Airlines typically set flight schedules and make tickets available for sale across two seasons per year – a winter timetable that runs from late October to March and a summer timetable from late March to October. This way of doing things allows airlines to adjust their schedules depending on how well flights are performing and adjust to seasonal demands, although a flight is generally considered to run year-round unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Which is why there was quite a bit of confusion over Air Italy’s new North American routes to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto from its Milan Malpensa hub. Air Italy, which is 49% owned by Qatar Airways, launched flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco this month to much fanfare, while the Toronto service is expected to follow at the start of May.
But when Air Italy posted a recently updated winter timetable, these three routes had vanished from the schedules. Was Air Italy performing so badly that it was giving up on these three destinations already? It was a plausible question considering the Sardinian airline had abandoned routes to Dehli and Mumbai just weeks after launching them.
Not so, say’s Air Italy. The carrier has now been forced to issue a Press Release seeking to clarify the situation – in fact, the airline claims, it’s North American flights to LAX, SFO and YYZ were always intended to be seasonal. A spokesperson explained that with just 13 aircraft currently in its fleet they had to “optimise” the schedule to meet seasonal demands while also focusing on core routes like New York and Miami.
Okay, that actually makes sense – the carrier currently has just five A330 dual-aisle long-haul aircraft which are on loan from Qatar Airways and an unspecified number of Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s (also being loaned by Qatar Airways) aren’t expected to start arriving until next year at the earliest. The airline has also had to ground its fleet of three 737 MAX aircraft so some schedule optimisation is to be expected.
The thing is, this was the first time that Air Italy had cared to mention that these routes were going to be seasonal. That’s either really bad communication or a case of being deliberately opaque in order to hedge their bets and see how ticket sales went. At this point, it’s becoming difficult to trust that any route Air Italy launches will last more than six months.
If Air Italy was operating all the long-haul flights it had so far announced since rebranding little more than a year ago, then this is what their long-haul route network would look like this winter season:
Instead, this is what it’s currently set to look like:
At present, it looks like Air Italy is currently swapping out SFO, LAX and YYZ for:
While DEL, BOM, BKK and ORD appear to be permanently dropped (at least for now).
On the face of it, it sure looks like Air Italy is retrenching to a similar route network it operated before its big rebranding and sudden push for greater international expansion – especially into North America.
Akbar Al Baker had talked of Air Italy becoming Italy’s true national carrier – taking over from the loss-making Alitalia. That doesn’t seem to be working out so well.
In fact, it looks like Italian officials might even be deliberately making life hard for Air Italy by awarding Public Service Obligation (PSO) flights from Sardinia to various domestic destinations to the government-supported Alitalia. The Italian-government will pay Alitalia compensation for operating on these routes while Air Italy could face making heavy losses if it chooses to go head to head with Alitalia because it has to sell tickets at a discounted rate.
There’s no way of actually knowing how well Air Italy is actually performing. As a private company, it doesn’t have to release financial or other performance data and it chooses not to do so. We can probably be fairly certain that Qatar Airways has invested a lot of money into Air Italy but its seemingly erratic decisions would suggest that investment isn’t currently paying off.