Which direction should we travel? Into Rome, out of London or vice-versa?
August 5, 2010 5:55 AM   Subscribe

In general, for a family vacation, would it be easier to fly into Rome Fiumicino and out of London Heathrow, or fly into England and out of Italy?

Trying to plan a family trip to Western Europe next July for our twin daughters' 16th birthday. Planning to hit Italy, France, and England.

In general, would it be easier to fly into Fiumicino and out of Heathrow, or fly into England and out of Italy? I understand that the airport in Rome was ranked #5 on Forbes' list of most delayed airports for having a large number of delayed departures. So, I'm thinking fly into Rome and out of London so that we have a better chance of making our connection here in the states. But that's just a guess.

Also, suggestions for which major city to have for a home base in Italy would be nice. We're thinking Florence, but haven't yet decided. Train travel is no problem for us as my wife and I have been to Europe multiple times, but just not to Italy...
posted by Ashman to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
 
I agree with your reasoning, and can think of one or two other advantages of doing it that way (eg. delays arriving at LHR worst in the early morning, when flights from the US arrive, due to the curfew on landings that gets lifted at 6am, causing backups). But I also think there are so many factors involved and unpredictable aspects that it's probably not worth bothering about too much.

Before deciding, I'd make sure that there isn't some more decisive factor, eg., a radical difference in cost of travel between Italy and England (whether you're planning to go by air or train). Eurostar tickets especially, in my experience, can oscillate wildly. If you save enough for one more nice meal that way, I'd forget the airport calculation.

Florence is divine, what more can I say, and on personal preference vastly superior to Rome or Venice as a base. Siena's even more charming but possibly too small.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:13 AM on August 5, 2010


I'd watch travelzoo for deals and go based on cost.
posted by k8t at 6:14 AM on August 5, 2010


I should clarify that "arrival delays worst in the early morning" is almost certainly wrong, statistically. I just mean that delays are bad in the early morning at LHR compared to many airports. But I have no evidence that these many airports include Rome. So maybe ignore that bit.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:16 AM on August 5, 2010


Or what k8t said, far more concisely than me. This isn't worth giving another thought to if one of the options involves saving a few bucks.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:19 AM on August 5, 2010


Train travel is no problem for us as my wife and I have been to Europe multiple times, but just not to Italy...

You might also want to consider intercity coaches in Italy. For some reason, they're faster than the train.
posted by randomination at 6:30 AM on August 5, 2010


I don't know if this will still be an issue, but arriving into Heathrow about a month ago the non-EU passport queue was horrendous. Seriously. With UK passports it took us nearly 50 minutes to clear customs, and the non-EU queue was at least 30 times longer. They've really tightened up immigration lately. I expect you're very much better off flying into a smaller airport or arriving by train or boat if at all possible - the sheer volume of people who arrive via LHR combined with the stricter immigration checks are overwhelming the already-shit infrastructure.

I cannot comment on non-EU immigration into Rome, but I have never seen anything like the customs hall at Heathrow. I would have probably eaten my own leg had I been stuck in that queue.
posted by handee at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2010


Expect to wait a looooong time for your luggage in FCO - that's a given. One hour is not uncommon.
Oh, and do yourself a favour and shrink-wrap (at those special booths they have at airports) the hell of your checked-in luggage so that the luggage handlers @ FCO do not help themselves to anything they may like. You think I'm joking - trust me, you don't want to start your hols sans fresh underwear and having to deal with the Italian police.

on that cheery note, I have to dash so sorry if I don't help on the rest - there was a post on Tuscany the other day with good ideas. And I've seen mefites being (by and large) pretty on the ball on Italy so I'm sure they'll come up with good suggestions.
posted by MessageInABottle at 6:38 AM on August 5, 2010


Also, suggestions for which major city to have for a home base in Italy would be nice.

Rome.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:40 AM on August 5, 2010


Immigration lines, though not necessarily the officers themselves, will suck when you arrive at either place in the morning as that's when many, many outside-the-EU flights arrive, but since you're not racing to catch a connecting flight, don't sweat it. Have a book accessible and maybe a little snack like a muffin or something you squirreled away pre-departure.

The UK has a landing-card system similar to the US, but Italy does not - lots of the delay/rugby scrum in UK arrivals, I believe, could be from airlines just not handing out the card on board and then people either filling them out at the desk or having to go back to wherever the cards are distributed (probably at the end of the line!). So perhaps an Italian arrival would be easier.

One other thing to consider is that Italy drives on the right side of the road, so if your flight comes in from the US early and you're still on jet-lag autopilot when you leave the airport, you won't have as big a risk of accidentally losing a limb to a bus!
posted by mdonley at 6:49 AM on August 5, 2010


Fiumicino has very few flights (maybe none?) leaving for the US past late morning. I got stuck there overnight because our connecting flight was only about a half hour late. We only barely made it to the American Airlines ticket counter before it closed at 11:00 a.m. It's in a small terminal completely separate from the rest of the airport, and we had a really hard time finding an airport employee who even knew where it was. So, that was all sort of a pain in the ass.
posted by something something at 6:53 AM on August 5, 2010


I prefer staying in or around Siena to Florence. Siena's size makes it very manageable, easy to navigate as individuals or a family and has its own rich history. There is excellent bus transportation to Florence (1.25 hr) and it is a nice ride. However, I can certainly understand that with teenagers you might prefer to be in a larger city with more museums/cafes/restaurants (etc) immediately accessible. Since you have traveled frequently in Europe I assume you know that Florence will be hot and crowded in July. Is there any possibility of taking your daughters out of school a bit early in late May or going in September. Having been there after the peak season makes a significant difference in cost, crowds and temperature.
Yes, fly out of LHR or LGW.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:57 AM on August 5, 2010


Cost first. The other differences are meaningless. Both have positives and negatives.

If you do end up arriving at LHR I would suggest you not take a 7 AM ish arrival flight - every airline has a transatlantic flight that arrives then so immigration is a shit show. Much easier a little later in the morning.
posted by JPD at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2010


Nthing arriving in Rome instead of London. Something else to consider is the temperature: Italy can start to get a bit too hot (at least for my taste) later in the summer, so having it earlier on the itinerary might be wiser.

Also, Florence as a base makes a lot of sense, especially if you're interested in visiting some of the northern cities.
posted by dcheeno at 7:17 AM on August 5, 2010


I actually flew Philadelphia - Rome - London - Philadelphia in May/June.

Arriving in Rome -- on no sleep, of course -- we were all herded into a very large room, with passport control at the other end, and no obvious indication of where we were supposed to go. It kind of sucked.

Arriving in London things seemed to be much more organized. But it's hard to directly compare because we were arriving midday, so the crowds were smaller.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2010


The UK now fingerprints non-EU foreign citizens entering the country, which adds to the delay going through immigration at Heathrow. The delay will be much worse if you are coming in on a transatlantic flight full of US passport holders who will all reach immigration at the same time, vs. a flight from France or Italy that will be mostly EU passengers.
posted by aiglet at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2010


Last year when I went to Italy I wound up flying into Venice because it was cheaper than Rome and it was super easy to fly into. No customs lines, no wait for luggage. We were out of the airport so much faster than I expected we had to wait several hours at the train station for our train. Of course that was in October not July, it's probably much busier in July. We didn't even visit Venice itself but I would definitely fly into Venice airport again.

And otherwise I agree that both Heathrow and Rome are bad airports to fly into so it probably doesn't make much difference which you pick.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:36 AM on August 5, 2010


I think it would be better to plan your itinerary, and then buy plane tickets accordingly. Unless one of you is going to have to go straight from the airport to work/school upon arrival and cannot tolerate any sort of delay, period, I wouldn't worry too much about delays. I fly several times a year out of some of the worst airports in the US for delays (La Guardia, JFK, and Newark), and I can't think of a single instance within the last several years that I was significantly delayed out of any of them.

I have flown out of Fiumicino in the past - everything went according to plan.

You should decide where you want to go, when, and then make the call about Heathrow vs. Fiumicino.

Do you know where in Italy you want to go, or what you want the focus of your trip to be? A few years ago I took a family trip to Italy and had no choice but to go in August. We thus decided to base ourselves along the Amalfi coast, where we were able to check out Roman and Greek ruins (Pompeii and Herculaneum are nearby in addition to LOTS of others), hit the beach, wander around in old villas and churches and such, go to Naples to check out their awesome archaeological museum (also the home of Pizza!), eat lots of amazing food, etc. We also spent 3 days in Rome.

However, if I were going to be in Italy at a different time of year, unless you are all really obsessed with classical/Roman/Greek stuff, I would probably pick a different part of the country to be my base. Florence would be pretty awesome.
posted by Sara C. at 8:03 AM on August 5, 2010


aiglet: I don't remember being fingerprinted when I flew into Heathrow in June. (US citizen, on a flight from Rome.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:19 AM on August 5, 2010


Oh, and re customs - Flying into Rome was fine. There was a line, but it wasn't unusual compared to any other customs line I've ever waited in.

Flying out of Rome - I had a flight to JFK that definitely left in the afternoon. It was about 5 years ago, though, so maybe this has changed? I don't know why it would have. You should search flights and see what's out there rather than making an assumption either way.
posted by Sara C. at 8:21 AM on August 5, 2010


The UK now fingerprints non-EU foreign citizens entering the country, which adds to the delay going through immigration at Heathrow.

This is simply not true. They may fingerprint for certain entry visas but they aren't fingerprinting Americans - yet.

I hate to say this but I would ignore the advice on EU vs non-EU waits at Heathrow. I fly into Heathrow about once a month and it is just one big crapshoot which usually depends on what other flights are arriving and from where and how many border agents are around. That is, it is really unpredictable.

I'd probably suggest London first because you can get your travel-bearings in an English speaking country before heading out the to craziness that is Italy. London also has, for example, an amazing travel bookstore, so you can wait and buy your Italy guides and such after you arrive.

Which city in Italy to use as a base depends on what you are interested in seeing. Florence is a good base, though. You can easily spend a week there, there is lots of tourist infrastructure and it is close to many other places on the Italy Sights tour.
posted by vacapinta at 8:54 AM on August 5, 2010


Fly into Rome and base yourselves in Rome. Siena, Florence, Venice are fantastic and wonderful choices, but for a first trip it is only Rome.
posted by txmon at 10:36 AM on August 5, 2010


The UK now fingerprints non-EU foreign citizens entering the country, which adds to the delay going through immigration at Heathrow.

This US citizen was not fingerprinted at Heathrow a few weeks ago.

Anyway, the line for immigration is often long, but the upside is that your bags are usually waiting for you by the time you cross the UK border into the baggage pick up. I would look at flights into both, and go for the cheapest option on the least terrible airline.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:43 PM on August 5, 2010


I'd probably suggest London first because you can get your travel-bearings in an English speaking country before heading out the to craziness that is Italy. London also has, for example, an amazing travel bookstore, so you can wait and buy your Italy guides and such after you arrive.

I am going to contradict my own post. If you've never been to Italy, Rome is a dramatic city to arrive in. It really feels other-worldly with that We're-not-in-Kansas anymore feeling. Meandering through the old city, starting perhaps at the Vatican, then along the river to Castel SantAngelo then across the river to Piazza Navona where you can admire Bernini's gorgeous fountain while you enjoy a gelato, then zig-zagging through the city to the tourist sights (Pantheon, Trevi etc.) and finally arriving at the iconic Colosseum.

Honestly, a couple days in Rome and a few days in Florence makes for a great Italy introduction.
posted by vacapinta at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2010


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