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I love trying different airlines – even when they aren’t the most revered. Over the years I’ve heard mostly negative comments about Alitalia, so I decided to finally try them this week when they were showing availability on Rome to Miami on the date I needed coming back from my weekend in Budapest. My outbound portion was on KLM JFK-AMS-BUD and in total the trip cost me 100,000 Delta miles and $90 in fees with all legs in business class.
Arriving at the Airport
I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the airport because my cab driver accidentally dropped me off at Terminal 5, which is where the flights from the US leave. However, Alitalia check-in is actually at Terminal 3 and then you train over to the International Terminal. I got to the airport about an hour before the 9:20am departure (my bad!), so by the time I hustled through security and immigration, I only had about 5 minutes at the gate until boarding.
I had gotten my boarding pass the evening before when I left Budapest for Rome, and in the interim, I checked Seatguru and saw that my seat 9C was in a bulkhead with (gasp!) limited legroom. Alitalia did not let me edit the reservation online, so I was at the mercy of the gate agent who gladly put me in a center row with no one next to me. Nice. And I didn’t even have to bribe her with gelato.
The actual waiting area was pretty cramped, but I assume this was done on purpose to encourage people to check out the high-end shops encircling the gate area: Gucci, Prada, Hermes and Moncler just to name a few.
Boarding was fine, though a huge crowd rushed the gate area when business class started boarding and a rep finally shooed away everyone who wasn’t supposed to be boarding. I personally find boarding to be more hectic and the rules less-adhered-to when traveling in Europe. Hey, it adds to the ambiance.
I knew I was flying the 777 which has Alitalia’s old-school recliner seats. They remind me of Delta’s 767-300 seats, and while they aren’t the most cutting edge, I do find them pretty comfortable – especially for lounging on a day flight when I’m not trying to get a night’s sleep. Alitalia’s 767’s have angled lie flats and the A330’s have fully lie flat beds, which are supposed to be pretty nice. So if you’re on a night flight, be sure to get on one of those planes.
The flight attendants didn’t greet me until boarding was completed and I was offered a newspaper and pre-departure beverage. I chose red orange juice, which was super sweet.
The amenity kit was one of the nicest I’ve ever seen in business class – an expensive men’s Bulgari set that included the regular items such as eyeshades, ear plugs, toothbrush and socks – as well as a shaving kit, cologne and several skincare products, plus the case itself looked cool. Very nicely done in my opinion.
The menus were also passed out after takeoff and they were by far the most extensive I’ve ever had on an airplane. Each was in Italian and English and explained the wine/food in great detail, including the regions in Italy where everything was sourced from. Each menu also had a place for taking your own tasting notes, which I’ve never seen before.
Food service was prompt and started with the flight attendant hand-assembling my place setting, which was a nice touch. Once set up, I was offered wine, which I wasn’t exactly in the mood for at 10:30am (I know, shocking!), as well as several choices of bread. The starters were warm rosemary focaccia (amazing), omelette (blah) and goat (horrendous). I’m not a gamey meat kind of guy, so I found the cold goat to be repulsive.
They then came around with a cart that had two pasta choices: Smooth macaroni (i.e. cream sauce) with fennel, or a Sardinian gnochetti with fresh vegetable ratatouille (red sauce). Naturally, I had to try both. The creamy macaroni was just okay, but the gnochetti in red sauce was really nice with robust flavor, which is often lost on airplane foods.
For my main course I went with the seafood option (Turbot) with roast eggplant, artichokes stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese and rosemary potatoes. The other option was a baby pork glazed with honey and fennel – it sounded good, but after a weekend of heavy Hungarian food and a decadent meal in Rome the night before, I tried to go with the lighter option, which ended up being a good move. The fish was light and tasty, though it was shown up by the sides which were all really flavorful.
I couldn’t bear to do dessert because my eyes were literally closing – I didn’t have a ton of sleep in Rome and I was still exhausted from a whirlwind weekend in Budapest. Since the Rome-Miami flight is over 10.5 hours, I had plenty of time to nap. Fortunately the cabin was nearly half empty, so I was able to snag an extra blanket and pillow which I made into a pretty comfortable sleeping cocoon. Even though the seats don’t recline to a lie-flat position, I find them extremely comfortable and I was snoozing in no time – without the help of a sleep aid, which is a rare thing for me and is probably more a result of exhaustion than absolute comfort of the seat.
I was so tired I slept for about 6 hours – almost all straight until we hit some moderate turbulence near Bermuda (Triangle?). After I woke up, I hit up the galley for some biscotti and bottles of water and checked out the in-flight entertainment, which had a bunch of recent and old-school movies.
About 90 minutes before landing the flight attendants brought around a snack plate of Italian sausage, cheese and some sort of turnover served with fruit and coffee. To be honest, the sausage was very potent and almost salami-ish, so I just munched on the really nice bread and fruit.
My overall experience was more than enjoyable. The crew really took pride in the meal service and I actually found the seats very comfortable and well-padded. I suppose it helps that I had no one next to me and the cabin was about half empty, but my expectations were far exceeded. My only advice for anyone traveling in this cabin would be to choose the middle column of seats so you don’t have to climb over anyone – I suspect you’d feel trapped if you were sitting at the window and the people in front of you and next to you were reclined since these seats are not in pods. I’d also recommend avoiding row 9, which did look to have limited legroom due to the bulkhead.