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

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kt74
Guest
Oooooh, harsh! C’mon, there is *some* sense in the route strategy, and it is a vast improvement on the “everywhere is a hub” theory of the past Rightly or wrongly, Alitalia has decided that Rome is the political and strategic hub, and everywhere else is about point-to-point. We (the fare paying business traveller) generally need to get to Milan, not Rome, and would love all flights to be concentrated at close-in Linate. Unfortunately, that airport is the size of postage stamp, hemmed in by houses and prone to fog. Alitalia does, however, have a lot of slots there, and therefore… Read more »
Marco Barisione
Guest

You don’t understand Italy. Rationalising the airports would be hugely controversial. The Rome/Milan split is due to Rome being the political capital, while Milan the economic one; nobody wants to give up on their major airport in favour of the other city.
Italy is also the country where Alitalia has to add a new flight between Rome and a minister‘s home town every time he becomes minister. Of course the almost always empty flight was cancelled immediately after he resigned due to some scandals (and it happened twice!) .

David SF eastbay
Member

Italy is a north/south country so there is not reason Milan and Rome can’t both be hubs. They just need to work it out better it seems. With AZ getting more buddy buddy with AF/KL that could also see more route changes from Milan to branch out south timed to AF/KL flights.

Gary
Guest
I dunno, I’d have probably gone with Milan as the hub rather than Rome, but I don’t think they can really support both. If you take as a given that they hub in Rome, the two airpor tstrategy does — or at least could — make sense. Run a Rome shuttle and premium European business markets (London, Frankfurt, Zurich, etc) out of Linate. And run your leisure routes out of Malpensa, if you need to have a separate airline brand like AirOne call Melapensa the low cost carrier operation with the second airline brand. That probably means shrinking but if… Read more »
Bill from DC
Guest

load factors of 52% and 64.5%? who are they, independence air?!?!?!?!

Scott
Guest

Thumbs up! I was starting to miss the usual Alitalia segments. :)

Just an aside, Richard Anderson always makes a point to fly coach. (He’s a stronger man than I!!) Not much room for a horse head in seat 32E… ;-)

Scott
Guest
The fleet mix isn’t all that odd. As we all know, it’s the result of a merger. When you compare them to most recently-merged carriers, (Delta, for example) their fleet is actually pretty streamlined. Plus, they are making strides toward harmonization (as you noted), albeit they have a long way to go, but considering their cash situation I wouldn’t expect much more from them yet. As for the Milan situation, Italy is hyper-political and Burlusconi is Milanese. I’m making an educated guess that Alitalia, from a business side, would love to focus on high yield Linate and the O&D long-haul… Read more »
Zach
Guest

Interesting and entertaining, as always. Regarldess of their business practices, their product appears decent: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1105926-mxp-mxp-new-az-a330-200-50-pics.html

Krista
Guest
At the risk of repeating some of the previous comments, here’s all I can say. Business in Italy gets done in Milan. Some tourists go to Milan, but not many in comparison to, say, Rome. I don’t know the difference in size between the business traveler market and the tourist market, but I would argue that Italy is in a somewhat unique situation in that way. (The UK, for example, doesn’t have two such cities. You fly into London. That’s it.) Regarding Linate vs. Malpensa…If you fly into Malpensa, you have to take a 45+ minute train into central Milan.… Read more »
Lisa
Guest
Three words: Worst. Airline. Ever. They lost my baggage, which was never found while I was away. So, no luggage on my trip. Another airline found the bag and called saying that it is in Rome. Trying to get in touch with someone at ?customer service? has resulted in NOTHING. Both emailing and calling, no response! Trip over, stewardesses were rude and impatient. Seats uncomfortable. Whole experience was terrible. Three weeks later, still NO BAG and still NO RESPONSE. Do yourself a favor and fly someone else. Hopefully you haven?t already bought your ticket. This is a TERRIBLE company. Subsequently,… Read more »