Aircraft Type: B777-200ER
Class: ‘Magnifica’ Business Class (older generation)
Flight time: 11:12
Date: September 2015
Best for: European one-stop travellers who are happy to connect in Europe for more affordable fares.
The crowd: Even though this is a very established route, the passengers seemed almost entirely Italian.
Business or pleasure: The carrier suits business travellers, and with their imminent introduction of Wi-Fi, things are only going to get better. The long haul network is very business-centric, with very few holiday destinations.
Routes: Great European coverage, with frequent flights on most city pairs. Long haul network is getting stronger, with major cities and continents covered, and they obviously have a great link up with Etihad, expanding their reach through the Middle East and beyond to Australasia.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Millemiglia, part of the Skyteam family, it’s well suited for Italian residents. If you have a sky team partner in your own country, stick with their mileage program.
Best bits: Hands down the food. Excellent dining, and fantastic service as well.
Worst bits: IFE was a little light on entertainment offerings, and the system was a little clunky to navigate.
Alitalia 777-200ER Business Class Report
We were lucky enough to be invited to the grand unveiling of Alitalia’s new interior and livery back in June. However, on a recent trip to São Paulo, we wanted to give the current business class product a try before it was phased out across the fleet. As of July, the carrier has introduced an improved dining service, offering ‘dine when you want’ menus and food served direct to the seat, rather than using the older trolley service. Travelling from London, we were able to experience the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow and a short hop across to Rome before the long-haul overnight flight to Sao Paulo Guarulhos airport. Alitalia is very well connected for Europe to South America flights, and with prices being fairly affordable, its a good one-stop option to São Paulo.
On the Ground
On arrival at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 the check in queues were fairly non-existent and business class passengers were able to take priority over economy passengers due to a dedicated lane, decked out with a red carpet.
With a warm welcome from the staff, we were quickly handed our boarding passes and our bag was checked-in the whole way through to São Paulo. With a two hour connection time, we were comfortable the checked bag would make it the whole way. Next to the check-in desk was the security channel. Passengers in business class are entitled to use the Fast Track lane, which in our previous experience has always been hit and miss.
This time the Fast Track was excellent, and we were airside within 10 minutes of arriving at the airport. As the connecting flight left at 4pm, the terminal was fairly empty, with only an Etihad A380 taking most of the passengers from the terminal, as well as the usual KLM and Air France shuttle flights.
The very spacious SkyTeam lounge, situated opposite gate 10, sits on top of the Etihad lounge, and offers two floors with plenty of seating as well as self-service buffet and drinks bars. On the ground floor, there is more light from the large picture windows, with a great view onto the Apron and the 27L runway threshold.
There best seats are the ones next to the windows, which offer tables and power sockets, however there are plenty of other options. The lounge has been open for a few years now, and is starting to show its age a little compared to some of the newer lounges open in Heathrow. That said, we like the living walls, and sweeping curves that adorn the lounge, and a nice touch is the Clarins spa in the lounge, which has two treatment rooms and offers complimentary facials and basic massages for guests of the lounge – we recommend the facial treatments.
The food offering was fairly basic, with a mix of hot and cold dishes, along with a well stocked self-service bar with a range of wines, spirits and champagne. As most SkyTeam flights are just a short-haul flight from Heathrow, the lounge is perfectly stocked for a short wait before the flight.
The Short-haul connection
Unfortunately our short-haul flight to Rome was delayed by 55 minutes, meaning that our connection time in Rome was only an hour, giving us just enough time to get from one aircraft to the other, and sadly not enough time to experience the Rome Fiumicino lounge. After boarding the A321, we sat in Row 1 of a three row first class cabin. Alitalia offer a 3 x 3 seating in their narrow body fleet (apart from the 2 x 2 embraer seating) and business class passengers can enjoy a vacant middle seat, which is converted into a cocktail table. Leg room is decent, and the service was very personalised, partly due to their only being three guests.
The food on offer was very tasty, it was a simple continental cold cut meats, warm breads and melon. There was a full bar service also on offer. It’s fairly traditional fare for a trans-European business class flight, but it was very tasty. After landing, we had a shuttle-bus take us to the terminal, whereby we quickly passed through security and headed to the G gates where the flight to Sao Paulo was departing from.
On boarding the 777-200 through the L2 door, you are greeted into the heart of the business class cabin, with seats both to the fore and behind the door. On both the A330 and B777, Alitalia have opted for the staggered forward facing Sogerma Solstys seats, which have been reworked by Alitalia for their new cabins, but the hard-product is virtually identical in both. The 777 cabin doesn’t feature the mood lighting of the A330, and the general effect of the cabin whilst boarding in the evening was fairly standard. There were no patterns on the bulkheads, and there was a basic dark carpet, leaving a fairly unbranded environment.
Opting for a seat in the forward cabin, the cabin felt small and intimate, and the seat configuration meant that it didn’t feel overcrowded. The seats are in a neutral grey tone, which was very smart and sophisticated.
The main business class galley has been converted to include a walk-up bar which is lightly stocked on the flights to include water, snacks and ice, however snacks and drinks are constantly on offer from the cabin crew.
The 777 offers two toilets, one at the front, and one in the middle of the cabin. They were nothing special, especially considering the new A330s toilets have been redesigned to be more appealing and sadly no branded amenities were on offer, just Alitalia towelettes.
We have always had a fondness for the Sogerma Solstys seats, which are spacious, private and well-designed. The seats are distributed in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, almost all the seats are private, with only the centre seats offering a ‘Honeymoon’ configuration for passengers wanting to travel together. The most private seats are the window seats, which are positioned away from the aisle and any passing foot-fall accidentally brushing against you as you sleep.
The seats offer both a large table which can be folded down for dining on, and also a side table, which is perfect for drinks, laptops, magazines etc. Situated on the side table is both a magazine rack and a personal reading light that can flex to your needs. The seat can be reclined into a variety of positions and features a massage function that is fairly powerful.
Once sat down in the private suite-like seat, in front you will find a fairly large TV screen (sadly not touchscreen), a large ottoman which acts as an extension of the seat to form the bed, and underneath more storage for shoes or other personal effects.
When fully reclined the seat turns into a comfortable bed at 78″ long. Alitalia offer Frette brand bedding for their Magnifica class passengers. Including a very warm duvet and thick pillow (although we required two pillows to be comfortable) We managed a very comfortable 8 hour sleep on the flight, showcasing the comfort these seats provide.
Sadly, Alitalia’s entertainment offerings are the let down of the product. Thankfully the airline offers AVOD, meaning the small selection of movies and TV programs can be watched whenever you want, however, the list of entertainment is a little small, and the user interface, clunky and outdated. We know the carrier is adding a new IFE system in its retrofitted planes, meaning a more advanced IFE interface, and new seat controls. The screen was good, and there were more films in Italian, which will of course suit Italian travellers, however International travellers may find the options a little light.
Another small issue we had was with the hand controller, which is situated at elbow height and right next to the arm rest, meaning our elbow hit the stop button a couple of times during the flight, meaning having to start the films again and fast-forward to the position we left the film at.
The airline offers international newspapers and magazines before take-off, and the current magazine Ulisse, is ok and has a lot of content, although the design is a little dated on the inside. No doubt it will be updated to match the new brand shortly. Weirdly, and this can just be due to aircraft rotation, our IFE and magazines were still August programming, although the flight was almost 4 days into the following month.
So from the not-s0-good to the great. Alitalia’s star performance lies in its food. This is a flying foodie paradise, and whilst the short haul flight was impressive, the catering on Alitalia’s long-haul aircraft is phenomenal. No wonder it keeps winning awards. As soon as we took our seats, we were offered a glass of Franciacorta sparkling wine.
The menus for both food and drink were sat on our seats, featuring the new airline branding. Just before take-off the cabin crew came around to take our order. As well as offering a wide range of snacks mid-flight, such as rustic sandwiches, cheese selections, chocolate cake and fruits, the main attraction was in the shape of dinner and breakfast.
The Dinner Menu
Beef bresaola and goats cheese mousse infused with fresh herbs accompanied by a mosaic of fruit mustard jelly.
Crepé cannoli filled with smoked sword fish, citrus zucchini and cured salmon
Potato ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach coated in a rich buttery cabbage sauce, light sprinkle of parmesan
Pasta tossed in a blended San Marzano Organic PDO tomato and basil sauce finished with grated parmesan
Braised chicken supreme filled with field mushroom topped with a borage crust, accompanied by chicken jus
Prawns wrapped in fillet of turbot served with a light field greens infused reduction
Parmesan gratin potato cake, sautéed spinach and butter glazed carrots
Crisp green side salad
Farm style selection served with fresh fruit and crudités
Selection of seasonal sliced fresh fruit
Traditional rich layered chocolate cake accompanied by berry coulis
Espresso, brewed coffee and tea selections
The Italian Breakfast Menu
Fresh sliced seasonal fruit
Warm artisan bakery selection and preserves
Savoury pancakes with scrambled egg and cheese, served with Luganega sausage and cherry tomato.
Shortly after take off, an aperitif was served, and enjoying the sparkling wine so much, we opted for the Franciacorta again. It was served with a small plate of mini-quiche and fresh vietnamese prawn skewer. Within 10 minutes the cabin crew effortlessly dressed the table with a white linen table cloth and prepared the table for the starter.
We started with the beef, which was very tasty and quite filling. The meat was tender and melted in the mouth, and the goats cheese was lovely. The starter was served with a variety of warm bread rolls too. To go with the food we swapped to a delightfully light Sauvignon white.
Shortly afterwards the Primi course was offered. We asked the crew which was the better before we took off, and we weren’t disappointed when the recommended ravioli arrived. The taste was fantastic, and it somehow was perfectly cooked. The presentation was to an incredibly high standard too.
Already stuffed, but still wanting to go on, we were presented with the chicken course, which looked as if it had come out of a restaurant kitchen, rather than an aircraft galley. Everything was hot, perfectly seasoned, and the chicken moist and tasty.
Now full beyond belief, we begrudgingly turned down the cheese course, instead opting for the chocolate cake, which again, was moist, decadent, and perfectly balanced by a tart berry coulis.
Before heading to sleep, we were offered a green tea to help us get to sleep, which was the perfect finish to a culinary experience at 34,000ft. Just as we finished dining, the lights were turned down in the cabin, and we made the bed ready for sleep. As we climbed in, the cabin crew asked if we wanted to be woken for breakfast. Knowing we had a good few hours sleep ahead of us, we opted to be woken and were thrilled when we did.
Approximately two hours before landing, we were gently woken up, and offered a hot towel to freshen up. At the same time we were asked if we wanted an espresso. It was perfect, rich and strong, and the exact pick me up that was needed after a long peaceful sleep. Within 5 minutes, the table was once again laid, and breakfast laid out before us, including warm breads and pastries, fresh fruit and an egg and sausage dish which we promise, was tastier than it looks in our photos.
Alitalia offer some great amenities. From the Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, which includes eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, and Salvatore Ferragamo eau de toilette, lip balm, shaving foam and moisturiser along with a razor for men. Females get their own version with slightly different contents. As well as the amenity kit, passengers get slippers, and noise cancelling headphones which are pretty decent.
We weren’t fully sure what to expect from Alitalia before this trip and their long haul product. However, with our recent experience we were blown away by what is a leading long haul product. Whilst the hard product is strong, and equals the product you would find on Etihad or any other leading international carrier, its the service and dining that made our experience with Alitalia all the better. So we were frustrated with the IFE, but the roll out of the new hard product addresses this, and change is already underway. The introduction of the dine-when-you want, and at-seat service makes the world of difference to the Alitalia experience. With the addition of the new seats, cabin interiors and uniforms which will come out next year, Alitalia have added a little bit of Italian style to the skies, and the skies will be all the better for it.
The Big Picture