Arrivaderci, Alitalia: one more national airline's crashing down.
I haven't flown a ton on "national airlines", but I've flown some: British Airways (as BA and, dating myself, as BOAC). Lufthansa. Aer Lingus. Air France. Alitalia. KLM.
For the most part, I kind of like seeing those national characteristics on display: I've flown Lufthansa a half dozen times, and for the most part, they're pretty darned efficient. I was shocked last spring when there was something that bordered on boarding mayhem in Frankfurt - one boarding call, not by rows for a packed international flight? Huh? It seemed a lot more Alitalianate or AerLingusian than it did Lufthansatic, that's for sure.
(One time at Shannon Airport, Aer Lingus was simultaneously checking in three overbooked flights to NY, Boston, and Chicago, without having feeder lines set up so that you could tell whether you were in the line for NY, Boston, or Chicago until you'd been mooshed around for an hour.)
And on Lufthansa, I would never expect the types of gab you sometimes get on AerLingus. Once on a long-delayed flight from Ireland to Boston, the pilot told us all about the delay. It seems that the plane had been struck by lightning on the flight over from The States the night before.... And, sure, we wouldn't wanted to have taken to the airwaves until that got checked out, would we. Hard to imagine that from Lufthansa.
I also like the corny little national touches - the Tri-couleur everything on AirFrance; the 40 shades of green everything on AerLingus. And then there's the odd AerLingus upholstery. I haven't flown them in a few years, but for a while the seats were covered with facsimile of the words and handwriting of James Joyce. (Was it Finnegan's Wake? I've forgotten now.) I think that Joyce is buried in Switzerland, but I can imagine if he were buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, he would be spinning mightily in his grave every time an AerLingus flight full of American tourists on their dream visit to the Old Sod touched down on the tarmac at Dublin Airport.)
Surprisingly, given their love of food, the absolute worst meal I ever had on a flight was on Alitalia. They were all out of the edible choice by the time they got to my row, and I was served something the color and consistency of a hockey puck. I can't vouch for whether it tasted like puck, since I broke the plastic knife trying to cut it.
This flight part of the only package deal trip I've ever been on, which was surprisingly good value and fun. We stayed at an excellent small hotel near the Italian Parliament, within very close walking distance of the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, etc. The only fly in this trip's ointment was the (included) transportation in from the airport. At 8 a.m. after an all nighter (that included hockey puck on the menu), you don't want to be the last hotel stop on the mini-van's delivery schedule. Still, we thought we'd give the "transportation included" feature a shot on the way back to the airport. What could possibly happen?
Well, what could happen was a strike by the Sicilian orange growers, who were taking their orange-flavored beef to the Parliament, and were thronging the streets surrounding our hotel. The mini-van just didn't seem to be able to make it through. Fortunately, I was able to go out and forage for a cab a few blocks away. We narrowly made our flight.
In any case, despite the terrible meal and the ground transportation chaos, I feel a bit sorry to see Alitalia in danger(?) of getting swept into the AirFrance-KLM mix. (The outcome is still uncertain as of my writing of this posts. Last I heard, the Alitalia unions were balking at the proposed lay offs.)
Sure, if the deal goes through, Alitalia will probably be able to retain some sort of distinct identity for a while - staying paisan-ish rather than citoyen-ish - but we all know it will be on it's way to some type of bland, pan-Euro (or pan-world) sameness.
State-run airlines, of course, don't make particular economic sense. If your politicians want your country to fly planes, well, isn't that what an Air Force is for? Spending your paisans' Euros to subsidize an inefficient, poorly run airline seems foolish. (Don't even think about me launching a diatribe against government bailouts of non-national airlines. Maybe another time.)
Still, there's something sad about watching yet another state-run airline fly off into the sunset.