Alitalia Airbus A330. Delish!

An Alitalia Airbus A330-200. Delish!

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.

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn't suck - that's Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn’t suck – that’s Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image.

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After six weeks, which went past in a seeming eyeblink, I’ve completed ground school. Drinking from a fire hose is an appropriate analogy. Still, I passed all three written stage tests, and just passed the written comprehensive finals, which consisted of two separate tests over two class sessions. Next up will be scheduling and taking the proper FAA written exam before all this hard-earned info leaks out of my brain.

I’ve also been flying quite a lot with my CFI (aka my instructor) – two or three hours a week on average. I’m learning new skills like crazy, but am also burning through money like a Silicon Valley startup. In contrast with most of my stories, I don’t have very many photos to share for this series, not at least so far. Learning how to fly is hard, and if I’m on the controls the whole flight, there’s no time for taking photos. I’m considering finding a way to mount a GoPro either inside or outside the plane so there’s at least some video to share.

Anyway, we started doing pattern work a week or so ago; that means pretty much flying in the airport’s prescribed traffic pattern, doing a touch-and-go, then re-entering the pattern. Lather, rinse, repeat. At Boeing Field (BFI), you can get about six laps around the pattern into a one-hour lesson.

The first time we did this, it was utterly demoralizing. I’m flying a plane, which is amazing and fun, but landing is *hard*. Especially when dealing with BFI’s notoriously squirrelly crosswinds.

WestJet 737-600 pushing back at YVR

In the midst of a major expansion, WestJet looks to grow its partnership with Delta Air Lines – Photo: John Jamieson

On December 6th, 2017, WestJet and Delta announced they would be expanding their partnership into a cross-border joint venture. The agreement, which should be finalized later this year, signifies WestJet’s arrival on the global stage. Once a Southwest lookalike, WestJet has become a hybrid carrier capable of challenging Air Canada.

Their success may have come at a price. Over the past few years, WestJet increased their operational costs and complexity in pursuing Air Canada. On the heels of their first quarterly loss in 13 years, WestJet is hoping 2019 brings clearer skies. However, with complicated labor contracts to sort out, the airline seems to be heading for more turbulence. Their joint venture with Delta could be the key to regaining some lost momentum.

Before I delve into the complexities of the airlines’ joint venture, it’s worth understanding how far WestJet has come in its 22 years.

Alaska Air captain raises the lucky (or unlucky) Copper River Salmon

“This story again? It feels like Groundhog Day,” Blaine Nickeson, AirlineReporter’s Associate Editor (and my good friend) said to me via email when I forwarded the fact that I was going to cover the arrival of the first Copper River Salmon for the eighth year in a row. He just doesn’t get it. Maybe you don’t either, but I am going to try to explain why I look forward to getting up at 3:30am to welcome some fish to Seattle.

Sure, sure, over the eight years the event has been pretty much the same (although this year was the most different). Historically, a bunch of folks show up at Alaska Cargo at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, wait for the first Copper River salmon catch of the year to arrive from Alaska, and then have a cook off in the parking lot between three legit Seattle chefs. This year was different because there was no cook off. I will say that I did miss being able to try the salmon, but really the cook off part of the event was just filler and the real excitement was waiting for the plane to arrive.

Beacon on! The Salmon-30-Salmon.

No question the best year was when I was able to fly up to Cordova, Alaska (on a milk run, in a 737 Combi), watch the fishing boats go out, see the “winning” fish be chosen, fly to Seattle with the said fish to the welcome crowd, and then eat the fish after it was cooked up by three fancy chefs. I think that experience really helps me better appreciate what it takes to get from ocean to tummy (like farm to table, but better).

Even with this year having no flight north and no fancy chefs, it was still awesome and I love going. When I reached out to Francis (who writes for us and is an amazing photographer) to see if he wanted to go with me, he was more than excited to come. Upon seeing Blaine’s anti-fish comments, Francis replied “for some reason I can’t stay away, either.” Blaine was hoping for a different angle for this year’s story… I think I found one my friend, but not sure how you are going to feel about it!