Brussels – Milan Malpensa – Rome Fiumicino – Brussels on Alitalia and SN Brussels Airlines, Monday 11 July 2005
Brussels Airport, Monday 11 July, Check-in
I arrived in BRU at 6am, went to the Alitalia check-in counter, and saw what I had actually expected to see: chaos. While check-in for AZ-flights closes 40 minutes before departure, there was still a huge queue for the Rome Fiumicino flight of 6:30am. In order not to delay the FCO flight too much, check-in for the Milan Malpensa flight was delayed till 6am (for the 7:20 departure), but even at 6am, FCO passengers still got priority. At this point, I knew already we were going to leave late, as Alitalia only uses 3 check-in counters at BRU which is actually asking for troubles, if you know that the AZ flights to MXP and FCO always leave around the same time (and you have to add the twice daily BRU-LIN as well). Both the MXP and FCO flights were full today, which meant that around 265 passengers had to be checked in in (officially) 130 minutes. This means 90 seconds per passenger, when everything runs smoothly.
Queuing in front of me was an extremely smelly guy which didn’t make things more comfortable. I was finally able to check-in at 6:45, with still a huge queue of passengers behind me. I said ‘good morning’ to the female check-in agent, who wished me a good morning as well. She sounded very stressed, but I can’t blame her as she was working under high pressure. I put my three ATB tickets on her desk and asked an A-seat for all flights. She said it was OK, printed my boarding passes, and gave everything back to me. I noticed she had actually given me an F-seat on the BRU-MXP (but I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to do difficult and held up the queue with all those passengers who still had to check-in), but asked her however why I wasn’t checked-in for the FCO-BRU flight. She just said “I can’t” and called the next passenger already. I asked her why she couldn’t check me in for the FCO-BRU and she replied: “Because it’s an SN-flight, try it at SN here in BRU or in FCO!”. Euh, OK, bye bye!
So I went to the SN counter in the hope that they would be able to check me in at BRU for the FCO-BRU flight, as I would be in serious troubles otherwise (I only had a 70 minutes connection in FCO). The lady at the SN counter was very friendly, but I started feeling very nervous when she told me that she couldn’t check me in. She tried it however, and guess what: my boarding pass with seat 15A suddenly rolled out of the printer!
I thanked her, and quickly proceeded to the A-Pier as it was 6:50 now. Going from the check-in counter to the Gate where my AZ-flight was leaving from takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how fast you walk (or run, when you are about to miss your flight ). There were long lines at security, but they moved quite fast luckily.
I arrived at Gate A57 around 7:05 where nobody of AZ was present yet (while boarding should have started already). I first thought that our flight was already boarding when I was walking to our gate, but it was the FCO flight which was still boarding while it should have left already 30 minutes before.
When I was walking around in the A-Pier, I noticed a very funny Virgin Express advertisement: “INTELLIGENT LIFE FOUND 30 000 FT ABOVE THE EARTH. OUR PASSENGERS”
An interesting plane at the B-Pier was 4X-BAZ of Arkia, flying for World Focus Airlines today.
As it was 7:20 already, I went back to the gate where an Alitalia employee had arrived in the meantime (for info: this was the time we should have left BRU).
Brussels – Milan Malpensa
Flight number: AZ145
Aircraft: McDonnel Douglas MD82, I-DAWH
Mfd: October 26, 1984
Scheduled blocktime: 7:20-9:00
Actual blocktime: 7:55-9:21
Flighttime: 1h 13m 56s
Boarding started without any boarding announcement. Before boarding started, the gate agent was making telephone calls. I don’t know whether they were for business or not, as those calls were very funny apparently (looking at how loud he was laughing all the time). His telephone calls went on, even during boarding, so he was just on the telephone and laughing while he was checking our passports and boarding passes. No time for a ‘please’ or a ‘have a nice flight’ of course. He was alone at the gate, and the business man behind me told somebody in the queue: “it looks like Alitalia, in a desperate move to cut its workforce, has cut in the number of people working in airports abroad, instead of making cuts in Italy, where the unions and the government are actually leading the airline, and not the management of Alitalia. Alitalia is a crappy airline I try to avoid as much as possible, as they don’t care about the passengers at all”. Food for thought.
So I went on board, without being greeted by the flight attendant at the door.
When I arrived at my seat, I was surprised to see that I had been assigned an emergency exit row. This was only the first surprise, as three others immediately followed:
1) there were NO safety cards in the seat pockets of the exit row in front of me (there are two exit rows after each other on the MD82, and I was seated in the second exit row)
2) sitting on my left side was a kid of about 8 years old (!) – isn’t this prohibited by law? Imagine that something happens and I’m not able to open the emergency exit: was she going to be able to open it?
3) the crew couldn’t care less about the people in the emergency exit rows. They saw the child, they didn’t ask us whether we had questions about opening the exits,…
Those are serious mistakes, so allow me to say that the cabin crew members working in the back of the MD82 made several errors which might have had serious consequences when something had gone wrong. The Air France A343 crash in Toronto has clearly shown the importance of a fast and efficient evacuation.
It was 7:50 in the meantime, and nobody of the crew had been bothered yet to make an announcement. Quite a lot of people had connections in MXP, and started asking the cabin crew members whether they would make their connections. “Yeah yeah, I will tell the captain about the connections” was the reply. For info: on a recent delayed SN Brussels flight, the flight crew took the initiative to approach the passengers with connections. This is what I call customer service (chapeau, SN!).
It was 7:55 in the meantime, and without any welcome announcement, a crew member just announced: “safety briefing:…….”. The whole safety briefing followed, both in Italian and English (with the latter not being understandable) due to the horrible accent.
A few seconds later, we started our pushback (35 minutes late). As there was no traffic in front of us, we lined up quite fast, after passing the stored Antonov AN124:
The engines spoiled up, and the brakes were only released when the engines were running at take off power. Quite a lot of people were screaming at this point, lot’s of first-time-fliers on this flight? We were airborne after 37 seconds.
This picture shows a spot I like to visit: there is a small parking place between the military building on the right, and the VEX hangar on the left, from where nice views can be had:
Continuing our climb:
The cabin service started quite soon. My expectations weren’t too big, as AZ really downgraded their service during the past 3 years. Not that I really care about getting a generous meal on a 1h10 flight. A friendly cabin crew is already a very good start, but this was not the case on this flight however.
I took the following picture at cruising altitude, while the cabin crew were approaching my row:
Our ‘breakfast’ consisted of a small piece of cake (slightly bigger than the size of a boarding pass) and a small cup of tea (which was only about 50% filled).
The cake was small but very tasty. I had hoped for a second drink service, but just like on several previous AZ flights, the cabin crew just wanted to ‘disappear’ as soon as possible.
Once our trays had been cleared, I enjoyed the marvellous sightings of the Alps. The following two pictures only give an impression of the breathtaking sights that can be had when overflying the Alps:
It was 8:45 when I heard the first announcement on this flight (except for the safety briefing). It was the Captain, who said that an ATC had delayed our departure (yeah, right ). He gave us some information about the route we had flown, and thanked us for flying Alitalia. The biggest part of his announcement was not understandable unfortunately, thanks to the combination of the bad sound quality of the speakers, and especially the high level of cabin noise (due to the proximity of the engines), and quite a lot of passengers who kept on talking very loudly..
The Captain made a second announcement about 15 minutes later, probably to announce our descent (as we started our descent right after his announcement). It was impossible to understand what he said.
We passed MXP 5 minutes later, and took the following picture of the airport:
This picture was taken right after we passed the airport (you can see the airport behind the wing):
Views from now on were very nice, as we flew very close to several aircraft flying in the other direction, approaching MXP.
Now it was our turn for a 180 degrees’ turn:
As I had the sun right in my face now, it was difficult to take pictures. I took one of our final descent:
We touched down at 9:17:
AZ MD82’s usually don’t connect to a jet bridge at MXP, and this flight was no exception. We parked on a remote stand, between several company MD82’s.
I was glad when I saw that we could leave the MD82 through the tail. I took my belongings, and left the aircraft. I said ‘Bye bye’ to the two cabin attendants in the back of the plane, but none of them cared to say anything back. Ridiculous.
This picture was taken from the bus, waiting for the passengers:
Alitalia brought me where I had to be, in an acceptable but nevertheless quite poor way. Friendliness of the cabin crew was inexistent on this flight, the check-in was chaotic, I didn’t see any signs of ‘organization’ at any point, the service was poor and serious mistakes were made when it came down to safety (lack of safety cards in the exit row, 8 year old child,…).
Milan Malpensa, Monday 11 July 2005
I had visited this airport already on a short lay over about a year ago. I decided to stay airside to observe all the traffic. The best views can be had from the A-Gates in my opinion. Just follow the signs to the A-Gates and you will end up in quite a small area with big windows. Both runways are in front of you. Registrations from aircraft on both runways can be read, although heat haze can be a pain (certainly for the farthest runway).
Besides the big variety of AZ aircraft (including about 7 B763’s), several (at least for me) unusual and interesting airlines can be seen at MXP. Think about Livingstone (with all of their three A332’s operating from MXP when I was there), Air Italy, Alexandair, Albanian Airlines, Karthago Airlines, Cargolux, Italy First, Varig,…
With 4 hours to go for my MXP-FCO flights, I walked back to the main terminal area to check out the flight information screens. I was seriously annoyed when I saw that my flight to FCO already had a delay of 30 minutes at this point. With only 70 minutes time in FCO to connect to my SN Brussels Airlines flight to BRU, I started to fear for my connection. So I approached an Alitalia counter where I explained my situation. The lady was very friendly and told me to return to her when the delay became bigger. She would put me on a direct MXP-BRU flight in that case (which would be sad as I paid for three flights, including an SN flight I was looking forward to). The SN flight is actually the only reason why I returned via FCO as I couldn’t take the next FCO-BRU flight, operated by AZ and arriving at 23:30 in BRU (which would make it impossible to catch the last train to my home town, leaving at 23h).
So I continued spotting, and because the delay stayed at 30 minutes, I decided to give the mission a ‘go’. Our gate was announced about 1 hour before departure, and I-BIXG, an Alitalia A321 arrived 5 minutes later.
Something which surprised me was the fact that no ground crew was there when the I-BIXG arrived. The aircraft had to wait for 5 minutes before somebody arrived to give instructions to the pilot, who had to wait before he could taxi the last 2 metres to the gate. It took again 5 minutes before the jet bridge was connected to the plane. Organization?????
The Alitalia gate agent arrived in the meantime. Several passengers started to fear for their connections, and explained their situation to her (me included). She had the same message for all of us: ‘no reason to care’.
Milan Malpensa – Rome Fiumicino
Flight number: AZ1039
Aircraft: Airbus A321, I-BIXG
Mfd: June 06, 1995
Scheduled blocktime: 15:20-16:40
Actual blocktime: 15:55-17:15
Flighttime: 0h 55m 17s
Boarding started at 15:40, 20 minutes after we should have been off-blocks. This flight was almost totally full, with the middle seat besides me being one of the few exceptions.
I was greeted by a very friendly cabin attendant, and by the Captain (!). Both were welcoming the passengers at the door. Another cabin attendant greeted me when I approached my seat. He was extremely friendly to all passengers, and helped where he could. I was glad to see such a good Alitalia crew, as the AZ crews haven’t been great on my 8 AZ flights till now. I asked him what the flight time to FCO would be, and he immediately went to the cockpit to ask it to the First Officer. He immediately came back, and said: ’55 minutes’. Great.
Boarding had finished, doors were closed, and we pushed back at 15:55 (35 minutes late).
The Captain made an announcement in the meantime to introduce the crew, to give us flight information, and to apologize for the delay.
This picture was taken while we were queuing to enter runway 35L for departure. We were followed by an A319 of AZ. You can see a Varig MD11 and a MS AB6 on your left side:
A Blue Panorama B763 taking off, on an empty ferry flight to FCO:
It was finally our turn to line up at 16:06, almost one hour late:
Our CFM56 engines started to spoil up at 16:08, with their typical sound. This take off was extremely powerful, it looks like the Captain wanted to get us in FCO as soon as possible! We were airborne after a take off roll of 34 seconds, and climbed very steep, followed by a steep left turn.
Rolling on RWY 35L:
Seconds after rotation:
Climbing very steep, while making a left turn:
I got for the second time of the day a nice view of MXP from the air:
It was 16:15 now, and while I was looking out of the window, I saw that we passed very close to an ARJ of SN Brussels Airlines! Interesting to have an air-to-air view of an SNBA aircraft.
I noticed the following airport, about 10 minutes after take off from MXP:
Could this be Milano Bergamo? I don’t think so as I didn’t see any aircraft on the ground nor a terminal building. Any info is appreciated!
The cabin crew had started a snack service in the meantime. A choice of 3 kinds of cookies/pretzels and a drink of your choice. I had an orange juice together with some cookies. Good snack and very friendly service on this 55 minutes flight! A refreshment towel was handed out as well.
Seat pitch on this flight was excellent, and the comfort was OK (although I prefer the seats in the MD82). My seat on this A321 was very hard, however it was due to a problem with the cushion of my seat I think. I took the middle seat after arrival while I was waiting to get out of the plane, and this seat was more comfortable.
There was also IFE on this flight, consisting of cartoons and Mr Bean.
I took one last picture when the Captain announced our descent, as I wanted to be ready (with my camera in my bag etc.) to leave the plane as soon as possible.
Descending through the clouds:
I don’t know on which runway we landed, but it took us 15 minutes to taxi to the gate (where we had to wait as well before we could leave the plane). I was very nervous at this point, as I had only 20 minutes now before boarding of my SN flight was going to close. I litteraly ran to security, and much to my delight, no passengers were waiting in front of me. I had to make a similar connection a year ago, and the queues were just huge (with only one screening point for connecting passengers). I quickly went through security, and was a little more relaxed now, knowing that I still had 10 minutes to reach my gate.
This AZ flight was a totally different experience than my previous AZ flights, as the crew was very friendly. I like the generous seat pitch on their aircraft, and I’m looking forward to my next AZ flights. Although I rate Alitalia lower than airlines like SN and BA (only to give 2 examples), I still like to fly them for some reason. Maybe because flying AZ is often a little ‘adventurous’…
In order not to make this report too long (and too heavy, for those on 56K modems), I’ll make a “Part 2” about my SN Brussels Airlines experience from FCO to BRU.
I hope that you enjoyed this trip report! Comments/additions/criticism/… is welcome as usual!