It’s no secret that I’ve questioned the motives of Air Italy – The Sardinian-based airline that was previously known as Meridiana until Qatar Airways bought a 49% stake in the business 2017 and then rebranded it into the airline we know it as today in February 2018.
The popular narrative pushed by critics of Air Italy – most notably Delta Air Lines – is that the carrier is simply a proxy for Qatar Airways. Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta, claims Qatar Airways is using Air Italy to circumvent an agreement between the United States and the State of Qatar to open up Fifth Freedom flights and expand its presence in North America.
There are certainly a lot of similarities between Qatar Airways and it’s new Italian investment:
- It’s long-haul fleet of five Airbus A330’s have been loaned from Qatar Airways
- It’s Boeing 737MAX aircraft were also originally bought by Qatar Airways
- Air Italy also shares many similar branding similarities – such as prominent use of Qatar’s burgundy hue
- Cabin crew wear a uniform that is almost identical from the one worn by Qatar Airways’ crew
- Air Italy’s chief operating officer – Rossen Dimitrov – came direct from Qatar Airways where he served as the senior vice president of customer experience
- Dimitrov has gone on to introduce very similar service concepts to those at Qatar Airways
Most questionable, though, is where Air Italy is getting its money from. The airline is privately owned so it doesn’t need to report its financials but I think we can safely assume that Qatar Airways has injected a lot of money to relaunch Air Italy – and may well have to inject more money if the airline pushes ahead with its ambitious expansion plans.
This is where the two airlines differ…
At this point, though, the business practices of Air Italy and Qatar Airways take very different paths and it’s a strategy that really sets Air Italy apart (in a good way).
Dimitrov says he wants Air Italy to lead the industry in inclusivity, explaining the airline’s vision is to “embrace every manifestation of freedom, inclusion, the acceptance of diversity and striving for progress.”
Now that’s a vision that has arguably been very much lacking from Qatar Airways and many of its local competitors, including Emirates and Etihad Airways.
As part of this vision, Air Italy has just become the first European airline to introduce a non-binary gender option when booking flights. Other airlines have already announced their intent to introduce this option but they’ve been beaten by Air Italy in actually getting it implemented. Air Italy has also introduced ‘Mx’ to its list of available titles.
Last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents the majority of airlines around the world, approved the addition of non-binary booking options for countries that allow their citizens to have a gender-neutral passport.
Air Italy is celebrating Pride month…
Earlier this year, Air Italy raised eyebrows when it announced it would be the official sponsor of Toronto Pride – a move it said would “reaffirm its support of inclusivity and freedom of choice.”
Air Italy has even signed up comedian Caroline Reid who plays a raunchy and very misbehaving flight attendant in her alter-ego Pam Ann as an ambassador for the airline. Reid has long been a staunch supporter for LGBTQ rights and often plays at gay clubs and LGBTQ events.
The challenge now for Air Italy is to ensure these forward-thinking and inclusive policies are carried through in every aspect of its business – especially in its treatment of staff.
They might even start rubbing off on Air Italy’s minority investment partner… Although, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
I doubt this strategy will dissuade the likes of Delta Air Lines from attacking Air Italy (and it’s still an important debate worth having) but it’s great to see Air Italy pushing its own agenda. An agenda that may well challenge some people but really sets it apart.