I have always enjoyed reading the trip reports here, so I thought I might as well post a report on my flights to and from Italy this summer.
My partner and I were supposed to travel to Paris to attend a wedding in September, so we booked an award ticket to go to London (tickets to Paris were already unavailable). Our plan was to go to London a week early, visit friends, and then take the train to and from Paris for the wedding.
The wedding ended up being postponed until 2009, but we decided to keep our tickets and booked an add-on Alitalia flight to Milan to visit the Milan/Lake Como/Lake Garda region.
As the date for our departure grew closer we became a bit worried about Alitalia's financial stability. At the time it was thought that the company might be dissolved and re-grouped in the last week of August, and we didn't want our trip to be interrupted. We had already booked a car and lodging in Italy, and we didn't want to be left with no way to get from London to Milan (ticket prices had gone way up after we booked our flights). We called Alitalia and they were very friendly and reassuring, so we had a bit more confidence in our travel plans.
AC Flight 0542
2,061 miles traveled
This was my first trip on the E-190 (and my first AC flight), and I was really looking forward to it! It seems like a small plane for such a long flight, but I find the E-jets (had flown on the E-170 before) to be one of the most comfortable smaller planes to fly in.
*inflatable pillow thing - do people use these?*
After a quiet a smooth takeoff we turned to the East. There were great views of the Cascades and Mt. Rainier but from Eastern Washington until the Great Lakes it was cloudy.
We had booked our tickets in business class, so we were in the Executive class cabin - 9 seats in a 1-2 layout. There were only two other people up front, so it felt like a private jet! The flight attendant was one of the friendliest and funniest I've ever had and the seats, food, and IFE were all fantastic. I don't think the AC E-190 has ovens onboard, as the meal options were both cold, but the food was quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the flight and landed in Toronto on time.
My only complaint about this plane – the strange tray design.
Grilled chicken pasta salad (other option was cold roast beef with horseradish sauce/salad – sounded strange but was also very good)
AC Flight 0858
3,556 miles traveled
(scheduled departure Sept. 6, actual departure Sept. 7)
After arriving in Toronto, we took full advantage of the Maple Leaf Lounge and waited for our boarding time. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, and our departure time creeped back from 11:10 pm to 11:30, 12:30, 1 am, 1:30 am, etc. The lounge stayed open for the delayed flight, thankfully.
There wasn't much communication about our the reason for the delay, but I was happy enjoying free beer and wasn't worried about our connection to Milan (we purposefully booked an extra-long layover since we weren't on a through ticket).
STELLA!! And a Diet Coke.
Eventually the gate agents announced that the incoming plane had experienced some severe turbulence on the flight in and the FDR data would have to be sent somewhere (CASB?) to make sure it was OK to continue with our flight. It seemed like a very odd announcement, but maybe someone here could provide an insight into what that procedure would entail?
We finally boarded and departed a bit after 2 am. I knew we would have the old Executive class interior because we were flying on the A330, but it's still better than coach on a transatlantic flight! Having said that, the interior on our plane had seen better days. After takeoff, the crew informed us that the IFE system wasn't working and handed out compensation vouchers to make up for it. I was planning on sleeping, so that didn't bother me. The man across the aisle from us was very mad, and had fairly loud conversation about the IFE situation with one of the flight attendants. The seats were comfortable enough, and we settled in for a quick dinner service and some sleep.
After our first flight, the food on the transatlantic flight was pretty disappointing. The salmon appetizer was still frozen, and the entrees were tough and dry. I've only flown in business class internationally a few times - SAS (SEA-CPH), UA (SEA-NRT), and NZ (SFO-AKL), but this was a big step down in quality. The crew was also pretty rushed and not exactly friendly, but after the delay and considering the extremely late-night departure it was not unexpected.
Also ugh. My partner had the other option, which was also bad (he wouldn’t let me take a picture).
I spent the flight listening to music, half-sleeping, and wishing that the plan had individual air vents!
After arriving in a London we went through the security maze to transfer to our Alitalia flight. We were relieved to have a 2 1/2-hour layover rather than our initial 6 hours! Heathrow isn't my favorite place to spend time.
AZ flight 7909
Boarding this plan was like stepping back in time about 30 years (I imagine). The interior color scheme and the hint of coffee and cigarettes (when did Alitalia ban smoking? Late 90s?) gave it quite a bit of charm. In all, the plane seemed to be in great shape, but we did overhear a few conversations between passengers and crew about Alitalia's situation.
Believe it or not, this was my first MD-80 flight and my first Alitalia flight!
We had a quick, loud takeoff and shot through the clouds and into the late afternoon sun.
Service was quick but friendly - they gave out these square white sandwiches of white bread and some kind of paste. Not very good, but I did enjoy some wine and watched the scenery out the window.
Our approach into Milan was exciting. There were large thunderstorms north and west of the city, and we did some fun flying around the thunderheads over the mountains (they had already requested that electronics be turned off, so I didn’t get any pictures of the storms.
Arrival into Linate was uneventful, except for deplaning on the tarmac - I love that!
I won't post too many trip pictures, as most people are here to read about flying, but Italy (or the small part of Italy we had time to explore) was fantastic. Great food, fun people, beautiful country. We rented an apartment in a villa in San Giovanni overlooking lake Como - I would really recommend this for anyone traveling in Italy outside of the major cities. It was cheaper than a hotel, and we had a kitchen, fridge, parking, and an amazing view.
Our Fiat and patio.
View of Lake Como from the patio.
Varenna (I think)
Favorite afternoon beer spot.
OK, back to the flying.
AZ flight 7912
MD-80 (last minute substitution of an A321 reg. I-BIXB)
When our time in Italy was up we reluctantly drove back to Linate, turned in our rental car, and walked into some controlled chaos at the Alitalia check-in desks. That morning, Alitalia had announced that they could not guarantee that they would have the funds to operate flights after Sunday (it was Saturday afternoon).
The employees seemed resigned to the fact that they were either going to strike or shut down the airline, but were friendly and helpful.
We went to the upstairs restaurant that overlooks the runway and gate areas and had some bad food and good beer while watching lots of Alitalia planes take off.
At boarding time we were herded into the small departure area and loaded onto a large bus that took us to our plane. I was expecting another MD-80, but it was an A321 - my first time on this type, too. We were pretty sure we saw Donatella Versace and her entourage get rushed through security and out to a waiting jet, but I suppose it could have been any blonde VIP.
I love getting to see the plane up-close before flying!
View from the window.
Another picture of our aircraft from the database:
Photo © Julian Whitelaw
We boarded through airstairs at the back of the plane (another first for me) and took our very beat-up seats (see pic of the "arm rest"). The flight was quick and uneventful, except for a different type of square white-bread sandwich with paste inside.
The pasty square without taste!
Overtaking what looks like an Easyjet plane.
Our plane at Heathrow.
We spent a few fun days in London visiting friends and loving the great Indian food London has to offer, and then it was time for our flights back home.
United flight 0929
3,953 miles traveled
9h 00m (according to FlightAware - we remember it at 10h 15m)
United Star Alliance livery jet next to us.
We checked in for our flight home and were interested to see if our plane would have the new United business and first class interiors. Unfortunately it didn't, but the interior was in MUCH better shape than the AC flight. I was shocked actually - I had only flown in United business class on the 777 and was expecting the old-style 767 interior to feel cramped and worn out, but it looked very new.
This was an all-daylight flight, so we enjoyed the food, wine, and watched some movies. The food and service on this flight was far better than our YYZ-LHR flight. UA has their share of bad days, but our crew and flight experience was great.
Good salad course and salmon side dish.
Doesn’t look impressive, but was much better than the similar meal on our AC flight.
Dessesrt cart service was a nice touch.
Aluminum foil ramekin?
Delicious breakfast/brunch service.
We did run into some strong winds on the way to Chicago and were going to be arriving late. We were worried that we wouldn't make it through customs in time to make our connecting flight, but when we were taxiing I received a voicemail from United customer service saying they had booked stanby first-class seats on an ORD-SEA flight in case we missed our ORD-DEN-SEA flight - a very nice touch!
We ended up making it to our connecting flight, which was on time and had a very funny and friendly flight crew. After some bad experiences flying United last year I was wondering if it was worth it to continue to fly them, but the flight attendants and other UA staff we met during our travels were fantastic and reminded me that UA has great potential in it's employees.
United Flight 0945
Boeing 757-200 (my favorite)
888 miles traveled
We did check out the Red Carpet Club in DEN, because we had always wondered what was "upstairs" in the B Concourse (we fly through DEN on UA 10-15 times per year). It was nice and roomy - not as cool as the AC Maple Leaf Lounge, but it did have a good view.
By this point we were pretty tired, but we enjoyed our last flight.
United Flight 0591
1,024 miles traveled
My last airline meal for a while.
I would give Air Canada a big thumbs-up for the domestic Executive class flight – truly one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve ever been on. The transatlantic flight was a disappointment, but considering the delay, late hour of departure, etc., it was OK.
All of the United flight segments were smooth, clean, and relaxing. I was pleasantly surprised (and as a frequent United flyer, relieved).
Alitalia was a fun experience – a unique airline with lots of character. I hope to get the chance to fly them again soon.
Italy itself was fantastic!
Thanks for reading.