Note: The Italian State is providing Alitalia with a large subsidy. What the Italians do should normally be none of our business. However, the opaque nature of much spending by member states of the European Union allows me to suspect that this subsidy will come partly out of our pockets. It will also hurt British airlines.
I publish the following document to show what may be the general quality of service provided by Alitalia. It was sent at the time to the Chairman of Alitalia, and was taken up by Syed Kamall MEP. I was eventually made a piffling offer of compensation, which I decided to ignore. Towards the end of 2006, I had to choose between forgetting the matter and spending much of the next year pestering an Italian corporate bureaucracy. I think I was wise to choose the former. I have now remembered my complaint and decided to publish it for informational purposes. I believe that my experience is typical, though do please bear in mind that my identification of the officials concerned may not be accurate. SIG
Complaint: Sean and Andrea Gabb v Alitalia
Chronology of Events on 16th September 2006
On the 4th May 2006, Andrea Gabb bought a return flight to Sicily for herself and her husband Sean. The schedule was 2nd September 2006 (Heathrow in London to Fiumecino in Rome to Fontanerosso in Catania) with a return on the 16th September 2006.
She booked all these flights with Alitalia.
On Saturday the 16th September 2006, Sean and Andrea arrived at FiumecinoAirport in Rome. At 9:00am at the boarding gate, they were told by an Alitalia official that the 9:45am flight AZ202 to London was cancelled. When Sean asked which later flight to London they would be boarding, he was told to go away and listen for an announcement.
At 9:45am, no announcement had been made. However, the flight detail board still showed flight AZ202 as boarding. When Sean went back to the boarding gate, he was told by a different Alitalia official that he and his wife should go through passport control and reclaim their baggage from carousel 8, and then go into the main departure hall to arrange new flights.
When Sean asked why alternative flights could not be arranged directly by Alitalia, and the luggage forwarded without having to be reclaimed and rechecked in, the Alitalia official began to shout in Italian too fast to be understood and then closed the desk.
At 11:00am, Sean and Andrea and several other British citizens who had been booked on flight AZ202 were still waiting at carousel 8 for their luggage. No one they asked knew what had become of it. At last, an Alitalia official told them that it might have come to carousel 7, though there was no certainty in this. The luggage had come in on carousel 7, but was soaked and at least the bags had been damaged.
At 11:15am, Sean and Andrea and the other British citizens entered the departure hall at FiumecinoAirport. This was crowded with hundreds of people, all waiting for various Alitalia services and shouting in Italian and other languages. There was no queuing system in place, and the Alitalia staff present made no effort to ensure that passengers were dealt with in any reasonable order. However, Sean and the other British citizens formed a queue of their own behind a crowd of Italians and edged closer and closer to one particular Alitalia desk.
At 11:45am, Sean reached the front of what passed for a queue. He was told by an Alitalia official whose badge bore the name Rochy Luca N to move to another window, where fresh tickets would be issued. Sean and Andrea and the other British citizens did as they were told and continued to wait.
At 12:30pm, Alitalia official Giovanni Scacchi (possible employee number: 12566) arrived in the departure hall. His uniform and general demeanour suggested a degree of seniority. He rearranged the personnel at the desks and looked pleased with himself.
At 12:45pm, Sean found himself at the head of the queue again facing Rochy Luca N. This official looked at the tickets and consulted Mr Scacchi, who announced in English that Sean and Andrea and all the other British citizens should join the back of a very long queue. Despite repeated questioning in English, Mr Scacchi declined to promise that new tickets would be issued at the front of this other queue.
Sean spoke firmly to Mr Scacchi, insisting that he should sort out the chaos of the flight bookings. Andrea and the other British citizens added their protests.
Mr Scacchi responded that all the Alitalia flights had been overbooked as far ahead as anyone could discover. There was no room for anyone else. Sean and Andrea and the other British citizens should all go away and come back at more convenient times. The cancellation of flight AZ202 was a problem for everyone.
Sean insisted further that Alitalia should honour its contract and do whatever was necessary to procure flights to London. He asked Mr Scacchi to provide details of his name and employee number.
Mr Scacchi began to scream in Italian that Sean and everyone else should go away. The Italians in the queue fell silent and many did go away. When Sean continued to insist on flights to London, Mr Scacchi threatened to call the police. Sean asked if it was standard Alitalia policy to set the police on dissatisfied customers and challenged Mr Scacchi to carry out his threat. Mr Scacchi took up his mobile telephone and shouted into it very fast.
Meanwhile, Andrea looked closely at the name badge on Mr Scacchi’s chest. The details were written in small characters, and Mr Scacchi kept moving very rapidly. But Andrea managed to identify Mr Scacchi – which Mr Scacchi refused to do himself.
At 1pm, the police arrived. Sean explained to them in Italian that Mr Scacchi was wasting their time and sent them away.
Sean then turned to Mr Scacchi and asked him again to provide flights to London for him and Andrea and the other British citizens.
Mr Scacchi now became very polite and promised to do all he could to arrange replacement flights. He and Rochy Luca N made repeated telephone calls.
At last, Mr Scacchi announced that Sean and Andrea and the other British citizens would be booked into a flight to Paris and taken from there to London. He promptly disappeared, leaving Rochy Luca N to arrange the details. The luggage was checked in – with repeated assurances that it would arrive in London without further problem.
The flights to Paris and then to London were uneventful.
In the baggage reclaim hall at HeathrowAirport, Sean and Andrea and the other British citizens were called to the baggage enquiries desk. They were told that Alitalia had failed to transfer their luggage in Paris, and that the luggage therefore remained in Paris. They were assured that the luggage would be delivered the following morning to their home addresses.
The luggage was finally delivered close to midnight on the following day – Sunday the 17th September 2006. The bags were wet and damaged. They had been opened. A bottle of perfume bought by Andrea at HeathrowAirport on the 2nd September was missing – Value, £40. A Sony ICF-SW100World Band Radio was also missing – value, £240.
In view of this shocking treatment, Sean and Andrea demand from Alitalia the following:
The sum of £342.20 as refund of the full cost of the flights with Alitalia;
The further sum of £342.20 to cover inconvenience and sundry expenses;
The sum of £40 plus £240 for the goods stolen from luggage while in the care of Alitalia.
This makes the complete sum of £964.40. Receipts and other evidence can be provided on request.
On receipt of this sum, Sean and Andrea Gabb undertake not to publicise their treatment to the British media or to any of the Internet sites devoted to listing the shortcomings of Alitalia. They will also make no demand for any enquiry into the conduct of the named Alitalia executives.