Flights

CHOOSING AIRPORTS IN ITALY

KEY AIRPORTS

FLIGHT CONNECTIONS

KEY AIRLINES TO ITALY

AIR + HOTEL BUNDLES ?

AIR FROM ALL-IN-ONE WEBSITES ?

WHERE TO PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS

SEARCHING FOR FLIGHTS

ASSORTED FINAL TIPS ABOUT FLIGHTS

CHOOSING AIRPORTS IN ITALY

For most trips in Italy -- for the best use of your time -- you will want to fly into one city and out of another. Italy has a linear shape, long and narrow, so that trips through Italy tend to work best if you're going one-way, as opposed to making a big loop. Think of California. If you were visiting Los Angeles and San Francisco, you'd want to fly into one city, drive to the other one, and fly from there, rather than spend the time, and money, to drive all the way back to the city where you arrived.

When most people think of a trip to Italy, they start out assuming that they'll fly in and out of the same airport city, usually Rome or Milan. Then at some point, they realize that they will need to devote the last day of their precious time in Italy to traveling back to the city where they flew in. And they're disappointed to see how much the train will cost for that extra journey. And they see that there will be an extra change of hotel, for just that last night.

Cost can be an element in all this. It may be that the only way you can go to Italy is to take advantage of some sweet airfare that requires a roundtrip through Rome or Milan. And if the airfare is that good, it probably trumps all other considerations. It also may be that you have no choice....because you are using miles, and cannot get tickets for flying out of Venice. Or it could be that flying out of Venice requires an extra connection in your flight plan, and you are not willing to accept that.

But what we see most of the time is that travelers do have a practical choice about airports. There is a widespread misconception that it always costs more to fly in and out of different airports, but more often the cost is about the same. And when you add in the cost of traveling back to your arrival city, even ignoring the hassle of it, it usually kicks the balance so that you'd be better off using separate airports. At least you should check it out, right at the start of your itinerary planning.

What airports to consider? It's easy in the case of a Rome, Florence, Venice trip. Look for flights into Rome and back from Venice, or consider reversing it to see which schedule or price looks best. Do not use Milan for a Rome-Florence-Venice trip, unless you have some strong reason to want to visit Milan, or free tickets through Milan.

On the other hand, if your itinerary includes Lake Como or Lake Maggiore, or you will be traveling in Switzerland, Milan can be the best choice for one end of your flight plan. So it goes with the airports of Italy. The right choice depends on where you want to travel in linear-shaped Italy. See the list below for some ideas about which airports may be most appropriate for your trip.

KEY AIRPORTS IN ITALY & SWITZERLAND

On airfare websites you can type in the city names or you can use the three-letter airport codes. Here are the key codes for Italy and Switzerland....

ROME -- FCO -- for Fiumicino, the town near the airport. Rome is a great starting or ending point for lots of Italy itineraries. But it may not be your best bet for going both in and out of Italy. NOTE: there is another airport in Rome, a smaller and older one named Ciampino (CIA). It is rare that we see travelers to Italy having the option of Ciampino, and it is unlikely that you should be concerned about it. But if you take one of the budget airlines from London, such as Ryan or EasyJet, you may be using Ciampino.

MILAN -- MXP -- for Malpensa, the name of the airport. Milan has a much more specialized use in Italy itineraries, compared to Rome. It is the obvious choice for trips which include the lakes -- Lake Como or Lake Maggiore -- which are just a few miles north of Malpensa Airport. And it can be a great choice for beginning or ending a trip that includes Switzerland. But Milan is not a good chioce for Rome-Florence-Venice trips. There is also the smaller and older Milan airport named Linate (LIN), but it is rare that travelers to Italy have any options to consider using it.

VENICE -- VCE. The clear best choice for one end of any Rome-Florence-Venice trip. Because there are not very many direct flights connecting Venice with the USA, many travelers fail to consider using it. But even if you need to add one connection to your flight plan to fly in or out of Venice, that may be preferable, and less costly, compared to taking the train all the way back to Rome to fly from there. And for lots of travelers, who must in any event make a connection somwhere, it is fully as easy to use Venice as any other airport in Italy. NOTE: it has become common to see the airport at the neighboring city of Treviso referred to as a "Venice airport." Be very careful about that, as it can cost much more in money and time to get between the Treviso airport and central Venice.

Rome and Milan, and to a lesser extent Venice, have the most options for flights directly from the USA. However, because so many flights from the USA involve connections in Europe, such as at Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich and Amsterdam, Venice becomes more important, because it is well connected to other European cities.

NAPLES -- NAP. This is a small, old airport, with minimal facilities. But who cares if using it saves you time, hassle, and maybe money when traveling to the very popular destinations south of Naples, including the Amalfi Coast (Positano), Sorrento, and the Isle of Capri? The appeal of the alternative -- flying into Rome, then adding a 30-minute trip into the Rome train station, then a 90-minute train ride to Naples -- instead of connecting into the Naples airport, eludes us. There are connections available to Naples through a number of European cities, including Paris and Frankfurt, as well as through the bigger Italian airports at Rome and Milan. There also, at this writing, was one airline (Eurofly) offering flights from New York to Naples. NOTE: if you have a choice of placing the Naples area at one end of your Italy itinerary, such as on a trip that includes Rome, Florence or Venice, we think it is best to fly into Naples, as opposed to out of Naples, to avoid the issue of really bad traffic when trying to get from Sorrento or Positano to the Naples airport for one of those early morning departures.

FLORENCE -- FLR. Don't expect to find any direct flights from the USA to Florence (the capital city of Tuscany). But you are likely to find that Florence is your best choice if your only destination is Tuscany, or if Tuscany is at the beginning or end of your itinerary. Note that the Italian name for Florence is "Firenze."

PISA -- PSA. Surprisingly, though Pisa is a smaller city than Florence, it has the more important airport, in terms of flight choices. The Pisa airport can be a good choice for trips involving the Cinque Terre. While we normally do not recommend staying overnight at Pisa, there is the wonderful nearby town of Lucca, close enough to the Pisa airport to be the place to stay in Italy after arrival at Pisa, or the last place to stay before departure from Pisa (your hotel in Lucca can line up a transfer/taxi between Lucca and the Pisa airport). NOTE: the airport at Pisa is often shown as an alternate choice for Florence. That is misleading, because Pisa is one hour's travel west of Florence. And transfers to the Pisa airport, from Florence or central Tuscany, tend to be very costly.

GENOA -- GOA. A fine choice for trips that begin with destinations on the Italian Riviera, including ones to Portofino and ones to the Cinque Terre. Genoa is also an interesting city, so that you may want to spend a night there.

PALERMO (Sicily) -- PMO. The most prominent airport for flights into Sicily.

CATANIA (Sicily) -- CTA. The secondary airport city for flights to Sicily.

SWISS AIRPORTS....

ZURICH --ZRH. Switzerland's biggest airport. If your itinerary includes Lucerne or the Interlaken area, Zurich is the most convenient choice. You can build a nice Swiss-Italian itinerary starting with Zurich at one end and finishing with Milan, Florence, Venice or Rome at the finish.

GENEVA -- GVA. The airport at Geneva is best for itineraries that include Lake Leman (Castle Chillon, Montreux, Lausanne) and also for getting to Zermatt (the Matterhorn).

FLIGHT CONNECTIONS
....and the issue of connection times

If you're flying from New York City, Atlanta, or a few other airports in the USA, you have the choice of a single flight into Italy. But most of us must make one or more flight connections to get to Italy. Those connections can be a big deal. Be sure you understand them. If someone else -- especially someone who is not traveling with you -- chooses your flight plan, be sure that they can explain it to you and justify it. There is no substitute for understanding your flight plan.

Supposedly, any flight schedule offered by an airline or an airfare website, and which includes connections, is a reasonable schedule, so that there will be sufficient time to get between connecting flights. But anyone who has experienced one of those short Air France connections at Paris CDG airport knows that is a crock. Yes, there is time for most travelers, most of the time, to make the shortest connections. But not always. Even if you make a short connection, you may be stressed out, sweating, and angry when you finally board your connecting flight. And did your luggage make it? Better to have enough time.

There can be quite a difference between flight connections within your home country and flight connections in a foreign country. If you are a US citizen connecting within the USA, you may be able to land at an airport and go directly to the gate of your connecting flight, without needing to go through airport security a second time, since you went through security at your home airport and have stayed within the airport security environment.
But what first-time international travelers do not realize is that a connection at a European airport is different. First, you most likely WILL need to go through security again before boarding your connecting flight. ALSO, you can expect to go through passport check. Both security and passport check take time...no telling how much. But if two other jumbo jets have just landed in front of yours, you may find a pileup at passport check.

Our general recommendation -- bearing in mind that you may not have any choice due to your particular flight plan -- is to see that you have not less than 90 minutes for connections in international airports, and not less than one hour in domestic airports. When you do have a choice, we suggest that you go for a longer wait than you may want, as opposed to a very short one. Let's say you are connecting in Paris at CDG airport, and you have a choice of a one-hour connection and a 4-hour connection. Nobody wants to wait 4 hours, but that's what we would do, rather than risk missing the one-hour connection. This is especially true on flights into Europe, as opposed to flights back home. If you miss your connection in Paris, or Frankfurt, and there is not another flight that day to Italy, you miss your first night in hotel in Italy, which is likely to be nonrefundable. You would also miss an arrival transfer. And what if you just make the connection yourself, but your luggage does not? If you have a choice, don't cut it too short!

KEY AIRLINES TO ITALY

If you are flying from some country other than the USA, your choice of airline may be clear. But for USA residents, there can be a bewildering choice of possibilities for flight plans to Italy. When you check which domestic airlines fly from your local airport, be sure to note as well the international airlines available to you. If such useful and widely represented carriers as Air France or Lufthansa have flights from your local airport, they may present your best options for getting to Italy. So in your flight search, be sure to include the foreign carriers.
You should also be aware that certain airlines have agreements which enable them to share flights operated by other airlines. The impact on you as a traveler is that you can make a booking with one airline that uses flights available from another airline. For example, the relationship between Delta and Air France enables Delta, or Air France, to sell a flight schedule that originates in the USA with a Delta-operated flight to Paris, and continues with an Air France-operated flight from Paris to Naples.
Similarly, you may purchase a flight from Lufthansa, the German airline, that originates in the USA with a flight operated by United that goes to Frankfurt, and finishes with a flight operated by Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Venice. You may see the term "codeshare," which refers to an agreement between two airlines to share space on a particular flight, with one of those airlines being the actual operator of the flight. Such arrangements are often important in providing options for residents of the USA in flights to Italy.

NOTE: We do not sell air tickets, and we do not have the slightest interest in promoting one airline over another. We also do not attempt to comment on one airline being any better than another and leave that judgment to you.

 

DELTA ~ With its ownership of Northwest Airlines and its longstanding relationship for codesharing with Air France and Alitalia, Delta has the most extensive choice of flights to Italy from the USA. Connections between Delta and Air France in Paris provide access for American residents to smaller airports in Italy, such as at Naples, Florence, and Genoa.

AIR FRANCE ~ Very similar to the situation with Delta. Air France flies to many smaller airports in Italy and can connect in Paris to Delta flights that serve a large number of airports in the USA. Air France is also a key carrier for Canadians traveling to Italy.

ALITALIA ~ Italy's national airline, given new life by the partial ownership with Air France/KLM. Also look for codeshare flight plans between Alitalia and Delta or Air France. Certainly, Alitalia serves more airports in Italy than does any other airline.

CONTINENTAL ~ With its codeshare arrangement with Alitalia, Continental offers a significant choice of flights to Italy from the USA.

AIR CANADA ~ The primary choice for flights originating from Canada.

UNITED ~ due in large part to its codeshare arrangements with Lufthansa, United has significant access to Italy. You can expect to fly from any city served by United and find a connection into Italy by either 1) flying direct to Italy on some United-operated flights from the USA; or 2) fly United to Germany and connect at Frankfurt or Munich to a Lufthansa flight into Italy. Lufthansa serves a number of smaller airports in Italy, so for example, you can fly to Naples from the USA by starting with a United flight to Germany and connecting there to a Lufthansa flight to Naples.

LUFTHANSA ~ The German airline. See our comments above about the arrangements between United and Lufthansa. You can also board Lufthansa flights at various airports in the USA and fly to Germany, then to Italy, without using United.

AMERICAN ~ Although there are not many American Airlines flights to Italy, the long-standing relationship between American and British Airways gives travelers on American access to a number of Italian airports.

IBERIA (Spain), SWISS, and KLM (Netherlands) also provide good connections to Italy.

AIR + HOTEL BUNDLES ?

You'll see travel offers that include air tickets plus one or more hotels. Sounds good. And it might be right for you, because the price is usually attractive, as long as you understand and are satisfied with what you're getting. But first and foremost, it's a marketing gimmick. Like all travel agencies, we have many options for selling bundles of hotels and air tickets, but we don't do it, because it does not fit with our philosophy about the best way to put a trip together.

Travel companies like to offer air-hotel bundles and all-inclusive packages, because we're all programed to think that represents value. This bundling clouds the issue of exactly what's included, because as consumers, we tend to focus on the price as opposed to the details of what we're getting. So companies can include whatever products are available to them at the lowest prices. That usually means hotels that are not in good locations, or flight schedules that are cheap because they have multiple connections or poor travel times.

When you buy a bundle that has air tickets and hotels, you usually give up choice and control over the individual components. Does that mean value? We don't think so. So our general recommendation is that you book your hotels separately from your air tickets.

BUYING AIR TICKETS FROM ALL-IN-ONE TRAVEL WEBSITES ?

There are websites now -- we think of them as travel convenience stores -- where you can choose all the components to your trip, including air tickets, hotels, trains, and car rentals, in one place. Like with air + hotel bundles, there's nothing wrong with it, as long as you consider what you give up for that convenience, which is choice and control. We could offer an all-in one solution on this self-service website. But we think that would over-simplify the process of planning an independent trip to Italy.

If you have looked at the travel advice we've put on this website (see Planning Tools), you know something about our philosophy of planning independent travel to Europe, and that we don't try to make everything seem too easy, just so we can sell you a trip. We think travelers should know about the issues in trip planning, so they can plan for them. That means learning where your hotels are located, and what your options are for train times, and the details of your flight schedule. The issue with those all-in-one travel sites is that everything has been simplified too much, so that you give up something in the way of control and understanding of your arrangements.

What we offer on this website is the opportunity to book hotels, along with transfers and sightseeing tours, and that's all. The booking system we provide for doing that is the best one we know. We do not sell air tickets, trains and car rentals, and instead, we refer you to other sources which are the best for booking them.

WHERE TO PURCHASE YOUR AIR TICKETS

Lots of choices for where to buy your air tickets. How do you get started? A good place to start is with an understanding of which airlines fly from your local airport. Sometimes it isn't all that easy to find out, without going to the airport. But you can look at any of the big airfare websites, do a search on flights to Italy from your home airport, and get a quick reading on the airline possibilities.

Then we suggest you slow down and do a better search. Your basic choices are 1) the so-called "discount" airfare websites; and 2) the websites of the airlines themselves. Just a couple of years ago the conventional wisdom was that you should not go to the airlines, because that would too expensive, and instead, you should book your flights at websites with names like "Cheap Airfare" to get the best prices. But that has changed, because the airlines want desperately to sell to you directly and to cut out the middle man. And so the prices you get when buying from the airlines are now in line with the discount airfare websites, or even lower.

And there is more than price to factor in. Choice of schedules is also important, especially when it comes to the issue of connections (see above). You tend to get more choices for schedules when you go to the airline websites. We think that the airlines are now holding back on the flight options they release to big airfare retailer websites like Orbitz. On a search in the summer of 2009, we looked at choices on Orbitz for a flight to Italy from Chicago. There were some options on Orbitz that looked ok, but not exceptional, using Air France. Then we checked directly at the Air France website, for the same dates, and we found more choices, with better schedules not available on Orbitz, and the price was significantly lower than on Orbitz, an all-around better situation. We've had clients confirming the same experience.

Consider too that it is increasingly common for flights to be rescheduled or cancelled, as airlines shuffle flights to save money. When that happens, you want to be dealing directly with an airline, not with some online ticket source that may be of little help....or may not even notify you about the changes. We've seen too many instances with our clients in which online tickets sources failed to provide satisfactory solutions in cases where the original flight plan was no longer valid.

Dealing directly with the airlines also helps with the matter of seating, since the only way you can be reasonably certain of your seat reservations is to confirm them with the airlines. We've experienced so many seat reservation problems with Orbitz bookings that it seems like a waste of time to request them from Orbitz. Regardless of where you actually buy your tickets, we suggest you immediately call the airline, give them your locator number, and request, or confirm, your seat reservations.

Our recommendation that you consider purchasing your tickets directly from one of the airlines is not due to our having any loyalty to the airlines. We get nothing from referring you to the airlines.

SEARCHING FOR FLIGHTS

When you first open any website for booking airfare, the booking screen will be set up for the simplest kind of trip, which is round trip from your home airport to some other airport, then back home from that same airport. But if you want the kind of flight plan that works better for Italy -- so that you fly into one city in Italy and back from a different city in Italy -- you need to click past the simple roundtrip input screen and find the screen that is set up for multiple airports. That option is often called "multi-destination" or "multi-city." Most airfare websites have that kind of option, where you can put in separate flight components, such as (1) Chicago to Venice + (2) Rome to Chicago. So you could fly into Venice, take the train to Rome, and fly back to Chicago from Rome. Both flight segments would be included for one price.

You can also book more than two flight segments, such as when you want to stop over in Paris for a few days on the way to Italy or back. You could book (1) Chicago to Paris + (2) Paris to Venice + (3) Rome to Chicago. You can put in the dates so that you have some number of days in Paris before you continue on with your flight to Italy. It would still be one combined price for all three flight segments, as long as it is all booked as part of a single flight plan. BUT...do not confuse this multi-city booking procedure with the very different -- and very bad -- idea of booking separate one-way flights! One-way flights are far too costly.

When you see your choices of flights, check them over not only for price but for number of connections and connection times. Also look at the time of departure from Europe for coming back home. Pick an option that you like, then be sure that it is actually available. Some airline websites show you tantalizing choices, but then when you try to click through to buy one, you see only then that it is not available for your dates. Or, you see that the price is a lot higher than you thought, because the first price did not include taxes or fees.

You should also know about the terms and conditions. Are your air tickets refundable? Probably not, as few of them are these days. But maybe you can get most of your money back for a penalty fee, if you should need to cancel. Or maybe you can change your dates for a fee. Just don't make assumptions about your ability to cancel or make revisions.

ASSORTED FINAL TIPS ABOUT YOUR FLIGHTS

  • If you're flying from the USA, you will almost certainly be arriving in Italy on the next calendar day. Keep that in mind when booking hotels ! On the other hand, when returning to the USA from Italy, most Americans arrive home on the same calendar day (except when home is on the west coast, in which case, some flight plans require an overnight connection, so you get home a day later).
  • The most vulnerable part of many Italy trips is the connection you may have on the flight into Italy, especially if that connection is at an airport in the USA. For example, if you are flying from Los Angeles, connecting in New York, and you miss the flight from New York to Italy, you will probably need to wait overnight for another flight, thereby losing your first night in hotel in Italy (nonrefundable), plus an airport arrival transfer in Italy (nonrefundable), and maybe even a sightseeing tour (also nonrefundable). There are two things you can do to protect against this problem. The first is to avoid a short connection time (try for 2 hours or more). The second is to get trip insurance, and be sure that it covers you for trip delays.
  • When you are returning from Italy to a US airport, you will need to clear customs at that first US airport. So if you have a connecting flight to another US airport, we recommend aiming for a connection time of two hours, usually a comfortable margin.
  • The lowest-cost flight plans tend to have more connections and/or longer connection times, such as five or six hours or more. No fun, but if you've got the time and patience for that, you may be able to save a lot on the airfare.
  • What is your departure time from Italy or Switzerland? Many flights depart around 7:00 am, some as early as 6:15 am. And since you want to be at the airport well in advance, that could mean getting up by 3:00 am on the last day of your vacation. If you're not an early-morning person....bummer!
  • When you look at an airfare quote, be sure to see that airport taxes are included. Airfare quoted on most any major airfare website will usually include all taxes and fees. But you may need to make several clicks before they reveal the final price. And when you see sale fares advertised by the airlines and by many tour companies, airport taxes are often NOT included. This is important because those taxes can add $90 or more to the cost of your airfare. Also, the airlines have a terrible habit of quoting sale fares in the newspapers that are just ONE-WAY ! So be sure to read the fine print.
  • Try several sources. Do not assume if you checked Orbitz or Expedia or Travelocity that you saw all or even the best options for schedules and prices. Again, check directly with the airlines, because they are making a big push to make it attractive for you to book directly with them.
ABOUT US ~ ItalySource is a travel company specializing in Italy plus France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. We're a small company, based in the USA. This page is part of our do-it-yourself tips, for booking your trip entirely on your own, with no assistance from our agents.
If you don't have time to book this trip yourself....or if you're overwhelmed with the choices, we do offer an alternative. You can click here and go to the ItalySource full-service website.

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