Airline services in Italy

Airports, fares and tips

Airline services in Italy

There are direct international scheduled and charter flights to all major cities in Italy (e.g. direct flights from the UK to around 20 Italian cities) and many towns are served by domestic flights.

International airlines serving Italy (apart from the national carrier Alitalia) include Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Iberia, Icelandair, KLM, Lufthansa, Northwest Airlines, Sabena, SAS, Swissair, TWA and US Airways. The major international gateways are Rome, Milan, Pisa, Venice and Naples, although more cities are becoming accessible by direct international flights, including Florence, Bologna and Perugia.

The Italian national airline, Alitalia, has its hub at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and flies to over 100 cities in six continents. For years it had a reputation as one of Europe’s least efficient national carriers, plagued by strikes, over-manning and restrictive practices. However, in recent years modern business practices have been implemented to try to address these problems, and in 1997 the company’s balance sheet finally moved into the black, although Alitalia lost money again in 2002 and, in autumn 2004, announced that it was struggling to pay employees’ salaries (and had to call on a government loan to do so).

Matters deteriorated further in 2006, when the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi described Alitalia’s finances as ‘completely out of control.’ Alitalia is currently partially state-owned, with complete privatisation planned, as announced by the Italian government in early 2007. Not surprisingly, it dominates the busy and lucrative Milan–Rome route.

International Services

There are usually several direct flights per day to/from London Heathrow to Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Rome, Turin and Venice, and there are also scheduled and charter flights from London Gatwick and other UK airports to various Italian cities (including Palermo).

Normal scheduled fares to Rome are around £300 single and £550 return. Apex fares (booked and paid for at least seven days before departure and including at least one Saturday and Sunday night between the outward and return journeys) and chartered fares are much cheaper and cost from around £150 return to Milan or Rome and an additional £20 to £30 to Pisa or Naples.

Fares vary considerably according to the time of the year, when you book and the airline. The vast majority of flights go to Milan or Rome, although there’s usually at least one per day to Bologna, Naples, Pisa and Turin. There are also flights from Manchester (UK) to Milan and Rome, and Meridiana fly from London to Olbia (Sardinia) and to Cagliari (Sardinia) via Florence. Most European airlines fly via their European base to Italy, rather than direct.

Several airlines fly direct to Italy from the US, including Alitalia, Delta and American Airlines, although scheduled fares are expensive. Alitalia offer the widest choice of direct flights from the US, including daily flights from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, to Milan. Delta flies daily from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York to Rome, and American Airlines daily from Chicago and Los Angeles via New York to Milan and Rome.

The cheapest return fares from the US are around US$500 from New York to Rome, rising to US$700 during the shoulder season and to US$900 during the peak season; add around US$100 for flights from Chicago and Miami, and US$200 from Los Angeles.

Charter flights are available from the US to Italy but aren’t such good value as from European countries, as scheduled airlines can often beat the prices, and offer more convenience and fewer restrictions. Flights take around eight hours from New York to Milan or Rome. From Canada, both Alitalia and Air Canada have direct flights to Rome and Milan from Toronto and Montreal.

Domestic Services

A number of airlines provide domestic services within Italy, including Aero Transporti Italiani (a subsidiary of Alitalia), Aermediterranea, Air Dolomiti, Air One, Air Sicilia, Alitalia, Alisarda, Aligiulia, Alpi Eagles, Azurra, Meridiana, Minerva and Transavia. Some 40 Italian airports are served from Rome and most domestic flights take under an hour. However, travelling by air within Italy is expensive, although discounts are available, notably for evening and night flights.

You can also buy Apex tickets (see above). ‘Juniors’ (those aged under 22), students (up to 26) and families (consisting of a minimum of three people) can purchase one-way tickets for half the price of reduced tariffs. You should allow at least 20 minutes to check in for internal flights. Private air taxi services also operate from many airports.

Airports in Italy

Italy has international airports in Rome (Leonardo da Vinci, better known as Fiumicino, and Ciampino, which handles mainly charter flights), Milan (Linate for domestic and European flights, and Malpensa for intercontinental flights), Bologna, Catania (Sicily), Genoa, Olbia (Sardinia), Naples, Pisa, Palermo (Sicily), Turin and Venice. However, the dearth of major international airports in the north of the country sometimes forces travellers to take connecting flights to Italy from Zurich, Paris, Frankfurt or London.

This was eased with the opening of Milan’s Malpensa 2000 airport in 1998, although it has been plagued by controversy because the Italian government forced all foreign airlines to use the new airport, reserving the old (and more convenient) Linate airport mainly for Alitalia and Air One flights from Rome.

For travellers (and airline companies), Malpensa suffers the disadvantage of being 53km (33mi) from Milan, compared with Linate, which is just 10km (6mi) from the city centre. However, express trains operating every 30 minutes connect Malpensa with Milan’s Cadorna railway station, taking around 40 minutes (which will eventually be reduced to 30 minutes). The service operates from 6am to 1.30am and costs €9 single (one-way).

Rome & Pisa

As mentioned above, Rome is served by two airports. The main one, and Italy’s largest, is Fiumicino, around 25km (15mi) west of Rome, almost on the coast and just off the Rome–Ostia motorway. (With the right wind direction, you get a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the ruined Roman city of Ostia Antica as you come in to land.) Fiumicino receives flights from around the world and has all the facilities you would expect, including car hire (all major companies), exchange bureaux, hotel booking agencies, shops, and short- and long-term car parks. Planes ‘dock’ directly to the terminal.

The airport also has the advantage of being connected to Rome’s Termini Station by a rail shuttle operating every 30 minutes. Most overseas travel agents can book not only your flight to Fiumicino, but also the shuttle and onward rail ticket if required, and provide you with connection times. If you’ve hired a car, a free shuttle bus takes you the short distance to the hire company offices and pick-up point.

The second airport serving Rome is Ciampino. It’s around the same distance from the city centre, but to the south-east. Used mainly for internal and charter flights, it’s smaller and more intimate than Fiumicino, although planes must park on the apron from where you’re taken by bus to the terminal. Trains run to the centre of Rome every 20 minutes from Ciampino town (not the airport), taking 15 minutes. It’s a convenient airport if you’re hiring a car, as it’s close to the Gran Raccordo Annulare Anulare ( GRA) – Rome’s ring road.

An excellent airport to arrive at if you aren’t hiring a car is Pisa. It’s small and easy to find your way around, and the railway station is within the airport complex, providing direct access to the national rail network. A number of companies operate a minibus shuttle service from your home to major airports for a reasonable fee.

Other Airports

Other airports can be tiny – for example Perugia, which comprises a check-in area, a waiting area and a bar. You must walk from your aircraft to the terminal. (Even here, however, there are two car hire company offices.) There are over 100 small airports in Italy, only some of which cater for international flights (particularly during summer), including Alghero, Ancona, Bari, Bergamo, Bologna, Brindisi, Cagliari, Catania, Florence, Genoa, Lamezia Terme, Lampedusa, Olbia, Palermo, Pantelleria, Parma, Perugia, Pescara, Reggio di Calabria, Rimini, Sassari, Trapani, Trieste, Treviso, Turin and Verona.

Facilities & Security

All international airports have wheelchairs and ambulance staff on hand to assist disabled travellers, although it’s better to telephone in advance. Long- and short-term parking is available at most airports, including all international airports, with reserved parking for the disabled. International airports have shopping centres, which are normally open for longer hours than city shops, seven days per week.

Airport authorities state that X-ray machines used for hand baggage at Italian international airports are safe for films. However, a hand-search is normally possible on request and is particularly recommended if you’re carrying high-speed film (over 400 ASA). Metal detectors may not be safe for magnetic storage media such as computer hard and floppy disks.


Alitalia has a website ( ) detailing offers on internal flights (in Italian, but fairly comprehensible). Airport information telephone numbers are listed below.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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