Last night we had dinner in a monastery on Sardinia, and at the table was an executive with the Eurofly Airline. He used to work for Air France and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the airline business. Across the table as we sipped the wonderful dry Sardinian wine, I asked him to tell me about how he thinks the Alitalia mess will resolve itself.

“Alitalia is the primary driver of tourists to Italy,” he explained. Many visitors who fly Air France are heading somewhere else, they might stay in France a few days, but then leave for other countries. But Alitalia brings 85% of travelers to Italy and they stay here. It’s a vital part of the tourism infrastructure, because it’s more than just an airline.

He told us about the five planes that the airline has for cargo…and that there are 360 pilots who fly just these five planes. How the pope has several Alitalia liners always ready, always gassed up and waiting, in case his holiness wants to go somewhere. He told us that the airline has been used by politicians and big government honchos as a sort of private shuttle. The unions are the killer here, he said….and KLM is never going to make another offer.

But he defended all the money that the government pours into Alitalia, explaining that other flag carriers do the exact same thing, despite EU rules to the contrary. “They pumped money into British Air, Lufthansa, Air France, they all do it, because of how those airlines are more than just companies, they are national carriers with lots of government duties as well.

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