In this review:
- a life-threatening amount of alcohol;
- visit lounges while your flight is on last call;
- the 10993th French strike.
This is a segment of L.A.S.T. trip, and the introduction can be found by clicking here. Immediately adjacent segments are:
To make this trip even more agonizing than it is, I decided to tag my days in Madrid with another irrefutably good Alitalia business class ticket to New York, for the entire roundtrip via Rome I paid just a bit above 500 USD, which was a value as good as a Thai night market food craze. This is a review of the outbound to New York from Madrid via Rome.
I bid my parents farewell in Madrid airport as they had the flight to Shanghai 40 minutes after mine, and proceeded to Terminal 2, where Alitalia, Air Europa and many other Skyteam members depart. Checking in was incredibly easy as there were virtually nobody at the area, so I got my boarding pass within minutes. The agents were all very friendly, as the two guys next to me had a codeshare with Air Europa, and the agent responsible asked a colleague to walk them towards the correct check-in counter, which is definitely above and beyond.
The agent quickly put my Etihad Guest number into the system, and directed me towards the VIP fast track security checkpoint. Interestingly she did not check my eligibility of US entry since I was going into United States. I quickly appeared at the end of the terminal, and found out that the area was designed to funnel all the VIP through an agent to double-check. Within minutes I was through the securities, as the entire fast track was absolutely deserted, except the two security folks who were busier chatting than checking my pockets.
I was not told by the check-in agent about which lounge to use, so I just walked 5 minutes to the E numbered gates, where I saw Puerta del Sol lounge. I was welcomed to its airy front after a quick scan of my boarding pass, and I definitely was too lazy to check out the other option at the other end of the terminal. The lounge is equipped with very decent breakfast options ranging from prepackaged sandwiches to fruit cups to a myriad of pastries. Sadly there were no hot options available other than the coffee machines.
I simply sat down with a cup of yoghurt in front of the large windows facing the runways, and watched one after another Ryanair 737 taking off.
The lounge has a nice business area as well as well-kept bathrooms, and the only small complaint I can have is that it does not have too many privacy partitions at the seats and there seems to be a lack of seating options. Quickly my plane landed at gate E69, exactly right beneath the large windows, so I could easily look into the glass boarding bridges to see if it is boarding or not.
Needless to say, I wanted to minimize the time I spend in the horrendous intra-Euro business class “seat”. It was again as expected: a glorified manhole with an outrageous normal price tag. Among the 8 seats, only 3 were taken, and that was already over my expectations. We tend to think North America has some horrible business class seats, but this would scare all those road warriors on the other side to never cross the Atlantic again. I boarded last and stuffed my backpack into the crammed overhead bins due to economy passengers encroaching on business class space, and within minutes we were taxiing off the ramp. I waved across the airport as I could see my parents boarding their flight to Shanghai in terminal 4S. A manual demonstration later, I bid Madrid farewell for the 4th time in this trip and fell asleep on the climb.
I was woken up by the elderly gentleman serving Business Class:”What do you want to drink?” I ordered a coke, and the guy in front of me went for orange juice. However, he was given a bright red liquid resembling coughing syrup, and he questioned whether there had been a mistake, but was told that this was the orange juice they had. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to get one as well, which indeed tasted like coughing syrup rather than orange juice, as I predicted. It is pretty incredible when an airline has to cheapen out on orange juice in business class! Other than that, the meal was perfectly acceptable for a 2 hour hop, and the cake was a typical long-haul economy one, which means it can never be too bad. The pasta was a bit bland and carb-y, and all beverages were simply served in plastic cups rather than the glasses on the tray, rendering them useless. We landed before schedule, and the cabin crew had as much enthusiasm as my grandma is now, who had passed away 20 years ago. I quickly bid them farewell and hopped off the flight.
I was met with an agent in front of the bridge upon disembarking, who held a sign directing: New York, Gate E19. This helped a bit as I zigzagged through the long hallways of the new terminal, which was very nicely built. The connection was just 1 hour so I had barely any time to take a look at the monitors, but for the sake of completeness, I had to go inside Casa Alitalia lounge for a peek.
“Sir, your New York flight is on last call.” The receptionist agent admonished.
“Yeah yeah, I, uh, just wanna get, uh, a glass of milk.”
I quickly ran though the large area, taking as many pictures as my phone’s focus can. The food looked, per true Italian tradition, absolutely fantastic, with a large variety of freshly made pasta, spaghetti, break, pizza and other hot dishes, along with fresh fruit, handcrafted dessert cakes, and many others. The bar looked very well stocked, and there was a large variety of seating options in the airy and bright lounge. The bathrooms are large and clean, and there are many staffs around cleaning and organizing. Too bad that I had almost no time in the lounge, otherwise I am confident that I would be very satisfied with my time there.
I got to gate E19, and it was almost deserted. Boarding had commenced almost 40 minutes ago and everyone had been cleared by the 12 staffs standing there. US-bound flights always had additional screenings and many other ridiculously manpower-hungry precautions. One of the agents took my passport and asked me about my purpose of travel, and waved me through after sticking a sticker on the back. I walked through the only jet bridge to be greeted by… no one. The flight attendants seemed to have forgotten their jobs to greet everyone at the door to check boarding passes, so I did the left turn without anyone noticing: dang it, any economy ticket would have gotten me in the front this time! My seat, 4A is a staggered seat with superior privacy, and the seat behind me, 5C is a crew rest seat so I was practically the last person in the cabin of this column.
I was offered a predeparture drink with the choice of orange juice, water or bubbly, so of course I nabbed the alcohol to get into the mood. The seat is a typical staggered seat like my experience with Hong Kong Airline’s A350. However, this version does not have additional support near the fuselage, so it is very easy to suddenly drop your feet into the gap to my left while sleeping. I reclined my seat, and find it to be rather well-cushioned, but as someone who is exactly 6 feet, it fits EXACTLY my height so it might be a bit constrictive. They do have a special long small pillow that is for buttressing the back though, and it made the seating position very comfortable, bravo Alitalia! The seat was also showing the age, as the motors reclining and repositioning the seat is LOUD, and I definitely woke up a bunch of people during the flight as I changed position. There were also not many storage areas other than underneath the ottoman.
The flight attendant then dished out amenity kits, which was branded by Ferragamo. The inside contents are relatively normal with above average quality. The seal was really hard to break off so that was a bit annoying. The noise-cancelling headphones were flimsy and of below-average quality. However, no complaints from me who paid less than economy!
The blanket given was a bit small but puffy enough, and the pillow was perfect size for the width of the seat. There was also a pair of low-quality flip-flops that was hard to get into as always, but at least that beats those airlines that just refuse to pay the tiny bit money for flip flops!
I took a read of the wine list, which was double the thickness of the menu. Of course, they are Italians after all!
And the menu was confusing as FUCK. Each dish takes up almost a line, and are comprised of obscure Italian words that simply cannot be translated, so I had to read into the explanations of each dish, making dining almost an algebra course for me.
The flight attendants did a safety demonstration as we closed the doors on time, and the captain informed us a slightly longer-than-usual flight time of 9hours 45minutes due to the French air traffic controllers going on their routine thrice-weekly strike. However, the safety briefing video on Alitalia is hilariously dated, seemingly coming off from a Soviet private airline on the brink of collapse. The cartoon and animations are so bad that I paid more attention to this video than any single other airline’s video in the past 3 years. Wait. So does that mean, it is their goal all along!?
We took off without much fanfare, and during the climb wifi cards were handed out, which was rather nice for such an aging plane and downtrodden airline. WIfi was a bit of a hassle to connect as it involves setting up an account and it almost always requires a re-login after a while, making me unable to finish up using the 50MB given. However, other than that, the speed is rather decent, and it worked about 70% of the time. Oh and after so many time scrambling the login-credentials I learned that “connect” in Italian is “CONETTITI”. heh.
Within 45 minutes of departure, the Apretivo was served. I opted for the nice-sounding Campari Spritz, but oh boy was that a mistake: it was so strong that I could not taste anything but industrial-level alcohol, and I got tipsy before I could even finish the nuts that come with it.
Then the appetizer came, along with even more alcohol, Cremacotia something something. I was practically flying at the time, so I am still astonished that I managed to take this photo rather well. It tasted very good, not because my judgement was impaird, but it was genuinely flavorful and appetizing.
The first main course (yeah Italians and their multiple main courses) was an unassuming ravioli dish. The flight attendant, after getting my permission, scattered ample amounts of cheese on top of the noodles, as if it would be my ashes during my funeral as I slowly died of alcohol poisoning. And before I could stop her, she was already pouring my 2nd cup of red wine. The raviolis were very cheesy but definitely a highlight of the meal.
The second main course is some kind of baked potato cake with chicken stuffed with something. To be honest I was just a zombie sitting up at the point so pardon my horrible picture quality. It was just, meh? The chicken was rather bland and the most flavorful part is the carrots, so I do not think this is a great dish, only passable.
I declined the cheese course as I was about to throw up with tears, and passed out from alcohol-induced headache. The meal service in general was very impressive, as the flight attendant responsible for me was very warm and attentive. She was on top of her game and most of my dishes were cleared promptly with the next one ready to go. Drinks were served without any grudge and sparing, and a big smile was flex-taped to her face. Other than the slightly disappointing second main course, I am very content with what I got.
I was woken up by the new attendant asking me my choices for pre-landing snack: from the moment I passed out right after the meal 2 hours in to the wake-up call 2 hours before arrival, I slept 5 hours! I scrambled to check the other things as I waited for my snack, which I declined to be served with more alcohol. In flight entertainment of this plane is rather lacking, with about 20 movies to choose from, most of which are very popular and dated so I bet 90% have watched, and the rest are so obscure that it might be a mental commitment to watch. The screen is not very responsive, and the system crashed once as I tried to push the home button: definitely an old system, but hey, they at least have a camera at the nose which is something right? I walked around the cabin, and found out business class was about 50% full, while premium economy and economy were more than 95% full. How is Alitalia losing chunks of money!? The snack was waiting for me in the seat, but thanks to the design of the table that I can push it away and sit down without much trouble.
As we approached New York, the lights had started to dim outside, and I was treated with a spectacular view. We landed 20 minutes before schedule, and taxiied to the gate without any kerfuffle. I disembarked as the sole flight attendant bid me farewell.
All in all, the experience was a nice one: average seat, attentive crew, good food and disappointing IFE. I am not sure if I can feel justified paying more than 1000EUR each way for this flight though, as it obviously has some shortcomings compared to competitors. However, I was just glad that I did not have a liver failure!
Alitalia Short Haul A320 Business Class Grading
- Ground Service: 110
- Hard Product: 10
- Soft Product: 120
- Food: 140
- Value: 75
- Total: 455 【BAD】
Alitalia Long Haul A330 Business Class Grading
- Ground Service: 135
- Hard Product: 165
- Soft Product: 150
- Food: 180
- Value: 135
- Total: 765 【GOOD】
I sped through the customs like a lightning, and was onboard the JFK AirTrain within 10 minutes of landing, now that is a record! I was not prepared for the cold New York nights. As I shivered in the cold Jamaica station, I wondered: why am I like this? Why did I convince myself to cross an ocean to try a business class flight? Why am I like this?