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Florence Airport (Rant) - What have they done to this airport?!

Stew Vreeland

FLORENCE, Italy – "Babbo . . ?" "D'amore?" Italian daddy getting his sleepy, curly headed toddler off the plane. Babbo must have called his son Love or Treasure, I don't know how many times, just getting out of their seats and into the aisle. Made me ashamed of my parenting skills. I wanted to be that dad and have one of our kids be that lucky toddler for even just that moment. We are in a good place.

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First, the Rant

FLORENCE, Italy – As I said, we are in a good place: Italy. Except. I must do a rant on the new airport. OMG. Has anyone else had this problem? Please tell me it was just us on a bad day. Does anyone else think they've ruined the airport with their "renovations"? Who created this mess? I want names. And I want them, now.

Is this tacky of me? Everyone hates a complainer. In fairness, you may know I have bragged on the Florence airport here for years. Always a favorite. A jewel among airports in my book. I take it all back. They were closed for months to Renovate and all they did was Ruin. Shame, shame.

Some how, they did not get the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" memo.

Ok, they had already started the goofy unloading thing where you get off the plane and jam your way onto a waiting bus. Then when it is totally stuffed with people and their bags, the driver puts it in gear and goes maybe half a bus length. And stops. You uncurl yourself from around a pole and get out. Totally Peter Sellers movie material and idiotic but everything else was so charming it was sort of light comic relief. Now it is just another annoyance.

Previously, there was one belt delivering up bags along the back wall of the first room you came to right off the plane/bus. Instant bags. Now there are two or three mini baggage carousels. But no baggage. Not without a wait. There was only one plane on the ground and it was ours. Only maybe 15 people waiting for their bags. And waiting. And waiting. The Italians in the group were throwing blind, running fits. A British expat, the picture of patient patrician ennui, said no bag ever comes in less than half an hour in this new system.

Whattheheck!!

The plane is parked right there at the end of the bus right outside the door to this room. I've known Malpensa and believe me this is no Malpensa. Just tiny, little Florence. And wait a full half an hour we did. The wait for the bags was almost as long as the flight. Unexcusable. And no excuses were offered to anyone by anyone. The Italians kept yelling at the staff behind the glass partition of Lost Baggage and didn't even get a shoulder shrug out of them. Baffling.

In an aside here, yes I do know/admit that I have advised heartily against non-carryon bags. For this very reason. I was tricked. They changed the rules on us and only one carry on is now allowed on almost every flight in Europe. I will be writing on that subject shortly. I have a plan!

oh we got dem mean old rental car blues in Italy this time

SUDDENLY . . . WE FOUND OURSELVES IN A LOWER RING OF CAR RENTAL HELL.

Oh, I'm wound up now. It used to be you came out of the door to baggage, had the customs guys totally avoid eye contact with you and you were in The Car Rental Zone. In the Arrivals building. Because you had Arrived.

Well, the customs guys in the dove grey military uniforms and the German Shepards still act like you don't exist and the car rental places? They do not exist. They are solid gone. Now you are just dumped directly into the Departures Terminal where you run into a wall of people trying to Depart. No clues to location of auto rentals at all. If you ask around someone may point you out the door. Where you are literally now on the outside looking in.

Florence Airport Car Rentals

Florence Airport Car Rental Offices

The building vaguely to the left as you go out the door of Departures is low, concrete and foreboding with chain link and barbed wire on most sides and there is one side with four windows cut in it, facing the parking lot. The concept appears to be that it is never, ever going to rain or snow here and you can just line up OUTSIDE for your car. In any kind of weather, all year round without so much as a piece of plywood tacked up as a shelter. And you can stand there all you want.

Florence Airport

I want to say, it surely is not the poor employees fault. They have been victimized by some strange new concept that has been imposed on them by their new building setup. One window was covered with notices in every language saying "Stay Outside". Then. "OK, if you HAVE to come in, one person in a group can maybe come in. BUT NO BAGS". Leave them somewhere? And so there you are. And really outside really looking in between the friendly notices. And no obvious door whatsoever. The only door that potentially could get you in the building is sort of white painted so you can't see in and all it has to invite you in is three signs. All saying the same thing. All in English. Here's what they say: "Only Staff".

Welcome mat is always out at the Florence airport. Naturally only here, and in Wonderland, could "Only Staff" mean "Come Right In" because everyone is doing that anyway. With bags. I don't care what their sign says, you can't "leave bags unattended" in an airport. So you enter this strange world. Blank white walls, no signage, like a regular row of offices in your accountant's building except with lines of irritable people lined up at the doors of each office. The Germans ahead of me had been given a car with at least one flat tire. They couldn't even leave the parking lot. They had filled a whole sheet of paper with written explanation of their plight and then the frazzled clerk told them to Go to the car and wait and in half an hour someone would be there to fix the flat.

Perfect opening for RyanAir flights to this part of Italy. Can't wait to give their Stanstead to Perugia flight a try next trip. We already have RyanAir tickets to Rome in our hot little hands as we speak. More news on that as it becomes available.

P. S.: I would love to hear positive stories of this new airport, because I'm having positive feelings about Florence herself these days. Our last stay there was only an overnight but it was stellar. Let me know if this airport debacle was just me? Tell me your experiences there in Florence.

OK, the next story will be a total Italian rave! Promise. Just felt I had to warn travelers about this big sea change at our formerly favorite airport.


Stew and Midge live in Maine. They work together and then vacation together as often as they possibly can at their home in Panicale. They run a website for Italian real estate, www.seeyouinitaly.com. And they do pro bono work for the non profit Spannocchia Foundation, www.spannocchia.org.

© Stew Vreeland, 2007

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