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Hanging Out with Alitalia and Etihad at the Milan Expo

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Expo is shorthand for “World’s Exposition,” the more recent incarnation of the World’s Fair. TPG Contributor Leigh Rowan recently visited this year’s Expo, held in Milan, Italy — here’s his experience from the Alitalia and Etihad Airways pavilion.

One of the highlights of the Milan Expo is the Alitalia and Etihad Airways pavilion, which featured all sorts of fun stuff for frequent flyers. The two airlines are co-sponsors of this year’s Expo — probably not a total coincidence, considering that the Abu Dhabi-based airline now has a 49-percent stake in Alitalia — and their joint exhibition space is truly a treat to behold.

Outside the lounge.
The Pavilion entrances, to the right and left.

Downstairs: Virtual Reality, Helpful Staff and Tasty Coffee

The first floor of the pavilion is set up as a “social hub,” with multiple experiences highlighting Alitalia’s and Etihad’s in-flight services. There are entrances at the front and back of the pavilion (VIPs, including SkyTeam Elite Plus members, can enter through the back). Note that some exhibits may be changing over the course of the Expo, so your particular visit may not be exactly the same as mine.

Upon arrival at the VIP Entrance (where I showed my Delta Platinum/SkyTeam Elite Plus membership card via the Delta iPhone app), I was warmly greeted and shown into the lounge. On one side of the lounge, there were a pair of immersive flight simulator experiences that visitors could test out; each simulator seated 6-8 people. The other side of the lounge featured a coffee bar, kids’ play area and tablets for exploring different Etihad and Alitalia destinations.

Oculus Rift virtual-reality experience at the Milan Expo Etihad/Alitalia Lounge. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Oculus Rift virtual-reality experience at the Milan Expo Etihad/Alitalia Lounge. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The coolest part of the downstairs, however, is an interactive Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset experience where visitors were invited to sit down in a rocking chair, don a VR headset and be rocked from side to side by Etihad and Alitalia flight attendants as they glimpsed, within the headset, some of the best Etihad and Alitalia in-flight experiences and products. Very cool … though it looked a bit strange from the outside.

It wasn't all fun and games; some business deals no doubt go down at the lounge, too.
It wasn’t all fun and games; some business deals no doubt go down at the lounge, too.

Upstairs: VIP Lounge + The Premium “Cabins”

Upstairs is where the real fun is, though. Accessible only to SkyTeam Elite Plus and Etihad Guest Gold and Platinum members (and only upon invitation; if you haven’t received an invitation, ask at the VIP desk for a tour of the upstairs), the second floor featured models of Etihad’s Residence and First Apartment on the A380, as well as Alitalia’s Magnifica Class.

A taste of luxury inside one of Etihad's First Apartments.
A taste of luxury inside one of Etihad’s First Apartments.

It’s not like I didn’t know that the Etihad First products — the famed Residence and the highly coveted Apartment — were pretty spectacular, but seeing them in person really drives that point home. Etihad didn’t cut corners with its demo space, so we got to see everything from the soft slippers and amenity kits to the perfectly rolled blanket in the Apartment to the full-blown Residence (a more detailed look is coming later this week) that premium passengers would be given on a real flight aboard the A380. The Apartment’s leather seat was comfortable and chic, and the attention to detail is pretty impressive; there are plenty of nooks and crannies for storage. That said, with the Etihad Residence experience on display, the First Apartment looked (almost) underwhelming.

With slippers and all, it was almost like we were on a real flight.
With slippers and all, it was almost like we were on a real flight.

Speaking of underwhelming … poor Alitalia! It’s not that the airline’s Magnifica Class seats are bad or uncomfortable, it’s just that they can’t match the extravagance and spaciousness of Etihad’s two ultra-premium products. Perhaps the lounge’s designers knew this was the case; they put the Magnifica model seat in the very back corner of the lounge, close to the bathrooms. (Note that these second-floor lounge bathrooms are the nicest loos in all of the Expo; should you find yourself in the lounge, go visit!)

An Alitalia Magnifica Class seat.
An Alitalia Magnifica Class seat.

One Last Thing

After our tour of the Residence and Apartment, we were invited to sit in the upstairs lounge, where a friendly Alitalia flight attendant served us snacks and aperitivi, including Prosecco, Martini Bianco, Aperol Spritzes and more. When visiting the lounge, be sure to sit down and enjoy a quick drink or two — but don’t stay too long, as the rest of the Expo awaits!

See also:

Doing the Milan Expo Right
Milan Expo 2015: Where to Eat, Play & Stay

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