Flight Review: Air Italy IG901: Milan Malpensa (MXP) to New York (JFK) (September 2018)

While we here at The Interior Review love the finest things in life, we’ll always advocate for sensible spending habits. And so in this way, the extravagant European trip (the event: Milan Fashion Week) should be capped by economical air travel if possible. We also wrote this because frankly, the lack of normal economy seat reviews on the web is concerning.

Flight Review: AirItaly IG901: Milan Malpensa (MXP) to New York (JFK)

Highs: Not a discount airline. Effortless to get a same-day ticket, well-maintained ex-Qatar Airways equipment, 2-4-2 seating arrangement is humane. Giant, soft blankets.

Lows: Not a discount airline yet the Wi-Fi barely worked, high baggage fee, advance seat selection is not free, and passengers are permitted only one glass of wine at dinner. Also, there is no individual air conditioning adjustment.

Verdict: Despite feeling a bit in the shadow of Alitalia, AirItaly is not a discount airline, but was the cheapest option for an urgent same-day departure.

Backstory

It was essential I was in NYC on September 25th, 2018. When I missed my flight (AA 199 MXP-JFK) and was promptly told the next departure was not until tomorrow, I resolved to find a flight that would depart today, since I was already at the airport. After 5 minutes of fuming and beating myself up, I resolved to make good of this. One-way flights to and from Europe are archaically expensive (Do you know why? I’m actually curious to know). So that wasn’t an option. Even AirItaly one-way was still $700.00.

I did some quick thinking. Since I booked with American Airlines AAdvantage points, I called the reservation desk and asked them to move my flight (the one I missed, was rescheduled for the next day) to 15 Jan 2019. The agent found it unusual, but she was successfully able to do it. Then I did a quick Google Flights search to find an AirItaly flight departing in about two hours on the 25th. Since I was already at the airport (and had fully intended on taking my original departure), I walked to the AirItaly ticketing desk and asked for a round trip MXP-JFK-MXP. Although I live in NYC, I put the return at 9 Jan 2019. In this way, I wasn’t throwing away a leg, and with my 15 Jan 2019 American Airlines flight MXP-JFK, I had all airfare covered for my spontaneously-planned January trip to Italy.

The ticketing agent at AirItaly was surprised I wanted a return when I showed my American passport, but ultimately had no problems issuing the ticket (a Light fare, whatever that means), which came out to just over €600, including a €33.00 commission to the ticketing agent and €50 checked bag fee (waived). This flight was not available to book online, probably because it was so close to departure time.

Is AirItaly a Discount Airline?

Well, it certainly was generous of the ticketing agent to waive the fee for a checked bag. But, doing a quick search online for a same-day flights, AirItaly was the cheapest option for a direct flight. The next cheapest option was, you guessed it, Alitalia’s $1,044.00 direct MXP-JFK. So, while €600 isn’t cheap, relative to Alitalia’s price, you’d think AirItaly was a discount airline that jacked up it’s last minute price. But the reality is, AirItaly does this ~$600-700 R/T all the time. Whether you buy it for a flight today or for departure in a year. So, in that respect, I did get a good deal. In the scope of all my direct-flight options (of which their were two), it was a good deal. Had I been willing to do some funky connections, I still would have come out on top, as flights with connections still came out to ~$800. Determining whether AirItaly truly constitutes a discount airline or not requires looking at the way they structure fees (note: in this schedule from AirItaly’s site, fees are for intercontinental flights only; domestic may be different):

  • Priority Boarding: €15.00 for economy, included in Premium and Business.

  • Seat Selection: AirItaly offers two tiers of ticketing: Classic and Light. Regardless of your choice, if you want to choose your seat in advance, you need to pay €20-€32. Choosing a seat at the check-in desk is free. AirItaly also has something called preferred seats, probably similar to American’s in which seats in favorable areas are have a fee. This is €65 online and €70 at check-in.

  • Baggage: Light (now clearly AirItaly’s Economy Restricted product) has no baggage included. €50 for one bag, additional is €80 and the rest are €150. Classic gets a free bag and additional is €80 and the rest are €150. Premium Economy gets two bags and additional are €150. However, infants get free baggage; all fares, all classes.

So, is AirItaly a discount airline? Take a look at the schedule above and think about what’s missing. Meals! Meals are included in fare price. All fares, all classes. A true discount airline charges for meals. AirItaly isn’t a discount airline, but it straddles the line damn close. Those bag fees are crazy. And the paid seat assignment is ripped right from the low-cost airline playbook. But with a bag included in Classic and above fares and meals for everyone, this is a regular airline.

Security and Boarding at MXP

So the stage was set, and I had a 1310h departure on AirItaly (IG 901 MXP-JFK) on the same day. I was asked a few questions about what I was doing in Italy and they put the funny little sticker on the passport after approved. Checking the bag was easy and the bag agent suggested I move quickly as customs was slow. It was slow, and there plenty of Italians doing that one gesture meaning “it’s crowded here”. After clearing the security, I had a quick bite and a cappuccino (sitting down, of course- this is is Italy). I went over to the gate (B04) about 20 minutes after boarding was supposed to start. It hadn’t, but while thereI went to the gate agent and asked for a window seat, which he was able to provide. At door closing, the flight was about three-quarters full.

The Interior: Airbus A330-200

As soon as I stepped on the plane, it was clear AirItaly is working hard to tell you this is our plane- no one else’s. AirItaly logos are everywhere. The purple and mint brand colors are found everywhere. The logo is on the head-rest, the food packaging, the blankets, everything in the seat-back pocket, and the IFE. It’s so prominent that you can’t really look around without seeing it somewhere. However, some of the most unusual spots gave away that this was someone else’s plane. A Qatar Airways logo on the seatbelt, Arabic and English “EXIT” signs, hand-written lavatory instructions, in Italian… I did some brief research to learn that AirItaly currently operates ex-Qatar Airways aircraft until they can get their own Boeing 737 MAX 8s (unveiled in May of this year). Also, AirItaly is 49%-owned by Qatar Airways. So, put it together.

Everyone has their preference for long-haul jets, but this Airbus A330-200 has one big upside and one big downside. Here’s the good news: It’s 2-4-2 abreast. Personal anecdote: I come from American Airline’s criminal 3-4-3. The pleasure of having room to breath on this flight was truly delightful. But, only when I could as this Airbus A330-200 does not have individual air condition controls, which was infuriating and worrying. I need the air on me to help balance the air at descent and takeoff (yes, my brain works that way). Would I trade back to the crummy 3-4-3 abreast in exchange for air control? In a heartbeat.

Regardless, every seat was mounded with a truly massive blanket and fluffy pillows (so many that the empty seat next to me was overflowing with extra sleeping material). It’s a comfortable place to be. The seats recline suitably and the IFE does pitch for comfort to counter the recline of the person in front of you.

There are universal outlets in every seat.

Airplane lavatory never had a line and the cabin lighting was dimmed and all passengers were asked to close windows to simulate the proper time movement. I was able to get decent sleep in the economy seat with the blanket and pillow supporting every inch of my body. I’m not tall nor big, so I fit just fine.

The lighting in the cabin is okay. The crew left the very bright lights (used during boarding, etc) on for too long, but the mood lighting did eventually set in until finally they turn off all the lights for a good deal of time. Some airlines have the lighting schedule down to an art. AirItaly is getting there.

Cabin Crew Experience and Meals

Announcements on this flight were made in perfect Italian first and decent English second. The cabin crew was nonintrusive and friendly. They aggressively enforced the listen-to-the-announcements-rule by asking passengers to remove one earphone/headphone during safety routine and toward the landing time (“stow tray-table”, etc.). Otherwise, they did not bother and also allowed me to snap some photos from the crew-only rows in the back of the plane as we crossed over The Alps.

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A menu was distributed about 20 minutes into the flight and contained information about dinner/lunch options and a snack before landing. They were mostly signature Italian dishes like chicken and gnocchi. I selected the gnocchi which was evenly warm (not a guarantee with airplane food). The bread was fresh from a basket passed by the crew (a very charming touch and something I’d love to see on other carriers… a cultural element of sorts- Swiss does it a bit with it’s Frey chocolates). The cheeses were also good, and the variety in the meal was satisfactory. However, I did not eat the tuna salad, as the idea of eating airplane tuna offended me.

The second meal was served about an hour before landing and was a piece of pizza and gelato, which was suitably Italian and tasty. The meal service had free alcohol and some liquors, but I was sad to find I was only permitted one glass per meal. I actually look forward to drinking a few glasses of American’s tart-as-hell red wine from that giant plastic bottle. I mean, I like, like the taste. And it doesn’t hurt that the American Airlines cabin crew know how to do a generous pour (it’s not that they want to see me drunk, it’s that they don’t want to have to come back around again).

Tech, Wi-Fi and IFE

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Well, this is an easy part. The Wi-Fi didn’t work and the AeroMobile (an in-air mobile phone service) costs about $3/min to use. The IFE is okay. It comes in English and Italian, but it is not the most responsive to touch (there is a remote just below). American (and many other airlines) have a really nice flight-progress view app in the IFE that shows the altitude, a map, time to destination- even interesting geographic details such as ocean trenches and mountain names. It is something that I find soothing and interesting to look at, and is all but missing from AirItaly’s IFE. In fact, the only details you get about your flight is compacted to a scrollbar at the top, telling you the time to destination and little else. The IFE is reasonably intuitive and features the inflight-magazine, Atmosphere, as well as many of today’s TV and movies. However, I opted to sleep.

Landing and Conclusion

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The flight was steady- only a moment of turbulence- and was not delayed, so I landed refreshed and ready to work (it was only 1:30PM ET). Overall, I recommend AirItaly if you need to book a same day flight for a reasonable price or are a big fan of this specific aircraft with it’s 2-4-2 seating. I would spring for a legacy carrier if you need creature comforts such as free luggage, unlimited alcohol, functioning WiFi, and free seat choices.