Airport Reports: Malpensa

Looks as if I’m a frequent traveller again this year, and I hope that will hold true for some time to come. I’ve been relatively quiet for the last six years – usually only one annual trip outside Europe – but it’s time to spread my wings again. Travel woman: that’s who I am and what I do.

Today’s flight, courtesy of Sun Microsystems, takes me from Milan to Frankfurt to Denver, on a United Airlines-Lufthansa code share. First problem arises from “code share.” I woke up at 3 am with an anxiety attack (I do that sometimes) and thought I should check in online in advance, as I had done coming back from my last trip on British Airways (they even had a very cute online application that let me choose my seats).

The tickets for this trip were purchased (by AmEx Business Travel, using my credit card), from United Airlines, but the aircraft appears to be Lufthansa all the way. So I went to the to check in. They didn’t recognize my credit card, kept asking for another. And that was the only option offered – no possibility to enter the record number, which I have on the printed out e-ticket.

I tried United’s website, and they apparently recognized me via the credit card, but told me I had to check in with Lufthansa. Argh.

Went back to sleep, woke up at 5:15, showered, drank coffee, dithered and fiddled until Antonello (o peerlessly faithful taxi driver!) arrived bang on time at 6. In spite of a sudden thunderstorm along the way, we reached Malpensa just after 7, and I was checked in by 7:15.

Malpensa is not the world’s most interesting airport – no real bookshops and no music/video shops. I had another coffee (decaf this time), fresh-squeezed OJ, and a chocolate croissant for breakfast, went on through security (no line! I am always going to fly on Tuesdays from now on for the rest of my life – flights on Tuesdays are cheaper, too).

There are lots of expensive fashion shops at Malpensa, but nothing I’d actually buy. A nice business class lounge would be a welcome refuge, but KLM, in spite of the Platinum status they reinstated me to a while ago, won’t let me sit in their lounge because I’m not flying on them or one of their partner airlines (what good is Platinum membership if I can’t use it anytime I damn well please?). And I can’t use Lufthansa’s lounge because I’m not flying business class with them.

So I’m sitting on the floor by the departure gate next to a wall socket (look for them on the columns near the windows) – might as well save my laptop’s battery while I can, it’s going to be a long trip. This is the only socket for miles and I’ve got it – several other laptop owners are eyeing me jealously.

Destination for this flight is Frankfurt. Also not my favorite airport. I’ve flown through there to India several times, and the terminal those flights leave from is remarkably lacking in services. Probably the US flights leave from a different terminal, hopefully with something a little more exciting in the way of food than German sausages and beer (which are only available from smoke-filled bars).


Here in Milan, I did not have to take out my laptop or take my shoes off. Does this mean their equipment is different (it looks the same as any other airport x-ray)? Or should I be worried about lax security? Or (sshh! don’t tell!) does this mean that the elaborate procedures at other airports are designed to make us feel more secure when actually we aren’t?

Dressing for Travel

In the travel forums I frequent, American tourists often ask how they can dress to not look like tourists in Italy. Some other American tourists reply: “They’re going to know you’re a foreigner anyway, so why bother?” But that misses the point.

I wish all American tourists were so attentive to the cultures they are visiting as to actively research how to dress for the local culture. On my last trip through Heathrow, I noticed a group of teenage girls travelling together (I always wonder where these globetrotting kids are going, and why), and was horrified by their attire. Most were wearing sweatshirts, baggy capri-length trousers, and flip-flops. One even had her U-shaped travel pillow stuck firmly around her neck. They all looked as if they had just come off the beach.

I’m neither a prude nor a snob, and there is something I like about Americans’ relaxed attitude towards dressing. It can be a profound relief after the “keeping up with the Joneses” fashionability of Italians (I don’t always bother). But, when in a foreign country, it seems disrespectful. I wish some of my fellow citizens would think a little harder about the impression they make on others.

6 thoughts on “Airport Reports: Malpensa

  1. Gina

    Your comments about the baggy clothing those girls had on made me laugh. Some friends of mine are traveling to Ireland next week and we were discussing attire. They both said they plan on bringing college sweatshirts (baggy of course), broken in jeans, tennies, and baseball caps. When I asked if that was is all…nothing a bit nicer/classier, they replied “no, why bother, we are on vacation”. Now I have never been to Ireland but I have been able to see a several other countries outside of the US and I have to say that the clothing they have set their mind to, is considered sloppy in any country and will not aid in them getting more respect or being treated like a local (which they desire). They clearly dont care, which I find humorous in an odd sort of way. Anyways long somewhat pointless story short…I hate when americans do that in other countries. It just does not seem respectful and it gives the rest of us a bad name 🙂

  2. Typesetter

    Regarding security and shoes, unless your shoes are metallic there is absolutely no reason to take them off or, if there is a reason to take off sheos than there is also reason to do full body seraches. Metal weapons are sen through the X-rays even with the shoes on, nonmetal weapon cannot be seen on x-rays shoes or no shoes. Now, suppose that some kind of pirate (ahrrr!) decides to try to kijack an airplane with a bamboo knife. The bamboo knife would not be see by any security equipment and the only way to discover it would be do a full body search, including having the passenger be stripped bare and all cavities of his or her body manually checked, plus having any piece of carry-on luggage and clothing with stiff or solid part dismantled bit by bit. Having the passenger take off the shoes is essentially done to make the whole search more thorough, but it does not change much int erms of security.

  3. vangie

    My biggest gripe is having to take off my shoes. Not so much for the futility of it, but that they never seem to go back on as readily in the screening line as they did at home. And need I mention the hygeine issues involved in sharing that floor with everyone else in the world. Also, even for domestic US flights, they’ve turned up the sensitivity so high on the metal detectors that my underwire bra can set them off. Love the ensuing pat-down.

    What I like about airports these days is that they all have Starbucks. I’m a hopeless *$$ addict. We have something in common (from reading your tweet): “My Drink” is also iced latte with no further additives.

  4. Kate

    Malpensa really is an irritating place to spend any amount of time. It’s certainly not the worst airport ever, but I fly between Milan and Newark or Boston at least three times a year, and it never ceases to amaze me that you can buy a variety of extremely expensive fashion items, but when it comes to books (particularly in English), it’s either “Shopaholic Annoys & Enervates” or the latest lawyer thriller. I appreciate that we’re in the land of “moda,” but honestly — a €500 scarf or a miniature Ferrari? Not going to be nearly as useful to me during a ten-hour trip.

    And the dungeon departure gates? Once you get down there, you’re left with NO bathrooms, NO vendors and only about 40 seats total for three or four gates, each of which boards a 300- to 600-person plane. And no Internet-access terminals in the departure wing. In fact, nearly all the vaguely useful services (post office, pharmacy, business center) are in the arrivals wing, which makes no sense to me. Who hangs around in the arrivals area other than people coming for pick-ups?

    My favorite airport perks? Mini-massage salons and Jamba Juice stands!

  5. m ramos

    I totally agree with you about the relaxed American attitude versus the Italians. I have been studying European Coffee Culture, and the difference is vast. Thanks for the great post!

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