There's a week to go before the world's newest airline launches, and it's promising to bring some dolce vita back to the skies. From October 15, ITA -- Italia Trasporto Aereo -- will be the new state-owned carrier for Italy, following the closure of bankrupt Alitalia on October 14.
It's been a while in the making. Alitalia has been floundering for years, and more recently there's been debate as to whether ITA was a separate enough company to take over while shedding Alitalia's debts. But in September, the EU ruled that ITA and Alitalia are separate companies, meaning ITA can start afresh.
Who owns ITA?
Italia Trasporto Aereo is "wholly owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance," according to its filing with the US Department of Transport. The aim, it says, is to create "an efficient, innovative and competitive airline."
Where will it fly?
It had been assumed that ITA will take over most, if not all, of Alitalia's slots. Alitalia served 94 destinations, 26 of which were in Italy. However, from its website, ITA will start slowly. Routes on sale for immediate travel are as follows;
Italy: Brindisi, Bologna, Bari, Catania, Rome, Genoa, Milan Linate, Naples, Palermo, Pescara, Reggio Calabria, Lamezia Terme, Trieste, Turin, Venice, Verona.
Short- and medium-haul: Algiers, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Brussels, Cairo, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, London Heathrow, Madrid, Malta, Munich, Nice, Paris (Charles de Gaulle and Orly), Tirana, Tel Aviv, Tunis, Zurich.
Long-haul: Tokyo, New York.
There are more on the cards. Buenos Aires, Miami, Boston, and São Paulo will be added from March 2022, along with Luxembourg, Stuttgart, and Florence. More European destinations are scheduled for summer 2022, along with Los Angeles.
On October 5, the airline opened sales for flights to the US with major fanfare. Alitalia flew all the routes it has picked, as well as Rome to Chicago. ITA has requested to add flights to Chicago, Francisco, San Francisco, and Washington DC in the future.
The fact that ITA sent out a press release about its US flights implies it might be wanting to focus on long-haul business. That'll come as a relief to some who were concerned that Alitalia's domestic focus was key to its downfall.
Will it take Alitalia's airplanes?
Not permanently. One of the few decisions ITA has announced is to have a fleet exclusively comprising Airbus. The airline has announced it will buy 28 new aircraft, and lease 45 more -- on terms, it says, more favorable than Alitalia's. The first new jets will enter the fleet in early 2022, and by late 2025, it says that 70% of the fleet will be new-generation aircraft, which are less damaging for the environment. It plans to start with 52 and increase to 105 by 2025.
However, that's a way off. In its DoT filing, ITA wrote that before it takes to the skies on October 15, it will have acquired "certain assets (such as aircraft) from Alitalia." So expect things to look fairly similar at the start.
Is ITA the final name?
Not necessarily. In that same filing, ITA said it was going to "participate in a public tender to acquire the Alitalia brand." There's no clue on when that might be.
ITA will take over many of Alitalia's old routes.
Rather than continue Alitalia loyalty programs, ITA announced a "new loyalty program" that "can potentially be integrated with those of other industrial partners," and which is "totally focused on the customer needs of flexibility and accessibility to flights." There's no sign yet of which alliance it'll sign with if any.
Who will design the uniforms?
That's the question everyone wants to know, but ITA is keeping schtum -- a spokesperson declined to share details with CNN. However, hold out hope that they'll be decent -- this is Italy, after all. In 2018, despite being bankrupt, Alitalia shelled out on a new uniform for the crew designed by Alberta Ferretti. The ITA logo is certainly very chic.
What are the fares like?
Competitive. A return flight from JFK to Rome on dates we picked in November cost $498. That's compared to $505 on Delta. Meanwhile, a trip from Milan to London was pricing at $98 roundtrip, compared to $120 on British Airways. For those willing to travel to airports further out than Heathrow, Ryanair was charging just $22 round-trip, and EasyJet just $41. That short-haul competition will be the biggest challenge for ITA.
What's the Covid-19 protocol?
ITA announced that all its staff must be vaccinated well before Italy made vaccination compulsory for workers across the country. Temperatures will be taken before the flight, and passengers must wear masks. No clothes can be stored in the overhead lockers, and people will be boarded in small groups.
The business-class lounges are currently closed, but those entitled to access will be given a coupon to use at airport food outlets. ITA claims that thanks to HEPA filters, the air onboard is as sterile as an operating room, and is renewed every three minutes.
Will it survive?
That's what everyone's hoping to know, and the short-haul competition will be its biggest challenge. But with a new fleet, new energy, new leadership and no debts, this certainly has a better chance than Alitalia did. With just 16 Italian destinations and 22 further afield to start with, it is taking things one step at a time.