At the tail end of 2010, a few friends had Air France/KLM vouchers to use up and so decided to book a weekend in the Spanish capital of Madrid. Of course, not wishing to feel left out I immediately drew up plans to join them. They had chosen to fly Air France and KLM respectively, so I thought I'd try something new and complete the SkyTeam trio by flying Alitalia. They were around £30 cheaper than both Air France and KLM, although a little more expensive than my other preferred option of a direct flight with British Airways.
I was a bit anxious about flying Alitalia, knowing their previous history of strike action and such, but I decided to go for it anyway. My initial itinerary looked something like this:
AZ201 - LHR
AZ60 - FCO
AZ49 - MAD
AZ238 - LIN
Of course, having now chosen to fly Alitalia, it just couldn't go smoothly could it? A mere 2 days before my flights, the Italians announced a 4 hour (10am-2pm local) general strike for Friday 6th May, the day I would be travelling to Madrid. I was not contacted by the airline at all, and didn't even know about the strike until I checked my booking on the (awful) Alitalia website and found my FCO
flight had been cancelled! So far, not so good...
I was informed by the Italian lady on the other end of the phone that I had been rebooked onto the 09:35 AZ7899 LHR
(A320) and onward to Madrid on the 16:55 AZ7100 LIN
(A320). This meant I now arrived after 7pm, 2 hours after I had intended to. I accepted these conditions, because the only other option was the 06:00 flight to FCO
, which would give me no sleep time whatsoever between arriving at LHR
the previous night and getting up next morning. My new itinerary looked like this:
AZ7899 - LHR
AZ7100 - LIN
AZ49 - MAD
AZ238 - LIN
This report covers the first half of the trip, from London's Heathrow Airport to Madrid Barajas, via Milan Linate.
Alitalia (Alitalia Express)
London Heathrow Terminal 4 (LHR
Milan Linate (LIN
09:35 (11:15 actual)
12:30 (14:10 actual)
Having travelled down to Heathrow the previous evening, I awoke bright and early at 05:30 to get ready and catch the bus from the Travelodge Heathrow Central to Heathrow Central Bus Station. As I have an Oyster card, catching the 105/111 bus from Cranford to Heathrow Central at £1.30 is much cheaper than the Hotel Hoppa (and much more frequent too). By about 7am I was heading down into the bowels of Heathrow for the free terminal transfer between Heathrow Terminals 1 and 3, and Terminal 4, where my flight would be departing from (along with everyone else in SkyTeam).
The free Terminal 4 transit train.
The journey wasn't long, and soon I was up and in the Terminal 4 check in area. I first took a wander outside, to see what was parked up.
The smart T4
Continited 757 getting ready to return to the US.
I went back in to the SkyTeam check in, and found the Alitalia self service machines where I obtained my boarding passes for my new flights. Interestingly, they were marketed as XM5321 and VE7100 (Alitalia Express and Volare), with Alitalia code sharing as AZ7899 and AZ7100. I understand this is something to do with being able to operate more flights out of Linate if they use different AOCs.
Alitalia check in.
With nothing more to do landside, I proceeded through security which was an absolute breeze this morning. Unusual for Heathrow, I know, but it was nice to see that it's not always stressful.
Terminal 4 departures.
With an hour or so until my gate was scheduled to open, there was nothing to do but spot! Terminal 4 has some great opportunities and views over the runways. I was very content.
A380 being prepared.
744 sitting idle.
Royal Brunei awaiting boarding.
Is this SYD
Arriving on schedule at around 08:30 was my ride for the morning, I-BIKD, a relatively old Alitalia Airbus A320.
After seeing my aircraft arrive, I headed round to gate 20, which was showing on the screens for my flight.
A bit old fashioned really.
Now this is where the 10am-2pm strike kicks in. Our departure was scheduled for 09:35, however when the Alitalia staff started arriving at our gate, I overheard the words "slot" and "hour" being mentioned. Pretty soon after, they made a public announcement that because of the strike Alitalia HQ
in Rome were re-evaluating everyone's slots after the strike had started, to see who could get in where. At present we had a 1 hour delay, and would begin boarding at 10:15. This was fine by me, since I had 4 hours to connect in Linate and it's not exactly the biggest airport in the world.
The Italians amongst us were getting agitated at this news, and pretty much every 5 minutes someone would come up and ask about the situation. I just sat and watched... 10:15 rolled around and soon enough, boarding started. Now... Business and SkyTeam Elites were invited to board first, however the Italians completely ignored all announcements and just barged their way to the desk (a common theme I would find throughout all my flights).
No windows... how depressing.
I walked down the myriad of corridors, and finally was greeted at the door by a chirpy Italian lady who directed me to my seat.
The view from 24F.
Now... I already knew this A320 had 180 seats or thereabouts, because it had 30 rows, which I thought was a bit tight. This proved to be correct, and so far this takes the award for the least legroom I've ever experienced on a flight. I couldn't even fit my knees behind the main body of the seat, they had to go either side.
Boarding was incredibly slow, with people blocking the aisles and generally taking their time. In the end this wasn't much of a problem, because the Captain came on and notified us that our departure slot wasn't until 11:15 anyway because of the strike and air traffic restrictions.
We pushed back around 10:45, and started the long taxi down to 09R. Luckily, the middle seat remained free, so I had a little extra space in the cramped seats.
Company A321 to Rome.
Air Mauritius A340.
The new Terminal 2 is taking shape.
A380's side by side.
3 different corporate identities in 1 shot.
Quite clear who rules the roost here...
Holding for 09R.
We were #2 behind this beast.
Surprisingly there was very little wait at 09R, and after the BA
747-400, we lined up and after a few minutes we were off into the sunny skies of London.
Heathrow Departure Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5WZtlvtQq0
We proceeded south past Gatwick and Worthing and eventually the English Channel, taking a leisurely climb up to our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet.
Dunsfold, home of Top Gear!
The flip down screens which had been used for the safety demonstration came down again, and basically showed information about Alitalia and not a lot else.
The old Airbus interior, including a panel coming off.
Once we had established ourselves at cruise height, the complimentary service began. Having read some reviews on Skytrax, I knew I shouldn't expect a lot. The friendly members of cabin crew passed through offering hot and cold drinks, and a choice of salty or sweet snacks (like Air France on a previous trip). I opted for a Pepsi and the salty snack, which was a small pack of 2 Italian flat breads. They were okay actually, given their quantity. The crew also handed out refreshing towels. At this point I'll say the seats were actually quite comfortable (excluding the legroom) which is nice, as I don't really like certain Recaro seats.
The snack service.
There was little else to do but watch the wonderful scenery below for the rest of the flight, so I'll let the photos do the talking.
Over rural France.
I do love the aircraft with "Alitalia" and the registration printed on the top side of the wing.
Approaching the Alps.
Farms and towns give way to the mountains.
Flying over the Alps was one thing I was looking forward to, and it really didn't disappoint. My last flights over the Alps in November with Swiss were either at night or shrouded in cloud. Soon enough, our descent took us away from the Alps and into Italy.
Now, at this point it was around 13:45 in the afternoon, and as such the strike was still in effect. We had started doing circles over the Italian countryside, so it was pretty clear we were in a holding pattern. Sure enough, the Captain came on and told us that Milan Linate was closed until 2pm, so we would be holding until then. No bother, I still had over 2 hours to connect, and we encountered some interesting traffic!
An easyJet Airbus ahead of us in the hold.
More holding circles.
Passing some towns.
Around 14:00, we left the hold and were pretty much straight in to Milan Linate's runway 36. The approach was quite bumpy, which was interesting.
Milan Linate Arrival Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pGDX7UjAkA
After arrival we pulled up at a remote stand, next to an Alitalia MD82 with the reg I-DANF (how convenient).
I-DANF, my namesake.
The Captain announced that a bus was here to take us to the terminal, but because of the strike just finishing, we were awaiting a driver to drive it. The wait wasn't long though, and the remote stand allowed me to get a great view of I-BIKD
The bus journey was quick, and we arrived at the Non-Schengen doors to the terminal, where there was a few minutes wait to clear passport control. I wish the UK would join Schengen, I really do... transits would be so much easier!
There is no other way to transfer at Milan Linate than to exit through baggage reclaim and re-clear security, so outside I went for a few moments.
Milan Linate arrivals.
Having had a misaligned window in seat 24F, I went upstairs to the Alitalia check in to see if I could change my seat to 25F for the flight to Madrid. It turned out I could, and I was issued with a shiny new boarding pass.
Alitalia check in.
Linate is a very compact and dark airport, but I suppose it'll do - at least its size meant there weren't any lengthy walks.
With under 2 hours until my next flight I figured it was time to head to departures.
Milan Linate (LIN
Madrid Barajas (MAD
16:55 (17:00 actual)
19:10 (19:20 actual)
The queue for security was particularly lengthy, and it took around 20 minutes to pass through in all. The instructions for what to place in what trays being played were VERY confusing, and I'm a relatively frequent traveller! It wasn't very organised at all.
The exit from security is directly into the duty free shops, which is something I hate but also something that more airports seem to be doing. Ah well! The departure area was just as dark as the landside area.
There aren't many views of the tarmac here, this is about it.
As per my boarding pass, we would be departing from gate A6 which is downstairs at the bus gates. I went down there to find a seat, and there really aren't many at all. It's not great down there, especially with multiple flights departing.
More new stores being constructed between the A and B gates.
Around half an hour to departure, boarding was announced and it was just as chaotic as in Heathrow. Our bus pulled up as I was having my boarding pass checked, so I was able to walk straight on. After it had filled up, we pulled off and headed over to the remote stands again. I-BIKD was still here, so I was hoping we wouldn't pull up there! Alas, we didn't... instead I got a very nice surprise as we arrived at a fairly new Air One A320, registration EI
-DSX. This trip was becoming worth it!
With a seat in row 25, I chose the rear stairs to board, where I was greeted by another friendly female. Boarding again took a while, especially as we had to wait for a second bus load to arrive. The Captain came on to announce a flight time of 2 hours and 5 minutes, with the hope that we might still arrive on schedule despite our slot being put back 10 minutes due to Air Traffic congestion in Madrid.
Unlike the previous aircraft (which had them blocked out), this aircraft had seat back PTVs with a card reader. Unfortunately they weren't turned on at all, which is a shame!
Waiting for more pax.
Cabin view during the first round of boarding. I really like the new Airbus interiors.
It might say Air One on the outside, but everything in here is Alitalia.
FInally, we closed up and were taxiing the short distance to runway 36 again. The purser on todays flight did the boarding announcement and safety demonstration. I have to say, she had almost perfect English which is great... however she proceeded to rush through the safety demo speech without so much as breathing between Italian and English! The crew were struggling to keep up.
Holding for 36.
After a few departures and landings, it was our turn and we took off to the North, with an immediate right turn after departure.
Milan Linate Departure Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHyfmUZcEMk
We climbed to an unspecified cruising altitude and followed a routing which took us along the Italian and French coastlines towards Barcelona, before heading inland to Madrid.
The Alps in the distance.
Marseilles Provence Airport.
Istres-Le Tubé Air Base.
A while into the flight, the again friendly crew popped up with the drink and snack service. I went for another Pepsi, along with another salty snack, this time mini-herb bread sticks. Again they were okay, but not really satisfactory on a flight over 2 hours.
Another salty snack.
The flight proceeded onwards over the Mediterranean Sea towards Barcelona, after which we encountered some light chop pretty much all the way to Madrid. Some cloud formations popped up over western Spain but nothing major on our actual route.
Girona Costa Brava Airport.
Around half hour from Madrid we were well into our descent, and were performing quite a lot of turns. I couldn't work out whether we were in a hold or just being routed out of the way due to traffic. Either way, some of the scenery was superb.
A power station.
This is the Spain I love.
It's like a mini Grand Canyon down there!
The approach to runway 18L was quite smooth, until the last 1000 or so feet. My friends had reported that their entire approach earlier had been pretty bumpy.
Madrid Barajas Arrival Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB3kfVSq-uQ
As anyone familiar with Barajas will know, 18L is pretty damn far away from Terminals 1 2 and 3, and being SkyTeam we were in for a very lengthy taxi to Terminal 2. It was like being at Amsterdam all over. On the way we passed Terminal 4 and its satellite, with some traffic I don't see very often parked up.
Eventually we pulled up on the end of the E pier at Terminal 2, which meant another lengthy walk to the exit. We were soon off, and I met up with my friends in arrivals to head into the city on the excellent Metro system.
Eat your heart out London Underground.
- These were my first flights with Alitalia, and to be honest, after the start I had I was going to write them off as a terrible choice. It's not on that they cancel your flights and fail to contact you. However, the onboard product and the crew surprised me. I had read terrible things about Alitalia, and I knew of their history, so I was doubting the choice I made - however, I really enjoyed my first two flights, and I managed to score an Alitalia and an Air One aircraft. If the quality of the snack service was better, they would be even better.
- Heathrow is Heathrow, some hate it, some don't. I'm one of those who don't. I enjoyed my time in Terminal 4 again, and its one of the terminals that does actually offer a view outside which is nice. Security being quick and friendly was a plus.
- My first time here, and to be honest it's not the best of airports really. It's small, cramped and dark with nowhere really to look out. However, being small it does mean it's relatively easy to transfer. The security was confusing and slow, so if you had a tighter connection it might be a problem.
- Again, my first time arriving here. The signs in the terminal are particularly confusing, and I ended up going to the Metro station instead of through baggage claim and out into Arrivals where my friends were waiting. It's a good job I had hand luggage, because there was no way back in. Other than that the terminal was a bit full and cramped, but otherwise okay.
Thanks for reading if you've got this far, the second half of this trip will be posted in the coming days, and features something a little special!