Alitalia, formerly jet set carrier, approaches its last flight


MILAN — Alitalia, the airline that for years has symbolized Italy’s post-war boom and dolce vita, is expected to make its last flight on Thursday, after the Covid-19 pandemic dealt a final blow to a company supported by the governments of the country for years.

The 75-year-old national airline, which in the late 1960s was the third largest in Europe, behind British Airways and Air France, has been in an Italian version of bankruptcy protection since 2017. It has not made annual profits for two decades. , struggling with competition from low-cost airlines and its own costly, strike-prone labor. The unrest continued almost to the end: a strike this week resulted in the cancellation of more than 100 flights.

Check-in counters were empty at Fiumicino airport outside Rome this week as a strike resulted in the cancellation of more than 100 flights.


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Formed shortly after World War II, it became the unofficial carrier of a new emerging jet set between the United States and Europe. In particular, he took Italian and American movie stars between Hollywood and Italian movie sets. Alitalia’s heyday coincided with the romance of the “sweetness of life” of Rome in films such as “La Dolce Vita” by Federico Fellini in 1960. Among the illustrious aviators was Sophia Loren, who previously participated in the advertisement for the airline.

A succession of popes have also used it as the airline of choice: the distinctive green and red colors of Alitalia’s rear wings have served as the backdrop for arrivals at papal airports around the world. Last month, Pope Francis flew Alitalia from Rome to Hungary and then to Slovakia.

Alitalia has never adapted to the massive deregulation of the aviation industry which has led to the consolidation of major carriers and the emergence of low-cost carriers, analysts say. Increasingly faster trains have also eaten into the airline’s lucrative domestic market. Despite all these headwinds, the Italian government has served as an investor of last resort, intervening recently with a series of bailouts and attempts to find new partners.

The Italian government has invested more than 10 billion euros, or around 11.6 billion dollars, in Alitalia since 2008, according to Andrea Giuricin, professor of economics at Bicocca University in Milan and managing director of TRA Consulting. Alitalia declined to comment on the estimate.

A succession of popes have used Alitalia as their airline of choice, including Pope Paul VI, shown looking out of the cabin window on a flight in December 1964.


Last month, Pope Francis flew Alitalia from Rome to Hungary and then to Slovakia, where a crowd greeted him as he disembarked in Bratislava on September 12.


AFP via Getty Images

In an attempt to turn the airline around, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, at one point a key shareholder, introduced training in 2016 to help flight attendants be more cordial. The airline renovated airport lounges with different mixes of coffee and pizza ovens and introduced new uniforms.

The Rolling Stones posed with an Alitalia jet at London Heathrow Airport in 1967.


Evening Standard / Hulton Archives

In 2012, Alitalia carried 25 million passengers, around 17% of the Italian market and roughly at the level of Ryanair Holdings PLC, the largest low cost carrier in Europe. In 2019, Ryanair carried almost twice as many passengers in Italy as Alitalia.

The coronavirus pandemic – which put air travel on hold for months – has dealt the killing blow. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has resisted government calls to intervene again to save the airline.

Some of Alitalia’s assets, including 52 planes and most of its airport slots, along with around a quarter of its employees, are being absorbed by a new airline which is due to make its first flight on Friday. Italia Trasporto Aereo is fully owned by the Italian government following an investment of 720 million euros.

The Alitalia brand could also find a new home. The airline is trying to auction it off. No offer was made during a first auction which set an initial price of 290 million euros. The ITA has said it wants the brand, but will not pay more than half of that amount.

The last Alitalia flight, from Cagliari on the island of Sardinia to Rome, is due to land at 11:10 p.m. local time on Thursday. The Pope has yet to say whether ITA will be his airline of choice.

Write to Eric Sylvers at [email protected]

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Appeared in the print edition of October 14, 2021 under the title “Alitalia prepares for its last flight”.

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