A Tale of Two Middle East Airlines
Part One: Royal Jordanian Airlines
Another new set of trip report! I have the fortune to fly on two Middle Eastern Airlines earlier this month, and Part one will cover my first flight with Royal Jordanian Airlines. Part two will cover Gulf Air’s wet lease of Jet Airways’ Boeing777-300ER service to Kuala Lumpur.
Royal Jordanian Airlines has always been a mysterious airline and the past comments had mostly been negative, but for the past decade, the airline seems to have turnaround and become a new force. It has joined the Oneworld Alliance last year, which gives me an additional incentive to fly it, as well as its recent inaugural service to Hong Kong in 2008 has increased its profile. The two flights that I flew were covered by my RTW flight that started in Seoul, and later in the summer, I have another two segments to write about. Hopefully, they are as great as the two flights that I am about to write about. I can’t imagine any airline that will invest so much money on these narrow-bodies, and the interior is modern, stylish and simple. The catering is beyond excellent for these medium haul flights, and even Cathay Pacific cannot live up to it, not to mention AA or BA. Amman Airport is not a huge or modern airports like Dubai or Doha, but the Crown Class lounge is excellent in anyway. I apologize in advance for the lack of photos at Amman Airport, as most of you know that photography is quite sensitive in the Middle East. There is an air martial on board each RJ flight, so I have to be discrete in some ways. Those apron pictures at Amman are taken in discretion and I will not encourage anyone to do so. Cabin pictures are fine, but of course I will be more discrete. I don’t think photographing the aircraft doors, equipments or galley will be smart move. The cabin and seats are fine, as well as the meals. Just use your common sense!
June 2, 2009
RJ 126 FRA-AMM Lv1420 Arr1945 Airbus A319-100 JY-AYL “Mafraq”
June 3, 2009
RJ 600 AMM-MCT Lv0700 Arr1120 Embraer EMB-175 JY-EMD “Dana”
Photo Album link:
For those who don’t want to read:-
http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqN5Q (RJ 126 full album)
http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqN9A (RJ 600 full album)
I arrived Frankfurt on CX 289, which was landed on 5:40am, and had an eight hours layover. I tried to get the onward boarding pass at HKG, which was possible; however due to the long transit, CX agent could not print it out. So I assume it is possible for through check-in on oneworld airlines. Anyway, I decide to clear immigration and custom at Frankfurt and head towards the observation deck of Terminal Two. The observation deck did not open till 10am so I settled in the atrium area attached to McDonald and just waited it out. During the many hours, I accidentally came across with “operational FDIS” information screen at the kiosk and got many interesting information. I also checked which aircraft would operate my flight and there was no delay this morning. Amazing!
Unfortunately Frankfurt check-in counters did not open till two and half hours prior to departure, which was very late in my opinion. Three and half hours prior to departure time were minimal, and opening four hours prior is more appropriate. There was one line for Crown Class (Business) passengers, and two lines for economy. I was the first one to get checked in, and the staff was friendly, polite and efficient. She even printed out the onward boarding pass from Amman to Muscat for next morning, so I could have an extra thirty minutes of sleep that evening. She immediately let me know the RJ uses Delta’s Crown Club, and told me where it is. Nothing to fault about!
Crown Club has a separate entrance on the left side of the terminal building, and the check-in area was arranged like a typical premium check-in facilities with comfortable chairs on the side. The agent glanced my onward boarding pass to Muscat and immediately directed me to the immigration counter. Yes, you have a private immigration counter, and then there is a security checkpoint to enter the terminal building. There is another more proper security stations as you enter the gate.
Maybe you can all answer these questions: I should perhaps have gone to the BA Terrace Lounge. However I find it strange that a fellow oneworld alliance partner will choose to use a Skyteam lounge, instead of a fellow OW lounge. Anyway, the Delta’s Crown Club is very quiet this afternoon, as all the other Delta flights have left, and only an Aeroflot flight to Moscow had passengers. Basic lounge facilities – self-service food (there is a cold cut and cheese plate with bread, and other assorted snacks like chips, pretzels and mixed nuts), and also a self-service alcoholic and non-alcoholic bar, with coffee machines. There is no free wifi, but two computers with Internet connections are available on the business center.
Being the hub lounge, the RJ lounge at Amman is very nice, and the décor is modern and stylish with cream-colored furniture and many stylish vases and table decorations. There is a dining room area, and a row of individual television stations, so you can pick your own TV stations and not disturbed other passengers. There is also a bar area, and lots of natural light coming through the window wall overlooking the South Terminal, dominated by views of RJ’s modern fleet. There is a self-serving non-alcoholic beverage bar, and a separate attended alcoholic bar. There is a full continental breakfast spread, as well as some warmed bread Middle Eastern style. I did not turn on my computer, so not sure if there is free wifi. However there is a full business center with Internet-connected computers. The attendants are all friendly and they will announce boarding. However I recommend heading out to gates a bit earlier if permitted.
Unfortunately the boarding experience proved to be the low point during the whole trip. The inbound arrived early but boarding did not begin till 1:56pm. We were fortunate enough to have a jet bridge gate, D5, but the agent first boarded the wheel-chaired passenger (but she managed to miss one of them), and families with small children. Then she totally forget to board J and priority passengers and jumped to Y passengers sitting the in aft. I was not bothered by it, and as I tried to board, she nodded but the problem was at the jet bridge. There were apparently some problems at the gate, and all the passengers except the wheelchair passenger were held at the entry point of the jet bridge. No one was able to say why. So everyone was stuck at a very warm jet bridge for ten minutes. The station manager did not seem to know what is going on or even care about it. Fortunately, things became better once on board, and the Thai F/A immediately offered me newspapers, opened the overhead bin for me to store things, headsets and offered pre-takeoff beverage, which includes orange juice, apple juice, mango juice, tomato juice or water.
Nothing much can write about the boarding experience. I was the last passenger, as the lounge attendant did not announce boarding till 6:45am. By the time I passed the security checkpoint, it was cutting close (but I will report back next time if there is priority boarding). I boarded the bus with the air martial and headed towards the plane. The loading was quite low and the EMB-175 was more than appropriate for this flight. J had two passengers and the service was very attentive. I was offered a pre-takeoff beverage and the F/A, Miriam, passed out menus and newspapers. However, people seem to be quite orderly at both Frankfurt and Amman.
Frankfurt (June 2, 2009):
QF 744 VH-OJE and VH-OJU – apparently OJE was grounded at Frankfurt the previous night
Qatar Airways’ Airbus A330-200 A7-ACH
Gulf Air’s Airbus A340-300 A9C-LI to BAH as GF 16
Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 9V-SMU to Frankfurt, and 9V-SPO to Singapore
Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER A6-ECA
Asiana’s Boeing 777-200ER HL7742
Korean Air’s Boeing 747-400 HL7498
ANA’s Boeing 747-400 JA8097
Japan Air Lines’ Boeing 777-300ER JA736J
Thai Airways’ Boeing 747-400 HS-TGM (First BKK flight) and HS-TGR (Second BKK flight)
Amman (June 3, 2009):
RJ 342 JY-AIC
RJ EMB-190 JY-EMB
RJ Airbus A319 JY-AYG Oneworld
RJ 126 was able to close early despite the chaotic boarding process. We pushed back at 2:23pm, and taxied towards R/W18. We took off at 2:47pm, and flying time was four hours and four minutes: The routing first took us over Augsburg, as we climbed to 35,000feet, which was our selected attitude. We passed Altdorf, Linz, Burgenland, Szeged, Arad, Bucharest, Burgas, Ankara, Adana, and Hamah, before our descent towards Amman. Descent began at 7:32pm local Amman time, and gear down at 7:49pm, and we landed on R/W26R at 7:51pm, and parked at Bay 18 at 7:59pm. Crown Class passengers got our own bus to the terminal.
RJ 600 closed its door at 7:05am, and pushed back from bay 14 at 7:12am. We taxied towards R/W26R at 7:17am. We took off at 7:25am. Flying time was two hours and fifty minutes but no routing information due to pilots not making too much announcement and no sky map. The F/A announced our cruising attitude of 35,000feet, but I could not verify it. Descent began at 10:56am Muscat time, and we landed on R/W8 at 11:15am, and parked at a remote stand at 11:19am.
RJ really offers superior business class seats on these narrow-body planes, and both Airbus A319 and EMB-175 had these gray-colored seats with cream-colored headrest. The Airbus A319 seats are a bit wider and well padded. The seats are arranged in a four abreast configuration. Both aircraft offered a proper adjustable headrest and leg rest, as well an electrical universal outlet, which is unexpected especially on EMB-175. Seat pitch is about 42 inches on both aircraft. Airbus A319 has personal TV (and yes “On Demand” too). Both seats are comfortable for medium haul flights. The décor is modern and stylish.
Both flights feature great F/As in business class. One F/A is in galley and the other one serves the cabin. The service takes quite a while, especially trolley service for both main course and dessert on the Airbus A319 plane. They are more than happy to accommodate any needs and my tea was refilled with a fresh glass each time. You are more than welcomed to use the call button if needed. Out of all the Middle Eastern airlines (and to my extent the global scene), its F/As are ranked high among the Qatar, CX, and Singapore Airlines league. I am actually looking forward to the Amman to JFK segment in late August, and see how its long haul flights will perform.
There are more than enough options to keep you entertained. The Universal electrical outlet allows you to work through the flight, as well as using your laptop and your own entertainment units. The personal television system on the A319s is on demand and there are a fair number of movies and television programs to keep you occupied (and personally will like to see more sitcoms from the US and UK). For the EMB-175, Crown/Business Class passengers will receive their own entertainment units –same kind used by American Airlines on its transcontinental Boeing 767-200ER between JFK and LAX/SFO in its first and business class. It has the same movies, televisions and news programs as its A319 personal entertainment units. It also has a few games options.
Catering and amenities:
Catering is amazing and the main meal service from FRA to AMM starts from a beverage and fancy mixed nuts service. Appetizer and salad was first served, followed by entrees served from the trolley, just like traditional first class. You can pick any entrée and any side dishes. Cheese and crackers are pre-plated with bread, such as Brie cheese and crackers. Dessert trolley features a huge amount of pastries choices, as well as fruit baskets. On the EMB-175, the hot breakfast was served in two full courses – fruit and Middle Eastern cheese and spread, and then entrée served in a casserole. The food is just amazing and the omelette is very fluffy and you can assume RJ uses the most advanced French steamed ovens on its premium class cabin galleys. Its meals are definitely better than British Airways, and to some extent, better than Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. American Airlines just can’t compete especially on its transcontinental US premium flights, and the medium haul flights. Breadbaskets all come with at least five to six different kinds.
Amenity wise – RJ has an amenity kit for the FRA to AMM flight, which is very basic. I am not sure if the long haul flight will have the same amenity kit, but at least it has something for a relatively short flight. The amenity kit is just a small pouch with toothbrush sets and basic amenities – a bit better than CX or SQ economy kit, but nothing like CX amenity kit or even AA or NW amenity kits. Regardless that amenity kit certainly beats what Gulf Air attempts to pass as “amenity kit” on an eight hours flight in a real first class cabin.
Here is the wine list and menu transcript:
Moet & Chandon Champagne Brut Imperial
Grands Vins de Jordanie
Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc
Laroche Chablis 2007 (1st to 15th of each month)
Mapu Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2005 (Chile) (16th to the end of each month)
Grands Vins de Jordanie
Hazendal Shiraz Stellenbosch 2003 (1st to 15th of each month)
Calvet Reserve Merlot Bordeaux 2005 (16th to the end of each month)
Mango, Tomato, Guava
Pepsi Cola, Diet Pepsi
Seven-Up, Diet Seven-Up
Bitter lemon, Ginger Ale
Perrier, Mineral water
Martini Sweet & dry
Johnny Walker Black Label
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Cognac X.O. or V.S.O.P.
Fine Port Wine
RJ 126 Frankfurt to Amman
June 2, 2009
Appetizers or Soup
Grilled Chicken Breast
Potato Pesto Salad
Soup of the day
(Vegetarian soup – Lentil Soup)
Seasonal Mixed Salad
Lamb Noisette with Coriander Sauce
Chicken Breast with Cream Calvados Sauce
Pike Perch Fish with Smoked Fish Sauce
Yellow Pasta with Broccoli & Chive Cream Sauce
Buttered Garden Vegetables
Basmati Rice with Saffron
Cheese & Fruit
French Cheese – Pre-packaged Brie on the bread plate
Fresh Fruit Basket - apples, bananas, kiwi, grapes (red & white), plum, & strawberries
Selection of Desserts - fruit tart, ice cream cake, mocha mousse, or cheesecake
FRA HMM CYCLE 3 (1-15 FEB/APR/JUN/AUG/OCT/DEC)
Amman to Muscat
Fresh Fruit Salad
Walnut Labaneh Balls
Edam & Halloumi Cheese
Mushroom Oregano Quiche
Butter – Preserves – Natural Honey
Assorted Bread Basket
AMM HBP CYCLE 3 (1-15 FEB/APR/JUN/AUG/OCT/DEC)
At Amman, Crown Class passengers got your own bus to the terminal from the bay, but at Muscat, everyone shares the same bus – not sure if it is because Amman is its hub or not.
In conclusion, Royal Jordanian Airlines is an impressive airline. Catering is wonderful and its F/As are excellent. The décor of its cabin are stylish and represents the desire of the airline to become world class. Amenity kit/pack is appreciated on the medium segment. Real printed menus are passed out on both flights, and yes the F/As will collect them towards the end of the flight, but you are more than welcomed to keep them. You should put away the menu shortly after the meal service.