Alitalia Flt. 643 Newark (EWR) to Rome (FCO)
Airbus 330, Magnifica Class, Skymiles Award Redemption
Sched. Dep. 4:50 pm Actual Dep. 4:35 pm
Sched. Arr. 7:10 am Actual Arr. 6:50 am
My vacation started out under a bit of stress. The plan was to take the express bus from Bryant Park, near my office, to Newark, arriving around 2:45 – plenty of time for a 4:50 flight to Rome. Alas, the bus stopped for a very long time at the Port Authority, slowly loading passengers and their luggage, and then loading more arriving passengers as they arrived, well past our scheduled departure. It then took us a very long time to even get from the Port Authority to the Lincoln Tunnel, at which point I checked the Alitalia website from my phone and realized the minimum check-in time was 120 minutes – not 90 minutes as I’d assumed. (Online check-in had been unavailable.) And it was already less than 120 minutes to departure and we were still in Manhattan! All sorts of disaster scenarios involving canceled tickets and pleading with surly Italians ran through my head, though I forced myself to breathe until we arrived at the airport, and deal with whatever happened then.
At around 3:25, we finally got to Newark’s Terminal B, which serves a hodgepodge of non-United airlines (mainly international plus Delta and Alaska). I bolted up the stairs to the Alitalia check-in – where I was apparently the last business class passenger to check-in, but there was no problem. Neurotic worry for nothing, but I will allow longer next time!
Armed with my boarding pass and lounge invitation, I headed to security. I am used to surly or attitude-y New York-based agents, but this was just bizarre. After the TSA agent directed me to the long standard line, I walked over to the SkyPriority lane, but was then scolded and told “You aren’t priority.” I showed her my boarding pass again and pointed out that it was a business class ticket and she rolled her eyes and let me walk through without a word. The TSA agent checking IDs was even worse, as she made all three people in front of me show secondary IDs. For the woman in front of me, this was because her drivers’ license – as is the case in several states – didn’t have an expiration date. She required a conferral with her colleague before letting 2 of the 3 preceding passengers through. Luckily, I was using my passport, with a relatively current picture, as opposed to my drivers’ license with a picture of 21 year old me, as I imagine she would not have approved. I went through without issue, though, and headed to the SkyClub.
There used to be two SkyClubs in Newark, one (the old Northwest Worldclub) for international flights (which were mostly partners), and one for domestic (Delta) flights. The former had a self-serve bar and a slightly atypical food selection. But Jet Airways has built its own lounge now, and Air France has pulled out of Newark altogether, meaning the only Skyteam or partner international flights left are Delta to Amsterdam and Alitalia to Rome. So its down to the smallish standard domestic SkyClub, which was pretty crowded on a late Friday afternoon. (Seriously- one stall in the bathroom?)
I waited for a whiskey rocks to take the edge off and passed the short time prior to boarding reviewing some last work emails before heading to the gate. I was surprised to see that Alitalia agents were actually working the gate (and one had been at check-in). All of the announcements started in Italian, followed by English, with lots of pushy Italians at the gate.
The business (or Magnifica) cabin on Alitalia’s A330s is divided in two, with a galley in between that is set up as a self-serve snack bar during the night. I had called Alitalia about a month before the flight, and had gotten a seat assigned in the front of the forward cabin. I was thus a bit surprised to be asked if I wanted a window or aisle when I got to check in. I ended up with a seat in the last row of the front Magnifica cabin, which I was worried might be too noisy, and also doesn’t have a real window, but it ended up fine. It was also odd because the cabin as a whole was less than half full- which doesn’t bode well for the future of EWR-FCO service I’d imagine.
Overall, the service on Alitalia was very similar to what I’d experienced on my last trip in their old business class in 2010. Adequate, but not very friendly or solicitous. Pre-departure, the purser (who at first I thought was the pilot given his cap and militaristic garb) came through and said hello (in Italian). Then about 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure, a flight attendant closed the curtains to business class, and came around with a tray of sparkling wine, water, and blood orange juice, followed by a Bulgari amenity kit. The contents were pretty basic, and similar to those in the LAN Business Class Bulgari kit I received in February, though the case itself was not as reuseable as either the LAN kit, or the Alitalia kit I had had last time around, due to an awkward shape. Finally, menus and newspapers were passed out.\
The in-flight entertainment system took a while to come alive- about 45 minutes after take-off. There was a variety of Italian television, and a number of American, Italian, and older films – ranging from old to new. I settled in for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The meal service was disappointing compared to my last Alitalia flight. Although there was tons of food, none of it was that good, and again, no real service. All was served off carts, “table side.” The first course was some random antipasti: a rice pilaf cake, a seafood salad, prosciutto and melon, and bread, along with the first and only wine service of the meal. (The wine was excellent though.) The second course, the pasta, was probably the best, as I was offered a combination plate of the two different options – a beef (I think) lasagna and penne in red sauce, with fresh grated parmesan cheese. The main course was the most disappointing. The choices were a pork filet or fish. I don’t eat pork generally, so I went with the fish, which was fairly tasteless, and was served an assortment of vegetables – I think spinach, cabbage, and potatoes – as well as a small green salad. Dessert then came, with fresh fruit and a weird pastry.
The beverage cart came down one more time, but I passed, and got ready for bed.
The lie-flat seats were different than many others I’ve been in. There was a stationary ottoman, which meant you could have your feet up during takeoff and landing, as there was nothing to stow. The “bed” was created by leaning back and forward the main part of the seat so it connected to the ottoman. There was also no real in-seat storage as on some other lie-flat business seats. The seat itself wasn’t particularly well-cushioned, so I took an extra duvet from the empty seat in front of me, as well as an extra pillow as the pillows were tiny-sized. The only problem I had falling asleep was the light coming from the self-serve snack area, as no one had closed the curtain. I got up and did so myself, and was able to get about four hours sleep before the cabin lights went on and I was given a hot towel.
The breakfast service was prompt, and served by the same crew as dinner. It was a barebones continental breakfast, with fruit and choices from two different bread baskets, followed by yogurt a few minutes later.[
Overall, Alitalia’s new Magnifica Class isn’t going to compare with the degree of service on many other airlines transatlantic business class, including many American carriers. But as a Skymiles mileage redemption, it is still an extremely undervalued means of getting to Europe in a lie-flat seat.