You Should Fly Alitalia

Alitalia, Worst Airline Ever

Sorry to shock you with the subject line, but it’s really true. Ever since Etihad acquired 49 percent of Alitalia, it has been working on improving things at the carrier. Last week, the latest information on the makeover was released, and you should think of it as Etitalia, Etihad with an Italian flair. The changes are all improvements that are going to make for a really nice flying experience. And now let’s get back to reality. This all sounds great for travelers, but there’s a problem. Just a tiny one. I can’t see how this strategy is going to result in a profitable airline.

Alitalia Worst Airline Ever

Now, I’ve been calling Alitalia the “worst airline ever” for years. Some have incorrectly assumed that was related to the traveler experience, but it’s not. It’s more about what a mess the business was… and is. Just because there’s a new owner doesn’t mean all the old problems disappear. The business that is Alitalia will continue to the worst airline ever until it proves otherwise. But through Cranky Concierge, we’ve put a ton of people on the airline and in general the experience itself has been a good one. That’s not where the airline has problems.

So I was puzzled to find that Etihad thought the airline needed to change its product. We’re not just talking about improvements in business class either. This is an across the board improvement. The basic idea is to make it more Italian and more upscale. Here’s what changes in each class.

Business Class
Alitalia is keeping its current business class seat (which is a good one) and re-covering it with an Italian leather. Travelers will now be able to eat Italian meals whenever they want, instead of at a set time, and a cart will no longer be used. There will also now be a turndown service.

Premium Economy
Travelers here will now get a welcome drink, hot towel, better meal options, new dishware, espresso, and after-dinner drinks. Oh, and they’ll get amenity kits and noise-canceling headphones too.

As in premium economy, coach travelers will get better meal options and yes, a pillow and blanket. They’ll have more coffee and tea options as well.

For all travelers on long-haul widebody flying, they’re installing new inflight entertainment systems and wifi. Plus, the interiors of all aircraft will get a new look. And next year, crew uniforms will change too.

That’s a lot of money to be pouring into the airline, and Alitalia wants you realize it’s the new Alitalia now. You know what that means, right? There’s a new livery, of course. The pictures I’ve seen don’t really do it justice (too much funky lighting), so instead I’ll just embed this YouTube video showing the new livery.

I don’t get this change. It doesn’t look all that much different. Sure, the green cheatline is gone from the aircraft, but most travelers certainly won’t know the difference. The logo changes are so subtle (mostly shading-related) that it doesn’t really present a different image. But maybe it’s like the management team at American says. Livery changes are for the employees more than anyone else.

How do the employees feel about it? I’m sure they don’t care. If this is a new Alitalia, then somebody forgot to tell them. After all, it was just a mere 2 weeks ago that the pilots and cabin crew went on strike to protest the future possibility of job losses. Methinks Etihad may have lived in its union-free bubble for too long. There’s nothing quite like a militant Italian union to ruin the party. But this is Italy. Those unions won’t be broken.

Let’s pretend like Alitalia can get beyond this whole labor issue and talk about the strategy. Is the new super-premium Alitalia going to have a shot at success? It just doesn’t seem like the right move to me. Italy is a huge tourist destination. Most of the business and industry is up in the north, and Milan is the center for that. While Alitalia is going to try to grow Milan to some extent, it’s still a Rome-based airline. And are all these leisure travelers going to be willing to pay more for this upgraded product compared to what was already a good offering? It’s hard to imagine.

And what about those business travelers that Alitalia does have? It’s now going to have more trouble doing that over the Atlantic within Europe. Alitalia recently announced it would pull out of the joint venture with Air France/KLM in 2017. It’s entirely possible that this is a negotiating ploy. After all, Alitalia must have entered this arrangement when it had zero leverage to cut a good deal. In theory this could just be an attempt to flex its newly-found financial muscle (thanks, Etihad), but if not, well, this is a big hit to the schedule it can offer over the Atlanticwithin Europe. It does say it wants to keep working with Delta (update: and apparently with Air France/KLM as well over the Atlantic, so my initial post was incorrect), so it’s not a total loss. But it’s still going to hurt what it offers to its best customers who need frequency.

Alitalia has a lot of problems, but the quality of the product wasn’t really one of them. But the new team is convinced this is the path to salvation. Now, we just get to sit and wait. What’s your take? Is this a good plan?

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22 comments on “You Should Fly Alitalia

  1. The ME3 remind me a bit of Amazon, in the early days. They weren’t making money – well, they weren’t showing profits – but there was enough cash flow to sell books and put all the mom and pops out of business.

    As the ME3 buys or takes stakes in Alitalia and Meridiana and airberlin and they rest – it’s the long game, right? Soon they’ll be the best game in town, with the jobs and the planes, and those European governments will have walked right into the trap.

    1. I have a hard time seeing how being the best “game” in town will matter. The biggest airlines in Europe are Ryanair and easyJet. Clearly people want cheap fares, and are willing to put up with just about anything to get them. While I can certainly see the legacy airlines being hit, again that was going to happen regardless. I don’t see the gauche luxe of the Gulf carriers really being a big differentiator in the continental Europe market.

  2. Cranky – I don’t think there’s any changes to the TATL JV with AF/KL and DL. The JV that Alitalia did pull out of was between Italy/France and Italy/Netherlands. So they should be able to keep a few business customers :)

    1. Erik J – The release specifically says this applies to “passenger services operated by the three carriers between Italy and France (and beyond), and between Italy and the Netherlands (and beyond)….” I take that to mean that this includes everything.

      1. Ah. I see how it could be read that way. I don’t think that is actually the case, though:

        “[Air France-KLM] also stresses that Alitalia’s announcement has “nothing to do” with the transatlantic joint venture between Delta Air Lines, Air France-KLM and Alitalia, which the Italian carrier joined in 2010 and which runs until April 2022.”


        1. Erik J – How interesting. Well, I’ll go and update the post to reflect something along those lines. Though to be fair, this still hurts Alitalia within Europe since it means fewer options for business travelers there.
          It’s just not an issue over the Atlantic.

  3. AA’s new livery communicates that the airline has entered the new century, and is a complete improvement and detachment from the old one. AZ’s “new” livery says that no matter how much one wants to modernize the airlines, nothing changes, and it still has the same ugly 1970s look.

    1. AA’s new livery sucks. Especially the tail.

      Now here comes AZ with their new tail livery that seems as if it was copied in a way from AA. But the AZ scheme with colors on the tail and below does seem to be easier on the eyes than that monstrosity dreamed up on AAmon CAArter Blvd in Fort Worth.

  4. @ Neil S. — that is a great scenario, then. We’re all far better off because after Amazon’s existence than the with expensive, poorly stocked small “mom & pop” bookstores.

    1. To be clear, I didn’t say we were better off. I took a stab at guessing at their strategy, and why they think it’s a good one for their ultimate goals.

  5. I don’t love moving away from the cart meal service in business class. I can understand why some airlines think it is more upscale-seeming, but it is also often slower, and can be done in a very classy way — Alitalia brings around the nice fold-up cart, not a beat-up galley cart, with trays of pasta and offers you some of either or both, a nice touch that would no longer be available. (Delta even makes the galley carts work in a classy way in business class with a sharp black cloth cover to hang over them.)

  6. I beg to differ – recently flew Alitalia JFK-FCO in coach, and everything was subpar – seating was tight and uncomfortable, food was not very good, entertainment system did not work, and personnel were civil (other than one who was quite rude) but not at all friendly. I vowed never to fly them again and urge others to avoid at all costs.Even though I am Platinum on Delta, no upgrades were available, lounge was not open until 1 pm, and they spent 20 minutes fixing our traveling companion’s seat assignment (without any explanation of what the issue was). All employees seemed pretty unhappy so I don’t see any quick fix to any of their issues.

  7. CF: I don’t think Alitalia deserves “Worst Airline Ever” anymore. Sure, the Etihad sugar daddy relationship and chosen upgrades/strategy feels counter-intuitive. But…

    The way I read your qualification criteria to earn the “Worst Airline” badge seems to have everything to do with how an airline is structured and run. May I humbly present Air France: much bigger than tiny Alitalia, and equally saddled with union era created personnel issues that seem unbreakable. At least a couple of strikes each year. A government who just INCREASED their stake in the airline so as to meddle and mess with it even more. A partner in KLM who is profitable and not bad in terms of hard product being dragged into the ground through its partnership. Need I go on?

    1. malbarda – Inertia is a powerful thing. Though if I were going to make the switch to another carrier, I’d probably go with Aerolineas Argentinas or Air India. Both make Air France look like a well-run airline. (Ok, maybe not well-run…)

      1. Glad to know that Aerolineas Argentinas is still as much of a cluster as it was when I was in Buenos Aires in 2007 and 2009… During which (2007) it was revealed that the (then military-operated) ATC had gone without a long range radar for some time, had had to manually guide in flights, which they were not trained to do, and had had numerous near misses.

        I’m not sure if they are still around, but I based on experiences flying from LPB to Santa Cruz to EZE, I will take LLoyd Aero Boliviano over most Latin American and even US carriers any day in terms of services… Not that the former is great, but that the latter tend to be so bad.

      2. AR is the pits, in my opinion. When they used to fly SYD-AKL-EZE run they had a ancient aircraft, were very often delayed and the inflight service could only have been described as surly. They also had dreadful IFE for this long flight. Now that they do SYD-EZE non-stop, I don’t think they have got any better.

  8. Cranky, I think you had too much vino. This airline is the worst because of the people who work for it.
    Replace the people and then it might be a decent airline.

  9. Hi Cranky!

    I stumbled upon your site awhile back and it’s really grown on me. Thank you!

    I remember an Alitalia flight from Palermo to Milan and during takeoff there was a scream from the rear galley and then this hysteria as one of the female flight attendants ran up the isle right as the plane was rotating off the runway. Behind her trying to grab her rear end was a male flight attendant obviously un-neutered. They were both giggling and flushed. Later, I saw them necking in the galley as I was using the bathroom.

    Thats my impression of Alitalia. I think you can paint a pig yellow, but it’s still a pig.

  10. Why on earth does this airline build a coach seat with an arm that cannot be lifted up all the way ? Why would you do that ? To intensionaly make your coach passengers more uncomfortable
    Well in that case job well done !
    I was very Uncomfortable !!!
    Not on American. Not on British air. Or delta airplanes. Or Airoflot

  11. I can’t help but want the world to know how bad my sister and i were treated by Alitalia when we were to take our flight from Rome to Winnipeg, transit thru Toronto. First, we were stamped “Stand By” but we paid for our flights long time ago and confirmed. We were asked to go to a separate desk 29 to wait for resolution. Then came 3 to 4 others put on Stand By by Alitalia but they were flying to New York ( we were to Toronto ). That guy started entertaining the New York destined guests, though we were way at the front standing and waiting to be served. Without anyone coming to help us, my sister initiated to ask that man who snubbed at her, totally not minding nor looking at her when she spoke! After 30 minutes or so, i initiated going to another desk to seek help then was given seat assignments. Baggages were destined to Winnipeg, and checked-in. Then, this flight got delayed for over 1.5 hours. We missed our connecting flight to Winnipeg and had to book an 11:00PM flight. Worse, our baggages did not arrive in Toronto. We finally arrived in Winnipeg 1AM without our baggages but filed our claims. By the way, inside Alitalia flight going to Toronto, the attendants failed to collect everyone’s trays after the meal. I saw 2 to 3 guests voluntarily sent their garbaged trays to the back. I followed behind carrying ours, as well. Then, when i handed to the female attendant at the back, she yelled at me, ” Don’t send us your trays anymore!” I stood still while holding those trays. The guy attendant just looked at me. I did not care then i tossed the trays on their pushcart and left. This is the kind of service Alitalia has shown us. Idiots! They should know that they are in the service industry. And for the f**king guy in the reception, Don’t judge us by the color of our skin, we were the only asian Chinese standing behind the line waiting to get our deserved seats! SEND THIS TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND BOYCOTT FLYING ALITALIA AIR! ( and i think they are going bankrupt and service will be terminated next month or this month end. Good for them! ) P.S.: Told a friend this story of our experience, and he said, you guys just had a flight from Hell….. hell Yes with Alitalia, the loser racist!

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