Landing in a German airport after the chaos of Rome’s Fiumicino airport is like going from a crowded, humid, sweaty subway up into the fresh, clean countryside. I always fly in and out of Fiumicino, so perhaps the other Italian airports are havens of calm and comfort…..but I wouldn’t bet on it.
To give you a bit of perspective on Fiumicino, there are 3 main interconnected terminals where you catch your flight, cleverly named Terminal 1, 2 and 3. And then off to the side – away from those, in a separate building — is Terminal 5, which is only for US and Israeli airlines. It has an extra layer or 2 of security.
Terminals 1 and 2 are for airlines from the rest of the world outside of Italy, and the only times I’ve used them was to take an Air Berlin flight to either Munich or Hamburg. Needless to say – everything was very organized, the people were friendly and helpful, and it was a pleasant experience – except for the fact that Italians in general do not like air conditioning, the result being that the airport is kept at a sultry 80 degrees in summer.
Terminal 3 is just for Alitalia, and you can count on there being at least 3 times as many people as the authorities would deem safe. So in addition to the 80-degree setting on the thermostat, you also have the heat generated by giant herds of very frustrated people. Italians have this reputation of being incredibly friendly, but those friendly Italians do not happen to work at the airport. I think you have to pass a sulking test to be hired. The employees all give off vibes that their lives would be so much better if it weren’t for these needy tourists flocking into their terminals…..expecting help…..if you can imagine such a thing.
When I used to take my beloved cat Orson back and forth, I had to fly Alitalia from JFK — 2 hours away….traffic willing. Philadelphia airport is only 20 minutes from my house, but USAirways – the only non-stop to Rome – in an effort to endear itself to pet owners worldwide, does not take any animals anywhere it flies at any time. But at least when I got there, New York’s Alitalia was surprisingly well-organized.
Fiumicino’s Terminal 3 Alitalia, on the other hand, gives you the same calm feeling you might have if you were stuck in the middle of Time Square’s New Year’s Eve crowd. To be honest – I do occasionally exaggerate a bit, but this really is the procedure I had to follow when bringing Orse back to the US: Let’s think of Terminal 3 as one of the long New York City blocks….say between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue. After we entered at 5th Avenue, Orsie, luggage and I had to muscle our way through the tightly packed swarms of people to check in for the JFK flight, which was, of course, on 6th Avenue. When they saw Orson, they would give me a slip of paper acknowledging that I had a cat, which I had to take back to a counter just inside the entrance at 5th Avenue to pay for his “ticket”. This could not be done when we were originally passing by that exact counter; I had to get the paper from the check-in counter first. So I would go to 5th Avenue, pay the extra money, go back to 6th Avenue, and only then would they give me my boarding pass and put a notification on Orson’s cage that he was official. I would then have one final trip to 5th Avenue because that’s where the station was to drop Orsie off to be taken to the plane.
When coming to Rome, you come through Terminal 3 Arrivals, because it has the custom and immigration people who have never looked at either me or my bags. The very first time I took Orse to Italy, I had no idea where to pick him up, and the “friendly Italians” whom I asked had me running from one baggage claim area to another because Italians have a difficult time saying “I don’t know”, and they’d much prefer to give you a wrong answer than no answer at all. I finally found him tucked away in a dimly lit corner. On the other hand, I saw this in the Munich airport:
And if you should miss this highly-visible, easily-understood sign, I’m pretty sure that any of the smiling airport employees would know exactly where you could find your pet or bicycle.
After Orson died, I went back to the convenience (not to be confused with comfort) of flying USAir, which means I now have much less legroom, and I leave Rome from Terminal 5. The first time I was there, I thought it was a bit creepy to enter the huge entrance room and see machine gun-armed guards patrolling above us on a catwalk just below the ceiling. Now if you see someone up there, they’re probably changing a light bulb. Because this terminal serves so few airlines, it’s relatively calm and orderly, and has the added benefit of being cooler than 80 degrees.
Since Terminal 5 is set away from everything else, they have a shuttle to take you to the plane-boarding area, which is fairly new and has shops from a lot of the high-end names – Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, etc. It’s a somewhat pleasant way to say arrivederci to Italy. The last time we were there, we were standing at a counter having our final caffe`, and we could hear rain pounding on the roof. Suddenly, water started pouring out of one light fixture after another, as you can see in Picture #1.
Picture #2 gives you the over-all scene. Everyone scurried away from the seats, there was water everywhere, and someone thoughtfully placed one very small red pail where it would definitely NOT catch any of the rain. The high-end shops were not immune from the leaking roof, either, as I saw the sales person in Gucci manning her mop. This is the showcase terminal for one of the world’s most important cities. As we were snapping our photos, we noticed that the others doing the same thing were all non-Italians. The Italians? They just shook their heads and wandered off to find a dry seat, muttering “e` cosi`” — which loosely translates as “that’s just the way things are…..” I don’t know what the equivalent phrase would be in German, but my bet is that they seldom need to say it and if they ever do, it would definitely not be in one of their airports.