Postcards from Italy

Out With the Old, In With the New: Italy’s New Airline Set to Take to the Skies

All good things must come to an end, and even universally maligned things sooner or later meet their maker. After long negotiations, Italy’s flag carrier Alitalia will be replaced by the new, somewhat tamely named Italia Trasporto Aereo, or ITA. Come October 15th, Alitalia will officially cease operations and ITA will become fully operational in its stead. This comes after months of wrangling between Italy and the EU about how to position the new airline independently from Alitalia so it would not be liable for the billions of euros in bailout aid that was never paid back by the struggling state-owned company. 

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But most travelers care less about the backroom bargaining behind the creation of ITA and more about what this new, stripped-down airline may mean for upcoming trips. ITA will only inherit a portion of Alitalia’s flight slots, including  85% of Alitalia slots at Milan’s Linate airport and 43% of slots at Fiumicino in Rome. Its initial fleet will be be cut by about two-thirds of present levels and made up of just over 50 planes and staff. All this means that customers should expect some hiccups and growing pains over the fall and winter. 

There are still a number of details that remain unclear about this major succession, but here’s what we do know about what Italy’s new national airline will mean for travelers.

What should we expect from ITA?

As far as branding, ITA will look very similar to Alitalia, with the same colors of green, white, and red (reflecting Italy’s national flag) and the sloping ‘A’ that recalls the shape of a plane’s tail as the logo.

The similarities end here, however. The new airline will be much smaller as far as fleet and take-off and landing slots (at least at the main Milan Linate and Rome Fiumicino airports), and the staff will be dramatically slimmed down and ground operations and maintenance service will be handed off to subsidiaries. 

Will ITA be a budget airline?

Industry experts do not expect ITA to seek to compete with Europe’s blockbuster budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, which have been growing while Alitalia floundered by snapping up the Italian carrier’s slots at Italian airports. (Consider that Ryanair currently has around 100 routes within Italy, making it the country’s primary domestic carrier.) 

Instead, ITA will focus on niche routes that have been overlooked by low-cost competitors in addition to offering long-haul flights and the kind of full onboard service that budget airlines don’t offer.

What routes will ITA cover?

According to ITA’s own press releases, the company intends to make Rome Fiumicino its main international hub, followed by Milan Linate as its second-biggest airport. The company has currently announced 61 routes for the final months of 2021 that cover 45 different destinations, focusing on European capitals like Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. The carrier’s planned long-haul routes target major airports in the United States—including New York, Boston, and Miami—as well as Tokyo in Japan. Up to 30 additional long-haul destinations are slated to be added over the next four years, including Washington DC and Los Angeles.

Domestic routes cover 21 airports in Italy, offering travelers an alternative to the train to get to and from cities like Venice, Florence, Naples, Genoa, Verona, and Bari and to connect from these cities to Rome and Milan to catch an international flight. 

What if I’ve booked an Alitalia flight?

Much of the uncertainty about the hand-off between Alitalia and ITA centers around the fate of existing bookings. The European Commission was very clear that Alitalia and ITA are two separate entities, so it’s unclear if tickets booked via the soon-to-be-defunct Alitalia will be recognized as valid for travel on ITA. If they are not valid, there is no clear directive about which company will be responsible for issuing refunds.

Since EU rules require airlines to offer customers either an alternative flight or a full refund in event of canceled flights, experts suggest that Alitalia would be obligated by law to refund passengers who are booked to travel after the 15th of October if their tickets are not recognized by ITA. Again, however, the details as to how this would work are unclear and the airline is already deeply in debt, so finding the capital to refund canceled flights may not be possible unless the Italian government offers yet another relief package (unlikely, after the €1.3 billion that Alitalia received in state funds between 2017 and 2019 that is currently under investigation by the EU).

Should I book with Alitalia now?

Alitalia continues to offer flights through the end of 2021, but our advice is to avoid booking with the carrier after October 14th to avoid any potential hassles and headaches with cancelations and refunds. ITA has announced that it will begin taking reservations in August, though as of today there is no set date when that will kick off and no official website.

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