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Travel Tips - How to Get to Southern ItalyMost Italians in other countries come from the Boot's south, but airlines make direct flights for business in big cities. Find out how to get to your people down in the heel and sole
Getting to my family and friends in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, is torture. This is especially true for me now that I am always traveling there at the start of summer vacation with my 6-year-old son. My husband leaves a month before we do just about every year. So, it's just the two of us – mamma and her little man. Journeys like this require grit and determination, not to mention a backpack full of distractions.
In the past, we mostly traveled on a discount airline that provided direct flights to Naples or Palermo from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport during the height of travel season. Over the years, the airline was sold a number of times. While the direct flights continued, the service and planes kept going downhill. In 2008, the latest buyers of the airline canceled the direct flights all together.
As a result, I returned to the major airlines, which meant booking connecting flights and layovers and much more prep work. Lucky for you, I've been making these same travel plans for more than 14 years, so I can give you a rundown of your options:
This German airline was our best bet when we brought our son to Italy the first time. He was just six months old. I was terrified. But from the moment I booked the flight, someone was in contact with me. The staff told us we could bring on a stroller and car seat at no extra cost. Also, they would seat us in the front of the economy aisles, so we could hook an airline-issued baby carrier to the wall for baby to sleep. And sleep he did for the entire flight from New York to Munich. The staff kept coming to check on him, and tried to help me with a privacy blanket I had when I was breastfeeding him. They also gave him a little plush bird popping out of an egg as a souvenir. This was remarkable to me because babies that age do not even pay for a ticket.
In fairness, the Lufthansa tickets happened to be the most expensive of all the other options. But the extra hundreds (about $300 if I recall correctly) were worth it to us. From Munich, we took a connecting flight to Naples. What also made the extra money worth it was the sweet timing of the flights. It wasn't so long that the baby would get fussy waiting around an airport. On the other hand, it wasn't so short that we would risk missing our flight or have to run should there be any delays on the other end.
My sister joined my son and me on the way back from this trip. We had one incident at the airport in Germany worth mentioning. My son and I have different last names. I never changed my name when my husband and I wed. This is in part because of my work (and byline) and in part because Italian women never change their names. However, customs agents in Germany saw our passports and tried to separate my son and me. They wanted to take him away to investigate if I was kidnapping him. It never occurred to me to bring his birth certificate. I repeated over and over that they could call my husband and the U.S. Consul and determine I was his mother. Finally, my sister, far more forceful than I, intervened. Shortly after her words, they let us go. I never leave home without my son's birth certificate anymore. (I've been known to bring it to the grocery story in Ischia, where many of the natives have known my family for generations, but I digress.)
All in all, Lufthansa offers fantastic service. The planes are comfortable, and the connecting flights are convenient. Anyone traveling with young children will love this option even if the price points tend to be higher than competitors. Plus, you can buy enormous, buttery hand-twisted soft pretzels before you take off.
For a time, when my husband and I were dating, Air France was my preferred airline. Even if the staff rarely smiled, they always provided decent service. And the planes were clean and roomy enough, even in coach. There was always one problem – the connecting flights schedule was always too close to arrival and departure times of your other flight. That has not changed, but I took the risk again this time around. Flights usually run from New York's JFK to Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport. Then, from Paris, you take a flight to your final destination in Italy. For me, that would be Naples.
With only an hour or two between flights, you have little padding should there be a delay of your first flight. At JFK, there is almost always a delay. So, this becomes a problem. This matter is compounded by the fact that "transfers" are on the other end of the airport, which means you will have to hop on a monorail of sorts and run like the wind if you are late.
I feared this would happen with my exhausted 6-year-old boy this time around. Lucky for us, the first flight was only a little delayed, so we had plenty of time and even sat to catch our breath a bit before our second flight to Naples. However, my husband refuses to go on AF because he has missed connecting flights for this very reason.
The other obstacle about which you should know is that CDG Airport is notorious for changing the gate number at the last minute. Sure enough, that happened to my son and me this time, too. The two gates were within range, but no one said anything. I just happened to notice the screen at the gate change to a flight to Milan instead of Naples. I alerted the other passengers at both gates and we all just switched places. The two gates were near one another but another time I had to keep running to find the new gate. And I ended up being the very last person on that flight back to the States.
Still, the planes have always been comfortable and feature the latest nifty trend in flight. Nowadays, that means you'll find USB ports for charging your gear. Also, you have hundreds of entertainment options in a number of languages, including English. And the staff is always stylishly dressed in a nod to France's rich heritage as a leader in fashion. Bonus is you can shop in the airport if you have the time; I've scored lovely scarves and yummy macarons.
Alitalia is the Motherland's mother ship. But it too has changed hands in recent years. Back when I traveled to Italy with my parents, this was the only option any of us ever considered. For a trip to Naples (and most other southern cities), you travel from a major U.S. city, such as New York, to Rome or Milan. Then, you take a second flight to Naples or Palermo or fill in the blank.
This airline always seems to be on the brink of collapse. That can make consumers skittish (rightfully so). But the biggest benefit of choosing Alitalia is it feels like you're already in Italy from the moment you step on the plane. Also, the food tends to be pretty good, at least compared to other in-flight meals. If you speak Italian, you have an edge. All these airlines have staff members, who speak English, too, but most of the people working on board first try to communicate in their mother tongue.
Cost has been an issue for me in the past. It used to be quite affordable, but I've noticed an uptick. However, if you book earlier, you can get a better deal. My husband has mostly been flying Alitalia in recent years. The airports in both Rome and Milan are easy to navigate and include some great shopping and eating while you're waiting. Because I speak English and Italian, I feel most comfortable here.
One thing to be aware of is "sciopero," which means "strike." At times, the crews of various airlines or airport staff have gone on strike, which can upend your travels. It has happened less than before in recent years. Another time I waited five hours for a connecting flight because a plane for the connecting flight kept breaking down. Yikes! But it was one time out of the many, many I have traveled with Alitalia.
PRICES FOR AIR TRAVEL TO SOUTHERN ITALY
When you make your tickets a month or two in advance for a trip that will fall during the height of tourism season (late spring to early fall with the sweet spot for tourism in the mid summer), you can expect to dole out serious green. The price range when I was researching tickets in May for departure at the end of June was between $2,500 and upward of $4,000.
In fact, I almost fainted when the price popped on my screen. Taking flights with multiple connections and carriers would have helped bring down the cost. But I feared issues with that kind of schedule, especially since I was with a young child. Still, it might be fine for a recently graduated young person backpacking across Europe. Also, I would have been better off if I had made my ticket sooner. My bad.
The bottom line is if you plan ahead and consider the pros and cons of each airline and airport, you can make a decision that best suits your budget and you. Before you know it, your dream of visiting Italy can become a reality.
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