A Whole Row to Myself on Royal Air Maroc's Dreamliner From NYC to Casablanca
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Before starting at TPG, I'd never flown across the Atlantic (or Pacific). Yep, you read that right — I'd never left North America before! However, all that changed in a big way when I was tapped to jet off to Morocco to film videos for the site. I was certainly more than excited for this opportunity, but also a bit anxious, as most people's first trips across the pond are to London or Paris and I was jumping right into the deep end by visiting Morocco, a somewhat unconventional destination for a first trip overseas.
With the destination set, it was time to find a way to get there. Plenty of European airlines service Marrakech, but Morocco's own Royal Air Maroc was offering a more convenient itinerary at a cheaper price, so I decided to go for it, and booked my first-ever transatlantic flight: New York (JFK) to Marrakech (RAK) via Casablanca (CMN). As an added bonus, the aircraft assigned to the JFK-CMN route is a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, meaning I'd get to cross the Atlantic in one of the most advanced planes in the skies today — not bad for this first-timer! Read on for all the details of my first flight outside North America.
Since the round-trip economy ticket cost only $831, we decided to pay for it outright with a Platinum Card® from American Express because of its 5x bonus category on airfare purchases directly through the airlines or through Amex Travel. Although Royal Air Maroc (RAM) isn't officially part of an alliance, it is a partner of Iberia, Etihad and a few other airlines. But, my ticket was in the cheapest fare bucket, so it wasn't eligible to earn any miles on these partner airlines.
A great way to book awards with Royal Air Maroc is using Etihad Guest points. Etihad's chart for RAM awards is distance based, and JFK-CMN falls into the highest category, meaning a one-way economy ticket will run you 22,000 points, and business 44,000. This is a pretty great redemption, especially considering that you can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio, making it easy to get the points required for a redemption.
It's also possible to book using Iberia Avios, which also has a distance-based chart for RAM flights. According to the chart, a one-way economy ticket will run you 23,000 Avios, while business would cost 46,000 for a one-way trip.
Check-in and Boarding
The check-in process at JFK was pretty uneventful... until the check-in agent weighed my carry-on bag. It wasn't a huge deal, though I had to open my bag in front of everyone in line to shuffle things around and into my checked bag — things were off to a great start. Once everything with my bag was sorted, I got my boarding passes — I was thankfully assigned a window seat — and proceeded through security and on to my gate.
Check-in was relatively painless, but boarding was a circus. We boarded almost a full hour late, and once it finally began, it was total chaos. I'd been assigned group B for boarding, but gate agents made no announcements over the loudspeaker regarding boarding. No one had a clue what was going on, so a massive line began to form. I jumped in, but then those around me kept asking which group was boarding — a question no one had the answer to. This seemed unnecessarily frenetic, and would soon learn that this mirrored the chaotic rhythm of life in Marrakech itself.
Cabin and Seat
I finally was on the plane (my first widebody!) and headed to the back of the economy cabin to find my seat, 32K. The cabin was kind of plain, but nothing was visibly broken or in poor shape. The economy cabin sports 256 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration — standard for the Dreamliner. Each seat offers between 30 and 32 inches of pitch and is a snug 17 inches wide.
As I was snapping pictures of the cabin and seats, I was totally distracted and sat in the wrong seat (rookie move, I know). I was reprimanded by a gruff man and his wife, followed by a flight attendant who sent me to the correct seat. Oops.
Once I was finally settled after my seat mix-up, I noticed that the flight was only 2/3 full and that people were spread out evenly throughout the cabin, so most people or groups had some extra space between them. Even better, I lucked out with a best-case-scenario for economy travel: a whole row to myself. My first transatlantic flight and I got to experience poor man's business class! There's no going back now...
I spent most of the flight lounging along my three seats. But, when I did need to sit up and fasten my seatbelt, the amount of legroom seemed average — it was neither exceptionally tight nor exceedingly roomy.
Food and Beverage
The flight took off about 30-40 minutes late — not too bad considering we were about an hour late to board. It was almost 10:00pm once we were in the air, and I was hoping that I'd be served my meal in short order, as I was pretty hungry and also wanted to squeeze in some shuteye before arriving in Morocco. Fortunately, the flight attendants began the dinner service quickly after reaching cruising altitude.
Although the food didn't look too appetizing, it tasted pretty good! There was a choice of beef or chicken — I chose beef. I wasn't expecting much, but I actually sort of enjoyed the beef in a tomato-based sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans. The texture of the food was good and nothing was over salted.
I was served a Moroccan red wine and I quite enjoyed it. Also, I had no idea Moroccan wine was even a thing... but now that I do, I'm already planning a trip back to the country to go on some wine tastings!
After a night of fitful sleep due to several bouts of rough but brief turbulence, breakfast was served. It was basically carbs on carbs on carbs — a roll, a pastry, a muffin as well as a yogurt and some tea. I figured I'd be eating plenty of carbs in the form of couscous once in Morocco, so I barely touched the breakfast.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Each economy seat had an IFE screen showing movies, TV, maps and music.
I wasn't super impressed by the amount of TV shows (about 35) and many only had one episode. I selected "Friends," and there was only one episode to watch. There was a greater variety in the movies section, though — about 60 or so. The economy seats came with a headphone jack and USB charger, but that was the only power source, so keep that in mind when packing your cables.
The flight attendants came through with headphones to use for the IFE system. It's worth noting, too, that on the return flight (which departed CMN at around 10:30pm local time), I was offered an eye mask as well as a pair of socks. This was certainly a nice touch, but the flight to Casablanca was also a redeye, which made me question why I hadn't received these amenities on the outbound flight.
Another interesting aspect of this flight was the arrivals process in Casablanca. I didn't go through immigration there, but rather went through security again and then boarded my next flight to Marrakech, where I cleared immigration upon landing.
I would definitely consider taking Royal Air Maroc again if I were to go back to Morocco — especially at the prices we paid for my ticket. I loved having a whole row to myself and enjoyed the quiet of the Dreamliner. The food was decent and the service pleasant enough. However, the airline could improve its IFE system and work to better structure its boarding process.
Now that I've got my first long-haul flight under my belt, I'm eager to take to the skies more often. I hear Tokyo's a neat city...