Alitalia: Choosing suicide over sacrifice


Flying on Alitalia in the near future? Are you sure of that? The beleaguered Italian flag carrier’s employees rejected a deal on Monday that was set to keep the company flying. It has been hemorrhaging cash seemingly forever now, despite various investments and efforts to turn the operation around, most recently from Etihad which holds a 49% stake in the airline. It desperately needed to cut costs and revamp operations to focus on profitable operations and trim fat.

The company proposed slashing 2,000 jobs and cutting salaries by 30%. Those numbers were negotiated down to only an 8% pay cut and fewer total jobs lost. If approved the deal would have enabled a refinancing of some debt and an infusion of new cash. Without the deal the debt remains and there is no new cash. As Lucia Annunziata of HuffPo Italy describes it, the “workers have said No, choosing suicide instead of sacrifices.” This was not a close race, either. Some 87% of the 12,000 eligible workers participated in the vote and nearly every group voted no, some by massive margins. The cabin crew group in Rome voted 3166-304 against, for example. Ratios greater than 80% no were also reported from the crew bases in Milan. Ground workers were closer overall but still voted no.

Of course, this story has been written many times before. On the brink of collapse and with no options available Alitalia has managed to pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat again and again. And maybe that will happen again this time. Maybe a last minute negotiation will save the carrier.

Or maybe Etihad’s 2014 investment will end up worthless, as it failed to consider the union impact on its plans to turn around the carrier. Yes, there were challenges with competition, the European economy, and demand in general. But those things are easier to plan for and work around than unions that don’t want to cooperate with the restructuring plan. Ignoring the unions when it comes to planning such transactions is a mistake that seems to happen far more often than it should around the world (Hi there, UA/CO Flight Attendants!) and nearly every time when it comes to Alitalia in the past decade or so.

Expect plenty more drama on this front in the coming days but, for now, I would definitely recommend against booking on Alitalia for anything past this summer. Good luck.

Header image: An Alitalia 777 featuring the new livery, courtesy of the company

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

10 Comments

  1. Workers don’t think the government will let them fail. Makes sense to refuse massive salary cuts if you assume that in end the bailout will protect you like it always has. Ramifications of alitalia failing will be very bad for the government and they probably won’t let it happen.

    Of course the problem for the workers is, if the government doesn’t blink and they lose their job they will be much worse off than with 8% pay cuts. They will be working on temp contracts servicing Ryanair planes at 50% of their former salary.

  2. I am flying them next week. Am I at risk of no plane/staff that soon? Thanks for the heads up! I was planning on booking them again in the fall but will defer now.

      1. We are having a nightmare at the moment.
        Booked 30th June 2017 from Perth ((PER) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)
        PER – AUH is (was) operated by Virgin…… They have cancelled the route!
        Trying to get onto the earlier Etihad flight and have been waiting for over a week for Alitalia to issue a revert to allow the change.
        We are then flying on 4th July from Abu Dhabi to Rome with Alitalia…… Any ideas what will happen for us?

  3. I have done business with Italy and had serious, frank discussions with them regarding meeting Asian prices. Their response was that they were being presented with a choice; risk a problem in the future or “fall on their sword now”. Their response now is right out of their rulebook, no suicide decisions.

    1. In the case of EA it was the bosses raiding the piggy bank and trying to crush the unions to further profit. For Alitalia while the standoff with the union looks similar I think that how we got here is very different. There’s no Frank Lorenzo around here to contribute to the mess that I can tell.

  4. I’m flying this June. Wandering if I will be ok, or if I need to start scrambling and find another flight……

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