Skift Take

Alitalia can always introduce brand new cabin structures when it's profitable, but it's the customer experience improvements which should make the real difference here.

What do you know, the new Alitalia looks familiar on the inside too.

Demonstrating smart use of capital, the airline has introduced new cabin classes which consist of a refurbishment and redress of existing cabin structures, incorporating other soft changes which harmonize with the airline’s conservatively redesigned new corporate branding.

Some of the aesthetics from the airline’s new image, as reflected in its subtle livery and logotype changes, carry over into the decor of the new cabin interiors. The newly stylized larger, more confident ‘A’ is appears on cabin panelling, and on soft trim elements like the curtains, headrests and cushions. The airline says we should expect the same contemporary new designs to feature on menu cards, onboard amenities and on the branding of inflight programming and reading material—which is itself getting a refresh.

Borrowed is the New Fresh

Alitalia has kept true to its roots by relying on Italian craftsmanship and luxury automotive design, to drive the design of its clean, modernized interiors. But the structures used for are the same as the airline’s existing cabins.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a redress. It’s a well-established practice when rebranding in the aviation industry, and, if done properly, can offer customers something new without breaking the bank. Alitalia has focused on soft product and service upgrades, not the least of which are upgrades to its in-flight entertainment–a smart move for the formerly beleaguered airline, which aims for sustained profitability.

So what is onboard? In general, nice interiors, lots of food, personalized service, nice amenities. The ’Woo-Hoo!’: new In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity.

“Seats in Business Class will be upholstered in fine leather by Italian furniture-maker Poltrona Frau, intricately stitched, and reminiscent of the interiors of luxury sports cars. Lighter secondary color shades are used to enhance the feeling of superior quality and elegance,” Alitalia says.

New Alitalia Business Class Seat/Alitalia

New Alitalia Business Class Seat/Alitalia

Alitalia describes this newly refurbished image as transformative. “The cabin ambience in all three classes is being transformed with the introduction of Alitalia’s new brand elements to cabin panelling, and on soft furnishings such as curtains, headrests and cushions. The vibrant and contemporary new designs will feature on menu cards, onboard amenities and on the branding of inflight programming and reading material, including Alitalia’s acclaimed Ulisse inflight magazine, which is undergoing a complete redesign.”

Alitalia’s New Business Class

  • Restaurant-style ‘Dine Anytime’ service, and a “personalized”, “unobtrusive” meal service by cabin crew. No more trolleys.
  • Spuntino menu, with a selection of snacks to be enjoyed throughout the flight.
  • Italian and International wine selection.
  • Meals served on Richard Ginori fine bone china and silverware.
  • A fully lie-flat Business Class seat (possibly borrowed), with turndown service on all Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 flights.
  • Bedtime beverage (cocoa?) and an appointment made for a wake-up and breakfast.
  • ‘Piccola Colazione’ quick breakfast on shorter flights.

Alitalia’s New Premium Economy Class

  • Onboard welcome with aperitif and hot towel.
  • Greater choice of meals and beverages
  • New contemporary crockery and fine bone china tableware.
  • On-demand espresso (that should definitely be a thing) plus digestifs like limoncello, amaro and grappa.
  • Snacks throughout the flight, for those who get the nibbles.
  • Pillows and blankets which reflect the airline’s new branding.
  • Frette amenity kits, including a special sleep kit on night flights with a Frette blanket and pillow.
  • New noise reduction headsets.

Alitalia’s New Economy Class

  • New selections of Italian and international meals, with a new meal tray presentation, fine wines and warm bakery items.
  • “Signature Caffè service” on long-haul flights, even cappuccino, and a selection of herbal teas.
  • Plush Frette fleece blanket and a new pillow which match the airline’s new image.

New Flight Crew Getup, Too

Alitalia tells us to expect the introduction of a new crew uniforms in 2016, with “a minor modification” made already to the current male uniform: the introduction of a navy blue and green striped tie. Lead flight attendants, male and female, also get an interim upgrade in to their look: new navy blue and red striped scarves and ties to identify their rank.

The airline also invested in today’s critical cabin product differentiators. “In-flight entertainment (IFE) and connectivity will be upgraded across the long-haul fleet,” Alitalia states, “with more entertainment options and a new guest user interface (GUI). Alitalia will install Panasonic GCS WiFi, LiveTV and 2G GSM connectivity and Panasonic eX2 IFE systems on all its A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft.”

The Bottoms’ Line

For decades, airlines have lovingly refreshed perfectly good seats, rather than make the big investments in new structures from the major manufacturers. When dealing with a new program in a hurry, as Alitalia has done in this case, it can be a successful strategy. It reduces the product delivery cycle, and of course, it lowers costs.

Alitalia says these “new enhancements highlight the airline’s commitment to providing innovative and sophisticated services and products, delivered in a contemporary, fresh, and uniquely Alitalia style.”

We’d argue they also highlight a good deal of common sense at the management level.

Airlines spend billions to acquire new aircraft and fill them with stylish radical new cabins. Etihad certainly did, but it had the cash for it. When an airline chooses this option, it’s committing to a massive investment from millions to billions—something Alitalia could ill afford at this stage.

Using money better spent on restructuring and operational efficiencies, keeping pretty while maintaining a trim bottom line, is far more appropriate for an airline which first needs to put itself together so that it can continue strutting its stuff.

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Tags: aircraft interiors, alitalia, branding, design

Photo credit: Alitalia's refurbished coach class. Alitalia

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