Alitalia is going down, down, down… March 21, 2008Posted by dorigo in news, personal, physics, politics, travel.
I may look more anti-patriotic than I really am but sorry, I can’t help it – down with Alitalia! The airline, which is supported by the italian finances (Italy owns 49% of the company’s shares) and has lived of subsidies for years, is probably at the end of its tether. And I rejoice.
Alitalia is unable to stand on its feet – it has demonstrated that quite clearly during the last years, with huge losses in their balances and plummeting shares – and it is finally on sale. The last offer by Air France is humiliating – a hundred something Alitalia shares in exchange for each one of the french company – but it pictures well the rotten state of the deficitary italian company, and it runs the risk of being accepted, in the absence of any other meaningful offer. The only alternative for Alitalia is simply going broke, since the european union has already warned they will not allow further economical aids by the italian government.
On the other hand, we are assisting these days to the strumental use of the bad situation of Alitalia by Berlusconi, who claims he can guarantee a better, all-italian bid which includes his sons as financers. Just amazing: in a month, italians will have to decide whether to elect Berlusconi as the next premier, and he is offering to buy Alitalia! The conflict of interest of a tycoon who owns three television networks and newspapers is not enough: he now wants to buy the country’s airline, probably reasoning that he can then manouver from the government seat into increasing the company’s profits. In the five years as a premier (2001-2006), Berlusconi’s wealth increased threefold. Guess why. And the guy is doubly smart: he knows italians who love their country also hate to see the selling of Alitalia to France, and so his offer is going to win him more votes at the elections of April 13th.
Anyway, why am I happy about this rotten situation ? Well, if you flew Alitalia enough in the past, and had a chance to compare the service it provides to that offered by other major european airlines, chances are you will agree with me: it sucks. I have only found such a nasty mix of bitchy hostesses and stewards, bad service, and crappy planes in Air India, another company in my black list. I guess any frequent traveler has his or her own antipathies, and I invite you to write below your own experience. I can only tell you what was the last time I flew Alitalia, and what happened.
In May 2000 I had a post-doc position with Harvard and was based at Fermilab. I had to travel to Elba for a conference, “Frontier Detectors for Frontier Physics”, where I would present a poster on the muon system upgrade of the CDF II experiment (the paper, later published to NIM, is available at this link [coming shortly]). I reluctantly bought an Alitalia ticket to go from Chicago to Malpensa and from there to Pisa -Alitalia was not my best choice, but the ticket was the cheapest. The flight was not bad, but as I got into Pisa I waited for my suitcase for a full hour, and only then was notified the suitcase had been left in Malpensa “because it did not fit in the plane”. It was a small suitcase, certainly smaller than the ATR700 with which I had arrived in Pisa, but I did not object. I was told the suitcase would arrive with the afternoon flight and they would take care of bringing it to the Elba island.
Three days later, the suitcase was not there yet. I had been told I could buy some clothing, whose price would be refunded if I kept the receipts. I spent hours on the phone with Malpensa offices: the suitcase was nowhere to be found. Eventually, I found some charitable soul in a private office there, and the person went himself to check some racks where lost luggages had been placed. I got it the next day, and proceeded to put together a letter where I listed the items I had bought: a swimsuit, a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, some slips. I think it was about 150$ worth of goods. I of course could not include my telephone bills for the calls to Malpensa, which probably amounted to a third of that, nor other expenses I had ran into because of the lack of my suitcase. Then, I waited.
Three months later, I finally received a letter from Alitalia. It said they were sorry to be unable to process my request, because my letter -which duly included the ticket information and stubs, the receipts, and everything else- lacked a piece of paper they had attached to the lost luggage (and I never found). A lame excuse!
To summarize: they do not notify me that they voluntarily neglect to load my suitcase in Malpensa. Then they fail to let me know. I lose time in Pisa looking for it. Then they make false promises about the delivery. They are not helpful on the phone. It is only through my endless calls that the suitcase is found. And in the end, they refuse a minimal refund!
I never flew Alitalia after that incident. And I am considering not flying Air France next – these kinds of cancers tend to spread.