Why I hate Alitalia

Beware Iberia and shun Alitalia my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

    Some time ago, in Washington DC, I made a reservation by telephone with Genitalia (It's the Italian national airline, you know?) to travel from Washington DC to Madrid, Spain, and they told me the reservation was done and I could buy the ticket at any travel agency but, when I went to a travel agency, they told me they could not find the reservation on the computer. So, I went to the Alitalia office in downtown DC... The only person there was a man who seemed to be quite lost. After some time of trying to figure out what happened he told me the reservation had been accidentally deleted from the computer system.
    "Fine", I said, "I still want my ticket so do whatever it takes". He said the computer would not accept it and he did not have the authority to issue the ticket overriding the computer. "So call someone who does have the authority" I said. Well, for about an hour he tried calling their offices in New York and Italy without being able to resolve anything. I told him I'd come back in another couple of hours and when I did he still had not resolved anything. Their disorganization seemed incredible and finally I gave up and traveled with another airline.

    I should have learnt my lesson but... January 2001 I was in Madrid looking for an airline ticket to Hong Kong and a travel agency had a very low fare with Alitalia. I told them about my earlier bad experience but they reassured me and I bought the fare. Big mistake! I had to change planes in Milan and it seems my luggage was misdirected during this layover and they lost my luggage which never arrived in Hong Kong.
    Their handling in Hong Kong is done by Cathay Pacific. I have flown several times before with Cathay Pacific and even written them a letter of thanks and commendation but this was an entirely different experience.
    My final destination was not Hong Kong but Guangzhou, China. So I continued there without my luggage. For the next ten days I had to keep calling Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong daily but they did not have a clue. They made me go to the Guangzhou airport three times for nothing. They blamed the whole thing on Alitalia.
    This was a caqui-green, military-style, duffel bag with my name written with ink in big letters, right on the canvas. Even if the airline label had fallen off they should be able to see immediately that the person whose name is on the bag has a claim for lost luggage.
    The entire experience was a frustrating waste of time. Every time I called Cathay Pacific in HK they would just say "Oh, we'll send another telex". I could clearly see that these people had absolutely no interest in finding my bag.
    They had located it in Beijing the next day. It seems it had been sent to Beijing by mistake. Well, they managed to lose track of it again. They said it had been sent to Guangzhou but I went to the airport there and they told me it had not been sent. After this they lost track of it again. They had no clue and no interest. they told me it had been sent back to Milan... or maybe to Hong Kong.
    The Chinese were celebrating the Chinese New Year and none of them could care less about a gwailo's luggage. I told them many times, "you cannot miss it: duffel bag, dark green, my name written on it in big letters". They once sent me to the Guangzhou airport to get a bag which turned out was green. That is as far as the resemblance went. The other times there was no bag to even look at.
    After almost two weeks of wasting time talking to Cathay Pacific, after much trying for many days, I managed to get through to Alitalia. They seem to have a very small operation in Hong Kong. I told the lady I had called for many days and either they did not answer the phone or the line was busy. The exchange that followed is one of those unforgetable experiences. I guess you have to be Italian for this to make sense:

    Me: I have been calling for several days and I could not get through to you because either the line was busy or no one answered the phone.
    She (with tone of incredulity): When did you call?
    Me: Well... yesterday all morning, and nobody answered.
    She: Oh, but yesterday we were not here because we are only here on the days when there is a flight from Italy.
    Me: Well, the day before I got a busy signal all morning.
    She: Oh, but that is because the day before yesterday there was a flight and when there is a flight we are terribly busy.

    I guess if you work for Alitalia this makes perfect sense. She sounded like "You know, if it weren't for customers like you bothering us so much, maybe we could do our jobs". In all fairness though, I have to say she was the only one who was of any useful help.
    I told her the story, I told her the people at Cathay Pacific had already told me they had given up trying to find it and to file a claim. I did not want to go over the entire thing again, just ask her if she could do me one favor.
    They had lost my luggage, located it again, lost track of it again etc. Even though they told me it had been sent to Milan, or Hong Kong, or GuangZhou, I had a very strong suspicion it was quietly lying in Beijing untouched since day one. Could she please call (not fax, not telex but call) Beijing and have someone go into the room where the luggage is held and look for my bag, which has my name written on it with big letters??
    Less than thirty minutes later she called me back and told me my bag had been located in Beijing and would be sent to me at the Guangzhou airport the next day. The reason it had taken two weeks to find my bag was because no one up to this moment had cared to get off their lazy butt and make a call. They just "sent another telex" which was ignored just like all previous ones. The next day I finally picked up my bag at the airport in Guangzhou.
    During the two weeks the luggage was lost, they did not offer any kind of help or compensation. Soon after I arrived in Guangzhou, all my money was stolen and I was in a very tight bind for a few days because, also due to the national holidays, I could not get more money sent from my bank.
    Anyway, when I got back to Madrid, I wrote them a letter of complaint asking for some compensation. I enclosed a photocopy of the ticket and boarding pass. Two weeks later I get a letter from them requesting I send them photocopies of: (1) the ticket, (2) the baggage check and (3) the complaint form I filed. Now I know being an idiot is a requirement for any job at Alitalia.
    I called the man on the phone and asked him how it had taken him two weeks to answer and he said he had only received my letter a few days before so it must have been delayed in the mail. Great excuse... except I had taken my letter in hand to the Alitalia office!
    So, I tell him, "you are asking for a photocopy of the ticket, which I already attached to my letter". He said something about the photocopy not being very clear but it was obvious to me he just hadn't a clue. "And you are asking for the baggage check, which I was required to leave at the counter when I filed the claim, and you ask for the claim form which I was not allowed to keep once I was given my bag, so you are asking for two documents which I asked if I could keep and I was not allowed to". As the conversation progressed I got really pissed at him and told him I would talk to the travel agency. I called the travel agency, who have been quite nice about the whole thing, and they said they would talk to the guy, which they did.
    Another two weeks go by and I get in the mail a form so complicated it took me a while to figure it out. These guys just love bureaucracy. They are so busy shuffling these stupid forms (and customers' complaint letters, I guess) that they have no time to get passengers and luggage to their destinations.
    The way I understood it, in the form I renounce all my rights and claims and they say they will send me a check for... an amount so ridiculous it is laughable.
    I immediately sent them a fax telling them why I found their proposal ridiculous and could they try something better? By noy they are just ignoring my letters and faxes. No reply. Finally, on June 25 (five months later!) I got a bit under $200 from them.
    This is the kind of service they give. Recently I saw in the news a ranking of the airports in Europe and the two worst airports were Milan and Madrid. Gee, I wonder why...
    I do not think I will be flying with Alitalia any time soon because

Alitalia sucks!



Autor: Alfonso Gonzalez Vespa