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Flight Review: Alitalia JFK-Rome in Coach

by on December 26, 2011 · 15 comments

in Alitalia, Trip Reports

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This is an installment in my Istanbul: End of Year Mileage Run with Dad series. Posts include; Cheap Istanbul Flights: From $576 Total Roundtrip on Delta from JFKHelp Plan My Long Weekend in IstanbulFlight Review: Alitalia JFK-Rome in CoachHotel Review: Westin Excelsior RomeHotel Review: Park Hyatt Istanbul Spa RoomIstanbul Eats and Excursions.

When I took my dad on a quick trip to Istanbul a couple weeks ago (thanks for the suggestions, everyone!) we actually flew Alitalia from JFK-Rome, and spent a day and night in the Eternal City before continuing on to Turkey.

We took Alitalia since it’s a member of SkyTeam, and I’m on my end-of-year elite status sprint to requalify for Delta Diamond Medallion status. The entire itinerary was JFK-FCO-IST-AMS-JFK … and my ticket only cost $550 since I was flying coach, so it was a huge bargain.

I’ve already written about my experience in Alitalia Magnifica Business Class from a previous trip, so here are my thoughts on coach.

Lounge Access

Before the flight, dad and I had our choice of lounges. Thanks to my Delta Medallion status, we could have popped into the Air France lounge, but using my Amex Platinum’s Priority Pass Select access, we opted for the Korean Air Prestige Lounge instead since I’ve been to that lounge and it’s much quieter than the Air France lounge since the Korean flights don’t leave until later in the evening.

Though I usually like to get to the gate early and be among the first to board in business class so I have some extra time to get comfortable, it’s a different story in coach. We were among the last to board the flight, arriving at the gate  just 30 minutes prior to departure, however that also let me take advantage of the open seats, which I’ll explain below.

The Strategy

I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles in coach, but these days I try to avoid it long-haul since I’m 6’7″ and it takes a toll on my body that is hard to explain. I simply don’t fit – especially when people recline their seats. So I was pretty anxious about being folded up and jammed into a tiny seat for 9 hours. Here’s where a bit of forethought and strategy made all the difference.

The airplane was a Boeing 777, and economy is configured in a 3 x 3 x 3 patterns. Seats are just 17 inches wide and have only 32 inches of pitch, so it’s a tight squeeze.

Thanks to elite status, I was able to book two bulkhead seats for my father (who’s a more reasonable 6’3”). But when we checked in at the gate, I asked the agent if there were any open rows at all on the flight. She said yes there were further in the back, but warned me that people were probably already seated in them in the hopes that they could have them for themselves.

Nonetheless, I asked the agent to assign me to one of those rows in the middle seat. It’s a risky proposition walking onto a plane with a middle seat coach assignment, but I knew no one was going to want to sit next to me. I dropped dad off in the bulkhead, and made my way back to my row—sure enough, there was someone already squatting there. And she wasn’t too pleased to see me when I plopped myself down in the middle seat. Within a minute, she had retreated back to her original seat assignment, and I had my own row of three seats to myself. Dad was left with an aisle bulkhead with an empty seat next to him. Score for both of us!

The Experience

As you can see from the photo below, it was still a bit of a tight fit, but definitely a lot better than it could have been. My knees were crushed up against the seat in front of me, and if my neighbor had reclined, I don’t think I would have fit at all! However, having a row of three seats to myself was pretty comfortable. I used several pillows and my coat to cover the aisle armrest, laid a blanket down over the seatbelts and then put one on top of me with the seatbelt fastened over it so I wouldn’t be disturbed or woken up to buckle it if there was any turbulence. It was a great system, and after I popped a Lunesta, I crashed for nearly 6 hours and woke up refreshed in Rome. I didn’t watch anything, but for you insomniac flyers, at least Alitalia has personal video screens with on-demand programming in the seatbacks.

The food was perfectly fine—nothing bad, nothing outstanding. I did appreciate the fast service that got dinner out of the way quickly so we could sleep (the plane had departed at 9:50pm, so it was already getting late), and in the morning, breakfast was light and quick as well, just a croissant and yogurt.

Overall, the experience was pretty great considering what a bargain my fare was and how miserable it could have been if I was stuck in a normal coach seat. Just a little strategizing went a long way though!

Stay tuned for more posts about my trip, including my Istanbul, Rome and Amsterdam hotels and food.


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