Alitalia delivers in style stakes on flight from Rome

There is work to be done at Alitalia before its business class experience becomes truly sublime. But the food and amenity kit is already there.

Seating in Alitalia's Magnifica business class. Alitalia received the award for Best Airline Cuisine in Global Traveler’s 2014 GT Tested Reader Survey Awards for the fifth consecutive year. Courtesy Alitalia
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An Italian pilot once asked me if I knew what Alitalia stood for? “Always Late In Take-off, Always Late In Arrival”, he quipped. While I knew he was joking, when I recently flew business class overnight from Rome to Abu Dhabi, I did wonder if his words would ring true. Luckily they did not: the five-and-a-half hour flight was on time.

However, the Italian carrier has experienced years of financial hardship, particularly since its privatisation in 2009. It wasn’t until last August when Etihad Airways acquired a 49 per cent stake in the ailing airline that its prospects started to brighten.

The Etihad chief executive James Hogan even said the carrier was poised to become European aviation's "sexiest brand".

There is still work to be done before that moniker rings true. The double-aisled A330 aircraft on which I flew seemed very rundown. When we hit air turbulence it was slightly scary as the seats seemed to rattle.

And one colleague asked to move because the buttons to make the seat lie flat were not working. Fortunately, mine did and I was able to enjoy its three massage buttons that offer both upper and lower back massages. However, while I enjoyed the massage, the in-flight entertainment system disappointed. I like European cinema and was hoping to catch an Italian movie, but after 30 minutes of trying to add the English subtitles, I gave up on the idea.

But the experience wasn’t all bad.

When it comes to food and fashion, the Italians will always put the rest of the world to shame.

For dinner the cabin crew pushed a trolley of mouthwatering food loaded into serving dishes with passengers able to point out what they wanted.

And Alitalia’s amenity bag exudes elegance and fashion. The award-winning-Salvatore Ferragamo creation is stylish enough to be used as an evening bag and inside there was a line of Bianco di Carrara products. Bravissimo.

q&a onward and upward

Shereen El Gazzar reveals more about the Alitalia business class experience.

So what’s inside the amenity kit?

A small bottle of perfume, face cream, body lotion, brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, eye mask, cleansing wipes, ear plugs and Mentos.

Was there anything that could have been better on the flight?

The flight attendants kept making extra-long announcements first in Italian, then in English. It gets quite annoying after a while.

You talked about the tantalising food – so what was on offer?

There was a choice between fillet of cod, a fresh salad, pasta in a tomato sauce and beef. And the service from the cabin crew during the flight was warm and welcoming.

What are the prospects for the airline? Will things get better for Alitalia?

After Etihad took a 49 per cent stake in Alitalia, it expects it to make a profit of about €108 million by 2017. Its new chief executive Silvano Cassano said it would focus on routes to North and South America and also use Abu Dhabi as a hub to fly to Asia.

Anything else in the pipeline?

Etihad is offering management guidance as well, with some former Etihad executives already on-board. Etihad’s chief executive James Hogan has joined Alitalia as vice chairman. Duncan Naysmith of Etihad has become the new chief financial officer. John Shepley was appointed the head of strategy, and Aubrey Tiedt, the former head of Etihad’s guest services, is now handling Alitalia’s customer service.

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