Here's What It's Like to Fly ITA Airways — Italy's Newest Airline
ITA Airways — the new Italian flag carrier — took over from the bankrupt Alitalia on Oct. 15, 2021, with 52 planes and 2,800 staff members, compared to Alitalia's respective 110 and 10,500. Many thought that, reduced fleet aside, nothing would change.
In fact, that's what the staff at Venice airport told me as I checked in for my flight to Rome on Oct. 16, barely 24 hours into the airline's life.
The new ITA logo blazed behind the old Alitalia check-in desk — an eye-catching three letters, striped green, white, and red for the colors of the Italian tricolore flag. Other than that, it was all as it had been the day before: Alitalia signs designating the check-in lanes, Alitalia hand luggage measurers, and Alitalia uniformed staff.
"I booked this to see what's changed," I said to the agent at check-in. She smiled. "Nothing's changed," she assured me.
Two days earlier, when ITA bought the Alitalia brand name for €90 million (about $104 million), it was widely assumed that the new airline would maintain the old moniker.
But on launch day, revealing a brand-new blue livery, president Alfredo Altavilla said ITA had always been the new airline's name — they were just buying the Alitalia brand to stop others from using it. They would continue to use Alitalia-branded products and planes until their own were sorted, he said.
For my day two flight, there was little difference compared to the old days as we boarded the Alitalia plane. There was an hour-long delay for my flight, and when I emailed the dedicated inbox requesting a seat change that the website wouldn't save, I got no reply.
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What stood out on board, though, even on day two, was the customer service. For example, when the aircraft made a wheezing sound, and I got nervous, the off-duty flight attendant in the row behind talked me through the noises and kept checking on me throughout the flight.
ITA will incentivize its staff by paying them according to customer satisfaction, as well as company performance, Altavilla said — and it showed.
Though the plane was decidedly worn (Alitalia's average fleet age was 14 years), the atmosphere was warm. And so, instead of flying my usual airline between Italy and the U.K., I booked another flight: Milan Linate (ITA's second hub, after Rome Fiumicino) to London Heathrow.
A Few Pre-flight Snafus
ITA's website is hard to navigate. Between temporarily losing my booking, rejecting the (Italian) country code for my phone number, and not allowing me to link the flight to my account with Volare, the new frequent flier program, there were some kinks that needed to be ironed out. But that's perhaps true of many new companies.
At Linate, a lovely airport renovated right before the pandemic, the former Alitalia lounge was closed due to the pandemic, staff noted. However, the airport's other lounge was open, and all other airlines seemed to be using it. Instead, ITA gives business class ticket holders a voucher for one soft drink and one sandwich or sweet treat at the airport bar.
Limoncello in the Skies
Pre-flight mix-ups aside, when I boarded the plane, ITA rocketed onto the runway of all-time top flights.
For starters, it was the welcome. Rarely do greetings feel as genuine as they did from purser Stefano and cabin crew members Massimo and Andrea. They coddled a nervous flier and enforced masks with polite insistence. Their assiduousness made flying during a pandemic a whole lot less stressful.
On ITA's short-haul flights, economy passengers get free soft drinks and delicious Italian cookies. In business class, we got a tray full of centopercento Italian food: a tasty vegetarian lasagne, crisp salad, crusty bread, and a Sicilian cannolo.
Then came the crowning glory: grappa and limoncello, high-class brands at that, poured straight from the bottle into our cups. Halfway to London, I felt like I was still in Italy.
By bringing the dolce vita to the skies, ITA could really shine. And that's exactly what the airline is planning to do — Altavilla said they're in talks with big brands to make every single thing, from the maintenance cars to the seats in the lounge, Italian.
For now, ITA's biggest asset is its thoughtful, attentive staff. So, if the crew stays as they are, and ITA fixes the glitches on its website, gets its new fleet, and fills those planes with all-Italian brands and frills, this could be a very exciting airline. In bocca al lupo, as the Italians say — good luck.