Alitalia is one of my least favourite airlines! Out of the 90 airlines,I have flown, the Italian carrier sits in the bottom five of those still flying!
In the early 1970s when I first flew them, they represented the chic side of Italy.The uniforms were stylish, cabin crew glamorous with the best of Italian food, bread and wine aboard. They even served Italian bon bons (candy) just before descent and landing which always endears an airline to me!
By the 1990s, the brand had become well and truly tarnished. The Bonbons had long gone, along with consistent service.
Bankruptcy in 2008 and a the resulting restructure did not lead to dramatic improvements from my perspective.
Today, Skytrax rates Alitalia as a three star airline and Alitalia passengers on Skytrax give them a mere five out of ten average. Comments vary between: This may not be the best airline I’ve flown on, but definitely not as bad as I thought and “This was my third time flying with Alitalia and would be my last: surly unhelpful staff, dirty old planes, malfunctioning toilets, etc.”
In January, 2015 Etihad bought 49 percent ownership of Alitalia at a cost of $US560million. This investment is risky considering, the Italian carrier has only ever made one profit in seventy years (1998) and has been virtually bankrupt twice. .
With the ownership change has come a five point strategy focussing on their network, improving partner airline cooperation, updating the fleet, fixing guest services” and overhauling the brand.
As part of this overhaul, new CEO Silvano Cassano has said “Alitalia can only thrive as a five-star airline”. I almost fell off my chair when I saw Cassano’s statement. My room mate who is from Italy, thought I as joking when I told him. Alitalia has a lot to get right before I see it become like Cathay Pacific or ANA.
Work that needs to occur includes:
- Their fleet- two new A330s will be delivered in June are the start of a $US400m fleet purchasing program. By 2017, all Alitalia planes will offer Wi-Fi and new Italian leather Business class seats
- Staff selection and support
- Customer service training to get staff to care or at least appear to care which appears to be embodied in a new Customer Excellence Training Academy
A few years ago, Italian railways had a perception of being late and dirty. Today, the high speed network suggests the opposite. Ferrari now runs trains on the Italian rail network:
So, is it possible to take an airline that just scrapes into three star category to five star level? Cassano has worked as CEO of fashion company Benetton and CEO of Fiat Auto Financial and Consumer Services. He may pull off this transformation. What do you think?