Airline horror story of the century

alitalia_a320Alitalia Airbus A320-214 “Libeccio” (registry I-BIKL) at Malpensa International Airport, Milan.  From sainz‘s Flickr photostream.

Mr. Russon of Quotulatiousness links to one of the worst—actually no, it’s the worst—story of modern airline malfeasance I have ever read.  Journalist Michael J. Totten has an unforgettable journey to the Eighth Circle of Hell, which is apparently located in Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport.  A wildcat strike there stranded thousands of passengers for days.  Alitalia’s staff made no genuine attempt to placate the stranded passengers, nor to live up to their statute responsibilities.

Instead, they took the path of least resistance.

ITALY-AIRLINE-ALITALIA-STRIKE An Alitalia man at the counter – friendly for a change! – booked us on what he said was a British Airways flight to London.

“Is this actually a British Airways flight?” I said. “Is it operated by British Airways or by Alitalia? I can’t be booked on another Alitalia flight.”

“I understand,” he said. “Yes, it’s a British Airways flight, and it’s operated by British Airways.”

“You’re sure?” I said. I had a hard time believing anything anyone at Alitalia told me, even if they were convincing and friendly.

“I promise you, it’s British Airways.”

He lied.

It was an Alitalia flight, as I learned when I got to the check-in counter.

Sofocles, Tatiana, and I checked in together. We were basically traveling together at that point. When we got to the front of the line, we handed our tickets to the man at the counter.

“Where did you get these?” he said.

“Oh my God,” Tatiana said.

“From the rebooking counter,” I said. “Is there a problem?”

He didn’t say anything. He just tapped a few keys on his keyboard.

A woman worked the window next to him. “How many flights have you cancelled today?” I asked her.

“None,” she said.

“They’re lying again!” Tatiana said.

“You cancelled ours to Chicago,” I said.

I live in the UK, a man had said to me days ago. But I was born here in Italy. These people will do nothing but lie. Trust me. I know how this country works.

My God, he wasn’t kidding.

We didn’t have much time to get to our flight, assuming it would even take off. According to the Departures screen, it was already boarding. I was amazed to see that it was boarding since it turned out not to be a British Airways flight, after all.

I looked at my watch.

“We need our boarding passes,” Sofocles said and tapped his foot.

Suddenly the man who was processing our tickets stood up, put on his coat, and walked off the job, without handing us boarding passes and without saying a word.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I said to his back.

He turned around and glowered at me as he walked briskly away.

“We’re screwed,” Tatiana said.

One Alitalia employee after another had walked off the job right in front of me. In a way, I could hardly blame them. The airport was a zoo full of screaming people. Alitalia had clearly reached a tipping point, as had its passengers.

— Michael J. Totten.  “The Worst Airline Company in the World“, March 13th, 2009.

Unbelievable.

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