Alitalia is one of those airlines that I have always watched closely but have never had the chance to fly. While its business matters are complicated and ever evolving, Alitalia continues to run a solid operation with a highly regarded business class product and service standard. I was happy to join the airline for a flight in Magnifica Class on its newly added Dulles to Rome route, one of a small handful of new routes Alitalia has added to its map this year.
Alitalia does not have its own lounge at Dulles and instead leans on Skyteam partner Air France, but that lounge is currently under renovation so Magnifica passengers have access to the nearby Turkish Airlines lounge in the meantime. After a few lounge drinks it was time to board EI-EJL, an Airbus A330-200. Alitalia’s longhaul fleet is made up of 14 Airbus A330-200s, 11 Boeing 777-200s, and one single Boeing 777-300ER. Why does its fleet contain a single 777-300ER? Well, nobody really knows, actually.
Magnifica Class is configured in a staggered 1-2-1 layout, so all passengers have access to the aisle no matter which of the 20 seats they are assigned. While all seats have aisle access, not all seats in the cabin are created equally. Due to the staggered nature of the layout, four of the window seats are substantially more private than the rest, which are quite exposed to the aisle and afford little privacy. The same goes for the center section seats, where some offer much more privacy than others. Because this was a rather close-in booking for me, I ended up in the center section but with a more private seat.
After settling into my seat, I was offered a pre-departure beverage and we pushed back exactly on time, despite the nasty weather that had been occurring all morning. This flight is rather poorly timed for an optimal amount of sleep, departing Dulles in the afternoon at 4:15pm and arriving in Rome at 7:00am the next day. I don’t typically get much sleep on redeye flights anyway, so I took this as a chance to dive into the movie selection and enjoy a full meal. For whatever reason, the cabin manager didn’t make the entertainment system available until we were already at cruising altitude somewhere over New York, so passengers had to stare at a welcome screen for an extended period of time. Odd and annoying, but hardly the end of the world.
Once the entertainment system booted, I browsed the content selection and found roughly 80 movies, but not a ton that I actually wanted to watch and few recent titles. I also noticed that the TV selection suffers from the usual airline issue where there are three episodes of a random season for shows, which is just frustrating. Alitalia also offers limited live TV, offering CNN International and BBC, but not the popular Sport24 channel that is present on the TV icon. All of Alitalia’s A330s and some of the 777s feature Wi-Fi from Panasonic and Magnifica passengers are entitled to 50 MB free access. While the Wi-Fi did not work at all on the flight to Rome, it worked well enough for the return flight to Dulles. That 50 MB goes quickly, though, so usage has to be rather reserved.
The real star of the Magnifica show is the catering, something I have always heard positive feedback on. Meals are served to passengers on individual plates, not on a tray served in one shot. Although Alitalia has recently shifted to a dine-on-demand style of service, the meal service isn’t really executed as such. On both flights I was asked what I wanted to order immediately after takeoff, which isn’t really how a dine-on-demand concept works. Nevertheless, I went along with it and ordered as I would had this been a standard meal service. On the flight back to Dulles I deferred to order until several hours into the flight as it departs between standard meal times and I wasn’t hungry just yet.
While pasta is often a disappointing dish on board aircraft, with the sauce burnt onto the plate and noodles nuked to oblivion, Alitalia has somehow managed to perfect the art. Both flights had delicious pasta starter dishes with excellent presentation. The addition of fresh Parmesan cheese added as if I was in a restaurant really completed the dish.
What the future holds for Alitalia as a business is a bit of a mystery. While all of that is sorted out, however, Alitalia continues to provide a surprisingly good business class experience.
Disclosure: Jason flew as a guest of Alitalia but all opinions, comments, snark and sarcasm are his own doing.