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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flying Alitalia from Morocco to Rhodes.


Travel Date 6th July 2013

I will continue with the trip reports on Rhodes and Crete after this. Skip this report if you aren't really interested in reading about some of the little things that cause frustration and stress while travelling.

The journey from Casablanca to Rhodes deserves mention. Anyone who has ever flown on a two-leg flight with a short connection time will understand why.

When I planned the trip I wanted to see Iberia, Morocco and the Greek Islands. I prefer rail travel and it made sense to travel by rail and ferry through France, Spain and Morocco but eventually I had no choice. The only sensible way to get from Casablanca to Rhodes in a reasonable time is by air.

After searching the various airlines and routes I eventually discovered that I could make the flight on Alitalia via Rome. Alitalia looked much more attractive as a full service airline than the various budget carriers which also had long connection times via secondary airports.
The price was only slightly more than using a no frills airline via Milan

Originally I was going to use Qantas frequent flyer miles. Unfortunately, in the six hours between checking that a seat was available and confirming with Qantas that I could use the FF miles, that seat disappeared. The transfer time of one hour and ten minutes between flights at Rome looked tight, so I attempted to contact Alitalia to discuss that. I did not want to add an overnight stay in Rome, but I was prepared to do that if necessary. Eventually I spoke to a girl in the UK who reassured me that it would be no problem, so I booked the ticket.

It was only when I printed out the booking that I realised I arrived at Terminal 3 at 16:30 and departed from distant Terminal 1 at 17:40, with a 45 minute check-in time limit noted on the ticket. That seemed to be cutting it very fine. Worse, I discovered that I would have to pass through immigration in Rome, not Rhodes, as I was re-entering the EU there from Morocco.

A few weeks later an email arrived informing me that the Rhodes flight would leave Rome ten minutes earlier. This email exchange with the Australian agent (the phone was not answered) shows what happened next. My message:
 
I am having great difficulty contacting Alitalia to discuss the booking at the foot of this message.

Before I purchased the ticket I tried to contact Alitalia. The Italian customer service numbers answered with a recorded message in Italian then disconnected. I eventually discussed the transfer time at Rome of 1 hour and ten minutes using the UK customer service number. The person there reassured me that one hour and ten minutes was adequate.

Based on that reassuring advice I purchased the ticket, which was the standard offer appearing for CMN to RHO on that day. I also pre-paid for non-cancellable hotel rooms in Casablanca before departure and Rhodes on arrival.

Now this advice has arrived by email:
**
Dear Madam, dear Sir,

We would like to inform you that flight AZ 00730 of 06/07 has been rescheduled.
The flight is now expected to leave ROMA FCO at 17:30 and arrive in RHODES RHO at 20:50.

**
That means there is now only one hour to transfer. Today I still could not speak to anyone in Italy. I contacted the USA customer service number and found I was speaking to Jason in Albania who again reassured me that one hour is OK.

I need to know whether I can have an Alitalia staff member meet me on arrival at FCO to assist me to make the departing Rhodes flight on time please? I have not been in that airport before. I will check my bag at Casablanca through to Rhodes, so I presume I will not need to collect it and re-check it. Will I need to clear immigration, or as a transit passenger do I do that on arrival at Rhodes?

There is only one daily flight to Rhodes. If, through no fault of my own, Alitalia timing causes me to miss that flight will they put me in a hotel and send me on the next day's flight for no extra charge?

Please advise. I can be reached by return email or on Australia 02-********.
***
The reply from Alitalia:
***
Dear Customer,
We will be able to provide you needed information through our Customer Center services.
We kindly ask you to contact the number +39 06 65649 to be properly assisted.
Thank you for your understanding
Best Regards
Alitalia Customer Relations

***
The number they told me to ring is the one I had tried unsuccessfully. Gee, thanks a lot, Alitalia. I decided to use Doris Day's method to handle the stress: que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.

When the day arrived I tried again at Casablanca airport to get assistance. The Alitalia agent decided to change my booking to 'wheelchair' as a way to guarantee assistance at Rome. I declined. I could just imagine how the other passengers would feel if I strode briskly away from the wheelchair once I arrived at the gate lounge.
We departed on time. This was the sequence of slowly increasing panic on arrival in Rome.
  • Rome, 16:30, zero minus 60. The flight landed on time but taxied an incredibly long way before stopping a long way from the terminal buildings. I discovered that there were no air-stairs. We all boarded a bus which waited patiently for the last passenger before moving slowly off to Terminal 3.
  • Zero minus 45. Arrived at Terminal 3 to find a long queue at the security checkpoint for transferring passengers. Apparently the Italians do not trust the pre-flight security checks at foreign airports and do it again themselves.
  • Zero minus 40. Still in the queue which has hardly moved. The man in front of me is also stressed at the delay and waving his onwards boarding pass at the supervisor. I try the same thing. We are both sternly told to wait our turn.
  • Zero minus 30. Finally through security. Followed the signs (clear and obvious, thank goodness) towards Terminal 1.
  • Zero minus 25. Encounter long queue at immigration. Only two officers on duty, but they are working frantically fast.
  • Zero minus 20. Through immigration and onwards to Terminal 1 as fast as my 66yo legs can take me; I feel like I am taking part in an Olympics walking race.
  • Zero minus 15. Reach Terminal 1 and discover my gate lounge is the farthest possible from Terminal 3.
  • Zero minus 10. Arrive, collapse into a chair – and then wait 20 minutes for a late departure!
On arrival at Rhodes I had that sinking feeling as I waited at the carousel until the arrivals lounge was deserted and my bag had not appeared. A lady then arrived to tell me it was not on the plane. Apparently it went to Athens. After half an hour filling out details on her computer she assured me a taxi would deliver it to my hotel next morning. About midday next day she rang to tell me to come to the airport to pick it up. I asked what happened to the cab? She said if I wanted it delivered it would not arrive until midnight via their delivery van. She was quite annoyed when I told her I still wanted it delivered because the airport was a €22 fare each way or a rather long bus ride from town. I advised the hotel night manager who accepted it while I slept.

The lack of interest in my timing and baggage concerns and the difficulty of phone contact means it may be a long time before I try Alitalia again. However, to be fair, the flights arrived safely and the meal from Casablanca to Rome was the best in-flight meal I have had in economy for quite a while.

Cheers, Alan