Arrivederci, Alitalia

October 18, 2021

LATE LAST WEEK, Alitalia operated its final flight and officially ceased to exist. For seventy-four years, Linee Aeree Italiane S.p.A., as it was formally known, had carried Popes, kings, despots, movie stars, and tens of millions of tourists, across a network that once spanned six continents.

Its demise was both a complete surprise and not the least bit shocking. The airline spent its existence in a more or less permanent state of distress; yet it always managed to pull through, be it from a government bailout, cash from a foreign partner, or some combination. Not this time. Thus, one of the most recognized names in the industry has disappeared, joining the likes of Swissair, Sabena, Malev, and the other classic European carriers that have vanished.

Alitalia long-haul routes in the early 1970s

A new, government-owned entity, Italia Trasport Aereo (ITA) is taking its place. With the whole thing being schemed out in advance, it’s more of a reincorporation — a reinvention — than a shut-down in the traditional sense, with ITA absorbing Alitalia’s assets and employees. (Some of them, at any rate. Alitalia was always overstaffed, and the plan is to start off small and expand.) Could they not have done this without totally dissolving such a well-known brand? Though, maybe, with Alitalia having left such a legacy of struggle, that was the point.

The transition has so far been messy. The ITA website and mobile app have been plagued with problems, and the new airline has struggled to receive U.S. government approval to operate here. While they sort things out, let’s do the fun thing and have a look at the identity they’ve come up with…

I can’t get my head around this one. It’s not ugly so much as confusing. Or maybe it’s confusing and ugly. The colors and styles are so mis-matched as to seem almost arbitrary — a big, weird, non-sequitur. The patterned tail motif reminds me of a doily, or the kind of tablecloth you’d find in certain Italian restaurants. To replace Alitalia’s iconic “A” emblem, worn since the ’70s, they needed to step up. They didn’t.

About the only positive thing is the ITA logo. The typeface is distinctive and elegant in an old-school sort of way. (In fact it’s almost too old-school, reminiscent of a made-up airline from a movie.) And, smartly, they’ve kept the red, white and green, which is a nod to Alitalia and the colors of the flag. On the airplane, however, the blue background requires the letters to be rendered only in white, so the whole effect is lost.

I’ve read that the design is a sort of tie-in to the Italian national football team. Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any more coherent or sensible as an airline livery.

In an annoying last-minute decision, they went and added “Airways” into the carrier’s name. “ITA,” just by itself, was smoother, simpler, and perfectly adequate. But no, they had to jam “Airways” in there, because apparently passengers are stupid and might forget that it’s an airline. Loosely translated, the carrier is now called “Italian Air Transport Airways.”

With or without the extra word, it lacks the poetry of “Alitalia.” Still, it’s better than “Italian Air,” “Prego,” or any of several other garish possibilities. We may have dodged a bullet there.

Grade: D-minus

Related Stories:

ART OF A LOGO
THE MANGLING OF AIRLINE NAMES
THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES

Back to the Ask the Pilot Home Page Visit the Blog Archive Back to Top!

Leave a Comment

Maximum 1500 characters. Watch your spelling and grammar. Poorly written posts will be deleted!

39 Responses to “Arrivederci, Alitalia”
You are viewing newest comments first. Click to reverse order
  1. Jeffrey Baldwin says:

    The blue isn’t just on the the football team, it’s on ALL the national teams. It’s actually a specific blue (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savoy_blue) and probably makes total sense and looks great if you are Italian.

  2. Alan says:

    I’ve so far assumed that the ITA branding is intended to be semi-temporary with a long term intent to return to the “Alitalia” name once enough legal hurdles have been cleared to insure using that name won’t incur any additional legal or financial liabilities by using it. If that’s the case I can see not putting much effort into the livery besides making sure that it looks different from Alitalia, once again for legal and financial reasons.

  3. Catherine says:

    The airline that serves Newfoundland and Labrador has been called PAL since time immemorial – PAL standing for Provincial AirLines. OK. They have lately rebranded to PAL Airlines, resulting in Provincial Airlines Airlines. So, ITA Airlines is not without precedent!

  4. Ben says:

    The squares, circles, and Xs in the new livery look like the square, circle, and X buttons of the Sony Playstation video game consoles.

  5. James Walley says:

    The blue is entirely the problem. Give it a white fuselage, with the red and green ITA, and it’s nowhere near as bad, although the color bands on the tail could be larger. Still, it’s especially galling in that Alitalia always had one of the best liveries in the sky, and should have had its design elements preserved as much as possible.

  6. Jackalope says:

    …but business travelers will never board an airplane if it isn’t mostly blue because … [something something].

    • Patrick says:

      That’s not what we’re talking about. And okay, so why bother designing ANYTHING with aesthetics or taste in mind? And why bother with any sort of corporate branding or identity?

  7. Tod says:

    Back in the 1970’s Alitalia actually used to have a 747 service to Sydney. One day Sydney was fogged in and they diverted to Canberra for some reason.
    In those days Canberra was very much a country airport with poor facilities.
    There were no stairs big enough to reach the plane so they had to get the fire brigade in to get people off and then it damaged the runway when taking off again

  8. Alberto Riva says:

    ITA looks awful, but at least it won’t last long. You can’t run a full-service airline out of a Rome hub; there isn’t enough business demand. Alitalia had a huge chance to really make it 20 years ago, with the KLM alliance and a hub at Milan MXP. It should have grown its measly long-haul fleet and gone all in on business traffic in one of the richest, most industrialized regions in the world. But KL broke the alliance, because of Italian government interference in how AZ was run. That was the beginning of the end.

    Alitalia retreated to low-yield Rome FCO, and never had more than 25 widebodies vs. Euro competitors like Air France and Lufthansa with 4x as many. Northern Italian biz customers — the people who fill the front of the plane and make a legacy airline real money — went to the other guys in droves. If you’re flying to China or North America from Northern Italy, why go to Rome and backtrack? Especially when you get seriously better service from, say, the Germans or the Swiss? Once that downward spiral started, it was just a matter of time before the inevitable. Alitalia never turned a profit *in the entire 21st century.* Nothing about the ITA strategy as we know it now goes in a direction that would fix that.

    What’s truly sad is that the Alitalia logo was the most elegant in airline history, bar none. What other logos from 1967 survived to this day with the same contemporary look? The twist there could be that, since ITA owns the Alitalia brand, it could come back.

  9. Doug Newkirk says:

    Excellent quibble!

  10. Ed says:

    The new ITA livery is a monstrosity! This looks like a designed-by-committee mess that was done in either to little or too much time. “We need the colors of the flag! Oh, but don’t forget the blue because of our co-branding with the football team!” No idea where the checkerboard pattern came from though, except maybe as a hack to “fix” the garish contrast between the light blue and red on the tail. The design team was out to lunch on this, and I think they had too much to drink during that lunch …

  11. Lee says:

    A country that leads the world in style in so many industries – textiles, fashion, clothing, footwear, automobiles, motorcycles, and they can’t tap all that talent is a shame on the airline and a poor start.

    For anyone who’s owned an Italian car or motorcycle, the mystery is how Alitalia’s maintenance department kept the planes in the air. At one time Fiat had an airplane division. I’d say those were the bravest aviators ever!

  12. marco says:

    Various versions of blue are indeed the color traditionally associated with Italian sport teams (except for racing cars – not only Ferrari but also Alfa Romeo and others – that were red). The choice of blue has nothing to do with sea, sky and/or other elements supposedly part of the Italian culture and heritage, but is an homage to the then-reigning Savoia royal family, whose color was the so-called Savoy Blue.

    P.S. Yes, I’m Italian and living in Italy.

  13. Kozmo says:

    X’s and O’s and small empty boxes? This tail design looks like a futuristic robotic tic-tack-toe game.

    I much dislike logo lettering slapped on top of/among windows, too.

    I like this color of blue, but not on an Italian plane (and not with the national colors). This color belongs on Greek or Finnish plane, methinks. Or some Polynesian airline.

  14. Denis Seguin says:

    Great piece on the demise of Alitalia. One niggling detail: Arrivederci means “til we meet again”.
    “Addio” would be more apt.

  15. Mary says:

    Agree, that this color combo only makes sense in reference to the Italian football (soccer) team, the Azzurri, and that this blue of a saturated sky is the color of summer, of clear weather, of the sea, the beach, etc. etc. in the Italian imagination as I understand it. But I’ll miss the Alitalia of old where the moment I was on the plane I felt like I was back in Rome. One of the things they did that was unusual was put business in the front lower level of 747s so you could sit right up there in the nose.

  16. Doug Newkirk says:

    Re: # of employees: Per the AP story linked below, ITA is employing only about 3,000 of Alitalia’s former 10,000 employees.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/ex-alitalia-flight-attendants-strip-off-uniforms-in-protest/2021/10/20/acc1cc68-31b0-11ec-8036-7db255bff176_story.html

    • Patrick says:

      The plan is to start small and grow — though it’s doubtful they’ll ever have a network as big as Alitalia’s was. And one of the big problems at Alitalia was a legacy of overstaffing.

  17. larry kudsk says:

    it’s a soccer jersey

  18. Paul bagley says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Well the airplane has turned into an advertising hell. Car companies don’t paint their cars like this. Coffee mug companies don’t make coffee mugs that look like this. So yes something has gone terribly wrong with the way airplanes are painted relative to composition in color.

  19. Alan says:

    When I was a kid, I had an aquarium. In that aquarium, I had a bunch of neon tetras, whose most prominent color is a bit of an electric blue. They became infected with a parasite called ichthyophthirius multifiliis, commonly shortened to “ick,” that causes white spots to appear on the skin of the fish.

    That’s what this livery, with its white spots on electric blue, remind me of. Ick.

  20. Dave Scheff says:

    The added “Airways” reminds me of The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Which means The The Angels Angels…of Anaheim. Sheesh.

  21. I AGREE PATRICK. I WORKED FOR ALITALIA IN THE EARLY 1960’s, AT THE AGE OF 19. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, EXCITING, LEARNING, LOVING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE. I WORKED IN TOURS AND GROUPS, WAS ABLE TO SEE MOST OF THE WORLD, SUCH A DIFFERENT PLACE AT THAT TIME. I ACTUALLY WAS ABLE TO PLACE MY HANDS ON “THE PIETA” IN THE VATICAN, WALK WITHOUT CROWDS ON THE SPANISH STEPS, TEA AND CRUMPETS AT “BABINGTON’s TEA ROOM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STEPS, VIA VENETO, CAMPIDOLGIO, FORUM, COLOSEUM, ETC….NOT ANYMORE NOW !!!! PEOPLE AND RELATIVES TELL ME NOT TO GO BACK, I WILL BE DISAPPOINTED, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. FLEW ON THEIR FIRST DC-8’s “IDIWA”. CRAZY WORLD WE ARE IN NOW !!!

  22. Speed says:

    Re: White vs. Green lettering — the green probably wouldn’t work well on a blue fuselage. Not much contrast unless they outlined the letters in white or black or something.

    The Airways may be a hint that someone has big plans for the future … ITA Rail? ITA Interstellar? ITA Cruise? ITA Car Rental?

  23. patrick baker says:

    this color clash will fly as the airline of Italy with the advantage of not having thousands of excess workers, That is a good start. Color schemes do not a airline make, so make no notice of it. It does not matter the paint job. Aircraft utilization, the mix of aircraft- that is vital. Not crew uniforms.

    • Patrick says:

      Yeah, yeah, but this isn’t mutually exclusive. Because those other things matter as much as they do does not mean branding and identity are NOT important or meaningful. Of course they are.

  24. Brad says:

    If Alitalia couldn’t survive, then what makes you think this one will. As long as it’s owned and run by the Italian government , it’s doomed forever. Offer great customer service, maintain the planes, be on time and have websites and apps that work…..then you will have something and nobody will care how ugly it looks.

  25. Pat Zoffreo says:

    This is by far the ugliest airline livery I’ve ever seen. Not only are the colors confusing and mismatched but they’re downright ugly.

    The elegance and refinement of the Alitalia colors was a breakthrough in an industry not known for outstanding artistic achievements in the airline colors department but Alitalia was the livery that achieved the lofty goal.

    I don’t know who the new management commissioned to produce the artwork for the new airline’s colors. If I had known months ago I would have pitched the idea to a group of second graders down the street at the local elementary school. Surely they couldn’t possibly come up with a livery as confusing AND UGLY as the one ITA has presented to the world.

  26. MikeO says:

    I flew on an Alitalia plane once. A MD-80 being flown by InselAir. Most of the “hard coded” Alitalia branding was still present in the cabin. InselAir didn’t last nearly as long as Alitalia . . .

  27. Tom says:

    The worst thing about the livery is the white polka-dot theme on the tail. It would also look better if the blue were limited to a cheatline on a white background. At least they left the green, white and red theme on the trailing edge of the tail fin. As for the name: “Oh, mannaggia”, as my Italian grandmother would say.

  28. Savannah says:

    Blue clashes with the Italian flag, except in one instance: the old ‘60s cheatline. If ITA tipped the hat to that, I would’ve liked it. There wasn’t a more sexier Caravelle in the sky than an Alitalia one. That’d require a cheatline, though, and in 2021 that’s too much to ask.

  29. Craig says:

    Do remember that many artistic things that are today seen as elegant and classic were panned when they were initially launched. I mean, you can’t imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, but initial reaction was that it was so unsightly it should be torn down immediately after the end of the world fair it was built for.

    I’m not saying that this design will end up lasting or be considered classic, but it might. There is a strong theme on this site of “the old designs are so much better than everything new”. That’s because we’re used to the old designs.

    Can you imagine naming a team the Dodgers or Yankees if you hadn’t heard those names before? You’d be laughed out of town. Or the Red Sox. But now they are all classic, even though few know the etymology of those names.

  30. Kenny says:

    Ooh boy. That blue. It makes me long for Euro White.

  31. Carlos Si says:

    An improvement would be to make the fuselage silver and the titles on the plane green like on the logo.

  32. Carlos Si says:

    The titles look very THX-y. I like it.

    The blue HAS to go. I hope this is not an official rendering…. I’ve seen other renderings which look decent but I guess they’re sticking with those titles.