This is the first Trip Report on Alitalia's new Business Class, Magnifica.[b]
Back in 2009, Alitalia finally got itself together and came out of bankruptcy like no other airline in the world. The old and harmed Alitalia was divided into two entities, one with all the debt and the other one with all the assets. What came out of this unorthodox deal was a newborn company with a handful of assets and free of the debts that had been haunting it since its conception in the early ‘40s.
Alitalia stepped from being a government-owned airline, to a company directed by 16 of Italy’s most successful entrepreneurs, among which was Carlo Toto – owner and CEO of Air One (AP). As a result, Italy’s flying symbol not only inherited Air One’s excellence, but also a bunch of Airbus aircraft yet to be delivered.
In January 2009, Alitalia had a strong and stable network but with the aging MD-80 and B767-300ER fleet. Not a problem! The merger with AP allowed AZ to grab a bunch of new Airbus A320s and a succulent order of 10 Airbus A330-200s. Things did change for good.
AZ received its first A330-200 in July 2010, operating it from Rome to Beijing and Tokyo. Then, the airline received additional four aircraft and they were deployed on the FCO-JFK, MXP-MIA, and the FCO-GIG routes, later on announcing that CCS would finally see (since 1996) an upgrade in its daily services from Rome in May 2012.
Needless to say, this caused a lot of excitement in CCS. My spotting group SVZM Spotters got in touch with Alitalia Venezuela to cover the event, and I booked myself on the flight from FCO to be at the inaugural service to CCS with Alitalia’s new flagship service, featuring the brand-new Magnifica (Business Class), and the all-new Classica Plus (Premium Economy).
In my [b]previous two Trip Reports, with Lufthansa and Air France, I analyzed the premium services between Europe and Caracas. This report will finally cover the Alitalia service, completing the triangle of the three most important European carriers that serve the Venezuelan market.
Lufthansa Business Class Long Haul CCS-FRA (+pics) (by 797 Jan 8 2012 in Trip Reports)
AirFrance Business Class Long Haul CDG-CCS (+pics) (by 797 Mar 7 2012 in Trip Reports)
As mentioned above, AZ has been operating the 767 to CCS since the airline retired their symbolic 747 from its fleet. It was indeed a considerable downgrade, staying there for over 17 years. The other transatlantic carriers that serve this airport have fluctuated by bringing some of its best products: LH varied with the 747-400, A340-300, and A340-600; Iberia with its DC-10, 747-200, A340-300 and A340-600; Air France with its 747-400, A330-200, and A340-300; and finally TAP and Air Europa with its A330-200. Alitalia was then placed at the bottom of the quality list by bringing an outdated aircraft with a relatively poor ‘hard’ product.
Since the ‘transformation’ of Alitalia into a newborn airline took place, the service focus changed dramatically although the product offered on-board was still reluctant to change. The airline stayed below its competitors by offering a rather plain Business Class with the distinct characteristic of offering outstanding catering services.
After an interview with Alitalia’s Marketing Director in July 2010 for Airliners Magazine, though, I learned how this would definitely change with the arrival of the first of ten Airbus A330-200. Alitalia then announced the most-expected upgrade to the CCS route with a daily A330, meaning the moment of testing this new product has finally arrived!
Booking the ticket was plain and simple. I contacted my travel agent to book a round trip ticket from CCS to FCO. My departure from CCS was with Air France, given that I had not tried their 777 product in Economy, and the return with the first flight on the A330.
My original ticket was scheduled as follows:
CCS-FRA-FCO (AF & AZ)
Boeing 777-200 and Airbus A321
Having already tried Lufthansa’s and Air France’s Business Class products, this is another great opportunity to measure and evaluate Alitalia’s premium product into Venezuela.
I got to the airport at 06.50, plenty of time ahead of my scheduled departure at 09.10.
I was checked-in at the Freccia Alata (Alitalia VIP) lounge at the Terminal 3 in FCO. The process did not take more than 3 minutes thanks to the efficient clerk behind the desk.
Immediately after I was handed my boarding pass, I went through the VIP security lines at FCO and walked to the gate – all in less than 10 minutes.
On my way to the gate, I managed to spot my A330 parked at the gate, which obviously filled me up with excitement and anxiety. The aircraft in question was indeed one of the new batch that was recently delivered to the airline.
As soon as I got to the desolated gate, I started taking some shots at the aircraft even though the glass was hideous. Here are the two best pictures I could get.
After touring the isolated terminal at 07.15, I went to take a look at the Giotto Lounge for Alitalia’s VIP clients to relax and have some coffee to kick start the day.
Both lounges are located one level below the departure gates, meaning that there are no windows and the space is quite cramped. The Anfora Lounge hosts all the non SkyTeam carriers, and is right next to the Giotto Lounge two stories below the departures hall.
Although the Giotto Lounge's design is quite modern and good-looking, I did not appreciate the fact that it’s underground and has no windows. Moreover, there are no additional services other than a bar with drinks and a few things to eat. Among the things I could see, some TVs and Newspapers were available, as well as free WiFi. However, for the lounges I have been able to see around the world, this one was rather basic for it to be the main long-haul lounge at FCO.
With nothing else to do or see, I decided to go back upstairs and walk around the terminal. There are a handful of high-end stores in the main level, ranging from Armani to Bvlgari, and the traditional Duty-Free liqueur/perfume stores. Obviously, I did the mandatory spotting around the terminal.
Fortunately, boarding was called at gate G13 at 08.10, with the usual rush of excitement that comes as a combo. I went straight to the Sky Priority Line and awaited for instructions.
Unfortunately, the ground staff at the gate was not having a good morning, or so it seemed.
They did not call for Business Class passengers to board first and some complained (including me). They proceeded to board all passengers with no priority, which bothered me quite a bit, to say the least. As a result, boarding was chaotic and disorganized. People cramped and crowded the small gate, causing a slower than normal boarding procedure.
Through with the madness, I made it down to the jet bridge. Finally free!
Alitalia Flight 686
FCO (LIRF) – CCS (SVMI)
EI-EJI • CN 1024 (delivered April 15th, 2011)
Flight Duration: 10h40m
Scheduled Departure: 09.10
Actual Departure: 09.12
Scheduled Arrival: 13.35
Actual Arrival: 13.32
Walking down the jet bridge, my emotions became obvious.
As soon as I saw the aircraft L1 door, I could notice the difference between the old 767 interior and the new groundbreaking A330 insides. A gorgeous lady Flight Attendant, who happened to be the Purser, greeted me at the door directing me to my seat. With not much breath to spare (for the excitement), I began glancing at the INCREDIBLE Business Class Alitalia is now offering.
The cabin configuration is mix of a 1-2-1 layout and a 1-4-1 layout. The seats are specially configured to give the passenger more privacy, and at the same time, the possibility to travel together (in couple) in the middle seats of the odd rows.
The Sogerma Solstys brand seats are full-flat beds with a large Panasonic eX2 15.4-inch screen up front.
The even rows have a seat next to the window, whereas odd rows are slightly separated towards the aisle.
With some time to spare, I dared to ask the Purser if I could be allowed to visit the Cockpit to take some photos and say hello to the Pilots. Thankfully, she agreed, and to my surprise, I happened to know the crew! They greeted me and allowed me to take several photos.
Surprisingly, I was the one who brought the news to the Pilots of the event awaiting for us in CCS for the welcoming of the A330. I informed them of the ceremony and the traditional water cannon salute upon arrival. They were really excited by the news!
I went back to my seat with an invitation to come back to the cockpit later on during the flight. This was all off to a great start!
Already on my seat, I began experimenting with its configurations, which as a matter of fact are quite basic and simple (unlike LH and AF). They also include a couple massage functions, which indeed are a nice plus.
As boarding continued, a Male Flight Attendant came and offered the option to have a glass of Natural Water (with and without gas), and the traditional Spumante, which is a refined type of Italian Sparkling Wine. I obviously chose the latter and I enjoyed every drop of it. Temperature was quite acceptable, and the taste just perfect.
Boarding was completed at 09.06, about 6 minutes ahead of scheduled departure. Pushback followed right on time and we began taxiing to Runway 16R in a matter of seconds.
Just like on my previous experiences on wide body Airbus aircraft, I could not hear the engines cranking up.
During taxiing, I sent an SMS to my Spotter Friend in Rome who would immortalize my first-ever flight on an A330 during take-off, not to mention Alitalia’s inaugural to CCS with the new equipment. He was standing by for the shots.
Meanwhile, I did the Spotter job from the inside as we rolled down the taxiways. Here's what came out:
As we approached the assigned runway, the Alitalia safety video was shown on each screen. The video has been upgraded as well.
We reached the runway holding point at 09.21, where the Captain asked the Flight Attendants to prepare for departure.
Takeoffs are usually hard to describe. Here’s a video that's worth a million words. Please turn up your speakers and enjoy the sound!
ALITALIA 686 TAKEOFF VIDEO, FCO-CCS (MAY 3, 2012)
After a beautiful and exciting takeoff, yet far away from being as powerful as a 777 lift-off, we began our long journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Venezuela. Let the fun begin!
Service began with the distribution of the Amenity Kits – perhaps one of the highlights of Alitalia’s Business Class product. The kit, furnished by Italian giant Bvlgari, contained in a beautiful presentation a handful of creams and toiletries that are far beyond in quality of any other airline I have flown, let alone Lufthansa and Air France. Judge by yourselves.
Not only the outside was astonishing. The products inside, were perhaps better than anyone could imagine. Here's the evidence:
I just can't get enough of this Amenity Kit. Compared to the cheap A380 box I was given in Lufthansa, and the simple pink pencil bag Air France presented... this is just PERFECT!
The IFE is one of the main upgrades AZ is now offering on board its new Magnifica. It all begins with the new noise cancelling headphones. These, also beating LH and AF, are headphones that can also be used with a personal media player (iPod, iPad, etc.). Needless to say, one can also choose to use its own headphones, which was a big concern in my previous experiences with the German and French carriers.
The 15.4-inch screen has an individual "privacy" device, which allows only the passenger occupying the seat to view what’s being displayed. The system has two audio channels and over 40 films available in up to 8 different languages. In addition, a DC-Charger, an USB Port and an RCA with an S-Video port for external devices to be plugged in.
One of the main features is the Landscape camera, which allows for live viewing outside the aircraft with a camera mounted in the nose gear.
Playing around with the remote control and the touch screen, I explored some of the different choices available in this Panasonic cX2 system. Have a look:
Another thing I loved from the IFE are the several map views it has to offer. Here they are:
As I played around, the Duty Free cart came with a vast selection of Italian products to purchase. I wanted to buy the A330 airplane model as a nice souvenir, but it was unfortunately sold out. They left me no choice but to get the 777 (not too bad!), all for 15 Euros.
Finally, about 70 minutes after departure, the award-winning In-Flight Magnifica Service began. The gorgeous Purser, named Georgia, explained how it was not only the inaugural flight with the A330 to CCS, but also the first flight offering the new regional menu from the Campania province in Italy. The Menu and Wine List were distributed.
Since the new AZ emerged in 2009, its Magnifica catering product has focused on a specific region every month, offering passengers a diversified menu portraying the very best of the Italian heritage. Each menu is designed in cooperation with the ALMA school of cuisine, led by Gualtiero Marchesi, one of Italy's leading chefs.
This time, Campania (Napoli region) would be the one. I was also handed a quick survey to analyze the quality of the trip’s catering after the service ended.
After the distribution of the hot towels, FA Massimo followed to set my table and here’s how it looked like:
I was served some San Benedetto Acqua Frizzante (Sparkling Water) in a beautiful glass:
And what never ceases to amaze me is the quality of the cutlery and the china Alitalia has chosen to offer in its premium product. Here’s a closer look at each item:
I was immediately offered a choice of sparkling or plain water. Then, Massimo asked if I would care for any wine, to which I obviously agreed, so I was given a spectacular Wine Glass.
My choice for the wine was the Sangiovese di Romagna DOC (2010). The Purser confirmed the temperature of the bottle and cared to explain the origins of the wine, which was nice plus to this first part of the service.
With the wine, the Antipasto was served. It consisted in two small plates: one with fresh Mozzarella di Bufala, a small San Marzano Tomato cut in half, and a Panzarotti stuffed with Ricotta Cheese and Salami; the other, a steamed cauliflower, black and green olives, a small anchovy and a dried green olive.
A couple seconds after being served, another FA came with the Bread Basket, which had several varieties consisting on: Bananina al Rosmarino (Rosemary-topped Bread), Bananina Integrale (Wholemeal Bread), Bananina alle Noci (Walnut Bread Roll), and Spighetta (Spighetta Baguette).
I chose the Bananina alle Noci, which was served warm and soft giving the feeling of a freshly baked bread – unlike other carriers, which usually serve the bread tough and dry.
The quality of this Antipasto was superb. I was impressed with the freshness of the Mozzarella di Bufala, which kept its liquid yet solid properties; and the Panzarotti, which gave a recently cooked feeling, making it quite tasteful and moist.
The cauliflower did not give the feeling of being cooked several hours before, like one would expect from any airline food service, and was seasoned with a bit of salt and olive oil – just great. I did not taste the anchovy or the olives, but they seemed quite fresh as well.
As soon as I finished this pleasing first taste, Georgia came back, smiling, with a glass of wine on her hand. She explained how this wine was on top of her personal favorites and that it would be a great pairing with the Primo Piatto. Obviously I could not resist and I ceded. It was a Taurasi DOCG – Feudi di San Gregorio (2008).
In a synchronized manner, two carts came out of the front galley down both aisles. Massimo and Georgia approached me with a beautiful set of serving utensils and the spectacular china.
I was offered a choice of Sartù di riso con salsiccia al Pomodoro San Marzano Dop e Basilico (Sartù rice with sausage and Pdo San Marzano Tomatoes and Basil) or Pasta alla Crudaiola con limone d’Amalfi lgp (Pasta alla Crudaiola with Pgi Amalfi Lemons), both symbolic dishes from the Amalfi region near Naples.
I requested to have a dish with the two options as they all seemed quite astonishing.
In my previous Trip Reports, I always complained on how the Main Courses would come pre-served, being just heated components presented in a rather cheap manner. In Alitalia, nonetheless, you will witness the Flight Attendants design your plate right in front of you. Massimo and Georgia both served each component, delicately, adding that personal touch that differentiates them from any other airline I have flown. For me, this makes it or breaks it.
Georgia kindly asked whether I cared for some Parmigiano Reggiano, to which I obviously agreed.
This is how the end result it looked like:
Amazed by the beauty of the dish, I tasted each component slowly enjoying every tad of flavor coming out of it. The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente (one of the hardest things to accomplish for any airline I have flown on thus far) with very subtle flavors coming out of the Amalfi lemon that was into it. The Parmigiano Reggiano added texture and flavor, pairing magnificently with the Crudaiola recipe properties.
The rice Sartù was also perfectly cooked. It had small pieces of Italian Sausage within, contrasting the natural flavor of the rice. The San Marzano Tomatoes sauce added a huge amount of flavor adding up to make an incredible Primo Piatto. I was immensely pleased with the quality of the first course and I must say there’s perfect resemblance to any five-star Italian Restaurant 36,000 feet below on Italian soil. Guaranteed.
Following the same protocol, the two carts came out of the galley at a same pace.
The options were once again narrated for this Main Course. These were Involtini di Scamone alla Napoletana (Napolitan rump rolls), or Filetti di Pesce alle Acciughe (Anchovy Fish Fillets).
Given that I’m not a seafood person, I went for the Beef option. The side dishes were Melanzane a Funghetto (Eggplant a funghetto), Pomodori Gratinati (Breadcrumb Tomato), Zucchine alla menta (Minted Zucchini), and Insalata Fresca (Fresh Salad).
The FAs served my dish using the same decorum as before. Here is the end result:
I have been flying Alitalia for as long as I can remember. The quality of their dishes has always been quite good, but the Main Course (Secondo Piatto) has never been able to reach up to the Primo Piatto eminence levels. The meats they served were often dry and tough. This time, though, they managed to break this barrier and present one of the best dishes I’ve had on board any aircraft. Have a look:
The Involtini were as moist as one could find at any legit Italian restaurant, full of rich flavors and texture. The side dishes made up for a perfect coupling, with the Melanzane being perfectly cooked, seasoned with just salt and olive oil; the Tomato slightly cooked with the gratin breadcrumbs on top giving a nice texture to it, and the Zucchine cooked to perfection with a special minty flavor that balanced the entire dish.
In the meantime, I was constantly served more of the excellent the Purser had suggested, which ended up being better than the one I had chosen in the first place.
All together, harmonized well to become the best meal I have had up to date above the clouds. No doubts.
[Edited 2012-05-17 03:35:55]
[Edited 2012-05-17 03:52:00]