Confessions of an air steward too shocking for ailing Alitalia

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The Independent Online

Broken toilets, missing meals in first class, partitions held together with sticky tape, uniforms with gaping holes: these are just some of the delights awaiting passengers and crew on Alitalia, according to an insider's blog written by a steward on the near-bankrupt Italian airline.

"We are coming apart at the seams in every sense," the blogger wrote on 29 June. Having waited "nearly two months to have a pair of trousers mended, which had been torn by a not-completely screwed down screw on a jump seat. Meanwhile Alitalia is back in the news with plans of new cuts they want to make... but I have already made my cuts."

Alitalia has been in dire financial trouble for years, and is now losing around €1m (£800,000) a day. It continues to stagger on, but as the "AviatorAZ" blog reveals, both staff morale and standards are on a slippery slope.

"At the perfect moment, the fridge breaks down," the blogger records on 16 July. On 10 July he writes: "Once again we are short of cutlery... so I am hard at work washing, re-washing and drying" the knives and forks available. But sometimes it is the food itself that is missing. "In Magnifica class" – Alitalia's most luxurious – "there is a meal missing. Either it wasn't loaded or there are more passengers than we had booked." The blogger and his colleagues take a deep breath and improvise.

The steward has been quietly documenting an airline in decline for the past three years. But when his complaints were splashed all over the Italian newspapers this week the company reacted furiously. AviatorAZ really hit a nerve with an observation that the wheels of one plane in which he was flying lacked mudguards. "The undercarriage is nude, without mudguards, the plane can only fly if it doesn't rain, we are fine until the end of September, but only in the south. Nothing to put security at risk," AviatorAZ was careful to point out. "If one is not in line with the norms and dictates, Alitalia does not take off."

But that was not enough to deflect the fury of the airline. "For the presumed allusions regarding security," the company said in a statement, "international statistics confirm that Alitalia is one of the most secure airlines in the world." Unlike "his colleagues", the statement went on, "perhaps [Aviator AZ] does not take into account the delicate situation in which we find ourselves".

Air France-KLM concluded long and painful negotiations to merge with the troubled airline at the cost of more than 2,000 jobs, but during the general election campaign in the spring, before the deal could go through, Silvio Berlusconi attacked it as "arrogant and unacceptable". The notoriously intransigent company unions took their cue to demand new terms and Air France pulled out. "What Alitalia needs is an exorcist," said Air France-KLM's boss Jean-Cyril Spinetta, confirming that he had slammed the door on the company.

The company was kept afloat with government "loans" and Mr Berlusconi has since poured hundreds of million more euros into the airline in the hope of survival.

Meanwhile, AviatorAZ has prudently gone off air.