We finally reach my final AZ flight, a short hop from Roma to Beograd. This will be my first time flying intra-European business class, let’s see how it goes. This was the second of the three flights that I had ear-marked on this trip as highlights. As a reminder, the routing is as follows:
After a good night’s sleep in Fiumicino, I took the shuttle bus to the airport. I get dumped off at Terminal 1 in the dawn’s early light shortly after 7am. FCO needs to do some updating: Darwin Airlines is now Etihad Regional. I then head into the section for international departures.
Entering the terminal, a look up at the large departures board shows that my flight is on time and is departing from Gate H18. There are also the smaller departure monitors near all the check-in counters.
This check-in line looked long, but it wasn’t too bad. I was surprised by how cheery the AZ agent was at 7am; I was expecting the worst at this hour. I’m glad she was in a good mood, because of course there were issues checking in on this EY ticket. Things get interesting when she says “Business class to Belgrade…,” which was then followed by a long pause and then “…and economy to Abu Dhabi?” Woah, woah, woah, time out; that was not my itinerary.
I then hand over my itinerary from EY. She looks at it, starts to laugh and says, “wow, you sure have quite the day ahead of you, four flights? How long is that going to take to get there?” So she did have a sense of humor and could joke about the 24-hour haul back to Nagoya. Then she agreed that I should be business class on the flight to Abu Dhabi. She picks up the phone and calls EY. Turns out, since AZ and EY are now ‘perfect’ airline partners, AZ cannot issue boarding passes for EY flights. So glad to see how efficiently EY has incorporated it’s partners… She said that I need to go to the transfer desk in Belgrade to pick up my remaining boarding passes since she can only give me the one for the AZ-operated flight, but she can check my bag all the way through to NGO. She asks me if I want window or aisle, which is a no-brainer question for a FRist. She hands me my boarding pass and wishes me a good, long day. So, there are some friendly AZ people out there, even if they are few and far between.
As I head over to security I notice this lounge in the check-in area, but decide not to go in. Instead, I head over to a long security line. It takes about 15 minutes to clear.
A look back at security, before I head up to the Terrazza Roma (fancy name for duty-free shopping).
We have quite the walk to Concourse H, but first I make a pit stop in Concourse B for some spotting by the paxbus area since you get great tarmac shots. First up is this AZ E-190 with a U2 A319 taxing in the background. An AZ A319 is next door along with another AZ E-190.
I then walk over to Concourse C, where a line of AZ tails are ready to head out on morning departures. We also have a IG MD-82 and FR B738 sitting out at Concourse C. The FR B738 has some sort of special livery for UK airport transfers.
We then head through the shopping area of Concourses C and D that is very dark and gloomy, this part of the airport has not been renovated yet. We then reach the branch point for Concourses G and H, which requires me to go through passport control since these gates are for non-Schengen flights.
Classic EU immigration; doesn’t even look at the passport: just opens it, stamps it, and hands it back to me without saying a word or looking up. We then see the sign for the AZ Lounge for gates in this area. We turn and take the stairway to heaven.
I present to you, the “Lounge Le Navi.” Entering, two AZ agents fight each other to get my boarding pass and scan me in. This is a very small lounge. There was your typical press next to the check-in counter. Inside, we have a staffed bar, which was crowded. You had to push your way in to get a drink. And we have our pitiful food option. I’m serious, that was it. Ham, cheese, and a bag of bread. On the far end were some pastries.
It was jammed pack downstairs, so I walked upstairs, where there was a small blind area with more chairs that were filled with people. I headed back downstairs and took this picture discreetly. This was the seating style seen throughout the lounge with about 40 seats in total. The lounge had windows, with a scenic view of construction. It might as well of not had any windows at all… As if that wasn’t bad enough, there wasn’t even a restroom in the lounge.
A seat eventually opened up next to the windows, so I grabbed it and here is my breakfast selection. While we are here, we will also do a document photo and corporate screenshot using the free FCO WiFi.
After thirty minutes of that disappointment, I head off towards my gate. Maybe I should have stopped in the “Special Assistance Lounge” instead, they have a smiley face logo. Reaching the Concourse H area, we suddenly see an escalator down to tarmac level. That can only mean one thing, paxbus!
I quickly stop by my gate to make sure we are still departing on-time, then wander off to do some spotting from this area.
The first thing that catches my eye is this 1T MD-82 sitting out on the tarmac (ironically, ex-AZ). In the background, we can see a TG B747 and AA B767 poking their tails out.
There are some AZ narrow bodies at the remote stands nearby, they aren’t too interesting.
In the distance, we can see two best friends hanging out: EY and LY. Since those countries don’t recognize each other politically, they have a nice buffer of VY A320s separating them. The EY B773 was the plane I could have taken directly from FCO-AUH, but I went for the exotic routing through BEG instead.
Far in the distance, I could see another AA A333 pausing its taxi right behind a CX B773 sitting at a remote stand. CX is beautiful.
Alitalia, AZ592 Equipment: Airbus A320-200 [EI-DSA, “Muoviamo chi muove l’Italia” special livery, delivered August 2006 (ex-Air One)] Departure: 9:50 (ATD: 10:23) Arrival: 11:15 (ATA: 11:26) Flight time: 1:03
Boarding is eventually called for my flight (slightly late) and it is a mad-rush, because everyone wants to be the first onto the bus… No priorities were respected although I guess it doesn’t matter for paxbus since there is no business-only bus (contrary to the SkyPriority labels on the bus windows).
I was the last one onto the first bus, which luckily meant I got jammed right up to the door, which allowed for some spotting. Like this IG MD-82 taking off and these AZ narrow bodies at remote stands. We then pass some PosteItaliane B737s and an Etihad Regional Saab-2000 in the distance.
We then arrive at this special livery, which will be bird for today. As we pull up, I’m the first one off the bus and can get a photo, before the mob storms the plane. Heading up the stairs, I take the classic shot down her side and then this sign advertising AZ’s passion (which I talked about in Part 3 of this series).
Boarding in a hoard, no real acknowledgment is made and I just head to my seat. A quick shot of row 2 (there is no row 1 for the DEF side of the plane). Seat pitch is good in the bulkhead seats, but for me it will be row 3.
Settling into my seat, a glance down the aisle shows the pitch for these seats. As always in European C, the middle seat is blocked with a little console with a place for my documents and phone. Seat pitch is not so great (worse than what I had for my economy flights in Parts 4 and 5), but for a 1-hour flight, I’ll survive. Fortunately, the person sitting in 2F didn’t recline during the flight. The seatback has your standard useless personal IFE. The C-load on today’s flight was 8/10, I was lucky enough not to have a seatmate so plenty of privacy. The Y-load also looked high, >95% since only a couple of empty seats were visible.
It's a loooooong wait for the second paxbus to arrive and finally boarding is finished. Frankly, I don't understand why a pre-departure beverage is not offered. We were sitting there for 15 minutes until the second bus arrived. At least newspapers were offered and I took a NY Times (correct date!), whose front-page stories were all about the 4U plane crash.
It is way after our scheduled departure time, and we eventually head out on our short taxi. There were 4 or 5 AZ narrow bodies ahead of us in the queue, but eventually were heading down the runway.
Wheels are up and I say goodbye to Italy. A nice view of the coastline before we eventually reach Fiumicino. The mouth of the Tiber River is prominently visible as we soar up and over the town of Fiumicino.
We bank to the left and then rise up into the clouds.
I’ll take this time to introduce the safety card aboard our AZ A320.
The clouds then break and we start to see the snow-capped peaks of the Appennines below us.
The drink carts were deployed into the Y-cabin, but we are yet to see any action in the C-cabin. I take this time to head to the bathroom. Stepping inside, oh what a surprise! The door under the sink is broken and won’t stay shut (I tried closing it three times and it kept popping open). Lavatory is so-so, nothing great. Why do ash trays still exist in lavatories when smoking has been prohibited on flights for decades?
Heading back to my seat, I see the FA prepping the cart for service, so it should be soon, right? Nope, we still have quite the wait. Meanwhile, we now reach the eastern coast of Italy and head into the Adriatic Sea. A coastal town, Pescara (as identified by Cobra), is seen as we cross into the Adriatic.
Over halfway there and still no service to be seen. I can hear him prepping in the galley. I’ll take a look at the seatback pocket instead. The dirty Griffair, Air Shopping, and Ulisse are present. There are 42 of these A320s in the AZ fleet. Also, a peak at the AZ route map for Europe showing today’s routing.
Finally! Food arrives! The tray is placed down followed immediately by pastry and drink service. I take one of each pastry on offer. Also, I ask for orange juice and coffee. As an aside, I did not know that the red crap they serve was blood orange juice at the time, so I was thoroughly pissed off when I was handed this disgusting juice again when I specifically asked for orange juice. Needless to say, the meal doesn’t look too bad. The fruit cup is okay (minus leaving the plastic lid on). I find the wet towel (“green tea” scented, which didn’t smell like green tea, I would know…) in a plastic wrapper cheap, there should be normal oshibori service. There was no tablecloth laid, although the napkin was cloth. The breads were all warm, and the cheese sandwich was really good. After finishing my meal, the FA came back through offering refills on drinks and then passed through with the breadbasket again asking if I wanted seconds, which I gladly took. After finishing my seconds, thirds were offered, but I declined only taking another cup of coffee.
At the end of the meal, NGO85 was a happy little boy. I got more food on this 1-hour flight, than I had on my 6.5-hour flight from AUH-FCO. I got multiple drink refills, and overall the service was very attentive even though it took forever for the service to start.
As soon as I finished my meal, we were well into our descent into Serbia. A look out the window shows farmland.
Shortly, we were dropping into the outskirts of Belgrade and the density of the housing below started to increase. That, and a bunch of Soviet-era housing blocks.
We then crossed downtown Belgrade, offering a great view of the city (albeit hazy because of light rain). The Church of St. Sava is prominently visible in the middle of the photo with light blue domes. As we cross the Sava River, we can see the Danube River in the distance.
Entering New Belgrade, there is a lot of project housing.
We then touch down and taxi back to the terminal, arriving about 10 minutes late. No surprise, but there is a sea of JU aircraft sitting out. Pulling up to our gate, we get a nice shot of the “Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport” sign. There were no other aircraft (other than the JU birds) at the terminal, so it was a pretty quiet morning so far.
Deplaning, our FA wishes us a farewell and we head into the jetbridge. We then step into a very dark terminal (even though the airport looked newish on the outside). The red carpet straight ahead goes to the lounge, but I need to head to the right to visit the transfer desk in order to get my boarding passes. Since we arrived late and I didn’t have boarding passes, it looked like I wouldn’t have time to enter/exit Serbia on this trip, quite disappointing, thanks AZ! It’s okay, this is a part of Europe I want to explore in the future, so I’m sure I’ll be back some day.
I’ll leave you all at this point; as we begin our layover in BEG. For those of you not interested in tourist bonuses, scroll to the bottom for the flight summary and scoring.
The tourist bonus for this flight will focus on a day-trip from Roma to the city of Orvieto in the Umbria region.
After a 75-minute train ride from Roma-Termini and a 3-minute trip up the funicular, we reach the hilltop city of Orvieto. It offers breathtaking views of the Umbrian countryside from it's old wall.
The real treat in this city (I guess the same can be said for any Italian city) is it's Duomo. Built in the 14th century, this towering structure sits prominently in the center of town. It's facade is a work of art, starting from the top where there is a mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary and a large Rose windows below it. The details on the facade are phenomenal. Inside, the nave remains empty except for a small chapel in one apse. The original painted walls are still visible. Interestingly, the striped pattern you see in the stone is just a result of painting alternating stones black.
The city itself has a slightly Germanic feel with these short clock towers, but there is also a bell tower in the city you can climb to get aerial views of the city and the countryside.
Also located in Orvieto is St. Patrick's Well (Pozzo di S. Patrizio), built in the mid 1500s. It was built by Pope Clement VII during the sacking of Rome in 1527 as a way to ensure a water supply for the city in the event of a siege. It's just over 50 meters deep with two intertwining paths for one-direction mule traffic. From the top of the well, you get great views of the Umbrian countryside.
In the afternoon, a 70-minute bus ride was made to the town of Civita di Bagnoregio. This ghost town was founded over 2500 years ago, but now only has a hand full of residents that run cafes and B&Bs. The city is famous for being the birthplace of St. Bonaventure. It's a beautiful old town situated on top of a plateau only accessible by foot. Inside you can enjoy it's historic past in eery silence (only hand fulls of tourists are there at any one time). There are also lots of feral cats laying about begging for food and basking in the sun. From the town, you can enjoy the views of the mountainous countryside this small town once controlled.
That concludes this report, stay tuned next time for a FR premiere of the new JU business class product!
Casa Alitalia Piazza de Populo
Rome - FCO
Belgrad - BEG
Finally, I’m done with AZ! After four flights with this airline, I’ve seen the complete range of possible AZ crews ranging from aloof/unapologetic to warm/kind. It’s a coin toss, and this time the crew was on the better end of the spectrum.
Cabin comfort: After three flights in this cabin, I’m not a huge fan of these seats. Seat pitch is tight for business. Manageable for a one-hour flight, but not that great. This is the only aspect of European business class that I don’t like.
Crew: No negative crew interactions this time. Welcome was absent, but the plane was mobbed by a paxbus worth of passengers, so that is excusable. Always smiled when offering newspaper, food, drinks, etc. Since only one FA in C-cabin, seemed a little overwhelmed during service, but took care of everyone so it was a job well done. Kind goodbye on deplaning in Belgrade.
Meal and catering: For a 60-minute flight, meal service was very good. I don’t like how it took nearly 35 minutes into the flight for the service to start. There was only one FA for the C-cabin and he took forever to get the service started. He offered seconds and thirds and plenty of refills, so that makes up for the delayed service.
Entertainment: No personal IFE, press was offered, and dirty inflight magazines with water damage. Natural IFE was good so I can’t complain too much.
On-time performance: Left really late and arrived slightly late (8 minutes late on a 63 minute flight, 87% of the flight time so a 8.5 rating).
NOTE: I left BEG ratings at 7.5 since I can't comment on the airport during this report.
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