Adventures with Alitalia: how to get 3/4 cancelled flights (and one of them twice!)

If there’s anything one can say about Alitalia, it’s that one shouldn’t really be surprised by anything. And yet, even after 30+ flights with them, I didn’t see any of this coming.

Just a bit of context, to be entirely fair: when this happened, in December 2008, Alitalia was passing through very complicated times, loosing millions of euros each day and seriously facing the possibility of being shut down due to lack of money (or financial credit) to run their operations. As if this was not enough, the staff went on strike several days, all the pax who could fled to other airlines and as a result of both, dozens of flights were cancelled everyday.

Contrasting with this horrifying perspective, when I bought this ticket from FLR to FRA via FCO (at least two months before) I was quite happy, not only for its low price (€174), but also because this flight would qualify me for FB Platinum for the first time, and because the flight schedule was perfect for a couple of working days and a couple of leisure days in Baden Wurttemberg. My original itinerary was the following:

11 December 2008 (Thursday)
AZ1676         FLR 0715 – 0810 FCO
AZ400           FCO 0905 – 1115 FRA

14 December 2008 (Sunday)
AZ407          FRA 1835 – 2030 FCO
AZ1681         FCO 2135 – 2235 FLR

As soon as I knew Alitalia was cancelling lots of flights, I started monitoring my own flights. Some changes were made to other FCO-FRA and FLR-FCO flights, but not to mine… until 5 days before my departure. My FLR-FCO and FCO-FLR flights had been cancelled and my FRA-FCO had been rescheduled to an earlier time, making the connection from FCO to FLR impossible on Saturday or Sunday.

I decided to call Alitalia immediately instead of waiting for a contact from them. Actually, I only received an email on the following Friday for the Sunday flight (in which I wasn’t a pax anymore by then), saying (without even apologising):

Dear customer,
Alitalia informs that the flight AZ0407 on 14DEC08 , departing from FRA at 1835 to FCO, has been cancelled.
For further information , please contact our call center at +39 06 2222.

I didn’t have to wait long for my phonecall to be answered. I was told that AZ wouldn’t pay the train from FLR to FCO nor a direct flight with Lufthansa. They offered reimbursement, but I couldn’t buy another ticket for the same price at this point in time. So I made all possible efforts to get an acceptable rerouting. After a quick check on KVS Availability Tool, PSA and BLQ seemed viable choices for the departure, with preference for the first, not only because it was closer (and the train ride was therefore cheaper), but also because I hadn’t been there yet. So the final itinerary was found leaving from PSA with a night stop in FCO (which wouldn’t be a problem because I have family there) and coming back on a late morning Sunday flight with a short layover in FCO.

30 mins later, the same agent called me, apologised and informed me that the FRA-FCO flight on Sunday had been delayed around 1h (I don’t know the reasons, because the aircraft would be seating on the tarmac at FRA for at least 3h) and therefore we had to find an alternative solution because that would make the connection to PSA impossible. I suggested coming back on Saturday instead – which would had cost me an absurd amount of money if I had booked it myself because of the inobservance of the Saturday night rule –, with a 3h layover in FCO. Overall, bearing in mind the context and the fashion Alitalia can work even in normal times (not being customer-oriented), I was rather happy with this outcome. So my final itinerary was the following:

10 December 2008 (Wednesday)
AZ1670         PSA 1845 – 1940 FCO

11 December 2008 (Thursday)
AZ400          FCO 0905 – 1115 FRA

13 December 2008 (Saturday)
AZ403          FRA 1205 – 1400 FCO
AZ1669        FCO 1705 – 1800 PSA

This is the story of these flights.

AZ1670
PSA (LIRP) – FCO (LIRF)
Embraer 170-100LR EI-DFH (msn 9, first flight date unknown)

ETD: 18h45
ETA: 19h40
Miles flown: 161 mi
Seat: 01A

December 10 2008

OLCI was available 20h before ETD, but only for the first flight. At the airport, there was a long line and no C class / Elite queue or a drop-off luggage one. Even if there is no C class onboard domestic flights, pax with international connections might have C class tickets.

I waited in the line for no less than 15 mins. Half of the pax who were in front of me had issues with their tickets and had arguments with the check-in agents, who seemed to be completely inefficient and even rude (especially the supervisor). I was therefore irritated at this point in time and was about to make a complaint. Still, the most polite agent I’ve found in AZ took care of me: he greeted me, apologised for the wait (even before seeing my FB Platinum card), gave me my boarding pass and a lounge voucher – a true Italian gentleman! He apologised for not being able to check me in for the FCO-FRA flight and suggested that I did it upon arrival at FCO. He wished me a nice flight and said “arrivederci”.

The lounge was airport-operated and before security. Very outdated and partly undergoing construction works, it had a nice offer of drinks and some snacks, as well as international and national newspapers (that one couldn’t take away from the lounge, though).

The security check only had one queue, which wasn’t the best option given the fact that there were two Ryanair flights departing at that time.

Boarding was via bus and only started at 18h35 due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft. When I was in the bus, I looked around and saw two Ryanair B738s closeby. When looking for another AZ aircraft, I didn’t see an ATR (as scheduled) but an E170: there had been an equipment change!

The seat was in the bulkhead, 2-2 configuration, quite comfortable, with no-one seating next to me. The cabin is modern and was well taken care of. And the windows are huge! The only problem is that the tray tables don’t slide and therefore some pax might find them too far.

Doors were closed at 18h55 and take-off at 19h00, from runway 22L.

There was a beverage service and an offer of sweet or savoury snack, together with a refreshing towel.

The flight wasn’t full: only 30 pax, at least 3 of which were AZ personnel.

The FAs were nice and polite. However, they forgot to make the last safety check through the cabin to confirm seatbelts were fastened, trays put away and seats in the upright position – which is a serious safety breach.

There was turbulence for at least half of the flight. We landed at 19h40 on runway 16L.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 1
Check-in [1,5]: 2
Lounge [0,5]: 4
Boarding [0,5]: 8
Seat [2,5]: 8
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 7
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 2
Food [2]: 8
Beverages [0,5]: 8
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 8
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 4,91 (inflight overall impression: 5,71)

* * *

AZ400
FCO (LIRF) – FRA (EDDF)
Embraer 170-100LR EI-DFH (msn 9, first flight date unknown)

ETD: 09h05
ETA: 11h15
Miles flown: 595 mi
Seat: 01A

December 11 2008

When I arrived at FCO the night before, I tried to check-in with several agents, but all told me they couldn’t do it because “the system” didn’t allow them… I also tried the self-check-in machines in FCO, but without any luck. I still called AZ to try phone check-in; however, this feature seems to be reserved for AZ MilleMiglia elite pax. KVS showed mostly zeros for this flight and therefore I asked the agent how many seats would be available for sale; he told me around 20. As the scheduled aircraft would be an MD8X, that would meant that at least 120 pax should have been booked in this flight. So that I could get a  window seat, I decided to go to the airport slightly earlier than planned the following day.

I arrived at the airport at 07h50 and did the check-in at the C class counter; only one open, but not a large queue. I asked for a window seat closed to the front and got 03A. I was puzzled: the scheduled aircraft was an MD8X and this seat is a C class seat (and in AZ’s MD8Xs, C class seats are proper C seats and not the Euro-C class in which the seats are the same, but the middle seat might be blocked). And yet the boarding pass had “Economy” written on it.

I then went to the AF lounge to eat breakfast, pick up newspapers, and use the (paid) wireless internet connection to book my hotel (which I hadn’t done yet).

Initially the allocated gate was B6, close to the lounge and with a jetway. However, it was later changed to a busgate far away; at FCO, I have only boarded an AZ flight by jetway once… and there is a gate change most times.

Boarding started at 08h40 and very few people were in the bus (around 20). I was thinking what a waste of resources it would be to fly an MD8X with such a light load. So did AZ! There was an aircraft change: we parked in front of the same E170 in which I had flown PSA-FCO the previous evening. We had to wait 10 mins before we could board (luckily inside the bus) as they were still cleaning it – one could see it had been a last minute change indeed.

I was the last one to board and asked to change to the bulkhead. The FA readily allowed it and just suggested that I put my luggage in the bins closer to the rear.

Doors were eventually closed at 09h05 and at 09h20 we took off from runway 16R (which isn’t used as often as runway 25 for departures).

Service included a beverage offer and a tramezzino (i.e., a sandwich made from two or three slices of white bread with the crusts removed) or a sweet tart.

The load was light once again.

The FAs were very nice, but their English language skils were rather poor (even for AZ standards).

I slept for most of the flight. At 10h20 we reached our TOD and at 10h40 we landed on runway 25L.

After landing, we waited for at least 10 mins next to runway 25R (not because of arriving or departing aircrafts, because there was only one, but most likely due to our early arrival, waiting for a gate to be allocated).

We arrived at our remote parking stand at 10h55.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 1
Check-in [1,5]: 2
Lounge [0,5]: 6
Boarding [0,5]: 5
Seat [2,5]: 8
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 7
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 6
Food [2]: 7
Beverages [0,5]: 8
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 6
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 5,54 (inflight overall impression: 6,43)

* * *

AZ403
FRA (EDDF) – FCO (LIRF)
MD-82 I-DATB (msn 53221, first flight on 01/03/1994)

ETD: 12h05
ETA: 14h00
Miles flown: 595 mi
Seat: 08L

December 13 2008

I did my OLCI 20h in advance, this time also for the connecting flight. Upon arrival at the airport at 11h15 – a very late arrival compared to what I had planned  due to oversleeping and missing my 09h14 train from Heidelberg to Mannhein and from Manhein to FRA –, I collected my boarding pass. The agent told me I had no time to visit the lounge and suggested that I went directly to the gate. As I wasn’t particularly familar with the airport, I proceeded as directed.

There was a very long queue at the security checkpoint and it took me 15 mins to clear it. Not the most pleasant organisation, but still efficient.

The gate was the first one immediately after the security checkpoint: B1. A busgate, obviously… Newspapers and magazines were available, but only in German.

The waiting time wasn’t long and at 11h40 the boarding started. At 11h55 I was already seated in the aircraft. The bus ride, however, was rather unpleasant due to overheating and to a very long ride.

The MD80 seating arrangement in Y is 2-3, but the first row is 2-2. In the OLCI plan, it looked as if there was a blocked middle seat (similar to what happens with 05B or 04B in TP’s A320 or A319, respectively). I therefore chose seat 07L. Still, there was someone seating next to me, which made me switch to 08L.

Seats are more comfortable than in the A32X family (but worse than in the E170), albeit quite worn out. The pitch is not particularly generous. Even so, the cabin was rather charming with its retro look.

The loadfactor was, once again, light: 43 pax, all Y. One of the pax (who had flown FCO-FRA with me two days before) sat in one of the C class seats. Two FAs approached him and told him to move to Y. He replied that there was no-one seating there either way (C class was indeed empty). They told him he had a Y ticket and that if they allowed him, they’d have to allow everyone else to do the same. As this happened while we were still on the ground, I was wondering what they would do… but in the end he won and they just left.

The first announcement was  only made 20 mins after I was onboard, when the doors were closed. It was the captain telling the pax that the flight time would be of 1h10 and that the weather in FCO was fair.

The cabin was rather quiet, even after the start-up (so quiet that I would say the engines were not on). Still, there was another high noise the whole time – since I had boarded, actually – which was rather bothersome.

After a short taxi, we took off from runway 18 at 12h30.

As for service, it was the AZ usual for Europe: 20 mins after departure a tramezzino (with turkey, paprika, mushroom salad and butter) or slice of tart were offered with complimentary beverages and a refreshing towel.

After service ended, the FAs hid in the galley never to be seen again (except to prepare for landing).

At some point, I decided to “explore” the cabin.

Toilets were in very bad condition, not taken care of. And there was nothing to wipe the hands with.

At 13:35 we reached our TOD and 20 mins later we landed in runway 16R.

We disembarked via the rear door and I took the oportunity to snap some shots of the MD82.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 1
Check-in [1,5]: 2
Lounge [0,5]: –
Boarding [0,5]: 4
Seat [2,5]: 6
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 5
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 2
Food [2]: 7
Beverages [0,5]: 8
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 6
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 4,29 (inflight overall impression: 4,93)

* * *

AZ1669
FCO (LIRF) – PSA (LIRP)
Embraer 170-100LR EI-DFK (msn 32, first flight date unknown)

ETD: 17h05
ETA: 18h00
Miles flown: 141 mi
Seat: 05L

December 13 2008

Upon check-in I hadn’t paid attention and ended up not choosing the seats for this flight; I got stuck with the seat the system had automatically assigned me: 07L. At FRA, I tried to change it, but the agent told me it was a bulkhead, which couldn’t be the case unless an MD8X was the scheduled aircraft. Even so, in a domestic flight, C class seats are used as Y seats either way… So, at the transfer desk at FCO, I tried to change it; instead of printing a new boarding pass for me, the agent just wrote seat 03L with her pen on the boarding pass!… It seemed so stupid to me that I didn’t even bother to try and have a new boarding pass printed, I just went directly to AF’s lounge.

Boarding started at 16h40, as usual by bus. Upon arrival at the side of the aircraft, there were (as there had been upon arrival at FCO on the 10th) two cars of the Polizia Penitenziaria (Penitentiary Police) and some (presumably) prisoners boarded the aircraft together with officers.

After that, the bus opened its doors and we boarded. I was the last one, to be able to choose the best available seat for me; as I expected, 03L was obviously occupied (and so was 07A!); I got 05L, with no-one seating beside me.

As all the overhead compartments were filled, the FA told me to keep my carry-on with me, without putting it below the front seat – which is, to my understanding, a safety breach. Actually, at the gate my carry-on had received a tag for me to deliver it to the staff before boarding the aircraft (as is usual in regional jets). But there was no-one to receive the luggage.

The captain announced we would be flying at 24.000 ft and that he expected us to land in PSA on schedule.

Doors were closed at 17:15 and 15 mins later we took off from runway 25.

The loadfactor was of 35 pax.

The service was the same as PSA-FCO, with a choice of chocochips or tarelinni and beverages; no refreshing towel this time. The FAs were polite and professional.

At 18h05 we landed on runway 04R and shortly thereafter we disembarked and were driven to the terminal by bus.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 1
Check-in [1,5]: 2
Lounge [0,5]: 6
Boarding [0,5]: 6
Seat [2,5]: 8
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 7
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 7
Food [2]: 8
Beverages [0,5]: 8
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 8
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 5,91 (inflight overall impression: 6,89)

30 pax, at least 3 of which were AZ personnel.
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~ by Tiago on June 17, 2009.

4 Responses to “Adventures with Alitalia: how to get 3/4 cancelled flights (and one of them twice!)”

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