Alitalia prepares to touch down for the last time

After more than seven decades in the skies, Alitalia will make its final voyage on Thursday with a late evening flight to Rome from Cagliari in Sardinia.

On October 14th, Alitalia makes its final flight, as it prepares to be replaced by the new carrier ITA.
On October 14th, Alitalia makes its final flight, as it prepares to be replaced by the new carrier ITA. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

When the plane touches down a little after 11pm, Italy’s national airline will have completed its 74-year run. The carrier is to be replaced by the slimmed-down ITA (Italia Trasporto Aereo), which will employ 2,800 workers compared to Alitalia’s 11,000.

“Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I wanted to thank you for having accompanied us for these 74 years,” said a visibly emotional Alitalia air steward over the announcer as passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino airport prepared to board a midday flight on the final day of the company’s operation.

“Today is our last Alitalia flight, and from the bottom of our hearts, thanks for flying with us and putting your trust in us.”

READ ALSO: ITA: What does Italy’s new national airline mean for travellers?

Founded in 1946 as Aerolinee Italiane Internazionali, but known popularly as Alitalia (a portmanteau of ‘Italy’ and ‘wings’), Italy’s former national airline flourished in Europe’s post-war boom.

The company continued to grow in the 70’s, expanding its range of aircraft, and was the first European airline to have a fleet made up entirely of jet planes.

But the end of the decade brought a troubled period of trade union strikes, and as Italy’s economy entered a period of decline in the 90’s, so did Alitalia’s fortunes.

In 2008, after years of loss-making, the company filed for bankruptcy protection and was privatised and relaunched. But the move failed to restore the airline’s finances, and in 2017 Alitalia filed for bankruptcy again.

READ ALSO: ITA: Italy’s new national airline starts selling tickets for US flights

When the Italian government announced last year that it intended to bail the company out to the tune of €3 billion, European Commission regulators raised concerns about the legality of the proposal.

The parties reached an agreement in July entailing the closure of Alitalia and the creation of a new, separate company sufficiently economically distanced from its predecessor – ITA, which starts operations tomorrow.

However, the Alitalia name may not be completely dead.

Under the terms of the Italian government’s deal with the EU Commission, the Alitalia brand was put up for auction, with the company’s commissioners stipulating a base price of €290 million – but no takers materialised.

ITA has reportedly offered €90 for the brand name, and negotiations are underway.

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What’s it like travelling through Italy’s airports now?

As flight disruption continues in Europe during the August holiday season, passengers tell The Local how Italy’s airports are faring.

What's it like travelling through Italy's airports now?

Strikes and staff shortages have made air travel problematic across Europe since early June, but airports in some countries have been much more badly affected than others.

There are reports of ongoing serious disruption everywhere from Spain to Germany, with at least 15,700 flights already cancelled across the continent this month.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: Airlines cancel 15,000 flights in August

Outside of Europe, more travel chaos has been reported in Australia this month, while passengers travelling to and from the UK have suffered months of disruption and cancellations.

Despite some limited strike action earlier in the summer season, Italian airports by contrast appear not to be badly affected.

Between June 20th and July 24th, some 3,600 flights from Italian airports were cancelled, or 1.8 percent of national flights and 3.6 percent of international flights, according to data from Italian National Civil Aviation Agency ENAC.

The most cancellations (377) were recorded on July 17th, the date of Italy’s last transport strike.

Fewer Italian flights are likely to be cancelled in August, with no strikes planned. However, travel to and from the country hasn’t necessarily been a trouble-free experience for everyone this month.

Passengers wait in Barcelona’s El Prat airport during the first wave of Ryanair strike action in July. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP

“It’s clear that the Italian airport system has reacted differently to the difficulties, even if the recovery was sudden,” ENAC president Pierluigi di Palma said in an interview with Italian national broadcaster Rai.

“I would say that we are mostly suffering the consequences of what’s happening in continental airports.”

The knock-on effect of flight cancellations and delays elsewhere has caused some disruption for passengers in Italy, while things are particularly busy this month as the number of people travelling to the country has shot up, exceeding 2019 levels.

Tania Davis, 41, travelled from London Heathrow to Venice with her two children in early August and tells The Local that while she found travelling from Heathrow “stressful and chaotic” everything was “fine” on the Italian side.

“We arrived very late at night because our flight was delayed by just over two hours, but once we got to Italy coming through arrivals and then getting our flight home a week later, everything went smoothly. I can’t fault the airport. It was as busy as you’d expect at this time of year but the lines moved quickly.”

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Some travellers reported facing long delays going both ways, for different reasons. Reader David and his wife flew from Manchester to Brindisi in late July and back again two weeks later.

“We made the mistake of arriving at Brindisi for our flight home three hours before flight time as we had done on the way out, advised by Ryanair,” he tells The Local.

“We sailed through security at Brindisi, no staffing issues there unlike in Manchester where it took 90 minutes to get through.

“But our flight was then delayed, by three hours in the end. Arriving early just meant we had to spend even more time waiting in departures,” he says.

“t’s a really small airport and every flight on the board was delayed, so we were packed in like sardines in this small space with no ventilation.”

“The pilot said our flight was late arriving due to missing an air traffic control slot at Manchester,” he adds.

Other than delays apparently caused by disruption across flight networks, there have been very few reports of problems such as long security queues and lost baggage at Italian airports.

The government warned Italian passengers last month to take hand baggage only when travelling – but this was due to concerns about luggage being lost at destination airports, not at those within Italy.

Passengers wait at Rome’s Fiumicino airport during a strike airline company staff on July 17, 2022. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy has escaped the worst of the travel chaos “both for structural reasons and for the measures that the government has taken to limit the consequences of the pandemic”, writes Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Airport staff shortages are not a major problem in Italy, where “there are generally more worker protections and restrictions on dismissal than in other countries such as the United Kingdom,” Il Sole explains.

Italy was also the only EU country to ban layoffs amid the pandemic, Il Sole points out, with the government in 2020 forcing airline companies to keep their staff on even when flights were grounded.

This ban lasted until 2021, when it was replaced with financial incentives for companies that refrained from laying off staff.

Di Palma said the government’s interventions meant “we have been able to stem the haemorrhage of ground personnel that occurred at foreign companies during the pandemic, saving precious resources”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

While this is good news for passengers flying to and from Italy’s airports this summer, the ongoing situation across Europe means some disruption to travel plans remains likely.

The passengers we spoke to advised anyone flying this month to pack light, dress for comfort, and “lower your expectations”.

If your flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, you may be entitled to receive compensation from your airline. Find more information here.

Have you travelled to or from Italy in August? How did your experience compare to those featured in the article? Please leave a comment below to let us know.