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TO THE POINT: While it may seem like an obscure airline to most travelers, Royal Air Maroc is a great option for those looking to use Etihad Guest Rewards to make a partner booking. The pros: a terrific award redemption, comfy lie-flat seats and stellar meal service. The cons: poor food options in the Air France lounge at JFK and sub-par blankets.
TPG Contributor Michael Spelfogel recently experienced Royal Air Maroc’s new business-class product on the airline’s 787 Dreamliner from New York (JFK) to Casablanca (CMN). Here’s his review. (All photos are by the author).
As part of my TPG internship, I was tasked with exploring all the redemption possibilities for partner awards with Etihad Guest miles. After much research and deliberation, we decided to book award flights for three different intern trips — one to Belgrade, Serbia in Air Serbia’s brand new business class; one to Dakar, Senegal on South African Airways (review coming soon); and one, for me, to Casablanca, Morocco, on Royal Air Maroc.
Unfortunately, Etihad doesn’t make it easy to redeem with partners — to book an award flight on Royal Air Maroc with Etihad Guest miles, you must call Etihad’s service center (I suggest contacting the one in Manchester), and manually check availability date by date with an agent. It helps to give representatives the exact flight numbers, and of course, to have an agent who is knowledgeable and willing to help — for every flight that you request, the agent must make a dummy booking to see if the system “accepts the reservation attempt,” in order to confirm availability.
Once you find dates that will work, the representative sends you an email with the reservation so you can confirm that the names and details are correct. Etihad will then deduct the appropriate number of miles and charge you the taxes and fees.
My round-trip award ticket ended up costing a total of 88,000 Etihad Guest miles, plus $311 in taxes and fees. Note that Etihad charges the same number of miles for any itinerary above 4,000 miles and stopovers are allowed for the same price, so you could potentially fly Royal Air Maroc from New York (JFK) to any European destination the airline serves, and enjoy a free stopover in Casablanca, for just 44,000 miles each way in business class. Availability was pretty good, too, and I found space in business class nearly every other day — our cabin was only 25% full when I flew, too.
Airport and Lounge
Royal Air Maroc leaves from Terminal 1 at JFK — note that there’s no TSA PreCheck line and the wait can really be extensive, especially during the evening hours when the red-eye flights to Europe leave. Luckily, Royal Air Maroc offers two flights per day from JFK, one in the morning and one at night. Since I was on the morning flight, there was barely any line at all.
I was able to check in online and print out a boarding pass. I stopped by the check-in counter, which had no line for premium passengers, and was quickly escorted to security.
The space itself was designed nicely and the lounge had a nice look to it. Additional seating was available upstairs and there’s a separate room for Air France first-class passengers flying in La Première, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.
The food offerings in the lounge, however, were thoroughly disappointing, as there were only a handful of meager sandwich options and noodles available, along with a few drink choices.
Needless to say, this was not quite the breakfast I was looking for.
Before boarding, I left the lounge early to see if there were other food options around. Korean Air also has a lounge nearby that’s open to Priority Pass members — unfortunately, it didn’t open until after my flight departed, so I bought a quick snack in the terminal and headed to the gate.
Despite it being an hour before the flight, I could barely get to the premium-class line because the gate area was mobbed by passengers. Apparently Royal Air Maroc boards its planes almost an hour early, so I was able to walk right onto the plane.
I was first to board the Dreamliner and was impressed by the cabin’s Arabian-style décor. The plane has just three rows of business class in a 2-2-2 configuration.
There were two lavatories for the 18 business-class passengers (although there were only three other business-class travelers on my flight). The seats are fully lie-flat, but look pretty odd when reclined. The window seats on either side recline upward, making for a higher bed, while the aisle seats recline downward, seemingly making it easier for the window passenger to climb over if the aisle passenger’s seat is in the lie-flat position.
However, this also meant that passengers with high reclining seats could not lie down and have their trays out for meals at the same time — during all meal services, I had to return to the takeoff and landing position in order to allow the tray table to be flat.
When reclined fully, I thought the bed was fine for sleeping and had no trouble doing so, even though I’d opted for the daytime flight. The blankets were nothing to write home about, roughly what one would expect to receive in economy, so that was a bit disappointing.
Before the flight, I took a quick peek of the economy cabin. It looked very nice, with TVs at every seat and charging ports for electronics.
The economy cabin was arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration.
At 22,000 miles each way to practically anywhere Royal Air Maroc flies, this is an incredibly solid redemption option when using Etihad Guest Miles.
Each business-class passenger received an amenity kit with a toothbrush, lip balm, hand cream, an eyeshade, ear plugs, refreshing spray, a comb, a shoe horn and a pair of socks. The quality of the products was very good, but it was certainly not the largest amenity kit I have ever seen. The bathrooms offered additional hand cream and moisturizer, and there were pieces of cloth to dry your hands with (instead of paper towels), which the crew continued to restock throughout the flight.
Toward the front of the cabin, there was a display with flowers, snacks and a selection of newspapers in English, Arabic, and French.
Royal Air Maroc’s 787 Dreamliner offers a large, 23-inch in-flight entertainment screen for every business-class passenger. There’s a remote close to the seat so you can use its touchscreen interface to operate your TV, even when you’re fully reclined.
There was a selection of a few dozen movies and TV shows to choose from, as well as games and the live map feature.
While the screen itself was nice, I found its entertainment selection to be fairly limiting. There was no Wi-Fi onboard, which sadly I have come to expect from most domestic and international flights these days.
Food and Beverage
The meal service was definitely the most entertaining and elaborate aspect of the trip. Flight attendants served orange juice and other drinks shortly after boarding and brought around hot towels right after takeoff.
I was soon brought the menu offering selections for a three-course meal as well as a pretty extensive drink and cocktail list. Royal Air Maroc serves both a full meal and a light snack on its flights to and from New York.
Because the flight took off shortly after 9:00am and I had just had breakfast at JFK, I opted for the snack first and saved the full meal for the end of the flight. The snack consisted of a turkey club sandwich with yogurt and a selection of bread rolls on the side.
After each meal service, flight attendants came through the aisle with an entire trolley of cheeses and wines, of which you could choose any or all to try. For the main course, we were first served a canapé starter that consisted of a salmon spread, hummus and another pastry.
Next, I was served a salad that came with lox (salmon), which was also pretty good.
For my main course, I ordered beef tenderloin, which was slightly overcooked and came with potatoes and vegetables.
I was also served a wine accompaniment with each course. Lastly, I had a choice of three desserts and opted for the strawberry cake, which was really good.
I thought that the catering was one of the best parts of the flight experience, especially the cheese and wine carts you could summon upon request.
While Royal Air Maroc seems to not do gate deplaning or boarding for its JFK-bound flights, business-class passengers get to take a special shuttle van from the plane to a fast-track immigration line instead of having to wait for the larger bus in a line that can be over an hour long at times.
That was certainly a nice touch after a seven-hour flight.
Royal Air Maroc’s new 787 Dreamliner is a significant improvement over the 767 aircraft that used to (and occasionally still does) operate the airline’s long-haul routes. While the soft product is excellent, the configuration of the lie-flat seats left more to be desired.
While not technically an alliance airline, Royal Air Maroc is expanding its fleet of 787 Dreamliners and destination offerings worldwide — the carrier will be operating daily flights from Washington D.C. and Montreal by this fall in addition to its twice-daily service from New York. And at just 44,000 Etihad Guest miles each way, it’s a great business-class option for trips across the Atlantic.
Have you flown on Air Maroc before? Tell us about your experience, below.
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