by Ramsey Qubein
ALL PHOTOS: RAMSEY QUBEIN
Route: Palermo, Sicily, Italy (PMO)–New York-JFK, USA (JFK)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Date: June 2012
Meridiana Fly, the new union between the regional Italian carrier Meridiana and long-haul charter company Eurofly, continues to operate its seasonal service between JFK and Palermo and Naples [Napoli].
The service has heavy appeal to Italian expats and families living in the USA and stays popular as it is the only nonstop option between the US and these cities.
In Palermo, the flight is the airport's only trans-Atlantic service. The departures hall is hectic with crowds rather than lines forming at the counters, which feature no indication of the airline or destination being checked in save for a paper sign. Contract staffers are friendly and efficient directing passengers to the simple business class lounge, which is located before security. Upstairs, a large terrace features outdoor seating with close-in views of the lapping waves making this airport a beautiful space to spend time.
Boarding is called 45 minutes before take off, with business class passengers escorted around the line and through a separate airbridge. Flight attendants greet guests with a pleasant buon giorno and help them find their seat. The A330 is part of the former Eurofly's fleet and features that carrier's logo on the seatbacks. Business seats are cradle style with a recline angle similar to domestic first class in the US. However, the pitch between rows is impressive, giving travellers ample space to move around even when the seat in front is fully reclined. Flight attendants pass through the aisles offering blood orange juice, water, or champagne and Italian newspapers.
All seats are topped with small pillows and blankets sealed in a plastic pouch. Compact amenity kits are appreciated, but the same ear bud headphones used in economy are provided to business customers. What makes up for the headphones are the especially large movie screens that pop out from the armrest. A series of movies are available on a cycle, and they restart once the entire reel has completed.
About an hour after takeoff, service begins with packaged moist towels and tablecloths. Orders are taken by the purser who recites the three entrée choices from memory because no printed menus are distributed. Trays are delivered with the appetizer and cheese plate on them followed by a choice of still or sparkling water. Two types of red and white wine are offered from flight attendants who avoid using carts in the aisle to provide a more elegant experience. Cocktails, soft drinks, and juices are also available.
The aromas of the main courses being heated begin to waft through the cabin and soon, the crew hand-delivers each to passengers. Choices on this flight include beef with sautéed vegetables, fish with rice, or eggplant lasagna. The latter is especially tasty and served piping hot. Shortly after, the large plates are collected and replaced with a simple apple tart dessert. Refills of water are served throughout, and wine is available upon request.
Personal bottles of water are offered to everyone following the meal, and window shades are closed to darken the cabin. Notable, however, is that the crew does not force passenger to close them like some airlines do allowing those that prefer natural lighting to enjoy it as they wish.
Beverages are offered throughout the flight by the friendly crew. Before landing, a cold plate of cured ham, fish, cheese, and fig is served with warm rolls and fresh fruit. Wine, soft drinks, and juices accompany it. Landing is smooth, but because the flight arrives in the busy later afternoon hours at JFK the wait for a gate can be as much as an hour.
While not the most elaborate of premium cabin services, Meridiana Fly is targeting those who prefer its unique nonstop service from the USA to Naples and Palermo rather than snobby passengers looking for dazzling in-flight amenities. Both flights leave around 2000 from New York, which allows for a more restful sleep for body clocks. Prices are highly competitive, even for business class, making these northern summer flights a no-brainer for those with their sights set on southern Italy.
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