Date: 19 April 2016.
Departure: 18:55 from Zürich.
Arrival: 23:45 in Tirana
Flight time: One hour and twenty minutes from Zürich to Rome, 55 minutes from Rome to Tirana.
It is time for the annual User Group Meeting. This year, the authorities in Albania have kindly invited us to host the event in the capital Tirana. I am rather looking forward to this trip, even though it is going to be only a very short visit. This will be my first visit to Tirana.
I am not looking forward to flying to Tirana though, because I am certainly not a fan of Alitalia’s. For that I think I have simply had too many bad experiences with them. With striking being a popular national pastime in Italy for one, and their hub at Rome Fiumicino a filthy hovel for another, you really do not have much of an incentive to fly Alitalia. Even so, I chose Alitalia for this trip out of pure necessity. On Tuesdays I am teaching until the early afternoon. Alitalia is the only operator to offer a connection from Zürich to Tirana that will allow me to leave Zürich in the evening, without missing a day in the office or classroom.
I leave the office just after 17h00. I think spring is finally only just around the corner. It is a warm balmy evening, which is quite amazing, given that is was really cold and misty this morning.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Journey time: 13 or 17 minutes, depending on whether you take a fast train or the suburban train.
Departs from: Winterthur.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF4.30 for a one-way ticket.
Frequency: There are seven trains an hour between Winterthur and the airport, which depart at 03, 14, 25, 28, 44, 55, and 58 minutes past the hour. The departure at 44 minutes past the hour will take 17 minutes to complete the journey. All other trains run the course in 13 minutes.
Web link: For all schedule information, including real time information on delays, check out the website of the Swiss Federal Railways at www.sbb.ch. You can also purchase tickets via the website.
I catch the 17:25 departure from Winterthur, which arrives at the airport at 17:38. My flight will start boarding at 18:20, so I will not have long to wait.
From the platform of the airport station to the centralised security checkpoint for airside access, it is roughly a 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace.
Location: Terminal 2.
Facilities: Check-in is only available at the counter in Zürich. Web check-in is not available and Alitalia does not use check-in machines in Zürich either.
Counters: Check-in is done on row 3, at the counters of DNATA.
The young man checking me in is friendly enough. To be honest, I think he is just so bored he is glad to have somebody to talk to. He issues both my boarding passes and then sends me on my way.
Location: One floor up from the main airside centre. The stairs and lift are at the far end of the airside centre, to the left and just before the escalators to the B and D concourse.
Type of Lounge: DNATA Aspire lounge.
Facilities: Bistro style tables and a variety of sofas and loungers, newspapers and magazines. There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: A selection of mainly cold dishes like sandwiches or cheese. However, there is usually also a hot option, for example soup.
Internet: At reception an access code for the internet is printed for you.
By the time I have changed some money – fifty Swiss Franks will end you up with 5000 Albanian Leks – and gone through security, there is not that much time left, so I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just spend what little time I have watching the traffic on the apron.
Priority Boarding: Available, although so many passengers are eligible for priority boarding with Alitalia that I figure I might as well not bother.
Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: 9A, window on the port side of the vessel.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 18.2 inches.
Description: The last time I flew on Alitalia’s Embraer 175, the experience was hardly anything to write home about. My biggest rant with the cabin at the time was that none of the seats were properly aligned with the windows. As a result, you either had to twist your neck backwards painfully to look out, or make due with a window half concealed by the seat in front of you.
Much to my surprise though, the cabin on today’s flight is in much better condition, in fact it looks rather attractive. The seats are fairly thin but still comfortable. They are in dark blue leather. The headrests are of bright red material, which makes for an attractive contrast. At 30 inches the seat pitch is good and there is plenty of space to stretch your legs.
On this evening’s flight, there are two rows of Business Class. The rest of the cabin is for Economy Class. The seat load is good, but there are still a few empty seats here and there.
As I board the aircraft, two things strike me immediately. First of all, the cabin is awfully hot because the APU has not been turned on. The cabin feels like a sauna. The second thing, and this is where it gets really bizarre, is that they have Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ blaring away as the passengers file through the aircraft to find their seat…
There are two cabin crew. The purser is a gentleman of Indian descent and seems friendly enough. The other cabin crew is a female in her early fifties. The only remarkable thing about her is that she has the most outrageously oversized fake eyelashes.
Okay, so the bad news is that Alitalia’s famous blood orange juice has fallen victim to Etihad’s rigorous attempts to give Alitalia any semblance of being a ‘proper’ airline. The good news however, is that they are serving proper food again and not just a packet of stale peanuts. The meal consists of:
- A small sandwich of grilled bread, filled with Mozzarella, tomato, ruccola and a pesto sauce.
- A cup of mineral water.
- A nicely scented wet wipe which smells very similar to Bulgari’s Essence de Thé Vert.
The meal hits the spot nicely. Outside the Alps provide a spectacular backdrop during dinner.
Our flight time to Rome is only one hour and twenty minutes. Thus, we arrive thirty minutes ahead of schedule. The approach is truly spectacular. First we pass right over the centre of the city, below the engine I can make out the Emanuele Vittorio monument, which looks like a giant wedding cake in the evening light. We continue on a southerly track for a while, before eventually we do a 180 turn onto the approach, which takes us along the coast. With the sun setting in the distance, the Mediterranean looks quite dramatic.
TRANSFER IN ROME
Our aircraft parks at the far end of the B concourse. From here I follow the signs for the shuttle bus to the H concourse, from where my flight to Tirana will be leaving. The transfer is pretty easy and straightforward. The journey time is roughly five minutes. Immigration is conducted in the B concourse before getting on the bus.
If there is one, I can not find it. The H concourse looks like a provisionally erected building. I am assuming the facility will close down once the new terminal opens later this year.
In the absence of a lounge, I buy myself a sandwich, a salad and a Coke Zero for EUR13.50 from the only bar available in the whole waiting area.
Priority Boarding: Not available.
Boarding for the flight is from a bus gate. The flight is completely full, so it takes three buses to bring all the passengers to the aircraft.
Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: 15F, window seat on the starboard side of the vessel.
Pitch: 33 inches on the first row, which then gradually decreases to 30 inches by row 8.
Width: 17 inches.
Description: Alitalia operates the Airbus A 320 in two different configurations with a seating capacity of either 148 in a mixed class configuration for international flights, or with a capacity of 165 in a single class Economy Class only configuration for domestic flights. However, the distinction is not always clear and often Alitalia will also use the high-density configured aircraft on international routes as well.
There are three ladies and one gentleman as cabin crew on tonight’s flight. In contrast to the crew from the previous flight, this bunch is really excellent. They are very alert, charming in a way only the Italians can pull off and they are very conscientious about safety on board.
The meal service on this flight is identical to the previous flight’s, despite the relatively short flight time of only 55 minutes. Given that it is already past ten in the evening by the time the service begins, I opt for a packet of biscuits, rather than having another sandwich.
Eventually we land in Tirana with a delay of about thirty minutes, which we incurred departing from Rome. As it happens, the Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna has just landed ahead of us. As a result, the queues for immigration are rather long and it takes about 35 minutes to reach the head of the queue.
In Tirana I will be staying at the Tirana Airport Hotel, which is right across the road from the terminal.
So what about Alitalia? As I mentioned in the beginning, I really was expecting the worst from them. In hindsight though, I must admit that they weren’t actually all that bad. More over, it seems to me that you can definitely see Etihad’s influence coming through. Somehow, the staff in the air and on the ground just seem more customer oriented.