Tag Archives: airlines

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Royal Air Maroc CMN Lounge

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After a couple of days in Morocco I had to head over to Ghana. This would be my first time in West Africa, and I had little idea what to expect. I’d be flying from Casablanca to Accra, but would only be in Accra for a night before heading out to Tamale, an even smaller city in Ghana, for a site visit. I knew the sum total of zero about Ghana, save for the fact that IE Singapore has an office there. I briefly considered reaching out to the point person there to set up coffee, but the thought of meeting new people was scary and intimidating so decided otherwise.

Image result for royal air maroc

The most straightforward route to Accra from Casablanca was to fly direct with Royal Air Maroc (RAM). It was my first time flying with them and let me just say- wow, these guys don’t know the first thing about keeping a schedule.

I flew a total of 3 flights with them during my RTW trip (2 domestic and this international one that I’m now writing about) and I got a constant barrage of emails about schedule changes.

First, my 8pm flight from Casablanca to Agadir was cancelled for “operational reasons” and I was given a seat on a 10.40pm flight instead (they send all these alerts in French with no English version, so good luck if you’re not paying attention. I google translated the excerpt below)

Hello XUAN MING AARON WONG,

Royal Air Maroc informs you that your AT426 flight on 05/06/2017 completing the route AGA – CMN is canceled due to operational constraints. We have postponed you on flight AT482 of 05/06/2017. The departure will take place at 22:40 with an arrival in local time at 23:45. The registration of this flight will start at 20:40 and end at 22:00.

Second, I got a notification that my 12.50am flight from Casablanca to Accra (which was scheduled to arrive at 4.20am) was now departing at 10.45pm the day before and arriving at 4.40am.

(Notice how in the email below their automated message system even managed to get the dates wrong. A flight departing 06/07/2017 replaced by one departing 07/06/2017?)

Hello XUAN MING AARON WONG,

Royal Air Morocco informs you that your flight AT515 06/07/2017 performing route CMN – ACC is canceled, due to operational constraints. We have carried on the flight AT515 07/06/2017. The departure will take place at 22:45 with arrival at 4:40 local time. The recording of this flight will start at 19:45 and end at 21:45.

I thought this was strange. Why was I leaving earlier and arriving later? I puzzled over this long and hard, then checked FlightRadar24 and realised that they had added a stop. In LFW.

map

Now, hands up who among you can tell me which airport is LFW without googling it. Because I can’t. LFW is Lome, Togo. That’s right, RAM had converted my direct flight into a 1 stop without so much as asking me.

2014-06-16 17-21-49 Togo Maritime - Station Météo.JPG

I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a bait and switch, in the sense that I was willing to pay more to fly RAM so that I could do a direct flight. If they’d sold the flight as a one stop, I’d have booked my flights very differently. But good luck getting compensation out of RAM or even trying to explain the situation to their customer service. I just wrote it off as a cost of doing business with a less reputable airline.

Casablanca Terminal 2 was deserted when I arrived at about 10pm. That was strange, given that my flight departed at about 1am and the evening tends to be peak departure time for long haul flights.

It meant a no-fuss check in for my flight, and my bags were tagged through to Accra. We had the usual “do you need a visa” questions where the staff struggled to find Singapore’s visa requirements on their computer. They seemed to find it hard to believe that I didn’t need a visa for Ghana, but that’s the badass Singapore passport for you.

There’s priority immigration available for business class passengers, but even the regular immigration channels had no queues. Within 5 minutes (and a security screener who was more interested in watching a movie on his phone than looking at bags) I was in the duty free area where there was no shortage of argan-based products, cheap keychains and tourist trappy tchotchkes. Protip: you know a country has crappy currency when its own stores don’t want to take it. Most of the items at Morocco duty free need to be paid for in Euros, only a small selection of items can be paid for in the local currency.

I had no interest in such knickknacks, but had an interest in seeing RAM’s flagship lounge, which was down a flight of stairs from the main terminal.

The lounge is owned and operated by RAM but is also open to a host of other airlines. That’s never a good sign, usually, as it means massive overcrowding.

I was greeted at the desk by a cheerful associate who handed me the Wi-Fi code and told me there were no boarding announcements.

As I feared, the lounge was packed to the brim when I arrived and had a noise level to match. It emptied out a bit as the night went on, which allowed me to take some of the photos below.

I’m just going to give you the TL;DR spoiler version: the lounge is a dump. It’s miserable, there’s nothing of interest, and the F&B selection is awful. This would barely pass for a contract lounge, much less the flagship lounge for an airline.

The lighting is harsh and fluorescent, the chairs are old and worn, and there are no showers available (but given the state of the toilet, that might actually not be a bad thing). The lounge has basically two areas- to sit and to dine.

The dining area has a mix of high tables and communal ones.

I took these photos after the place cleared out a bit- prior to which there was barely any place to stand.

There’s a buffet selection, but no hot food to speak of. That’s right, the sum total of the dining experience is a bunch of pastries, microwaved mini-pizzas and sandwiches. It was miserable.

I’m not quite sure what to write about it. There seemed to be a kitchen attached to the lounge and a good sized catering crew, but they spent most of the time chatting among themselves and occasionally bringing out another cold tray of mediocrity.

Woo hoo they had mass made cheap deserts.

There’s a separate area which I swear was supposed to be the bar, only it had no drinks or bottles (perhaps on account of Ramadan?). Instead there was some local breads and, yup, more pastries. That’s some Arabic French fusion right there.

There was precious little else to do in the lounge. Even the Wi-Fi was so slow that I ended up tethering to my phone.  There were only soft drinks and water available,  and the whole lounge was dry. There’s a slightly more substantial review over on OMAAT (apparently there’s a very limited selection of hot food during traditional mealtime windows), but this is definitely not a place you want to spend any extended amount of time.

I know that no self-respecting airline geek would ever use $kytrax (see what I did there?) ratings as a benchmark, but it still amazes me how they can consider RAM to be a 4 star airline. The customer reviews certainly don’t reflect that in any case.

More amusingly when you look at the lounge reviews you get an overall score of 2/10 (only 2 ratings, but still)

So- RAM’s lounge in Casablanca is bad. Really bad. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience it. The inflight experience, however was better than expected. Perhaps the purpose of the lounge is to temper expectations before boarding!

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: The Intra-Europe Business Class Experience

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


No one in the right mind should be paying their own money for intra-Europe business class (IEBC). It’s fine if you buy/redeem it as part of a longer route, eg LHR-FRA-SIN, or if it’s already included in a RTW-type ticket (as was the case for me), but anyone who otherwise pays their own hard earned cash/miles on an IEBC flight needs their head examined.

Someone over at OMAAT found this video that sums up the IEBC experience to a T.

Because that’s exactly what IEBC is. The sum total of the product is an economy class seat with a blocked off middle portion. Your seat is exactly the same as that in economy in every single way. The cabin crew adjust the curtain accordingly depending on how many people are in business class that day. You may be served a meal, you’ll have a somewhat better ground experience, but you’re not getting anything beyond that. Consider yourself warned.

On the European legs of my RTW trip, I flew IEBC on both Iberia and British Airways. Here are some aspects of the experience that I’d like to highlight in case anyone’s wondering what to expect slash not expect.

Check-in & security

You do have special check-in lanes for IEBC, but they’re the same as the priority lanes you could access if you’re an elite status holder with Oneworld/Star Alliance/Sky Team. Even if you weren’t, the wait times for economy weren’t necessarily longer at the three airports (LHR, ORY, MAD) I experienced IEBC in. In fact, wait times were actually shorter at MAD because Iberia decided to staff the whole business class line with two staff, while deploying many more to the economy class section. Ah, Spanish logic.

British Airways ran a much better operation at Heathrow, with many open counters for Club Europe (what they call IEBC) passengers. I actually passed throw LHR a few days before their infamous IT failure, which I hear they handled in a very British “what’s all this then?” way.

Your bags will get priority tags,  if that’s a big decision criteria for you. You also get additional luggage allowance.

Apart from priority check-in, passengers travelling on IEBC do receive expedited security clearance at airports where that is available. It was certainly nice to have, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it essential unless you’re the type who shows up at the airport at the last minute.

Lounge

If you need to get work done before your flight, one of the plus points of IEBC is that you get lounge access.

Now, depending on the airport and airline your experience is going to differ dramatically. In LHR we had access to the British Airways Galleries lounge, which was overcrowded and had non-functioning A/C.

Food items were limited to bread and a couple of hot dishes. No full English in a BA lounge was surely some sort of travesty.

There are a few alcohol stations, but don’t expect any bubbles.

The nicest part about the lounge was probably the decor. Check out this cool dress in BA colors.

In ORY, Iberia used the Premium Traveller lounge, a contract lounge operated by the airport authority. Contract lounges are hit and miss because the operator really doesn’t have any incentive to provide anything beyond a basic level of comfort.

However, this was a slightly better experience- nowhere as crowded as the BA lounges at least.

There was a lot of seating and natural light. ORY is a less busy airport compared to CDG but also smaller, so the departures area is a big hectic mess and this lounge is a nice escape from the main terminal.

The food selection was abysmal though, but they had sparkling wine. Which makes everything better.

The best IEBC lounge by far was Iberia’s in Madrid.

It was huge, quiet and had an excellent selection of food and drink. I was seriously surprised by the quality of offerings available for a morning departure.

There were several bar stations throughout the lounge with soft drinks and alcohol (minus marks for no Cava though. In Spain, really?)

They even had what looked like a wine tasting bar in one corner

The hot options approximated a full English breakfast, which was surprising given that breakfast isn’t really a thing in Spain. I was also impressed that they had staff regularly roving the displays and replenishing whatever ran out.

They also had a lot of supplementary items like juice, cakes, yogurt, and cheese.

Ice cream was available too at breakfast. Not just any ice cream, but Haagen Dazs.

So, well done Iberia. An excellent selection of food and a lounge you’d actually not mind spending more time in.

Seat

If you know exactly what to expect, you’ll won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the situation with Iberia. Note the curtains separating the last row of business class from the first row of economy.

Legroom is so-so, about 30 inches give or take. Your laptop screen will still get crushed if the person infront of you reclines suddenly.

Don’t expect any seatback IFE or anything like that. Don’t even expect them to distribute a tablet with movies and TV shows, as you’d get on narrowbody business class flights on other airlines.

Your only source of entertainment is this stenciled reminder on the bulkhead of where you’re seated.

Depending on the airline, they may either leave the middle seat empty or put some sort of additional tray to create the illusion of a different product. That’s what BA does, and that’s what I saw on a Lufthansa flight some time back too.

The seat divider is an excellent conversation starter. Perhaps you can be like this worst person ever, who goes out of his way to try to network with seatmates on long haul flights. Seriously dude, get a cat or something.

Entertainment on BA consists of the snazzy new M&S buy on board menu, a comedy in which the delightful Alex Cruz explains why BA is technically not a budget carrier (and why they don’t know what an uninterruptible power supply is)

Which brings me too…

Inflight Meals

Meals on IEBC are hard to predict and the policy varies from carrier to carrier. I was served meals on my BA flight from LHR-ORY (1h 30 mins), Iberia from MAD-CMN (2 hours) and Iberia from ORY-MAD (2 hours). My flights were all departing around traditional meal windows.

Iberia gives out menu cards on their flights, which makes it better than BA’s “chicken or fish” style of service.

Food quality was, well, similar to what you might expect in long haul economy on a major airline. The beef was airline beef, and the veggies were soggy.

You certainly won’t go hungry, but any would-be gourmands are likely to be disappointed. Here’s what they were serving for breakfast on Iberia.

BA’s meals weren’t much better. The highlight was probably the warm bread, although the inclusion of a single prawn should be applauded in the Alex Cruz era.

In case anyone is interested in the contents of the M&S buy on board menu, which BA introduced instead of free meals “in response to customer demand”,  here it is-

So that’s IEBC. And now that you know what it is, maybe you’ll think twice when the upsell offer comes at check-in. I guess the on-ground benefits are decent enough if you don’t have elite status with any FFP or a priority pass, but if you do there’s very little you’d get that you weren’t otherwise entitled to.

New “Secure My Fare” feature allows call option on SQ flights

Airlines have always been looking for new revenue streams and one common trend we’ve seen in recent times is the offering of a “hold my fare” option.

How it works is simple. Suppose you see an airfare you like, but you’re not sure yet if you’ll be able to travel on those dates. You could

  1. Buy the fare now and make changes/cancellations later for a price (assuming the fare rules allow such things)
  2. Wait and hope that the fare doesn’t disappear or change in the period you’re deciding

Hold my fare gives you a third option- to pay a small fee to lock in the dates, flights and routes in question. Some airlines (like Lufthansa) even allow you to offset your holding fee from the final ticket price should you decide to go ahead and purchase.

SQ isn’t going to that extent, but they are offering a new “Secure My Fare” option that just popped up on the website. It currently covers only economy class and non-redemption bookings. Depending on the length of your flight, you can pay $5/$10 each way per passenger to hold a fare for up to 72 hours.

Flight Segment Length             ‘Secure My Fare’ Fee
< 5 hours                                       SGD 5.00 per passenger each way
≥ 5 hours                                       SGD 10.00 per passenger each way

I say “up to” 72 hours because SQ mentions there may be shorter hold periods for promotional fares. In practice, though, it appears that for now all the hold periods are 72 hours regardless of booking class. I went to look at fares to Perth and regardless of which bucket of Economy I picked, I was offered a 72 hour hold time.

I would say this is a valuable service because it buys you more time- go sort out other logistical aspects of your trip and come back within 72 hours to secure your fare. There’s no obligation to buy the fare you have on hold, and your maximum loss is limited to the secure my fare fee you pay.  I could easily see myself using this in the future, although it is interesting that they’ve only implemented this for economy class bookings for now. My guess is that they believe leisure travelers would value this service more than price-insensitive business travelers who are booking on company money.

A colleague asked me if I thought SQ should implement this feature for award flights, but really there’s no need to, because you can buy call options on award flights for US$15 (US$30 if you’re a regular Krisflyer member),  the cost of cancelling an award booking that you don’t need. Award bookings are in any case flexible, so if you see something you like you should always lock it in, and make changes/cancellations later. If you’re averse to paying the cancellation fee, you can try out Jeriel’s nifty hacking the waitlist method to buy yourself more time to decide for free.

(HT: hclee01 on FT)