Review of ITA Airways, formerly Alitalia
What is ITA Airways and how do you pronounce it? When it comes to the latter, it’s similar to what you most often do on a trip to Italy: Eat-ah! ITA’s history, meanwhile, is interesting: Italy’s main airline was once the government-funded Alitalia, founded in 1946, which connected Italians to the outside world after World War II. However, Alitalia was privatized in 2009 and soon fell on hard times, which included strikes, layoffs and bankruptcies.
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In October 2021, the public company ITA took over Alitalia. Since then they have carried 9 million passengers, but have also experienced some turmoil. This includes the airline’s board of directors which recently stripped its chairman of power.
Here’s what it was like to fly the Italian airline in its first year.
The prospect of flying on a new Italian airline intrigued me. While searching for flights from JFK to Milan via Google, ITA popped up and I thought I’d try one of the direct flights for my October trip. I also couldn’t ignore the reasonable prices with round trips starting at $550, which is lower than other flights to Milan Malpensa airport. However, when I mentioned to friends that I was flying on ITA, they weren’t optimistic about my flight. How could things go for an airline in such flux?
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I booked a round trip ticket for $646 through Google Flights, but it wasn’t entirely clear what class of ticket I purchased. my ticket and receipt just said “economy”. ITA has several types of economy – lightweight (the most restrictive), classic, flexible and premium, which advertises 40% more legroom and 120 degrees of recline. There are also business (long and medium-haul) and superior.
Like many other airlines, ITA offers a range of paid economy seat options; they start at $9 and range up to $140, depending on your fare class, route and seat selection. With the light economy, travelers must pay for any seat selection. My travel companion (my mom) and I paid $41 each way for our seats.
The question of whether I had to pay for baggage was confusing: my ticket receipt said one piece of baggage was included, but then I paid $70. I am afraid that I have paid for an additional bag compared to my only checked bag.
Twenty-four hours before my trip, I downloaded the ITA app to check in. The app is more limited than major US airlines. there are no options for flight status notifications and baggage loading.
We arrived at JFK airport, found ITA’s house in terminal 1 and checked our bags. We paid for them, but it’s still murky if we even had to.
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We walked to the gate and saw our crew and pilots pass the check-in counter. We watch the check-in attendant gesturing animatedly on the phone and saying, “No?! Really?” We are preparing for the worst.
The destination on the screens hanging from the doorway inexplicably shifts from Milan to Rome, and while the Eternal City is truly beautiful, that’s not where we’re going. The pilot then leaves the aircraft and speaks with the check-in staff. Then, as if it were a scene from “Home Alone 2”, he and the crew begin sprinting through the terminal with the plane’s passengers quickly following behind. We join them, and it all amounts to an ITA parade through JFK to our new gate.
Boarding begins quickly as we speed onto the A330 for our 8.55pm departure. As I walked through the spacious business class, it seemed comfortable, with individual leather seats that recline and spread evenly. The economy seats were decidedly smaller and cramped, but pleasant. Our redeye tonight is only a little more than half full with only the two window seats occupied and the wide strips of seats in the middle empty. Passengers get a neck pillow and a cozy blanket – so fluffy, in fact, that my mom ended up bringing hers home.
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WiFi was not included for free, but several levels are available for purchase. This included a plan as low as $2 for 10MB for texting up to $20 for 200MB. My mom bought the 50MB tier for $6 but it never finished loading on her iPad , and she had no luck contacting customer service to get her money back.
About an hour after takeoff, drinks and food service begins. “Do you want meat or pasta? were invited. I choose the meat and my mother chooses the pasta, which we are told is lasagna.
My meat is a kind of beef stew, served with cold green beans, topped with a slice of ham and a bun that looked quite stale. The “lasagna”, however, on this typical Italian flight does not look like lasagna at all, but rather like a Greek spanakopita. Although to be fair, spanakopita is indeed a layered dish filled with cheese.
Drinks include beer (Peroni, of course) or wine; and English breakfast coffee or tea. There is another drink service shortly before landing. Another drinks and snacks service came shortly before landing, and I downed an English tea for breakfast with some kind of hot panzerotti, a pastry pocket filled with ricotta.
We arrive at Malpensa from Milan a little before our scheduled 11:05 arrival, disembark at the runway and take a bus from our plane to the gate where we clear customs in record time.
Our top-to-bottom experience on ITA was mixed, but definitely not a travel nightmare. Our flight was relatively smooth, departing on time and arriving early. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t go the extra mile for another ITA flight. The WiFi and entertainment system was spotty; the fee information on their website was unclear; and their application was minimalist.
But if I was on a tight budget and the ITA quoted the best price for a flight to Italy, I would travel cautiously, but wouldn’t expect much. At the very least, lightly booked flights are always a plus.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some parmesan and campari to find.