Alitalia braces for Jubiliee with new terminal

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NEW YORK -- As Italy gears up to receive hordes of visitors leading up to the year 2000 -- a Jubilee year, as declared by the pope -- Alitalia is readying for the onslaught by expanding service into Milan, according to Paolo Rubino, Alitalia's new senior vice president and area manager for North America and Mexico.

The opening of a new international terminal at Milan's Malpensa Airport is intended to shift some service from Rome -- expected to be inundated for Jubilee -- to Milan.

Alitalia hopes the airport will serve as a hub for U.S. travelers visiting not only Italy but other international destinations, Rubino said. "We are maintaining our Rome connections, but we have increased capacity to Milan since October, moving from seven to 14 frequencies per week from some gateways in the winter season," he said. "Malpensa is a powerful tool, not only for Milan as a final destination but as a way to offer more connections to Europe, the Middle East and Africa."

He acknowledged that increased service to Rome during the Jubilee year will probably be necessary, particularly for leisure travelers.

Rubino downplayed the much-publicized snafus that occurred during the first week that the new Malpensa terminal was in use in late October, which resulted in dozens of cancellations and delays as well as lost luggage. "Whenever you open a new facility, you meet with difficulties, but we were able to solve many of these in the first week," he said. "We sent 300 colleagues through Malpensa to help handle customer problems, and we are working double-time to show our commitment for the success of this airport," Rubino said.

He also dismissed as "unrealistic" complaints that the airport is situated inconveniently, far from downtown Milan, especially in relation to Linate, the city's domestic airport. "A major issue [at] Malpensa is the time it takes to connect with Milan's city center, but nowadays a big airport cannot be right in a city for environmental reasons," Rubino said.

"After three weeks of testing, we confirmed that the average time to reach the airport from Milan is not more than 45 minutes, which is reasonable and competitive," he said.

Plane-to-train connections, which already exist but which will feature faster connections as of June, will help alleviate airport connection problems, Rubino added.

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