Monday 16 December 2019
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Businessinsider - 30 days ago

I flew in business class on Italy s struggling national airline, and was blown away by the comfortable seat and almost-perfect dinner

I recently flew Alitalia from New York s JFK Airport to Rome in business class after I scored an incredible deal, and managed to stack two different discounts on the flight. I was impressed by the onboard food and drinks, and the comfort of the cabin on the Boeing 777-200 the airline has a fun Italian flair that lends itself to a great experience. There were a few minor flaws, like a poor in-flight entertainment system, but I would absolutely choose the airline s business class again, if I get the chance. Sign up for Business Insider s transportation newsletter, Shifting Gears, to get more stories like this in your inbox. Visit Business Insider s homepage for more stories. Business class is obviously the ideal way to fly, but for most of us, it s completely unaffordable. However, sometimes, you ll get lucky and manage to snag a great deal that makes a flight only a little more expensive than coach (or you can get a seat for free or cheap by using frequent flyer miles). By using Google flights and searching multiple dates, nearby airports, or routes, you might be able to stumble on a deal. There are also a handful of blogs and services that highlight the best premium cabin sales, including a new Premium Plus subscription service from Dollar Flight Club. I went to Europe for vacation this fall, and started in Germany. When I was looking for flights, I serendipitously learned about an unannounced sale on Delta and its partners that brought business class tickets between New York and Berlin below $1,900. Plus, because I have an Amex Platinum credit card, I could save a few hundred more by booking through Amex s International Airline Program, a benefit that offers discounts on premium tickets with certain airlines. While that was still more than I would normally spend, I decided to go for it because of one other benefit: I was close to requalifying for my frequent flyer status with Delta, and by flying in business class, I d earn 50% more qualifying miles on the flight. The value I ll get from the status benefits made it worth spending a bit more up front for this flight. I booked my outbound flight on Italian airline Alitalia. Although the airline has been on the brink of bankruptcy for a long time, and is still in a tenuous financial situation, I d heard good things about the on-board experience in both business class and economy. My flight from New York left at around 5:00 p.m., and I m happy to say that the experience lived up to the airline s reputation. Keep on reading to see what it was like.SEE ALSO: I flew in Delta s extra-legroom seats to Iceland, and the flight was fine, but the extra space comes with a catch Alitalia flies from Terminal 1 at JFK, which often feels like a catch-all terminal.

I got to the airport super early, as Terminal 1 can have horrific lines at security (I ve been burned before). While it wasn t terrible on this particular day, it was still worse than I m used to elsewhere.

Alitalia had a particularly long line, but since I was in business class, I was able to check in at the priority counter.

I also got to use the priority security line. However, Alitalia doesn t participate in TSA PreCheck, so I wasn t able to keep my shoes on and my bags packed.

As soon as I was through security, I went to Alitalia s lounge. It was a little tricky to find, since most of the signage is blocked by seats.

The lounge isn t the flashiest, but it s a comfortable enough space with lounge seating like couches and chairs ...

... And restaurant-style table seating.

Off to one side, there s a snack bar with a handful of packaged goods ...

... A machine that produces watery coffee ...

A self-service bar ...

... An empty heating tray ...

... And a refrigerator with juice, water, and soda. There was also Budweiser — I would have expected an Italian beer like Peroni, but who knows.

There was another refrigerator with pre-made sandwiches.

A little while before boarding, they also brought out pizza for the bar.

I m a bit surprised an Italian airline lounge was willing to call this pizza. It was really just a bland bread with bland sauce and rubbery cheese. Fortunately, the food experience was about to get way better.

Boarding was announced in the lounge, so I went over to the nearby gate. It was a bit of a mob scene, but somehow still quick.

Here s my home for the flight to Rome: 5L, a lay-flat seat that turns into a flat bed.

The business-class cabin has a 1-2-1 layout, which means each seat has direct access to the aisle.

Each of the business-class seats has a small side table, so the rows are staggered. That means that some seats, like mine, have the the table between the seat and the aisle, making it feel more private when you go to sleep (more about that later) ...

... And others — like the seat in front of me — are directly against the aisle and have the table on the inside, in this case, against the window. On some planes, those seats can feel a lot less private and make sleeping a bit harder.

Each seat had an in-flight entertainment screen above an ottoman.

The tray table swiveled and folded up, staying unobtrusively out of the way when you don t need it.

There was an armrest to my left, next to the side table, with a small storage space underneath. It was perfect for a water bottle and headphones.

On top of that table, there was an adjustable reading lamp and a pocket with a few magazines.

There was an ottoman in front of the seat, which served as the end of the bed once a passenger lays the seat flat. There was a shrink-wrapped pillow and comforter on the ottoman.

Underneath that, there was a small cubby for shoes.

There was also a nifty coat hook. Sometimes in business class, flight attendants can put your coat in a closet up front, but honestly this was more convenient.

Overall, a really comfortable setup. Sadly, though, there weren t individual air nozzles. On the plus side, the cabin was kept nice and cool.

A few minutes after I sat down, a flight attendant came by and offered me a glass of Prosecco or orange juice. I sat back and enjoyed it while passengers finished boarding.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant brought over a wine list and a dinner menu ...

... And a plastic-wrapped business class amenity kit.

It had all of the essentials, like an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, and ear plugs.

I flipped through the wine list ...

... And then the full menu, which included snacks, cocktails, breakfast ...

... And dinner. The flight attendant came by to take our dinner orders before we took off — I also asked for a pre-dinner aperol spritz, because when in Rome. He asked if I wanted to be awakened for breakfast before landing — I said no.

Pretty soon, we watched the safety video, pushed back from the gate, taxied to the runway ...

... And about 15 minutes later, we took off.

My in-flight entertainment screen was only showing static, and the remote wasn t doing anything. It started working about 15 minutes later.

A few minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants came through the cabin with hot towels.

Right after that, he brought my aperol spritz with a dish of warm mixed nuts.

I m pretty sure I was the only one on the plane to order a cocktail ... but I don t even care, it was delicious. Trendy drinks on a plane, what s not to love?

As I was sipping on spritz, my entertainment screen started working.

It was pretty outdated and clunky, and the selection wasn t great. I ended up watching something on my iPad instead.

It s worth noting that there were noise cancelling headphones provided, although, since I was using my own tablet, I used my own headphones.

About 40 minutes into the flight, my table was prepared, and my appetizer came out. I had initially asked for the potato flan appetizer, but apparently they had all been ordered already. I guess it was a popular choice for the front few rows.

I got the bresaola roll with goat cheese instead, and I was actually happy that they didn t have my first choice. It was phenomenal.

For the pasta course (remember: Italian airline) I had the basic, but perfect, pasta with tomato sauce and cheese.

For my main, I had the beef fillet with mushrooms. Since the menu listed suggested wine pairings, I was also enjoying a delicious red.

Beef can be a challenge to do in the air, but Alitalia pulled it off. It was maybe a bit more done than I d prefer, but — despite the lighting here, which doesn t show it well — there was still some pink in the middle, and it was tender and tasty.

For dessert, I went with the cheese plate, because who doesn t love eating a ton of salt during a flight?

I was thoroughly impressed by the dinner on Alitalia. The only blemish was that the roll came with fresh buttery taste spread instead of ... butter. That s a tiny, nit-picking little fault, though.

After the flight attendants last pass through the cabin with refills of water and wine, the lights went down and it was time for bed.

My seat lowered into bed mode with the push of a button. It was only 7 p.m. in New York, but I got into bed, watched another movie, and eventually managed to fall asleep.

I slept for a few hours, though it was such an early flight that I never fully fell asleep. I woke up once or twice during turbulence, and then woke up on my own as the flight attendants were serving breakfast.

We were about 90 minutes from Rome, so I asked for breakfast. I had a couple of pastries, a fruit salad, and, most importantly ...

... Coffee.

We landed at 6:15 a.m. Rome time, about 35 minutes ahead of schedule.

And with that, I headed to a nearby lounge to wait for my connecting flight.

I was thoroughly impressed by Alitalia s business class. Premium cabins are important for airlines bottom lines. You can score the tickets for relatively little during flash sales or by using miles, but most of the seats are sold to business travelers and high-earning leisure travelers for full price, offering airlines dramatically higher margins than coach seats. It s important for airlines to get the business-class experience right (and first-class, if they offer it), to attract clients. Alitalia was a fun, great experience. The food on board was fantastic, and the airline felt representative of its home market, rather than being fairly generic. And, most importantly, the seat and bed were comfortable. The food in the lounge was sub-par, but I really didn t mind as I saved room for dinner onboard. I would also caution anyone flying the airline to bring their own entertainment, as I found the inflight system clunky, and it had a relatively poor selection. Despite those small issues, and its extensive financial difficulties, I felt the airline did a good job, and I wouldn t hesitate to fly it again.

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