, Because It’s Been Too Long

I never thought things could get any worse for Alitalia, but they have. No, no. It’s not that they’re performing worse. It’s that they’re no longer feeding me with excellent fodder to support my claim that they’re the worst airline ever. It’s really a drag. But fear not, there are still some gems out there that make me reluctant to remove that title just yet.

Alitalia has, without question, been performing better, but that’s a relative term. In the first quarter of 2010, the airline lost a mere €125 million. I know, still awful, right? But that’s better than the €210 million loss in Q1 09_01_13 Alitalia Still Worst2009. Most of that is probably coming from filling an terrible 64.5% of seats as opposed to last year’s frighteningly terrible 52%.

The airline has also just joined the Air France/Delta joint venture. I joked with someone that it must have made Air France and Delta an offer they “couldn’t refuse.” Last time Delta CEO Richard Anderson flew on a flat bed on Delta, he probably woke up with a horse’s head awaiting him.

Why exactly am I writing about them if the news isn’t that bad? Well, I saw this interview with the awesomely-named Antongiulio Zecchini, Alitalia’s network planning manager. Maybe it’s a language barrier, but I found it to be quite confusing. When asked to explain the dual airline Alitalia/Air One strategy, Antongiulio said this:

Alitalia is now hubbing at Rome Fiumicino and optimising Milan operations to serve the main local markets. It also serves premium flows in Linate, taking care of the time-sensitive flyers from/to (Milan) Linate city airport and long-haul operations.

While Air One is the ‘smart carrier’ dedicated to short and medium-haul price-sensitive travellers from/to Milan Malpensa and competes with low-fare carriers.

Alitalia’s integration with Air One also brought a legacy of bases in the Italian province. As well as feeding the long-haul network, priority has extended to covering routes bypassing Rome and Milan, to better serve customers along the Italian peninsula.

Ok, so lemme get this straight. We know that Rome/Fiumicino is a hub. Milan Linate is just for the “premium flows” – heavy shorter haul biz traffic markets, I assume. Malpensa is served by Alitalia on the best routes while Air One serves the rest of Malpensa by going up against the low cost carriers. It’s also looking to beef up the domestic markets that don’t touch Rome and Milan. So it’s a huge mix of point-to-point and hubbing.

I think I get it, but then he goes and contradicts himself by saying that Alitalia codeshares with Air One to feed intercontinental operations at Malpensa. That sounds like a hub. But if it is a hub, it’s not doing a very good job, because Alitalia keeps moving other short haul services to Linate. This dual airport thing in Milan is just killing that city. If that’s not enough, there’s Milan Orio Al Serio as well, and Air Italy is serving that. Yep, Alitalia is codesharing with that airline now as well.

I mean, Milan isn’t even a huge focus for the airline. That’s supposed to be Rome. Meanwhile there are all kinds of efforts to grow the airline outside of Rome and Milan altogether in other Italian cities as well.

And we haven’t even talked about the fleet yet. For shorter haul, the airline is finally getting close to ditching its last MD-80. But there is still a split fleet between the A320 family and 737s. Let’s not forget it also flies Embraer 170s and CRJ-900s. Nice of them to sample each manufacturer. (Yes, it’s even believed that there will be an order coming soon for the Sukhoi SuperJet.)

On long haul, there’s a motley mix of ten 777s, six 767s, and two A330s. The A330s are being used from Malpensa while the rest of the fleet seems to be in Rome.

Got that? I swear, this airline is in a strange place. On the one hand, it needs to do a lot of work to get in better shape. On the other hand, it seems to be trying to do too much at once. I have no idea how to fix that, but hopefully that means it will provide me with good fodder for years to come.

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