Guess what: I have just got back from an exciting holiday week in Sicily with my family. It’s not that I have seen many things I haven’t seen last year, but I think I just needed some rest, some practice to my Italian, and an exciting collection of 7 bottles of wine from fine and expensive wineries on the slopes of Mount Etna and south Sicily. In other words, we were quite happy spending time there with my younger sister and her Italian boyfriend.
Until the last day, that is.
A few months ago, when we pondered over the transportation options, we needed a solution how to get my 4-people family from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Catania, Italy, without relying on flight-starved Vilnius airport and not letting the budgets go over the roof. So what we found seemed like an ideal solution at the time: we drive to Warsaw (460 km), and then board an Alitalia flight to Milan, and then on to Catania. We were supposed to get back on connected flight via Rome. And at 100 Euro a person, that was a real bargain.
The onwards trip was rather uneventful, apart from the fact that the connecting flight was late by almost an half an hour and there was only one attendant at the gate of cramped Linate terminal against all passengers of impressive Airbus 321. The result only resulted in a mess and stampede for another half an hour during the boarding, which we almost forgot as soon as we got there.
On our way back on July 3rd, we got to Rome Fiumicino in a snap. The weather was lovely, Catania airport was relatively calm, as soon as you are past security checks, and the Airbus successfully landed just in time to park on the Fiumicino tarmac, which left us only with the routine to get out of the plane and go looking for our connection (we got a 1 hour window to the next flight), right?
Wrong. First, nobody let any of the approximately 200 passengers out, since, as they put it, "we have to wait for air stair vehicle". So we waited. People focused on switching their mobile phones and discussing usual high holiday season in Italy, which has resulted in logistic chaos in Italy as a whole and at Fiumicino in particular. After 15 minutes, the mobile air stairs were here, and we started waiting for the service bus, because probably it wouldn’t be prudent to let passengers out without anyone to pick up. I just wondered if it would have been painful to request both the stairs and busses at the same time.
We finally got out 30 minutes late, and at this point it was obvious that we need to run real fast to still catch our flight to Warsaw. So we did. All four of us, including my 4-year daughter. And imagine, how glad we where to find that we just got to the gate in time for boarding!
Oh, how seriously misled we were.
The Alitalia flight to Warsaw, operated by AirOne, failed to move from the gate in time, because "there were some missing passengers to pick up", and "some luggage issues". After half an hour, the missing passengers were seated, the aircraft was pushed back, and then pushed again forward, because we missed our time slot with Air Traffic Control (ATC) and were not supposed to stand on the taxiways. The pilot informed us that we shall start in 10 minutes, but we started in half an hour. Maneuvering in the midst of summertime traffic jams at the airport, we took off in total one and a quarter of hour later, but made up for 15 minutes during the flight.
These things can be considered just Italian character and objective circumstances, which for some reason appear to plague only that peninsula. But down at Warsaw we and a dozen of other passengers discovered that our entire luggage was missing. According to locals, that luggage never reached Warsaw, but they didn’t seem to know any more information.
After spending extra two hours in the baggage claim area, we were given a transcript of our claim and a promise that "in 5 days we will know for sure". At this note, without wine, without gourmet food we bought in Sicily and without most of our belongings we left Warsaw for a night drive back.
Now, I still don’t know where our bags are, and whether they did not catch the collecting flight because of a delay in disembarking from a previous flight. All in all, if the workers used the extra time for loading in Rome rather than pushing Airbus 320 back and forward, that just might have helped. However, Alitalia was kind to direct us to the "computerised global search system" for luggage, and so far (this is one and a half day later) it’s telling me "TRACING CONTINUES. PLEASE CHECK BACK LATER", which is a codename for "we have no idea where your bloody bags are". If we are lucky and they do what they are told to do, they will ship the bags all the way here to Vilnius. But I wouldn’t be surprised, if they said something different.
In other words, my recommendations for travellers:
– Avoid Fiumicino in July and August;
-Unless necessary, avoid Alitalia flights;
-Learn to take whatever might be needed and legal to your hand luggage.
– If you have transit airports in Italy, plan for gaps at least for 2 hours.