Monday, January 23, 2006

Put Alitalia out of its misery

I was visiting my parents in Milan over the weekend and I flew back to London yesterday afternoon. Happily, I was not flying Alitalia, which was on strike: on the billboard at Linate I noticed at least two flights to London were cancelled, my heart stopped for a moment before I realized they were Alitalia flights, and then relief washed over me. So easyJet is not only significantly cheaper but actually gets you to your destination.
After years of pointless discussions and constant strikes there is finally talk of letting this useless relic of the past go bankrupt:
Alitalia SpA risks going bankrupt if labour unrest continues, welfare minister Roberto Maroni said in an interview with the daily La Repubblica. Maroni said that the unions oppose the group's relaunch plan, which includes job cuts, and expects the government to block it when the parties meet on Wednesday.
He added that he 'personally' believes that a bankruptcy could be a positive outcome because it would enable a thorough restructure of the airline.
And the original interview (in Italian) is even more explicit: Maroni absolutely rules out any government intervention, particularly more funds, though he says the government is always open to meeting with the unions. I wouldn't even have gone that far: the Italian government needs to sell its 50% shareholding in Alitalia and mind its own business. If Alitalia cannot survive in the open market it will close down and private companies will expand (or new ones will emerge) to serve its routes - providing work for Alitalia's employees. No big deal - and probably cheaper for the customers, who will, no doubt, also get a more pleasant service. The last time I attempted to fly with them, about a decade ago, they called the flight late for hours before admitting that it was cancelled due to some technical problem and we had to take a train (thankfully it was only a five hour train ride). Never got reimbursed, and there are few things I am not willing to do to avoid flying with them.
I admired the resolve of the Swiss government when it refused to bail out Swissair in 2001, even though it didn't have the EU breathing down its neck, as Italy does. It was the honest, efficient and rational thing to do. When will our government follow their lead?
Oh, and one more question: why is Alitalia, which has not made a profit in five years and is strapped for cash, acquiring another bankrupt airline? Does it feel lonely in its misery?

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