The legacy carriers

Alitalia and other major airlines that fly to Italy

This is the old-fashioned and still standard way to fly to Europe: on some major airline you've already heard of.

The main choice, of course, is Alitalia (, Italy's national airline (it has been one of the last airlines in Europe to divest itself of state control). Alitalia is no better or worse than any other major airline out there, and, as you'd expect, tends to have the largest number of direct flight from the U.S. to Italy:

  • Alitalia flies direct to Rome from New York, Boston, and Toronto daily, Chicago six times a week, and Miami regularly, as well as from Buenos Aires, Caracas, and Saõ Paolo.
  • Alitalia also flies direct to Milan from New York and Saõ Paolo, Brazil.
  • For what it's worth, there are also direct flights to Rome from Accra, Lagos, Tokyo, and Osaka (plus Milan-Tokyo).
  • For Alitalia connections within Europe, see the Flights to Italy from Europe page.

Alitalia also codeshares with Continental. (If you book an Alitalia flight that leaves out of Newark rather than New York's JFK airport, you'll almost certainly be aboard a Continental jet.)

Alitalia is also now a strategic partner with KLM/Air France, and is a member of the Skyteam alliance (, along with Delta, Air France/KLM, Aeromexico, Korean Air, AirEuropa, Aeroflot, Czech Airlines, China Southern, Vietnam Airlines, Tarom Romanian, and Kenya Airways.

Why does any of that matter to you, someone who just want to find a convenient flight to Rome at the lowest price possible? Because if you play the frequent flier game and always try to put most of your miles into, say, the Continental account, you'll want to book your flights through that airline rather than directly on Alitalia so you can rack up the miles.

One of the major benefits to using a major airline is that you can often arrange to fly "open jaws"—into, say, Rome and back home from Milan—which will save you at least several hours of backtracking and probably a day's-worth of vacation.

Major U.S. airlines

You don't have to fly Alitalia, however.

Most major U.S. airlines—not just Continental and Delta (Alitalia's main partners), but also American Airlines and USAir—have daily flights to Italy, either direct (which is the case from many major East Coast cities) or connecting via an East Coast city.

However, note that since most major airlines are now cozy with a particular European airline, they will often fly you on their own planes as far as, say, New York, then switch you over to their partners, which means you might end up flying to Italy via some other European country.

(For example, the Dutch airline KLM now pretty much owns Northwest, so when you book a flight to Italy on Northwest, you will at some point probably end up on a KLM flight that stops first in Amsterdam—and, given the kooky way Northwest works, probably have to go via Detroit as well, even if that entails six hours of backtracking. Yes, this has happened to me.)

Major European airlines

That brings up the third, often overlooked, way to fly to Europe on a major airline: the European legacy carriers. You can just as easily book a flight to Italy on, say, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, Swiss, Austrian, or any other major European airline—and, if one of them happens to be having a systemwide sale, it might even cost less than a flight on Alitalia or one of the American carriers.

There is one drawback to using other European airlines, however: virtually all flights on European carriers will route you though a major city in that carrier's home country, so you'd have an extra stop along the way, flying to Italy via, say, London (British Airways), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Paris (Air France), etc.

There is, however, also an upside to this. There are only two Italian cities into which any major airline will fly direct from the U.S.: Rome and Milan. If you want to end up anywhere else, you have to connect via one of those cities. But European airlines fly direct from their own major hubs directly to Venice, Palermo, Naples, Pisa, and dozens of other Italian destinations—so you might have to connect in Frankfurt, yes, but then can fly straight to Sicily.

That's all pretty esoteric stuff, though. And really: frequent flier miles aside, do you really care which airline gets you there?

What you really want to know is how to find the cheapest airfare. » more

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