Manchester – Bologna and return on Alitalia
I am off to Italy for the San Marino Grand Prix. My friends are flying direct on Ryanair arriving Saturday and leaving Sunday after the race, but that’s just not leaving any time for relaxing so my girlfriend and I decided to make a weekend of it and fly out of Manchester. Alitalia came up with the best routing/time/price combination so it was booked.
Our taxi was spot on time early on Friday morning, seeing us arrive at T2 3 hours before departure. The boards claimed the check-in desks were open but there was no one there, so at least we were first in the queue! Check-in at Manchester is handled by Swissport and at the 2 hours to go mark, it was opened up and we were the first to be served. It was at this point that the extra 1 hour waiting became worthwhile; we were offered exit row seats and took them without hesitation. We were even asked if we had any neck or back problems which might prevent us doing what we may have to which, from what I have read/experienced, is a complete contrast to many other airlines who allow anyone who pays/arrives early to sit there. More on this on the return trip though…
Security was cleared with no delay and once airside, we settled in for some time-killing with coffee and a book. We were boarding from stand 300, I did not know it at the time but this is where the busses pull up to take people to the aircraft on remote stands. Once called we piled on and drove round the terminal to MD-80 I-DATS a new type for me and something I was looking forward to. The rear airstairs were open, but we were boarded through door L1 and settled in to 21A and C. The MD-80s are 2-3 in economy so a seat on the right would have been even nicer, but no way was I complaining. The Business seats looked nice and wide and comfortable, but did not seem to have much more legroom then economy. The cabin itself looked and smelled clean and pleasant with only a little yellowing of the plastics and loose trim. Operation of the emergency exit looked like it would be simple enough, but I made sure to read the card in the seat pocket to confirm this. Surprisingly, the FA’s made no extra effort to make sure we understood what was required from us. The Italian/English safety briefing was carried out at a fast pace as we taxied out to 6L, including a detour on to the runway and straight back off at the next exit due to ‘roadworks’ on the taxiway. Don’t ask me why, but I was expecting a real experience on take off, but it seemed no more powerful than any other I have experienced.
We were quickly up to our cruising altitude and the cabin crew were released. First order of business was to close the curtain to biz then they were quite soon beginning the food and drink service. First we were given our ‘Alisnack’ boxes which contained a nice ham and soft cheese sandwich, a yoghurt and a nice looking but plain tasting piece of cake (along with a towelette, sugar, stirrer and powdered milk for hot drinks). This was followed by drinks which come from bottles into small plastic cups, so I made sure to get a hot and cold drink as I did not know when they would be back (not at all was the answer!). It was a relatively clear day over northern Europe so I had my nose pressed to the window for a lot of the journey. There is no IFE at all on AZ MD-80s, except that which you make yourself. It was only for 2 hours or so however, so I did not mind too much. Over the Alps we could see the clouds backing up on the mountains, leaving northern Italy almost totally covered! It really was cool to see. I ventured to the rear of the craft to visit the toilet and was surprised at the level of noise and vibration back there. Luckily the flight wasn’t too full so the poor souls who WERE back there had lots of room, even if they were deafened!
We touched down at Milan and taxied to our remote gate. Once more, the L1 and rear airstairs were deployed but this time we got to leave through the rear before boarding the bus for the terminal. 2 gentlemen decided they might like to walk the mile or so over taxiways to the terminal but some morse code on the bus horn soon persuaded them otherwise. Is it just me or are there about 10 jetways at Milan? 90% of anything on the ground was remote parked, with just a few 767s and 777s on jetways. Either way, once in the terminal we had to clear security again to get into the transit area. We made our way over to our gate for the MXP-BLQ leg and settled in once more for a couple of hours, but this time with nothing interesting to see out of the window. Once called and all on the bus we were driven halfway home again, to the corner of the airport where the ATR-72s are hidden . A traditional Italian queue was formed and we all fought our way on board. In a contrast to the return leg, no efforts were made at the gate to make sure that the carry-ons people had would fit in the overhead lockers. This meant that a lot of people had to have them put in the hold. Not a problem on an ATR, as they can hardly be lost! The captain was stood at the front of the cabin watching proceedings at boarding, he was unshaven and looked tired and when the front right overhead wouldn’t close properly, he gave it a thump which suggested he had been stuck in ATRs and closing sticky overheads for too long! It did work however and the cabin was soon secure. This was two firsts in one for me, first time on the type and first time on a turbo-prop. Then a bonus first; a power-back! Clearly a case of the captain’s experience counting again, we powered back, to the left and forward to the right in one smooth movement. A few minutes later we were lined up and started a wonderful sounding and surprisingly powerful take off then we made a big wide turn to the left that brought us back across MXP. The cabin crew were quickly released and had the drinks (another coke) and snack (“Sweet or Salty?”) trollies quickly through the cabin, followed by a rubbish run before we began our descent, seemingly minutes after take off. We landed at BLQ and taxied in, shutting down one engine after exiting the runway, and the other rolling on to the stand, another remote stand but it was kind of becoming a theme for this trip! First impressions of BLQ in the baggage reclaim are not too great, it seemed quite small, dark and a little rough around the edges. Having said that, the baggage appeared quickly and we were out front and in our taxi in about 10 or 15 minutes.
The in between bits: The hotel was simply fantastic, Bologna is a beautiful city and my first Grand Prix was an amazing experience – the most fun I have had with my clothes on for many years
I will keep the return legs a bit shorter, I am sure you have read enough and I was tired and looking forward to getting home. In a contrast to impressions in arrival, the BLQ departures area is bright, clean and spacious. I was concerned that our suitcase would not arrive in Manchester with us, as we had just a 1 hour connection in MXP, but the check-in agent tagged it with a red ‘Transit In Italy’ tag (it was yellow coming out) and the regular tag had ‘Short Conn’ clearly displayed. We did a little last minute shopping and soon, you guessed it, boarded the bus to the remote stand. People were warned at the gate that large bags would need to be put in the hold, and the lady checking tickets and passports was ruthlessly tagging anything that looked like it may be too big for the overheads. This did not stop people trying to sneak them on board anyway, but they were soon stopped in their tracks by a ground handler by the door. Taxi was quick and we were soon into the air. The flight this time seemed to last 3 times longer than the outward leg, but the service was the same. We landed at MXP parked on the same stand we had left from 3 days earlier and bussed to the terminal to clear security into the transit area. We had enough time to walk to the gate for our Manchester flight, arriving at the gate spot on time. Another mini bus-tour of MXP later and we stepped aboard our MD-80. This time we were in seats 22A and C, the emergency row directly behind the row we had on the way out (a pattern repeated on the BLQ-MXP legs, we had 9A and C out with 10A and C return!) but once again, exit row! The door/hatch on the row in front had clearly been tested by the engineers recently, as there were big oily handprints on the handles and edges. I actually found this quite reassuring, but was disappointed to find there was a slight woman occupying that seat, with an older lady by the exit opposite. When most of the econ cabin is going to be looking to get out that way, I was glad that there was a good sized man in the row opposite us. I won’t say safety is lax on Alitalia, but they certainly do not mind having their passengers living in blissful ignorance. The safety briefing is conducted in typical Italian speed, in both Italian and strongly accented English. Exit rows are allocated 1st come 1st served, and no extra effort is made that their occupiers know what may be needed of them. Of course, the flight passed without incident, the biggest problem being the bread of the sandwich in the Alisnack box was a little dry. Seemingly the whole of Europe was covered in cloud, so after taking off from MXP, my first glimpse of the ground came as we began descending into MAN. We landed on 6R and taxied back to almost the same spot we had left from. However, rather than turning left into the remote stand, we turned right into the jetway, Hurrah! Of course everyone is immediately up and in the overheads removing bags, but we stayed seated because – This is Manchester, the bags take AGES to appear, I wasn’t expecting ours to be there and besides, you always have to wait a few minutes, so why crowd the aisles? So we waited a few minutes, a few more, I can see the jetway going backwards and forwards out of my window. Eventually the captain comes on and says we will just be a few more minutes, as we are having trouble getting the “thing” (his word) connected. Eventually a nice breeze filtered down to us and as the queue cleared, we walked to the front to find the airstairs deployed and all passengers entering the terminal through the door at the base of the stand. But still, at least there was no bus!!!
I thought our comedy our comedy of errors was just beginning, but once we cleared immigration, we found baggage going round the carousel and as we approached, ours appeared straight in front of us! Clearly, they have a good system in place in MXP for transit pax. So when they’re not striking, Alitalia do a good job. The flights were on time, clean and the staff were polite and helpful. As an economy class pax, you could not ask for any more.
If you made it this far, well done, and thank you for reading!