January 19, 2009 7:17 pm

New Alitalia hit by strike action

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Alitalia was hit for the first time under its new private ownership by strike action from its own staff as pressure mounted on Monday from consumer associations over its monopoly on the key Rome-Milan business route.

SDL, a small union representing ground staff and flight attendants, said its four-hour Rome protest against the relaunched airline’s recruitment policies resulted in 30 cancellations, including six international flights. It is considering a 24-hour strike next. Alitalia said only four flights were cancelled.

Alitalia, taken out of bankruptcy and state control by a consortium of Italian business interests, has had a rough ride since its relaunch a week ago, starting last Tuesday with a strike by airport management workers belonging to a separate company.

Capacity, at an admittedly slow time of year, is reported to be very low.

Alitalia’s 21 shareholders meeting in Milan on Monday were expected to back their board’s decision to sell a 25 per cent stake to Air France-KLM, with the possibility of foreign control after four years.

However, the concern of consumers is focused on the continuing power of unions to disrupt and management to fix high prices.

Two associations, Adusbef and Federconsumatori, yesterday called on the civil aviation authority to end Alitalia’s monopoly on the Rome-Fiumicino to Milan-Linate route, denouncing the €320 cost of a single ticket for the 50-minute flight.

Separately, Air Italy, a small domestic airline, took out newspaper advertisements pledging to charge a maximum €120 on that route if given a licence.

“Competition is dead on Linate-Fiumicino, a beautiful present for Italians who would like to travel at competitive prices,” it said.

Speaking of the government-backed sale of Alitalia that barred non-Italian bidders, Elio Lannutti, an opposition senator and president of Adusbef consumer group, commented: “Italians have been defrauded twice: once as citizens and once as consumers.”

The senator added: “A situation like the Milan-Rome route doesn’t exist anywhere else in Europe: neither for condition nor for price levels. A ticket costs more than a Rome-New York trip!”

Under the special bankruptcy law passed for Alitalia by the centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi, certain anti-trust provisions were suspended.

The merger of the new scaled-down Alitalia with its former rival, Air One, has resulted in a monopoly on the Rome-Milan (Linate) route. Regulators say they are reviewing the situation.

A study by Milan’s Chamber of Commerce showed that 70 per cent of business travellers intended to use the express train service to Rome instead of Alitalia at €320.

Alitalia has declined to reveal its capacity figures for the moment. It has also denied cancelling flights that did not have enough passengers on board and says its pricing policy has not changed.

Altroconsumo, a consumer group that declares itself politically independent, said Alitalia had a dominating position on 10 Italian routes and a monopoly on Rome-Milan. It said tariffs were slightly higher than in the past months.

Additional reporting by Giulia Segreti

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