Alitalia is the number one air carrier in Italy and one of the most recognizable airline brands in history, both domestically and internationally. Originally state owned, the airline turned private after some major financial turmoil, which saw the restructuring of the entire company as well as the creation of a new brand identity, although the same logo and colors were maintained. Since the beginning of Italian aviation history Alitalia has been the pride of the country, an international symbol of a nation that wanted to put War World II behind it and focus on an economy that was booming; giving new hope and providing new opportunities. The first fleet of Alitalia aircrafts were already elegant, with the crew and pilots traditionally dressed in the same fashion to reflect the high quality craftsmanship Italy is known for.
Alitalia dominated Italian airspace for decades, and very soon after its creation, it started offering international routes that brought business people and tourists to Italy, while allowing Italians to start traveling abroad, avoiding long maritime trips. As every day air travel took off across the world, airlines became symbols of modernity, style and class. Travelling in an airplane was a sign of status that not everyone could access. In Italy, Alitalia was the company that represented all of these things, to a generation smitten with aircrafts and air travel.
As the years went by, the tail of Alitalia’s planes became a true Italian symbol. Not only does the logo recall the Italian flag, but also stirs up memories in many Italians, who emigrated between the 1950s and the 1970s. The airline was born in 1946, but flourished during the 1960s, when Alitalia switched from propellers to jets, and planes became more similar to the ones used today. Besides the flying services, Alitalia also became very famous for its food and wine selection and the elegance of the crew’s uniforms. Not every airline can claim uniforms designed by Valentino himself.
With business booming, Alitalia created a spin-off company called ATI. The ATI planes had the same look, but their logos were fashioned in blues. ATI mainly operated domestically, within Italian borders. A second company, Air Mediterranea was created in the 1980s to replace the private airline Itavia, Alitalia’s only true competitor, which was forced to close for political reasons that remain clouded in mystery to this day. The official reason given for shutting Itavia down is that the company didn’t meet security standards, which caused the explosion of one of its DC-9-15s during a flight to Palermo in 1980. The event became known as the Strage di Ustica or Ustica Massacre and the on-board explosion that caused the crash has since been claimed to have been caused by an act of war. In any event, Itavia was replaced by Air Mediterranea and its orange logo, and by the mid-80s Italy had three major airlines, all controlled by government-owned Alitalia and one private airline, Alisarda, which eventually became Meridiana.
In the 1990s Alitalia became one company, merging ATI and Air Mediterranea, but unfortunately this did not stop the airline’s long march towards bankruptcy. As many international airlines like Sabena, Pan Am, TWA, Eastern disappeared, Alitalia faced its own rough road. As a first series of actions to stem its losses, Alitalia sold some of its routes, then parts of its fleet, including all its Boeing 747 “Jumbo” Jets, leaving the company in a very dangerous limbo. Unions, over employment and a bizarre double hub (Rome and Milan) created an impossible situation to operate in, which forced Alitalia to give up its monopoly and to allow private companies and international carriers to come in. Air One was the first of many to conquer the Italian market.
As things deteriorated, the Italian government found itself with hands tied as there was a EU law that forbids companies to be helped by governments. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi tried to sell Alitalia to Air France, but while negotiations were taking place the government changed and a new Italian industrial solution was found. Led by Mr. Collanino, a businessman famous for his high-end financial wheeling and dealing, this consortium moved to save the airline. A few years before entering the Alitalia deal Mr. Collanino became, almost overnight, the owner of Telecom when it went public and his new deal required that Air One merge with Alitalia. The two companies became one, becoming stronger by joining together.
Alitalia indeed became a different legal entity, but maintained its traditional logo and marketing name, saving thousands of jobs at the same time. The main hub was moved back to Rome and Alitalia, a symbol of a nation, was allowed to survive. And even as airlines have suffered through many hard times in recent years, from 9/11 to the recent worldwide recession, Alitalia has remained intact.