October 23, 2021
By Joanne Natale Spigonardo
It’s hard to believe that Alitalia recently took its last flight. Alitalia had been in operation since 1947. It was a premier carrier and Italy’s world airline, with Rome Fiumicino as its main hub. Traveling on Alitalia in its hey days was luxurious even in economy class. Alitalia had excellent food on board, and white glove service. It’s sad that Alitalia has been in decline for decades, but for me it still remains very special, and one of Italy’s former treasures.
I have a personal history with Alitalia, as I traveled for the first time on an Alitalia airplane when I came to America as a five year old. I said to my Dad, I’m going to work at Alitalia one day, and I did. I worked there for 17 years and started in my 20’s. It was glamorous for me, as I always dreamed of traveling, and doing it when I was young made it even more exciting. Alitalia believed in quality, and not quantity, like many Italians believe in. It was all about the made in Italy brand, of the finer things in life. This was not the best business plan for the ever expanding travel and price challenges.
Working there was a dream come true. It was great to decide on Thursday to take the late flight out of JFK to Rome and spend a glorious weekend among the fabulous food and cypress trees. Flying standby was an adventure because you could never be sure if you would get on the flight, so those last minute whirlwind trips were for the young and free. I’m so happy I got to do it. It was truly la dolce vita!
My everyday work was stressful, as I worked with a lot of VIPs, but I got to meet many famous people like local newscasters, journalists, movie stars, and musicians. One of my most memorable encounters was with Luciano Pavarotti when he ran the Pavarotti International Voice Competition in Philadelphia. He and his entourage traveled each year on Alitalia. While I didn’t meet Pope Benedict in person, he did travel on Alitalia. Note his photo with President Bush and Laura Bush below. Like many of us, traveling on Alitalia was truly divine.
Working at Alitalia was all about style. Can you imagine getting a full wardrobe designed by Giorgio Armani? My uniform consisted of blazers, skirts, blouses, scarves, rain-coat, and camel hair coat. It was fantastic to stay at a first class hotel while being fitted by a personal Alitalia tailor in New York. I still have the many beautiful silk scarves by Versace, Ferragamo, Valentino and others, that I purchased at a discount, in the eclectic onboard boutique. It was truly a fabulous experience.
In 1999 Alitalia closed most of its 52 offices in North America, and many worldwide. The Philadelphia Office was impacted and I was without a job. As we were leaving the office for the last time, the phone was ringing, I couldn’t help but to answer the phone and help the passenger. Alitalia was all about customer service, style, and class, something that is disappearing from travel today. Working there will always remain as one of the accomplishments that I am most proud of.
About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo
Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, history wine and cuisine. She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. For more information about Joanne please visit her Linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/