Having won an air ticket from Malta to Rome and back courtesy of Societa' Dante Alighieri, I had the opporunity to fly Air Malta from MLA to FCO and back, spending a long weekend in Rome along with my family, who bought air tickets for the same flights. My flights were as follows:
8th November 2002
Depature Airport: MLA
Arrival Airport: FCO
Flight Number: KM 612, 9:20am
Aircraft: Boeing 737-2Y5 Advanced, 9H-ABE 'Mellieha'
Having arrived at the airport some one and a half hours in advance, the check-in desk was open and we proceeded to it. The queue was quite short, and within five minutes we had our turn. The check-in procedure was uneventful, our bags were tagged and we were given boarding cards for gate 8.
We stepped onto the escalator which brought us in front of passport control, which, along with security, was almost deserted in terms of passengers at the time we were there. We got our passports and boarding cards stamped and proceeded the few steps to security.
I must give a big thumbs up to M.I.A.'s Airport Security division for the fact that the checkpoint has seen great improvements recently. The equipment used was obviously different from that used before 9/11, a creditable thing in itself, and the screeners were very quick, competent and efficient. We were seen to immediately, I was asked to place my carry-on and jacket on the conveyor belt and then I walked through the metal detector. Since I set it off (not a difficult thing to do nowadays), I was given a quick manual scan in the areas indicated by the walkthrough detector and then allowed to pass with a friendly Maltese 'Orrajt, hi!'. Clearing security was therefore a matter of seconds rather than minutes - way to go!
We proceeded to the gate, where there were almost no passengers at the time. I looked through all the Duty Free shops (making no purchases), visited the restrooms and returned to my seat at the gate. Boarding started at about 9am, passengers were loaded into buses which took us to 9H-ABE, an Advanced 737-200, which we entered by means of covered airstairs, a nice touch since it was raining heavily.
On board the plane, we were welcomed by cabin crew and found our seats (mine was 14D). The cabin was impeccably clean and well maintained and, contrary to what some people say, the -200 Advanced offers good shoulder and leg room in my opinion. The plane turned out to be almost full and soon we were taxying to the runway. Safety instructions were played in three languages, Maltese, Italian and English respectively, and cabin crew gave a very good demonstration of safety equipment. We took off shortly after 9:45am.
As soon as the fasten seatbelts sign went off, I made my way to the aft galleys and asked a flight attendant if I could take a cabin shot with my digital camera. He agreed and in fact held my camera pouch for me while I took the picture. I thanked him and returned to my seat, and the meal service commenced shortly.
A cold breakfast was served, consisting of cheese, ham, some lettuce, a cherry tomato, a breadroll, butter and orange juice. This was followed by tea and coffee service, passing twice. While the quality of the food itself was quite good, my only complaint would be that the breadroll was cold, and I mean taken directly out of the refrigerator! Also the coffee which was served was rather weak and didn't taste very nice.
Once the trays were cleared up by the cabin crew, the duty free cart passed through the plane: sadly the catalogue of duty free objects which was supposed to be in the seat pockets was missing so one had to make his or her choice while the cart was near, not being able to look through the catalogue before. Our aircraft started descent at about 10:30am, a pre-recorded briefing started to play in Maltese but stopped midway, so a flight attendant had to speak it out in Italian and English. We landed at about 10:50am and parked next to an El Al 737, surrounded by US Airways, Delta and Air Canada aircraft.
We took the shuttle train to the main terminal, cleared passport control and proceeded to pick up our luggage, which, admittedly, did take a bit long to arrive.
12th November 2002
Depature Airport: FCO
Arrival Airport: MLA
Flight Number: KM 613, 12:00pm
Aircraft: Boeing 737-3Y5, 9H-ABT 'Hamrun'
At the end of our Rome break this morning, we took the shuttle train to the airport and arrived two hours before departure time. The check-in desk was still closed so we found seats and waited for half an hour. When we returned to the check-in desk, we found only a check-in agent with nothing to do, who took our bags and issued the boarding cards. She told us our gate and boarding time and gave us directions towards security.
Security at Fiumicino was definitely worse than at Malta International. Due to a large volume of departing passengers, there were queues at all the checkpoints. We had no choice but to stand in one of these, and we waited for some twenty minutes before we got our turn. Once again I set off the metal detector, and the security screener gave me a thorough manual scan, pressing on my shoes with his hands, too. Soon, however, he gave me a 'Thank you, sir' and allowed to move on to passport control (I wonder why it's security first and passport control afterwards at FCO and vice-versa at MLA?). Once this was cleared, I joined my family and we looked around the retail area before taking the shuttle train to our satellite terminal. This was surrounded by aircraft, and a Delta MD-11 and US Airways A330 caught my eye in particular, so I took a picture of both, along with some other planes. Our plane was 9H-ABT, a -300, which was parked at gate C33. I paid a visit to the restroom and we boarded on schedule through the airbridge.
My seat was 15D this time, and we loaded our baggage into the overhead compartments. What immediately caught my eye was the fact that while the cabin floor was clean enough, the seats could have done with a bit more cleaning and possibly new seat covers. But, unlike my outbound flight, I found the duty free catalogue and sickness bag in the seat pocket. The captain made an announcement, we waited for the last passenger on our flight and taxied to the runway. The safety instructions this time were not as good as before, either, with only two flight attendants doing the demonstration and the recording being played in Maltese and Italian only. We took off at about 12:20pm, slightly behind schedule, but we gained the lost time back by flying one hour only rather than the usual one hour fifteen minutes.
Newspapers were handed out and the meal and beverage service started shortly after take-off, but unfortunately I must say that the meal was a disappointment. I was expecting lunch given the departure time of the flight, but instead we got a very light cold snack, consisting of two miniature slices of baguette, one topped with some whipped cheese creme (I suppose) and a pickle and the other with ham; and an uninteresting slice of cake for dessert. A good thing was the fact that we got to choose our drinks rather than being given the usual orange juice and that the quality of the coffee was a damn sight better than the outbound flight. As soon as the cabin crew cleared up, I asked for permission to take a cabin picture and I was allowed to do so. We started our descent without any duty free service and landed on time. Upon arrival, the ramp was not very full with only two other Air Malta jets, a JMC 757 and, surprisingly, a USAF aircraft. We walked to the terminal, cleared passport control (I was able to make use of a desk with a short queue being a Maltese passport holder), visited the duty free shop, this time making some purchases, picked up our luggage which arrived instantly and made our way out through customs who weren't in the mood to check anyone.
While the outbound flight was quite good, the inbound flight left a lot to be desired. First and foremost, the meal service could have been much better, but the cabin crew were a bit distracted and acted in a less professional way, too. On the whole, however, the service was in the norm for Air Malta and both flights showed clearly the one excellent thing which every Air Malta traveller can count on: reliability.