Italy’s national airline, one of the leading European airlines since the 1940’s.


Alitalia was started on May 5, 1947, transporting passengers and cargo from Turin, Italy, to Rome. In 1957, Alitalia merged with Linee Aeree Italiane (LAI), creating Italy’s national airline. In 1960, Alitalia had the honor of being the official carrier for the Rome Olympic Games. The airline expanded its service in 1970 with the addition of an Italy-to-North America route, eventually expanding to include airports in New York, Miami, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto.

With the opening of the Malpensa International Airport in Milan in 1998, Alitalia increased its service to include passenger flights between Milan and Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. As one of Italy’s largest airlines, Alitalia operates in 133 cities in 63 countries across Europe, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, and Asia. It offers three classes, Magnifica, PrimaBusiness, and Economy. Alitalia participates in frequent flier programs with Continental and US Airways. The Italian government owns 53 percent of the airline.

Financial Trouble

In 1997, the European Union authorized three installments of aid by Italian authorities when Alitalia developed financial difficulty. In May, 1999, Alitalia made plans to join the Northwest/KLM Transatlantic Joint Venture. The three signed a commercial cooperation and integration agreement and an alliance coordination agreement.

At the same time, Italy was in the process of building a new airport in Milan: Malpensa International Airport. The new facility was intended for use as an important hub for Northern Italy. The European Commission recommended that Alitalia move from its current site at Linate International Airport to Malpensa. According to a study done by Solomon Smith Barney, the move was critical to Alitalia’s operation in order for it to increase its share of the Northern Italian traffic to at least 50 percent.

Several European carriers protested this move, claiming that it would give Alitalia an unfair competitive advantage over the other airlines, as well as creating air traffic control problems. The Italian government temporarily delayed Alitalia’s move. Because of these delays, KLM called off the merger in May, 2000. In August, 2000, Alitalia filed suit for compensation for breach of contract.

To further complicate matters, Alitalia was subjected to two strikes. The first was in October, 2000, by flight attendants and ground workers as part of an ongoing pay dispute. The airline was forced to cancel over two hundred flights between Milan and Rome. In March, 2001, the flight attendants and air traffic controllers threatened to strike.

In an attempt to recoup its losses and renew its reputation after the merger disaster with KLM, Alitalia investigated alliances with Sky France and Swissair. Code-share agreements were formed with other airlines, such as Qantas, Japan Airlines, and Malaysian Airlines.

Safety Record

Since 1960, Alitalia has experienced nine crashes. The worst crash was on May 5, 1972, when an aircraft crashed upon approach in Sicily, Italy. All 115 persons aboard were killed. The most recent crash was on December 17, 1991, in Warsaw, Poland. There were no fatalities in this incident. Since its beginning in 1947, there have been 425 fatalities on Alitalia flights.

Other Interests

Alitalia is the parent company of Alitalia Group, which is made up of twelve companies involved in air travel and related operations. The airline has a long-standing tradition of sponsorship and support of the arts. Displays of contemporary art can be seen in Alitalia airport lounges in Rome, Milan, and New York. Alitalia also supports the promotion of Italian traditions, and contributed to the restoration of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assissi in 1998 and 1999.

Ulisse 2000 and Arrivederci are publications produced by Alitalia for its passengers. Ulisse 2000 is published monthly for passengers on international and intercontinental flights and offers articles on fashion, celebrities, science, nature, people and places. Arrivederci is also published monthly for passengers on domestic flights and focuses each month on a particular region or town.

Alitalia’s business school provides training for its managers. There is also a program for individuals who are reluctant to fly. In an effort to provide continuous improvement and customer satisfaction, Alitalia signed a training service agreement with CAE, Inc. Effective from 2001 to 2011, Alitalia will be able to utilize training devices installed at Flumicino Airport in Rome. The ultimate goal of this training center is to increase penetration into the commercial flight training market. The airline also signed a deal with Sextant In-Flight Systems for video-on-demand systems in five of its 747-400’s. In addition, Alitalia signed an agreement with Mercury Air Cargo to provide cargo handling through Los Angeles International Airport.

In April, 2000, Alitalia signed a deal with McDonald’s in which the airlines sold advertising space on one of its aircraft. Since then, Alitalia has signed similar deals with chocolate maker Perugina, luxury goods brand Bulgari, and auto maker Renault. Alitalia’s logo has even been adjusted to fit into the color scheme of the ad. The ads were priced at approximately $460,000 per plane for one year.

Other interests of Alitalia Group include airline travel services, automated ticketing services, air fire-fighting services and repair, maintenance, and overhaul operations.


  • Flint, Perry. “Roman Holiday: For Alitalia, the Last Two Years Have Been Anything but a Vacation.” Air Transport World 28, no. 9 (September, 1991): 22-26. An industry news article on Alitalia’s management in the early 1990’s.
  • Hill, Leonard. “Roman Remake: Resurgent Alitalia Hopes for Continued Profits on Low-Cost TEAM Airline Subsidiary and an Integrated Hub System with Strategic Ally KLM.” Air Transport World 35, no. 12 (December, 1998): 37-38, 41, 70. A news article discussing Alitalia’s plans—later quashed—to form an alliance with KLM.
  • Lyth, Peter J., and Hans-Liudger Deinel, eds. Flying the Flag: European Commercial Air Transport Since 1945. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998. A comparative analysis of seven European national airlines, including Alitalia. The book focuses on how flag-carrier airlines have survived trends toward globalization and strategic alliances.