Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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Air Dolomiti: Short Hauls Long on Service
April 28, 2016 -- The phrase "regional airline" makes me cringe, mainly because I am accustomed to flying U.S.-configured regional aircraft that are thinly staffed, claustrophobic, fly routes far longer than they should and are so skimpily configured that it's impossible to open a laptop and work.
But I'd never flown Air Dolomiti, the Italian member of the Lufthansa Group's collection of eclectic airlines that now includes Swiss International, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, the budget player Eurowings and its more notorious sibling, Germanwings, which garnered global publicity last year following a crash caused by a suicidal pilot.
I flew Air Dolomiti last week in coach on the 70-minute flight from Bologna, Italy, to Munich and it reminded me what a full-service short-haul flight could actually feel like.
Air Dolomiti operates a fleet of young Embraer 195s, an aircraft unknown in the United States, although JetBlue Airways and American Airlines both use the slightly smaller E190. Air Dolomiti's E195s feel like full-sized aircraft and that's no surprise: E195s are almost the same size as Boeing 737s. The planes have stand-up headroom and roomy overhead storage bins. Air Dolomiti's E195s are configured with 120 seats, including 12 in business class.
Although E195s are narrower than B737s, Air Dolomiti's coach cabin is configured 2x2. That means no middle seats and chairs that are an inch wider than those you'll find on a 737. Legroom is decent, too. Not exactly "stretch out" comfort, but impressive and roomy enough. No one in the cabin crew had exact measurements, but I suspect the seat pitch was 32 inches. (That's the legroom JetBlue Airways offers on its E190s.) I could easily open the drop-down table, set up my laptop and work without feeling cramped.
But Air Dolomiti, founded 25 years ago and purchased by Lufthansa in 2003, is not a hardware story. It's a "software" story, so to speak. Air Dolomiti is not an easyJet or Ryanair. It's positively plush and goes heavy on the perks.
When you board, you're greeted by stacks of various Italian newspapers, a very nice touch. I'm hardly rangy and tall, but the high cabin ceilings are immediately noticeable and I could straighten up from my reflexive, Quasimodo-like RJ boarding crouch.
Air Dolomiti hasn't invested in in-flight entertainment systems, but there's no need for them on the short flights between the airline's Munich hub and the six Northern Italian cities it serves. A few minutes after takeoff, three flight attendants in coach pass out good-sized wet towelettes, then break out the food and drink trolleys. Everyone receives a snack pack with crackers and slices of ham and mozzarella. Complimentary red, white and sparkling wines are offered, too. There's a more lavish service in business class, of course.
Brian Dolan, a New Jersey insurance broker who was on my flight, wasn't surprised by Air Dolomiti's generosity.
"European airlines, except for the real cheapies, will routinely pour you a glass of wine or two on the house," he said. "It's great goodwill. At home, it would cost me seven or eight bucks for a tiny bottle of blah wine."
Air Dolomiti's fare structure is almost as generous as its wine policy. I paid 61 euros (about US$70) one-way for the "light fare" between Munich and Bologna. That fare is heavily restricted, of course, but there's a more flexible "plus" fare and the "emotion" price that includes a seat in business class. I booked on the Air Dolomiti Web site because fares are substantially different (and mostly much higher) on third-party booking sites.
Another benefit: Air Dolomiti is an earn-and-burn member of Lufthansa's Miles and More frequent flyer scheme, which offers awards on most Star Alliance carriers.
A tip for U.S. travelers: if you're connecting to Air Dolomiti from Munich, give yourself plenty of connecting time. Ultra-modern, double-decked Munich Airport is huge. Gates between long-haul international flights and short-haul operations such as Air Dolomiti are far apart. In fact, it's a brisk, 20-minute walk to Air Dolomiti's gates from Lufthansa's complex of airport lounges--and there are no people-moving shuttles or trains.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.