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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alitalia Staff Shoulders the Blame

MILAN, Italy -- Working for a failing airline many Italians love to hate is never easy, but some harassed Alitalia staff say a dud privatization has pushed their working lives to a new low.

On top of the government talking tough about letting the money-losing state carrier go bust, Alitalia employees complain they are overworked, the butt of passenger ire and frustrated in a company that is bogged down in red tape run more like a government agency than a commercial enterprise.

"Working these days has been a real hell," said one stewardess in Alitalia's green-jacketed uniform as she rushed through Linate, Milan's N. 2 airport, to reach a flight.

Italy scrapped its auction of Alitalia, Europe's sixth largest carrier by market value, when remaining bidders pulled out last week. It was another slap in the face for a company which once stood for national pride.

The center-left government faces dwindling options for Alitalia, which is losing more than a million euros a day and riven by strikes among its 20,000-strong work force.

Without a buyer it may face liquidation, since the European Union has banned the Italian government from injecting any more cash into the struggling airline.

Poor staff morale and the derision of some Italians -- who joke Alitalia is an acronym for "Always Late In Takeoff Always Late In Arrival" -- are a far cry from the glory days.

Alitalia, created after World War II, was once a company many aspired to work for.

Sharp-suited pilots laden with gold braids strode purposefully across airport concourses the world over, confident their Alitalia badges marked them out as the "cream of the crop."

No matter how smart the uniforms, cabin crew now see little glamour in long hours and telling passengers to "buckle up."

"We work too much, over 11 hours per day, some of which are on the ground. But we get paid only for the flight hours," said the stewardess on her way through Linate.

Other staff say crews that oversee boarding often race from one gate to another at a pace that threatens safety.

Local media have been quick to ridicule the airline's extravagance. Alitalia acts a taxi service for some employees who work at its Rome base, flying them daily to work at the airline's second hub in Milan.

Many Italians lay much of the blame for the airline's failure to find a suitor on its staff. The National Consumers Union has said Alitalia workers often strike for no reason and that the company "only eats taxpayers' money."

Italian Infrastructure Minister Antonio di Pietro has been blunter. "When something is diseased, you need to amputate it," he said after the auction fell through, adding that the flag carrier should be sold off for one token euro.

A spokeswoman for Alitalia declined to comment, but one flight attendant, who did not want to be identified, had a clear view. "They cannot cut jobs unless they decide to leave the airplanes on the ground," she said.

The problem for her and other Alitalia staff is the government may decide to do just that.