As I previously mentioned, I just returned from Italy and I have to tell you — I had quite the experience this morning at Rome’s Fiumicino airport (FCO).

My girlfriend and I were booked on American Airlines from Rome to Philly in Economy (gasp!). We stayed the previous night at the Rome Marriott Park Hotel so that we wouldn’t have to rush to the airport in the morning. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:45AM so we decided to take the 8:30AM shuttle to the airport, which is only a 10 minute drive. After traffic, we ended up arriving at Rome’s Terminal 3 at 8:50AM

As soon as you walk into Terminal 3 at FCO, chaos will be apparent. There are people everywhere, all seemingly confused as to where they should be.

How it used to be…

If you ever flew an American-flagged carrier out of FCO in the past, you probably checked in and went through security and passport control at T5, and then took an airside bus to the E departure gates for American, Delta, and United.

This system wasn’t always perfect, but in hindsight it was much more efficient.

How it is now…

T5 is no more. I can’t get a solid answer if it will re-open or if it’s truly caput. Regardless, the current process begins at T3. When you enter T3 you’ll have to hang a left and go to the end of the terminal where you will see a massive line of people waiting to check in for American, Delta, and United. It’s worth mentioning that the line for American was quadruple as long as Delta and United. Why? I’m not sure.

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Once you snake your way through the line you’ll have to check in and check your bags. This will be done one of two ways:

  1. Check in and print boarding passes and bag tags at a computerized kiosk and then get in line to give your bags to a desk agent, or
  2. Check in, print boarding passes, bag tags all in one shot at the agent’s desk.

You really have no say in which option you take part in as you are filed along by airport representatives. For me, this process took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. 

Once you’re all checked in, it’s time to make your way to security. It’s a bit of a walk so if you are late for your flight you want to make sure you put some pep in your step.

Once you get through security you’ll have to get in line for passport control. This process was relatively painless and took about 20 minutes.

Now that you’ve checked in and gone through security, your journey isn’t over yet. In a move that still, to this moment, baffles me, Rome Airport thought it was a great idea to dump you from security directly into a massive duty free store. It’s here that you have to expertly navigate around crowds of people to continue to the train that you have to take  from Terminal 3 to the E gates (as depicted above).

Once you arrive at the E gates, you’re home free.

All in all, this process took us 2 hours. So make sure you give yourself at least 3 hours at the airport before your scheduled flight time (and maybe a bit more).

How to get through FCO check-in the quickest way possible

  • Use Priority check in if possible — Business/First/Premium Economy passengers; Concierge Key/Gold/Platium/Platinum Pro/Executive Platinum American status; all levels of Oneworld status.
  • Carry-on bag only — obviously if you’re in Italy you’re probably on a longer trip and need to have a checked bag. If you can keep your packing light and fly with just a carry-on, you better your chances of getting right through. My girlfriend and I had a slight issue as she got the ‘SSSS’ on her ticket so we had no choice but to wait in the line to see an agent.

Final word

These are just some quick tips based on my observations today. I don’t know how long this process will last, but hopefully not too much longer. I reached out to American and they said they are going to forward the feedback for internal review (whatever that means in the grand scheme).

Have you flown out of FCO recently? What was your experience like?

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MFK
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MFK

Thanks!! Flying in/out of FCO in a couple of months and staying at the same hotel the night before my return.

Sergio
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Sergio

Never transit from fco no more, when I go to pisa once year I go to muc or fra or lhr Rome airport is not very good and this going on for long time

Pippo
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Pippo

You seem surprised that Rome Airport was very busy in the middle of the holiday season.
Have you tried Istanbul, Hong-Kong or other large nation capitals?
Or were your previous travel experiences out of Fargo ND in February?

Mark J
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Mark J

You are lucky that you have a US passport. For those who are non-EU or non USA passport holder, the line is 1.5 hours to get through departure immigration! I was there last may and there were only 2 persons manning the immigration counter vs around 200 people in line! Arrival immigration is even worse! It took me 2+hrs to get through!

Luca Farinelli
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As a photographer born in Rome who lived in London for the best part of the last decade I can say that FCO has improved a lot since the renovations and since the extension was built – but travelers should always keep in mind that in summer Rome is simply flooded with tourists, and airports are no exception to this! Same goes for Venice and Heathrow/Stansted/Gatwick in London (especially if for any reason they decide to strengthen security checks). In summer I would always recommend getting to FCO at least 2 hours earlier for carry-on only European flights, or 3… Read more »

Miles
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“…if you’re in Italy you’re probably on a longer trip and need to have a checked bag….”
Uh, no. There are many travelers, including my wife and me, who take lengthy international trips with carry-on only. One of the many advocates and explainers of this is travel expert Rick Steves.