An experience not to be repeated: Review of Royal Air Maroc in economy on the 787-8 from Casablanca to Washington
During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We have also been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Royal Air Maroc flights to and from the U.S. are currently suspended; online schedules show flights between Casablanca and Washington will restart on June 17. Also bear in mind that for the foreseeable future, even as flights resume, service on board will be greatly reduced to lower the risk of contamination, and that the ground experience — with lounges closed or without food and amenities — will also be very different from what was available before the pandemic.
[tpg_rating ticket-class="economy" tpg-rating-score="47" ground-experience="2" cabin-seat="15" amens-ife="25" food-bev="4" service="1" pros="Nice seat recline; headrest that slid up and had wings, and solid IFE." cons="Older seats; atrocious service from the crew, and bad food." /]
On a group trip to Morocco earlier this year, I was looking forward to my flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc because I had been part of the airline's splashy inaugural festivities for its new Boeing 787s in September 2016. That was then, when the airline went all out. This was now — what a difference four years can make.
From departure out of Washington Dulles (IAD) near my home in Baltimore to arrival at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) and on the return flight from Casablanca to Dulles, it was a disappointment nearly all the way around, although our earlier review of Royal Air Maroc business class on the 787 showed that the airline can do far better.
This review focuses on the Casablanca to Dulles segment, which was in the daytime, maximizing service interactions, while the eastbound flight across the Atlantic unfolds mostly at night.
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There were no great deals between Dulles and Casablanca when I booked my flight in November 2019 for $828.62 round-trip. Current prices for this summer are higher, at around $1,100 round-trip, far higher than the deals out of New York-JFK and Dulles I saw earlier this year for as low as $574.
I booked my flight with The Platinum Card® from American Express with the airline because I wanted those 5x Membership Rewards points. That got me 4,143 points, worth $82.86, according to the latest TPG valuations. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
Related reading: The Platinum Card from American Express review
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get American Airlines AAdvantage miles for my flight because Royal Air Maroc didn't become a Oneworld member until April 1 and my flight was in February.
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To get to Casablanca, we had a domestic flight from Marrakesh, also on Royal Air Maroc. The group arrived at Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK) at 7:30 a.m. to check in for my 9:55 a.m. flight to Casablanca Airport (CMN), where we would catch the connecting flight back to the U.S. My luggage was scanned and I walked through a metal detector even before enterng the terminal. It took 12 minutes, because not all the doors were available for screening.
There were eight check-in kiosks and two lines: one for economy and one for business class. While I was standing in line, they opened another check-in desk for economy. It took 11 minutes to check in. However, the process turned into 17 minutes for two of my travel companions on the same reservation who were sent to the help desk after the agent said there was an issue with their tickets.
After checking in, we went though another security checkpoint, where the line took another 17 minutes. We then finally reached our gate. Seating in our boarding area was tight, but we were across from an Illy Coffee cafe and we managed to snag a table for five.
We took a quick walk to board our Boeing 737-800 flight to CMN and departed on time. The flight was so short there wasn't even enough time to be served a beverage.
We landed 10 minutes early at CMN's Terminal 1. Despite having already gone through security twice in Marrakesh, we had to clear security in Casablanca again before getting inside the terminal -- and also had the inevitable walk through duty-free shopping on the way.
Since we all had a five-hour layover before the flight to Dulles, I used my Amex Platinum Priority Pass benefit to get me and my four companions into the Pearl Lounge, where we could wait until our flights were ready to board. We checked in at the lower level, which led into a lounge with assorted seating, a food buffet and a bar area. Be warned: This lounge only serves beer and wine.
The lower level was cramped, but we found a small table. On my way to the restroom, I noticed two unmarked elevators. After going up, I found a larger, much emptier second level of the lounge, with much more seating, another check-in desk, a prayer room and a game room. It would have been nice to have some signage noting there was second-floor lounge space.
I got my companions and we moved upstairs. There was plenty of power and USB outlets at almost every seat. One of my companions went off into a corner, stretched out, and took a preflight nap.
My companions were heading to Boston Logan (BOS) and New York-JFK, so we said our goodbyes and I went to sit at my gate, A1, at the very end of Terminal 1. There was yet another security check at the gate, as is often the case with flights to the U.S. I stood in line for seven minutes, then was herded to a gate agent who went through my two carry-on bags, tried to take my Moroccan spices for no reason and confiscated the sealed bottle of water I had taken from the Pearl Lounge. People were sitting on the floor because there was so little seating in our gate area.
After that check, I was pointed to the economy boarding line, which, oddly, was split in two and eventually funneled into one line again. The business-class line was being used also for travelers who needed assistance, and there were economy passengers in it too, without apparent rhyme or reason.
Boarding, which was seven minutes late, was chaotic. Although we were at the end of the terminal, we walked down a jetway that led to a holding area where we were herded onto buses. We sat there for at least five minutes and someone begged the driver to open the doors because it was oppressively hot. Once we started moving, we took a leisurely and meandering ride to our aircraft, a 787-8 — the smaller of two Dreamliner models the airline, which also has the 787-9, operates.
The chaos continued when we arrived at our jet. As we waited out on the tarmac to board, a special van for business-class travelers rolled up. A man standing next to me said, "I'm in business class. It would have been nice if someone had told me there was a van instead of that hot bus!"
After a few minutes' wait standing on the tarmac, we were herded onto the plane. Boarding took much longer because there was no order to it. I felt bad for the mothers with strollers, because they had to wait for help.
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On my way to my seat at the back of the plane, I already noticed cleanliness issues. Althuogh this 787, registered CN-RGB, was a relatively new jet — delivered in January 2015 — it looked tired, with worn leather. The fuselage wall looked like it could use a scrub, and the carpet had seen better days. I didn't open the blanket (I'm an untrusting germophobe), but the pillow was nice for lumbar support.
Legroom was tight — no surprise here — but I had enough foot space because there was no bulky inflight entertainment (IFE) box taking up space.
The overhead bins on the fuselage side were quite roomy. I didn't feel bad at all putting both my carry-on bags in a bin, because there was still plenty of space left.
The power outlets were under our seats, which meant you had to do some twisting to use the plug; plus, it didn't always stay in. The good news is that a USB is available under the IFE screen. The bad news is that it didn't always charge my iPhone or my iPad.
I had issues with how tight the seats were for my hips and how thin the padding was (saved only by the pillow). I'm not usually one who reclines my seat, even on long flights. But after the person in front of me went into full recline, I had to do the same, since the tray was cutting into my waist.
I did like that the tray was able to slide in and out for the room I needed. I also had the option of folding it in half to hold my drink without it cutting into me. It was a good thing I wasn't trying to sleep on this flight, because it would have been quite uncomfortable.
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The inflight entertainment system received my highest review score. I like to catch up on my movies when I fly. Even with a tiny nine-inch screen, Royal Air Maroc had a nice mix of U.S. and international films and television shows.
Inexplicably, when it came to my TV options, there were multiple episodes of shows such as "The Big Bang Theory," but they weren't in any particular order. There was no chance to do any work online, since Royal Air Maroc doesn't offer inflight Wi-Fi, which is surprising for an airline with such a new fleet.
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After 40+ years of domestic and international flying, I know better than to expect much from economy-class inflight meals, which is why I usually bring my own. And Royal Air Maroc, in fact, made my list of the worst inflight meals I've ever had. They say you eat with your eyes first, but I wanted to close mine when this meal was served. It was especially disappointing after all the great meals I ate in Morocco.
If you're a vegetarian or vegan flying on this airline, be sure to order a meal in advance, because on this flight the choice was chicken or beef. I chose chicken, but both dishes looked alarmingly similar.
Despite the gravy, the chicken was drier than the Sahara Desert, where I had just spent two nights. The vegetables were so overcooked they turned mushy when picked up with a fork. Both dishes were salty enough to be almost inedible. The cake was dry and the yogurt had a very strong sour taste. The smoked-trout filet was quite tasty, and the roll and processed cheese were edible. Although soft drinks and juices were available, you were out of luck if you wanted a cocktail, since none were available, even though RAM is not a dry airline. In fact, the only alcohol served was beer and wine. When I asked for white wine, the flight attendant told me they didn't have any.
I was hoping for a cup of Morocco's famous mint tea that's served everywhere, but only coffee was offered. The prelanding snack wasn't much better — a dry muffin and that same sour-tasting yogurt. I passed. Don't start feeling thirsty on this flight. Flight attendants did one drink pass when dinner was served, two passes with coffee and two passes with water. That was it.
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This flight's service was almost a zero score. If I want something on my flights, I usually get up and go to the galley and ask, but this was a review flight, so I pressed the flight attendant call button — four times in the space of two hours. There was never a response. Ever. I would wait, and eventually my call light would just go out. Three different flight attendants passed by my seat when the light was on and never checked to see what I wanted.
When I finally got up to ask for water and a cup of mint tea, I was waved back to my seat and told it would be brought to me. It never came. There should be more than two passes of water and coffee on a flight longer than seven hours, especially considering my bottle of water had been confiscated before I boarded.
As someone who has flown on more than two dozen of the world's flag carriers in every class, I can say that my flight on Royal Air Maroc was disappointing from beginning to end. The only highlight was the time I spent in the Pearl Lounge, and the airline had no control over that. As Royal Air Maroc prepares to enter the Oneworld alliance, it would be great if its executives and flight attendants got lessons from fellow members, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, on how to serve travelers in all classes.
The average score for our reviews in long-haul economy over the past year is 71 points out of 100, and this flight came nowhere near that.
I cannot in good conscience recommend a flight on Royal Air Maroc based on the experience I had, even with its easy connections from Montreal (YUL), New York-JFK, IAD and Miami (MIA) airports. Next time, I'll ditch the drive to IAD and take a British Airways flight out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), then connect to CMN from London Heathrow (LHR).
All photos by the author.