The last flight (l’ultimo volo)

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Bid a fond arrivederci to Italy’s national airline, Alitalia.

The debt-ridden airline took l’ultimo volo last week, a short domestic journey from the island of Sardinia to Rome. It was a muted end to an airline that exemplified Italian style – with uniforms designed by Giorgio Armani no-less – before drowning in an economic quagmire (largely of its own making).

In the past years, Alitalia has tended to grab headlines for its economic calamities and labour disputes rather than its position as a competitive international airline. The last three years alone saw Rome funnel more than €8 billion into the airline to keep it afloat, Reuters reports.

And while the failings of Alitalia gave passengers plenty to grumble about, personally I always found their policy of giving travellers free packets of the bready snack taralli enough to forgive a multitude of sins.

But from the ashes, like a publicly funded phoenix, rises Italia Trasporto Aereo, Alitalia’s successor. ITA Airways walks a strange line in the business world – while it’s widely seen as the “new” Alitalia, it’s important to lawyers that you know it’s not, legally at least, just a rebrand.

The reason for this is partly to do with illegal state aid. The European Commission recently declared that ITA is not just Alitalia in disguise and so is not liable to repay the state aid given to Alitalia.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition policy chief, announced in September that Brussels was convinced that Italy “demonstrated that there is a clear break between Alitalia and the new airline ITA,” meaning ITA starts with a clean slate while Alitalia takes its debt to its grave.

So, even though ITA staff will still wear Alitalia uniforms for the time being, don’t be confused – you’re flying on a different airline with no legal responsibility for its predecessor.

ITA will also restructure to become more competitive, following the lead of other airlines who removed luxuries like free food and drinks so their prices would more closely resemble the Ryanairs of the world.

No more packets of taralli, I’m afraid.

ITA has already angered unions by cutting jobs (from around 10,000 employees down to 2,800) and by offering what union officials describe as considerably worse contracts than their predecessor.

It has also slashed routes compared to Alitalia, giving up slots in major hubs such as Milan and Rome.

So, will ITA’s sleeker model mean it avoids the fate of its long-suffering predecessor?

One reason given for the decline of Alitalia (beyond mismanagement) is an increase in the popularity of train journeys, particularly domestically.

It would be a particular irony if the moves to make ITA competitive – firing staff, cutting wages – were undone by that stalwart of public sector tradition, Trenitalia.


Ryanair wants its money back

It’s well known that Ryanair has steadfastly refused to adopt the American customer service maxim “the customer is always right”. But its latest move – barring some customers on refund grounds – is raising eyebrows even accounting for the Irish airline’s reputation.

Ryanair has been accused of stopping passengers who sought refunds from credit card providers during the height of the COVID pandemic from travelling with them, EURACTIV’s media partner the Guardian reports.

Customers that asked their credit card company to issue a chargeback order – in which a customer disputes a charge to get the payment returned to their card – have been banned from flying with the airline until they return the money to the company.

This only applies if the flight in question took off, at which point Ryanair says they fulfilled their contractual obligation to the passenger. However, at the time, many passengers were prevented from travelling due to government-mandated lockdown orders.

“Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair’s T&Cs agreed by the customer at the time of booking. They state that we may refuse to carry you if you owe us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us,” a Ryanair spokesperson was quoted in the Guardian as saying.


The United States set to welcome European visitors once again

Those with families and friends across the Atlantic, or those who just want to visit the world’s most powerful nation, will be pleased to hear that the United States will open its borders to vaccinated people from 8 November.

Would-be travellers must show proof of full vaccination as well as a negative COVID test taken three days prior to arrival.

EU leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of the US’s travel ban against Europeans. They argued that the high vaccine uptake across the bloc meant the restrictions were “illogical”, the Financial Times reports.

The announcement is a major boon to airlines, as transatlantic flights are among carriers’ most lucrative routes.


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