Aircraft: MD-80, I-DAWU
Departure gate: A8 changed from A5
Sector: FCO VCE
The shuttle dropped my husband and I off in front of Terminal A at Fiumicino bright and early for a 1045 flight. Check-in at the designated Alitalia counters was pretty desolated, with plenty of counters open with plenty of agents manning them in their elegant forest green Alitalia jackets. We checked our two bags in with the lady agent and enquired if the flight was non-smoking, to which she nodded her head and then, turning on her chair to tag my luggage, started talking about “I give you very good seats, very good seats yes?” We were amused at how the agent got so excited! Anyway, she stuck on the bag receipts and gave us our boarding passes. I also picked up a few Alitalia tags as a souvenir (yes, I’m a self-confessed hoarder and have a drawerful of airline tags at home) – they were unusual, not the glossy-paper type or an elastic slip-through type (like Qantas, for example) but were small, square and plastic, folded up so the information would be hidden and had a plastic strap. Kind of like Singapore Airline’s old handcarry baggage tags.
We wandered the downstairs of Terminal A for a bit, then headed upstairs for a bite to eat at the café. Now, neither my husband nor I speak Italian, but with a good deal of pointing to back up our order for hot chocolate and some marble cake, and giving up on trying to convert lira into Euro (although admittedly it is ridiculously easy in terms of New Zealand dollars – for lira, drop off the surplus zeros and then halve the amount in NZD to get Euro) we managed to get down our mid-morning snack overlooking some sort of maintenance building.
We went through security after that – two machines open with the security personnel seemingly more interested in socialising than doing their job. Still, I figured, if the Italians haven’t been hijacked lately, what’re the odds of it happening on my flight?
The layout of Terminal A seems a bit puzzling at first, with gates A1 through A3 running down one side of the concourse, then after A3 the gate suddenly split up into odds on one side, evens on the other. Gate A5 is about halfway down the terminal. From memory, an Alitalia A321 was in the final stages of boarding for a flight to Genoa, and I remember watching the cute little figure on the television move across the screen – certainly a universal way of getting the message across!
When a quarter past ten came and went, and no new Alitalia plane came into the gate, I must admit that the seeds of concern were beginning to be sown in my mind, but there was plenty of AirOnes to watch as well as Alitalias, of course.
An announcement was made over the speakers at about 1020 that the new boarding gate for AZ1469 was A8, so off we moved diagonally across the concourse to the new gate where plenty of other people seemed to have figured it out already and were already fiercely guarding their Aeroporta di Roma seats like they were liquid gold. I was much more interested in the airplane than sitting down to a grumpy old Italian matron – Alitalia MD-80, I-DAWU which yes, I admit, made me think of Korea almost immediately (Daewoo).
Boarding commenced shortly after with a barely understandable announcement in English. They might have well been speaking in Italian for all I knew, as I didn’t comprehend a word the gate agent said, but everyone got up and lunged for the boarding door, so we assumed that the flight was boarding.
Seeing everyone clutching a grubby piece of paper along with their boarding pass, which we rightly assumed was some sort of Italian identification card, I fished out our passports and had them ready for the gate agent who ripped off the boarding passes and gave them back to us with a “Grazie” (thank you).
Walking down the jetway, there was a crew member at the door to greet us, whom at first I thought was one of the flight crew! He was wearing a peaked cap and a dark jacket, but he was actually the cabin director. There were four crew aboard today – three males and a female scattered throughout the aircraft as we boarded.
Alitalia MD-80s are configured in Business and Economy class, but AZ1469 sold Economy class tickets only. The business class seats stretch for half, if not more, of the aircraft in a configuration 2-2, upholstered in green. There is a divider which moves so that business class remains private, but I guess a lot of economy class passengers enjoy the wider seats on longer flights. Our seats were 9AB, and although the legroom was I suspect roughly the same as the economy configuration, the wider seats were definitely better than the 3-3 in the economy section!
The flight was about 65% full, with only a few people in the rear section – obviously the Alitalia agents had allocated the “very good seats” first although there were still quite a few empty seats around where we were sitting.
The captain introduced himself as the door slammed closed, and then the cabin director began his safety demonstration over the PA system, with flight attendants demonstrating. I browsed through the Alitalia inflight magazine – very interesting – and their duty free guide, containing fashion accessories (what else, we’re talking Italy here) and frankly, not much else!
There was quite a queue for takeoff and the captain advised we were 6th in line for departure. I watched as five other Alitalia MD-80s took their holding places, one by one, as they rumbled off for destinations unknown!
Soon it was our turn and we were airborne, banking steeply to align us with our flight path towards Venice today. The flight time is somewhere in the region of 45 minutes.
Shortly after the seatbelt sign comes off, crew begin a quick drinks service, offering us quite a good selection of beverages – orange, apple, tomato juice, Coca-cola and mineral water, served in a plastic cup with a refresher towelette in an attractive green Alitalia packet. Paper napkins were given out with the drinks, although I must admit to a slight apprehension as I saw blood-red, thick orange juice being poured out for my husband’s request!
The crew were pleasant enough – friendly and efficient. Of course, with a flight time this short it was practically time to land right after the drinks service. Crew came around with a black plastic garbage bag and got us to practice our lob shots with our cups and napkins (really, it just took a bit of leaning over if you were in the window).
Our descent into Venice brought us a good view of Italian waterways completely frozen over and soon we were skimming over ice-ringed fields as we touched down in front of the Venice terminal building, and came to a stop right in front. No aerobridges, and deplaning was either by stairs from the front left-hand door or from the rear tailcone! I was definitely not going to miss this opportunity and once we were appropriately wrapped up in the coats that the Siberian postal office probably issue to their workers and that my husband insisted on having, we left through the deployed stairs right under the tail. The noise of the engines was rumbling and the female attendant stationed at the rear smiled and said goodbye as we left.
There is really only one word to describe the experience, and that word is wow.
A bus was waiting, and we had to wait for all the passengers to get off the plane before it closed its doors and trundled towards the terminal. I assumed the crew would be flying back to Rome as they didn’t come with us.
There are 3 reclaim belts in the restricted arrivals hall and a hell of a line for the lost luggage office, which immediately sent pangs of the feeling known as ‘uh-oh’ through my stomach as I eyed the reclaim belt with what some might term as silent pleading. I guess Murphy is omniscient, although I don’t know his Italian form, because true enough, one of our bags didn’t come with us on DAWU. Exasperated, we joined the queue at what we thought was the end, but actually wasn’t, as a man with a very large Doberman pinscher pointed out to us. Of course, being the friendly New Zealanders we are, we let his dog and him go first (note which one gets the more emphasis) as true enough, he was there first, but mate, at least look like you’re in the queue if you don’t want to lose your place!!
We had someone from our hotel waiting for us as the designated driver so my husband suggested that he queue while I went out and find him, and explain to him about the delay. Now who am I to argue with my husband, plus the queue looked never-ending, so I went out and found the representative, explained to him wryly the joys of travelling with Alitalia and sat down to wait. My other half popped out the door about 30 minutes after I had left him, just when I was studying the arrivals television monitor for about the twentieth time in utter boredom.
According to my husband the agent from the ground handling company SAVE (now how’s that for an ironic name) there was a problem with bags out of Rome today across the whole system (as if we couldn’t have guessed from the lines) and that our bag would be reunited with us as soon as possible. I have to say at the time I was not feeling particularly optimistic, nor a particularly big fan of Alitalia.
Well, it turns out that we did see our bag again, with an express rush baggage tag slapped on it by Alitalia who got it to us on the very next flight, delivered right to our hotel room. So with the knowledge that my worldly belongings wasn’t in the hands of some Peruvian tourist in Florence, we could set out and enjoy Venice…
Aircraft: Dash-8, OE-LTI
Departure gate: 7
Sector: VCE VIE
… but all too soon it was time to leave for Vienna on the final stop of our European holiday. Despite getting hopelessly lost among the back streets, and finding out that the clock tower in St. Marco’s Square is actually slightly tilted, coining it the Leaning Tower of Venice in our minds (doesn’t have the same ring to it, excuse the pun), we had a great time. And no cars to watch out for while strolling around, and anyone who’s been to Rome, where the traffic lights seem to be merely Christmas decorations will know the luxury of that!
Our water taxi dropped us off at the arrivals end of the terminal and I managed to secure us a trolley, almost freezing my fingers off in the process to cart our bags towards the departures area. On the way, I noticed some familiar yellow parking payment machines in front of the terminal building… the same ones as Auckland Airport uses, in fact!
Check-in for our Tyrolean service hadn’t opened yet, but did about 10 minutes after we arrived. Our bags were loaded, tagged, our boarding passes printed and we were waved towards security. I picked up some Tyrolean tags and an Austrian Airlines Group timetable.
Our reservations were apparently in Business class, and our boarding passes certainly had Business class printed on them, but for a Dash-8 aircraft, I was somewhat dubious.
Security here was tighter than in Rome with many passengers having to raise their arms as they walked through the metal detector under the watchful eye of security personnel. Maybe it was some type of Italian custom – certainly there was nobody there telling them to do so and when I went through I most certainly did not perform the aforementioned convolution and I was not stopped for not doing so. Anyways, it was reassuring to see the security officer watching the X-ray screen.
As mentioned before, there are no aerobridges at Venice so the boarding gates are really nothing more than boarding stations clumped close together. Travel between Austria and Italy, as EU member nations, are made easier by what I believe is called the Schengen treaty, which basically allows passage without having to go through the formalities of passport control. The UK is not privy to Schengen and so the BA737-400 bound for Gatwick, Union Jack livery, departed from a separate controlled section of the airport along with flights to Switzerland and other non-Schengen countries.
Anyway, Venice seemed to be quite a busy airport, with flights boarding every which way but at 1130 our boarding call came. The choice was either to wait in the warm airport lounge or freeze in the airport bus – of course, if everyone followed this logic nobody would get aboard but thankfully some people seemed to realise this and immediately lunged towards the boarding door. Boarding was quick, everyone was declared aboard, and the bus rumbled off towards our Dash-8 aircraft.
OE-LTI was painted in a special blue mountain peaks livery, emphasising the quietness of the Dash-8 were the words ‘Sound of Silence’ on the overhead-wing mounted engine.
Fierce baggage handlers were on hand to stop any oversized handcarry luggage being carried on board and checked temporarily into the hold instead. Up we went the aircraft-mounted stairs into the small cabin, marvelling at the view of the propeller close up. A tall brunette flight attendant was on hand to greet passengers. Our allocated seats were 3AB but as the flight was less than full and the seats narrow my husband moved across the aisle to 4D.
The door was slammed shut, the propellers started and soon we were bouncing our way over to the runway for takeoff. The cabin purser began her safety demonstration – she and a colleague were the only ones working our flight.
After takeoff, they came round with a drinks and meal trolley – again, a good selection of drinks including a variety of juices, water, and Diet Coke. The meal was a cold chicken plate with coleslaw and a dessert of some sort of tart, and the whole meal was very good, with proper cutlery and china. As said earlier, I’m doubtful whether this is business class or not because although there was a divider, only two other people sat behind it and as far as I could see they also got a meal! Unless maybe the whole aircraft is Business class…
Another round of drinks were offered by the lead flight attendant, who spoke fluent English, Italian and German and then the last 45 minutes or so of the flight was spent gazing out the window at the beautiful scenery framed against the whirring propeller.
The most memorable part of the flight was watching the left-hand rear gear come down under the engine, and watching the wheel bump down onto the tarmac at Vienna. The Austrian capital was shrouded in fog today, so as we got lower there wasn’t much to see except when we skimmed over a few trees.
Our Tyrolean jet swung into a remote parking position in line with what seemed to be a Tyrolean parking lot and a bus was waiting to cart us off to the arrivals terminal. The lead flight attendant said a friendly goodbye and ‘you’re welcome’ as we deplaned and thanked her.
Everyone on our flight was transferring, so they got split up from us at the terminal – we proceeded up to bag claim where our flight was sharing reclaim belt 1 with about four other flights. Our bags popped out on to the belt just as we approached – now that’s what I call perfect timing. Being a Schengen flight our baggage tags had two fluorescent green strips down each side which exempted us from Customs inspection.
Out the doors into Vienna’s terminal building and my first impression was old but stylish!
Aircraft: A319, G-EUPP
Departure gate: A1
Sector: VIE LHR
Well, after three days of freezing our heads off in Vienna (2 degrees Celsius is far too cold for me!) it was time to get back to work and our BA flight to Heathrow left at around half-three from Vienna.
Our hotel shuttle dropped us off in front of the terminal and with a minimal amount of fuss we managed to find the four BA check-in desks. The Club Europe agent must have disliked us, because he told us that his baggage belt was broken yet was somehow miraculously fixed for the next passenger in line. So we had a bit of a wait but there was no hurry and the flat screens used to display the information for the desk was very modern.
The agent in charge of our desk managed to tag our bags correctly and slap on priority tags, checked our passports, printed off our boarding passes and gave us directions to the lounge.
Not much in the airport terminal to interest us, so we went through passport control, which was interesting as the officer sits in this phone booth type cubicle and there’s a little door which you have to go through to get past. Unfortunately, we didn’t listen to the check-in agent clearly enough and got a bit confused trying to find the BA lounge, heading past the Lufthansa lounge and reaching the departures area before doubling back. The BA lounge was in fact hidden off to one side right after immigration – the entrance actually requires you to do a wide u-turn right after you clear immigration, with no signs at all!
The reception agent checked our boarding passes and waved us towards the seats – armchairs grouped in clusters of four overlooking the airport terminal. The lounge was very spacious considering BA only operates three or four flights a day out of Vienna.
An Austrian A330-200 was just preparing for departure to I believe New York and a Royal Jordanian A310 was parked at gate A8. I watched as a Lufthansa A320 touched down and taxied towards a position at terminal B – Schengen area perhaps? – and what really caught my fancy was that the lights along the path to the stopping position was lit up for the Lufthansa pilot to follow, and as soon as he stopped the lights all winked off again!
The selection of refreshments was poor, but of good standard. Bottles of Coke and peanuts were available, as well as pitchers of juice and ice water. The toilets were fairly clean and situated within the lounge complex. There were Austrian and British newspapers available.
A boarding call was made for this flight – and the security checkpoint located at the gate. After that, Vienna Airport has deviously got all the passengers in a holding area they can’t get out of – anticipating every contingency they even have toilets inside the gate area. Soon, boarding commences and it takes some ingenious ways of looking out the window trying to snatch a look at the registration, earning me some very odd looks from fellow passengers.
The same check-in agent was on hand as a gate agent and she processed our passes through the machine before we walked down the aerobridge to board G-EUPP.
Cabin services director Jon Joshua and flight attendant Pia Tannenen were on hand to greet passengers as they boarded. Today’s Club Europe configuration is 3 rows. There is a movable divider (I think up to the fifth row) so rows 1-5 are configured as ‘Club Europe’ seats, although they are really not much better than Economy. A little pull-out button-type coat hook is on the back of the seat, which may be clever but to me is just another way of getting the crew to do less work .
A full flight today and we are seated in 2EF which basically means we had the middle seat and aisle. On the other side, the B seat is really a little gap which means BA can say there is a 2/3 configuration for Club Europe when in fact the seat width is not that much more generous.
BA have tried to decorate their Club Europe cabin a bit, with dark blue leatherette seats and small framed black and white pictures mounted on the bulkheads. After the general scrum of people have disappeared from the aisles, Pia comes around with hot towels and we are soon pushing back from the terminal. Small LCD screens deploy from the thingy-wotsit above us (where the oxygen masks come out) on each side and show the safety demonstration, after which switches to Airshow.
The captain introduces himself, describes our flight path and our flight time, and does his usual pitch for the cabin crew.
EUPP is soon airborne and thrumming towards Heathrow, and the curtain between Club Europe and Europe Traveller is yanked. Cabin director Jon seems to be working our cabin today, with the other three relegated to the back.
First up is a drinks service with sour cream and black pepper pretzel snacks, which are a bit out of the ordinary but are very nice; and there is a decent selection of drinks. Shortly after that, Jon comes back with the main meal selection and a drinks top-up.
The choice is fish or duck on a salad. The way it works is that Jon has two trays in front of him, containing pieces of fish in one and pieces of duck in the other; and bowls and bowls of salad. All he has to do is take out the tray, put it on the tray table, take the selected preference of main, put it on the salad and give it to the passenger.
I do have to say that I was quite impressed with British Airways on this sector. The flight time was just over two hours yet many of the smaller details were attended to. For example, a white tablecloth was laid quickly by Jon before he put the tray table on and the presence of a hot part of the meal was really good. The piece of fish was okay, nothing special. The dessert was some sort of cinnamon-apple-raisin tart – a pretty generous serving too, and that also was all right.
Jon came by to clear up again, and tea and coffee were offered. Besides the distraction of the meal, the rest of the flight was pretty boring, spent mostly leafing through the BA inflight magazine, shopping guide and the twenty or so magazines my husband inherited from the last person to sit in his seat and didn’t bother to empty their seat pocket!
We were put into a holding pattern short of Heathrow before we finally managed to hit British soil. Taxiing to our gate, there was a wide variety of aircraft – mostly British Airways and bmi as we rolled past Terminal One to swing in at the furthest gate 56 for offloading. There was a short delay as the aerobridge swung into action and during that time I saw in the near distance a Cathay Pacific 747-400 looking resplendent in forest green… B-HOX, Spirit of Hong Kong, was being towed to Terminal Three, obviously to operate the CX250 service as the time was still only just gone five in the evening.
Out the jetway and wishing us goodbye was Jon, then loopity-looping our way upwards. Terminal One arrivals come out on a skywalk above the main terminal floor which is for departures, a reverse of almost every airport I’ve been to. A long walk, involving two travelators, to passport control; not to mention signs for Terminal 2 erroneously popping in occasionally and managing to confuse the heck out of the other New Zealand traveller who still wasn’t too sure if it was T1 or T2 we had parked at! Not too sure myself, I insisted on a gut feeling it was T1 and followed the flow, which led us to a very old passport control hall.
There was a bit of a queue for non-EU nationals but the line moved swiftly enough and soon we had a female immigration officer questioning us and seeming to find amusement in our answers (she was positively beaming) and in a very crisp British accent. Strangely, Her Majesty’s immigration officers are not required to wear uniforms.
After a very thorough questioning including our intended length of stay, our purpose for visiting, and whether we would be going straight back to NZ afterwards (how that has any relevance I don’t quite know) our passports were stamped. Baggage claim was another mess, with six carousels squeezed in a 2 by 3 design, such that everyone managed to back their trolleys into everyone else. Codeshare flights being listed just made the problem even worse on the screens, especially as there was no general screen advising which belt which flight was on, just screens at each of the six reclaims. So some observation skills were required, and 3 was targeted as the reclaim where we would hopefully get our bags.
And get them we did, albeit after a few minutes wait and then strolling past Customs, which appeared desolated, we were met by our pick-up driver who took us on a wonderful tour of Heathrow… Terminal 1’s carpark was out of action so we were forced to take a lift up to access the other carpark in the area 1A (honestly, it was like being back at Kai Tak).
We encountered the yellow parking machines again and it was then five days in London before our flight home to Auckland via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific!