Airline review: Alitalia business class, Abu Dhabi to Rome

THE PLANE

Boeing 777-200ER 

THE ROUTE

Abu Dhabi to Rome 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Skyteam Alliance 

CLASS

Business, or the optimistically named "Magnifica" class. 

DURATION

Six hours, 40 minutes. Departure is marginally late but we land a good 20 minutes early. For an airline notorious for its unpredictable departure policy, the on-time performance was actually a highlight. 

THE FREQUENCY

Up to twice daily. 

THE SEAT

There are 30 old-school pod seats in Magnifica class on the Alitalia B777, in 1-2-1 configuration. Pitch is 116 centimetres, width is 56 centimetres. On my flight, about a third were filled. I sat in 1L, which had effectively three full windows to itself. 

BAGGAGE

Two pieces of checked luggage, up to 32 kilograms each. I flew with only carry-on, which no one weighed or checked. 

COMFORT

Not a luxurious business class cabin, but adequate, with small, fixed TV screens, flat-bed reclining leather seats with an extraordinarily enthusiastic massage function, two lights and a very small amount of seat stowage space. The overall decor is drab, dove grey, ironic given this is the national airline for a country where bright colours are worn with aplomb. 

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ENTERTAINMENT

From what I could glean in the early stages of the flight, the selection of English-language movies included horror, crime, war, and psycho thrillers, and repeats of Two and a Half Men. I finally settled on the 2012 French movie The Chef, paused it three minutes in to go to the toilet and, when I returned, found it fast-forwarding uncontrollably, with the remote rendered useless. Seconds later, a member of cabin staff started clicking an empty seat's remote and after that, the system had to be restarted several times. An attempted second viewing had the same result. I gave up and, once the power started working, plugged in and tapped away on my laptop. 

SERVICE

As attentive and persuasive waiters, the staff were great: courteous, helpful and full of good suggestions. Lunch was served nearly an hour after the promised time. Outside meal times, it was hard to spot a crew member. 

FOOD

Without a doubt the highlight of the flight. For the past five years, Alitalia has won the Best Airline Cuisine award from Global Traveller. Customers are welcomed with a glass of Franciacorta, water or juice. A very light breakfast (about 8.30am Abu Dhabi time) consists of pastries, coffee and orange juice. I never, ever eat those rubbery soggy pastries on flights, but these (yes, plural) were somehow moorish. The "any time" menu offers dill marinated prawns and salmon tartare with fresh lime and caperberry, homemade lasagne layered with slow-cooked ragu, baked red snapper with a light lemon reduction served with dill mashed potatoes, zucchini and grilled cherry tomato, Italian cheese selection with fig preserves, and a light espresso cream mousse tartlet. Well, that's just what I had. The regional Italian wine list is twice as long and includes beers, wines, aperitiv and digestivs. 

ONE MORE THING

The very generous and chic Salvatore Ferragamo​ amenities are a standout: included are lotions, creams, fragrances, mints, fold-up brush, cleansing wipes, eye mask, plugs, socks and more.  

VERDICT

My partner, a staunchly proud southern Italian, just shook his head slowly and silently when I said I would be flying with "his people". It seems even the natives aren't owning up to this aspect of Italy. With its scuffed surfaces, insulation foam falling off, scratched windows and squeaky seats, the planes have seen better days, but the service is polished and helpful.

 Reviewed by Katarina Kroslakova, who travelled courtesy of Rodd & Gunn.

See also: Top notch food on a world-class flight
See also: Australia's newest Dreamliner route

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