I posted a while ago about using miles to book Royal Air Maroc. I used Etihad miles, but you can also use Iberia Avios to book on the Moroccan flag carrier.
Our outbound trip was simply New York-JFK to Casablanca in business class. When we booked, it was going to be a 787-9 Dreamliner, which features Royal Air Maroc’s new business class in a 1-2-1 arrangement, with direct aisle access for all.
Unfortunately, two days before my flight, I noticed on ExpertFlyer that the seat map now showed 2-2-2, which is the old business class on the 787-8 Dreamliner. Disappointing, but it provided something to compare to our return trip.
Our flight was originally scheduled for 8pm, but was pushed back to 9pm about a month before when Morocco temporarily changed their time zone for Ramadan. Since we were checking out of our hotel in Chelsea at 4pm, we took the LIRR + AirTrain for the absolute steal of $9.50 per person and were at JFK Terminal 1 at 5pm. This was right at 4 hours before the scheduled departure time when the check-in desks opened.
It’s no TBIT at LAX, but JFK Terminal 1 exudes the aura of an international terminal since only carriers from abroad operate there. Unfortunately, no Pre-Check access on Royal Air Maroc, so we waited about 20 minutes in security. I often forget how much longer regular security can take.
Lounge Access through Air France
Business class passengers get access to the Air France Lounge at the end of the terminal near gate 1 (there is barely any signage, you simply have to look for a door that says Air France). The lounge is fine, there is a small buffet with some hot options and salad, as well the customary wine, beer, and alcohol options. There is an upper mezzanine but this is only for passengers flying Air France business class or their super top tier elites. The downstairs was rather empty since Priority Pass admissions are closed during this time.
Disorganized Boarding Process
Boarding on our ticket was timed for 7:30pm (for an 8:45pm departure!) but I noticed the inbound plane was delayed 20 minutes to a 7:20pm arrival, and so headed to the gate around 7:45pm. As expected, they were nowhere near ready, and it seemed like some extra security was greeting the flight, though I couldn’t figure out the reason behind it. We were told to return at 8:45pm for boarding. Besides waiting at the gate, there are no ways to get updates as the Air France lounge doesn’t know the status of the flight.
After a quick return to the lounge, we returned at around 8:40pm only to find a huge scrum of people in the gate house. They announced boarding group C, at which point I realized they had started boarding much earlier. We ended up waiting in line in the jetway for about 15 minutes. They also decided to board passengers requiring wheelchairs while everyone stood in line in the jetway, which just made it a bigger mess.
As we got to the door to the jetway, another business class passenger who was boarding late started scooting past people to get to the front. We followed him and let him awkwardly ask other passengers to move aside. In his defense, the holdup in the jetway was due to the holdup boarding in Economy Class, as we got to our seats immediately after turning left at door 2.
Royal Air Maroc 201 New York (JFK) to Casablanca (CMN) Saturday, May 18, 2019 8:55pm-7:45am [+1] (actual 9:35pm-7:50am [+1]) Duration: 6h50m (actual 6h15m) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, Seats 2A/2C
We were welcomed to a small 3-row business class. Each seat in a set of 2 faces inward, as if you’re at a jazz club at a small circular table enjoying a show with your seatmate. When the seats go flat, they lay on 2 planes, with the window seat elevated above the aisle seat. Apart from the fact that I’m not a fan of any business class that doesn’t have direct aisle access, this is even more awkward, even if you know your seatmate.
Business class was fairly empty, even though there were only 3 rows of a 2-2-2 configuration. Every solo traveler had their own set of 2 while three sets (including ours) had a couple traveling. The flight went out with 11/18 seats filled.
We were given amenity kits, headphones, and a welcome drink (water, OJ, or apple juice).
Our neighbors across the aisle had opened the tray table to place the welcome drink, but the tray support got dislodged and was unable to be stowed for takeoff. It took several employees and several sets of waving hands almost 15 minutes to figure out how to fix it.
We eventually took off about 35 minutes after scheduled departure, which isn’t bad for JFK. Orders for drinks and dinner were taken shortly after. Given that it’s a short flight going east and there’s a lot of waiting on the ground at JFK, this really should be done before takeoff from New York, particularly in a fairly empty cabin to save time.
The glossy menu was oddly difficult to take a clear picture of, so I’ve transcribed it below:
Dinner started with salmon mousse, bresaola, and pastrami canapés, a raw vegetable salad, and an appetizer of grilled scallops with chervil sprig.
Hot dish options included (1) grilled marinated shrimp and cod, lemon cream sauce accompanied with spinach and rise with parsley, (2) stuffed chicken, creamy mushroom sauce accompanied with vegetables ratatouille, or (3) grilled beef filet, pepper corn sauce accompanied with roasted red potato and green beans.
Post main course options included a cheese plate, pastries (black forest cake, caramel cheese cake, or fresh fruit tart).
Liquor options include Martini, Gordon’s gin, Smirnoff vodka, Camus cognac, JW Black Label whisky, Cointreau, Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé champagne, a 2014 Chateau Le Bourdieu, a 2014 Moroccan red wine, a 2013 white wine that I couldn’t figure out more of, and Casablanca beer.
Non-alcoholic drinks included Coke, Coke Zero, Fanta, Sprite, Schweppes (tonic and citron), orange/apple/mango/tomato juice, tea, coffee, or Moroccan mint tea.
My main course looked unappetizing and it only tasted slightly better than that. Meanwhile, I had ordered a vegetarian meal for my travel partner, who got a steaming plate full of biryani (so steaming, that taking a picture of it from above steamed up my camera lens). I actually wished I had ordered a vegetarian main right around then.
I was so disenchanted with the lackluster service and food that I decided to just go to sleep and try to salvage a good rest, even putting a sticker on my seat to forgo breakfast service. The crew kept the bedding in an undisclosed location and it took several call bells to get one.
In lie-flat mode, the seats are almost on top of each other, but they’re still flat beds and I slept pretty much the rest of the flight. Or at least I thought — the bedding was collected with about 20 minutes left in the air.
We landed only about 10 minutes late into Casablanca and were guided to a remote stand location. This is particularly obnoxious at an airline’s hub, though they had two dedicated vans for business class passengers, as well as a dedicated immigration line for business class. We were through to baggage claim within minutes, and out to the airport train station less than 30 minutes after landing.
Honestly speaking, this was one of my least memorable business class experiences. Boarding was a disorganized mess, the flight attendants were not particularly conscientious of a short overnight flight, and the downgrade to a poorer business class product just left a bad taste in my mouth (or maybe that was my “chicken”). That said, we had a much better flight on the way back, partly due to a better business class seat but also due to one of the better business class crews I’ve flown with.
I’ll post that report next.