After a very hectic 15 day Contiki Tour it was time to say goodbye to the many friends we had made and continue the next part of my European Odyssey. Our tour had taken us from London to Rome and had taken in the sights of Paris, Versailles, Lyon, Barcelona, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Verona, Venice, Florence and Pisa. My friends and I had a spent a few extra days in Rome after the tour just so we could relax.
We had decided to catch the train from the centre of Rome to the airport, as this seemed the most cost effective and trouble free way. We got up early on the morning of the 22nd of July and made our way to Rome’s main train station Termini. I wanted to check in early (as usual) as I was unfamiliar with Rome Fuicimo Leanardo Di Vinci International Airport. I thought leaving four and half hours before departure should have enough time built in to find out which train we have to take, as well as getting lost at Termini station and at the airport as well.
Termini station was only a five minute walk from our hotel so we trekked there ourselves luggage in tow. Once at Termini we had to figure out how to purchase our tickets. We eventually figured out how to use the electronic ticket kiosk and bought our tickets. Can’t remember the price or the platform we left from but the ticket seemed expensive (I guess because it was in Euros and anything in Euros is expensive compared to the Aussie Dollar) I also can’t remember what platform we had to go to. But one thing I can remember was that the walk from where you purchased your ticket to the airport train platform was long. It involved a series of escalators, tunnels and travelators and eventually we reached our train.
The train or at least the platform did not seem very airport commuter friendly, as it was a fairly big climb from the platform onto the train carriage. This was made even harder with a heavier suitcase. The train filled up pretty quickly and we eventually (slowly) made our way out of Termini station. As we were pulling out of Termini station it became apparent how large this train station was. I have never seen so many trains at one time. I guess Termini is train spotter’s version of Schipol, Heathrow, or LAX. I then started thinking if there was a Trainers.net. The journey took just over 30mins and at about 9:30am we arrived at Rome Fuicimo Leanardo Di Vinci International Airport
We climbed down from the train (again luggage in tow) and made our way to Terminal B. It was a little bit of a walk but the way was well sign posted. Once inside we were faced with a sea of people jetting off to different parts of the globe. We located our check in desk by looking at the television screens and we were checked in pretty quick.
After check in we made our to the gate. We went through security, which there was a bit of queue. I tell you what these Roma security boys and girls were very thorough and I felt very confident that nothing was going to get past them in a hurry. Did not have to pass through immigration as Italy and Greece are both part of the European Union. The girls wandered through the many shops whilst I went of to phone home to inform my parents that I was going to Athens. The girls were gone for a while so I sat in the lounge and happily watched the coming and goings of many different aircraft. Being from Perth many of the plane I was seeing were new to me. I saw many Alitalia MD80s, and Airbuses as well as a couple of Air France jets with one being an A319 and the other an A320. The highlight though was seeing a Libyan A300. My friends eventually returned and we sat in the departure lounge waiting to be called to board our flight.
Our boarding passes said that we were meant to board at 12:30 but this time soon came and went. There was announcements for us board our aircraft at 12:50. Considering that our flight was scheduled to depart at 13:00 there was no way we were going to depart on time today. Judging by the line it looked like our flight was going to be full today. We all stood in line for about 15 minutes with no one moving at all (very weird). Then we started to slowly file past the gate agents who swiped our boarding passes and walked down the stairs to the awaiting buses.
Today we will be boarding our flight via the stairs. This would be a big novelty for me as I usually board via a Jetway. The bus filled up very quickly and it was tightly packed. We were soon off and we were driving close to many types of aircraft. There were a variety of Alitalia jets as well as a KLM 737, which we passed. We drove straight pass a Thai Airways 747 at a remote bay being prepared to be towed to the gate to begin its flight home to Bangkok. As we approached our Alitalia A321 we passed a Eurofly A320 I-EEZD and a Sky Service 767-300 C-GJJC which was parked next to our aircraft on the right hand side. At the end of this unusual line up of airlines was our Alitalia A321 I-BIXR.
We disembarked the bus and decided to board via the rear air stairs, as we believed that with a seating row of 34 we would be near the rear of the aircraft. As we ascended the air stairs and were greeted rather coldly by the female flight attendant we discovered that we were actually sitting in the last row.
This was to be my 3rd Airbus flight. My previous two were Royal Jordanian A310-300s between Amman and London in January 1993. So this was actually to be my first A320 family flight as well. Initial perceptions were the cabin was noticeably wider than the 737, which I have flown before and that the extra height made you feel like you were on larger plane. But apart from that nothing really stood out on the A321. Given the choice between a 737 and a A321 I would not really care. Though I am a fan of Qantas’s 737NG fleet but that is another trip report.
Initial perceptions of Alitalia were white and green. The cabin crew are decked out in green and white and the cabin is green and white too. I guess that relates to their brand and the brand relates to the Italian Flag. The colour scheme though a classic does look dated but in a world of euro white schemes the current scheme does stand out. The cabin itself did look dated. The seats looked old and the cabin looked a little tired but it was fairly tidy and the seats were comfortable for the 1+ hour flight over to Athens.
The flight was indeed full and it did make sense, as this was the peak holiday season here in Europe. We sat on the aircraft for quite some time. Our scheduled departure time had already passed so no matter what we will be delayed anyway. Finally the captain came over the PA and introduced himself and the first officer. He did this first in Italian and then English. His accent was very heavy I did not manage to catch his name. The captain explained the reason for the delay was due to “late boarding operation” and we were waiting for the final bus of passengers to reach us before we were on our way.
The late passengers soon made it aboard and the doors were closed and we pushed back shortly after. The small LCD screens popped down from the overhead lockers and started to play the safety instructions in both Italian and English. We taxied past the Sky Service 767 and the Eurofly A320 as well as a resting Blue Panorama 767-304ER F-GLOV which was resting at a remote bay. We eventually mad our way towards runway 25. As we were taxing parallel to the runway it was amazing to see other aircraft takeoff from the runway. We approached the queue for runway 25 and held for a Continental 767-424ER N67058 and a Delta 767-332ER N181DN to take off. That moment was a couple of firsts for me. It was my first sighting of Delta, Continental and a 767-400 series aircraft. I loved seeing these aircraft hold on the runway then spool their engines right up and hurtle down the runway.
Whilst waiting to use runway 25 we held next to a SAS MD80 (sorry can’t remember the rego) which was to the right of us. Behind us was an Air France A320-211 F-GHQK. After the Delta 767 began her takeoff roll we were cleared onto the runway. We held for a while and then the Captain spooled the engine right up and we were off. I tell you what the A321 is like a rocket. The takeoff roll was quite long probably due to our full load today. We lifted of and since I was seated on the left hand side of the aircraft this afforded me fantastic views of the International satellite terminal.
We climbed straight out over the blue Mediterranean and then executed a sharp left turn to fly parallel with the Italian Coast. The seatbelt signs were soon turned off and the crew set to work. No information was given on the flight plan or our cruising information so I had no idea what our planned cruising level was. But we were fairly low and the weather was great so we had fantastic views. Our flight seemed to fly parallel with the Italian coast for quite some tome before flying overland and some quite mountainous terrain.
As the crew were preparing the cabin service the LCD screens were again lowered and episodes of just for laughs were aired. I guess these sort of shows are ideal for flights like this as we were not equipped with headsets and these kind of candid camera shows need no audio for people to watch them. The crew soon came around with the meal service. I had been looking forward to this as I have heard some positive things about Alitalia’s meal service. My sister’s boyfriend’s parents had flown Alitalia and were raving about the food and the big portions to me when I told them I was flying with them.
When the surly female flight attendant presented me with a snack box I was kind of taken aback at first. I then realized that my sister’s boyfriend’s parents had flown with Alitalia about 5 years ago and it was on a much longer leg from Rome to London. Since then I guess much cost cutting had happened and it was quite common for other carriers to distribute snack boxes on short flights. Though I had flown Malaysia Airlines 3 years earlier between Singapore and Penang, a flight with a flight time of only 1 hour and 20 minutes and the fantastic cabin crew managed to serve the entire 737-400 with a hot delicious meal as well as two!!!! drink services. I guess that is part of the reason why Malaysia Airlines is my favorite airline.
Anyway the snack box was ok. We had some sort of Ham roll, some biscuits and a breakfast bar or Twinkie. I can’t really remember. The crew came around with tea and coffee and collected the snack boxes. I spent the rest of the flight relaxing listening to my Ipod and looking out the window at the fantastic scenery due to the fantastic weather which started to deteriorated as we were getting closer to Athens.
The captain came over the PA and advised us that we would be commencing our decent shortly into Athens. Again the announcements were made in Italian first and then English. Some time had passed since the captain had come across from he PA system and we yet had not commenced our decent. We eventually started our decent and it was quite fast. By now we could not see the ground from my window seat as the weather was now overcast.
We eventually broke through he clouds and I could see the grey looking see and some islands. The spoliers were deployed to slow us down. The spoilers felt like they were deployed for a really long time and it now felt like we were hovering over the jagged coastline of Greece. I started to feel a little worried as the engines were idle, the cabin was quite and the spoilers were still deployed and the nose of the aircraft started to rise. I was thinking that if I were to do this in my flight simulator I would have stalled by now. At last the spoilers were stowed and the flaps began to lower. The cabin crew were still stowing item in the galley and making sure the cabin was secure for landing.
Athens looks amazing from the air. It is a jungle of concrete building on a hilly terrain. It is actually quite beautiful. The aircraft banked sharply to the left and the warning chimes came on that landing was imminent. The flaps were lowered at their final position and he landing gear began to be lowered. I had my camera out taking snaps of the amazing view of Athens, when one of the male stewards told me to put my camera away. This had never happened to me before but I obliged thinking that it was a rule at Alitalia. Both Malaysia Airlines and Qantas don’t mind, and according to the Qantas safety card battery operated items such as cameras can be used through all phases of the flight.
By the looks of it we were still fairly high, but I was unfamiliar with the approach into Athens so it did not really bothered me. All of the a sudden the nose of the A321 dropped suddenly and you could hear the whole cabin gasp in unison. We began to dive quite sharply towards the ground and the male steward ran from the front of the aircraft to the back screaming something in Italian. My friends looked at me very worriedly as to say you know about planes what the hell is happening here? My thoughts were the pilots were too high on the glide slope and some of the cabin crew had failed to take their seats. The aircraft pulled the nose up and as we approached the threshold of runway 03R I could see an Emirates A332 holding for departure. We flared and floated along the runway for quite some time and slam we were down. Quite heavy braking and a lot of reverse thrust were used to slow us down as we landed quite long on the runway. We vacated the runway and commenced our short taxi to gate B14.
We turned into B14 and parked next to us was an Aegean 737 (sorry can’t remember the reg). Since we were at the rear we had to wait some time to deplane the aircraft. We eventually made our way towards door 1L and as we did the crew lined the aisle and different seat rows and watched us leave. They did not say by or thanks for flying with us as they do on Malaysia Airlines. We were exactly 30mins behind schedule and as we entered the terminal we could see the large group of people that would fly on our aircraft back to Rome.
GROUND HANDLING: 6/10
Rome Fuicimo Leanardo Di Vinci International Airport is busy. The train platforms at this airport or at least the rail carriages need to be rethinked, as they were not airport commuter friendly, ie stairs when many people had large suitcases. Much building work was happening in terminal B, which I guess is good as the airport, appeared to be spending money on enhancing services to the airport. The check in area was chaos but, everything is well-signed posted and check in was quite quick. Being bussed to the aircraft is fun but it does slow the whole departure process especially when you have late passengers. Athens new airport is quite nice and I had no issues or problems with it.
The A321 is an unremarkable aircraft to me. The cabin does appear to be a bit roomier than the 737 but I was not fussed as the flight was only just over an hour long. This was my first A320 family flight and I was neither impressed nor disappointed.
Living in Australia we are spoilt when it comes to Airline service. Australia for a long time has the best domestic airline service in the world. We are spoilt as many of the world’s top carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Thai and Cathay and of course Qantas fly to many of our nation’s ports. Alitalia’s service is no way up there with these carriers. The crew were cold and only as attentive as they needed to be. Though this is my first and only Alitalia flight I am not writing off the whole airline, but I was a little disappointed
Snack box was a shock but this has now become common place with many airlines around the world so I better get used to it. The food inside was edible and it was not all that bad. I absolutely love Italian food and to me Italian food is not a ham sandwich.
At least they let us watch something on the LCD screens. I don’t find Just for laughs funny at all but I guess it is one of the few things you can watch without audio.
X FACTOR: 2/5:
To me Alitalia is green. It can be a bit overwhelming as to me the type of green they used was not soothing. The cabin crew’s unformed looked quite dated and I would of expected more since Italy is one of the world’s leaders when it comes to fashion.
I am actually flying this Wednesday from Perth to Darwin via Alice Springs. I can't wait it will be my first 717 experience. Since I have got my new job I now fly a fair bit so I have a back log of 20 trip reports to do. I am currently working on my next trip report which is Olympic Airways from ATH to IST.