MIAMI — The second in our series on the unique Middle Eastern carrier Royal Jordian, join us as we take three flights in the carrier’s Crown Class business cabin. Miss the first story? Don’t worry! We’ve got it right here.
I have been a member of American Airlines frequent flyer program since 1990 and have had many opportunities to experience the different classes of service of ‘Oneworld’ alliance partners British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, LATAM, and QANTAS. Recently, I sampled Crown Class service in short, medium, and long-haul flights.
Medium Haul – Frankfurt to Amman
I arrived in Frankfurt’s Terminal 2 at 10:24 local from Philadelphia on ‘Oneworld’ partner US Airways, which also issued my RJ boarding pass when I checked in in the U.S. I had a four-hour connection in Frankfurt. Upon deplaning, I headed straight for the Japan Airlines lounge, which also serves as the ‘Oneworld’ lounge. This spacious facility offers complimentary food and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It also has a business center with computer terminals and connections for customers with their own mobile devices. Seating at the lounge includes recliners for those wishing to get some sleep.
Once the aircraft arrived from Amman, the gate number was posted on the screen. I proceeded to gate E8 in Terminal 2 about an hour before departure. Our aircraft was parked in a remote stand in the apron, so we took escalators down to the ground level for a bus pickup, once boarding started. Our aircraft was an Airbus A319 painted at RJ’s ‘Oneworld’ logo jet. I actually enjoyed the nostalgic feeling of boarding the aircraft the old fashioned way via stairs, and this also gave me the opportunity to take some closeup pictures of the airplane. The Frankfurt staff, not employed by RJ, did not separate Crown Class and economy passengers, but boarding was quick since stairs were available in the front and rear entry doors.
I was expecting my business seat to be relatively small and similar to that of other A319s operators in the U.S. and Europe, but to my surprise it was very similar to the larger and more comfortable long-haul recliner seat that was common on U.S. carriers before the onset of lie flat seating. The specs for RJ’s A319 seats are 46-inches of pitch in Crown Class and 34 in economy. Both also classes offer foot rests.
I chose seat 1A when I made the reservation. When I sat, the flight attendant offered me a choice of water, apple juice, or orange juice. I opted for the OJ. I did notice this aircraft was not configured with personal IFE yet. The main screens were set to the map display for the entire flight. The only other entertainment option was 12 audio channels, but the fantastic service I was about to experience made me forget this minor inconvenience. For starters, amenity kits were handed out for this flight, which was scheduled for a duration under four hours. The crew also provided elegant food and wine menus.
We were soon aloft After hot towel service, the flight attendants offered a beverage of choice and mixed nuts. The appetizer plate consisted of very delicious marinated crawfish, spiced chicken breast, noodle salad, and seasonal mixed salad. For the main course the options were beef curry, herb-crusted chicken breast, fried cod, and marinated penne, plus side dishes of buttered garden vegetables, potato croquettes, and basmati rice with saffron.
The attendants came by with a hot cart containing all the main courses and sides, and gave us the option to have a bit of everything. This is a very nice detail, and all the food was delicious! For dessert I had an apple cake and a cup of tea. I took out my tablet to get some work done after this great late lunch/early dinner service. The attendants remained very attentive throughout the entire flight.
I read RJ’s inflight magazine “Royal Wings”, which provides various travel articles and the standard fleet images and maps of destinations and passenger terminals. One curious tidbit in the magazine was a claim that states “RJ has a perfect safety track record for all 50 years of its existence”, but during the 1970s, there were separate three catastrophic accidents. They might want to clarify that.
At sunset, we were descending and crossed the Israeli coast. We flew the downwind part of the approach over Amman and turned to base and final for landing on runway 26L. Despite the inauguration of the new terminal over a year ago, our aircraft parked in the remote stand. The new gates with jetways were mostly in use by widebody aircraft. A bus was waiting for Crown Class passengers, another nice touch, and we were soon at the new terminal. This was an outstanding medium haul service, and it will be even better after the personal IFE is installed.
Short haul: Amman to Cairo
After spending two nights in a Dead Sea hotel and getting to see Petra, one of the ancient wonders of the world, I had an early afternoon flight to Cairo, Egypt. I spent the morning doing some sightseeing in Amman before taking the 45-minute drive to the airport. RJ has an exclusive facility to check in Crown Class passengers.
I sat down, while a very friendly agent quickly processed my check in and handed me my boarding pass. Passengers can then proceed to a hallway that leads to exclusive immigration and security lines. After rapidly passing through those two checkpoints, I was at the vast departures area, which consists of duty free shops and fast food restaurants. There is also an elevator that leads to RJ’s Crown Lounge for premium customers, lounge members, and elite frequent flyers. This club also serves customers flying other ‘Oneworld’ carriers.
I relaxed and ate for about an hour at the Crown Lounge. The one-hour (300 miles) flight to Cairo was aboard an Embraer 175, which was parked at the remote stand. As boarding time was approaching I descended to a ground level waiting area for flights departing from the remote stand. Two buses came for the passengers, and they quickly took us to the aircraft. I again went with seat 1A. In the Embraer fleet, seats have 46 inches of pitch in Crown Class and 32 in economy. Once again, I was in a seat that exceeded my expectations, based on my experience with the configurations on the same aircraft operated by U.S. regional carriers in support of mainline airlines. During taxi to runway 26L I saw an area of scrapped aircraft that included classics like the Lockheed L-1011 and the Boeing 727.
Before takeoff, the flight attendants offered beverages, and after take-off I reclined my seat and extended the food rest. The crew did not offer portable IFE because of the short duration of the flight, but they immediately served a snack plate with sandwiches and pastries, along with a drink of choice. The meal was very good, and our flight attendant frequently asked if I needed anything else. Soon, descent into Cairo began.
After landing, we parked in Terminal 1, known as the “old airport”, which has no jet bridges. A bus arrived to pick up the Crown Class customers to take them to the main building, where immigration was very quick. Once again, RJ exceeded my expectations. In the U.S., even in premium class, flights of similar duration offer relatively little in terms of comfort and service.
Long haul: Cairo to Chicago, Via Amman
Would it be possible to be three-for-three in terms of having an outstanding passenger experience with RJ? I spent a full day in Cairo visiting major tourist attractions like the Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum. The next morning, I left my hotel at five in the morning for my flight to Amman.
Contracted airport staff, not associated with RJ, handle check in at Cairo. Three counters were available, but none of them dedicated to Crown Class passengers. My agent for some reason changed the seats I had chosen online. I showed him my itinerary with my original choices, and he apologized and reissued my boarding passes. After passing through security, I settled at the generic business class lounge. It overlooks the tarmac for some good pictures, but I was asked not to take any since the Cairo International is a shared military and civilian facility.
A bus took us to our aircraft, this time an Embraer 195, and we were greeted by a very friendly crew. I asked if I could get a cockpit picture, and the first officer happily obliged. For this early morning flight, including myself, there were only 2 of 12 Crown Class seats filled. The very outgoing and very courteous Crown Class flight attendant Natcha served pre-departure beverages and a delicious continental breakfast once we were airborne. Just as in the previous flight, I was very impressed by the quality of service and comfort, especially for a one-hour flight.
In Amman, I followed the signs for in-transit passengers, where an RJ agent greeted me and verified my travel documents. After a quick security line, I made my way to the Crown Lounge since my flight to Chicago would not depart for another 90 minutes. I then proceeded to gate 204, where my A340-200 was waiting. Since this was a flight to the U.S., airport security agents did a manual inspection of everyone’s carry-on luggage prior to entering the gate waiting area.
Once inside the aircraft, and agent showed me to seat 1J. RJ’s A340s have a 2-2-2 layout in Crown Class with 83 inches of pitch. This means passengers with window seats have no direct aisle access if their neighbor sets their seat to the lie flat position. The seats have a stowable IFE screen in which passengers can experience a variety of movies, television, audio, games, and the moving map display. As a Middle Eastern carrier, RJ offers its Muslim passengers a constant update of Mecca’s position on the moving map display, to allow them to comply with their prayer obligations during the flight. The IFE screen has a USB connection to keep portable devices charged, but when I plugged my phone, mine was not functioning. This minor inconvenience would be eclipsed by yet another fantastic crew.
At the scheduled time of 10:30 local, we pushed back from the gate for our 13-hour flight to Chicago. After take-off. lunch service commenced. I enjoyed a starter plate of mixed Middle Eastern nuts, followed by an appetizer plate of salmon and mixed salad. For the main course, I chose beef fillet with rice and had a chocolate mousse for dessert.
Almost two hours into the flight, I opted for some sleep. The seat reclines to a slightly angled lie flat position, and it also has lumbar settings on the controls. I intentionally got little sleep the night before to see how well I could sleep on the flight.
The seat was very comfortable, and I was able to enjoy seven hours of continuous sleep. When I woke up, there were two and a half hours left to Chicago. I decided to go American and order a hamburger, fries, and salad for the second meal. Soon we were descending to O’Hare. Another super crew made for a very enjoyable flight.
The Bottom Line
When frequent flyers hear the term Middle Eastern carrier, the “Big Three” are probably the first airlines that come to mind, especially when it comes their world-famous quality of service. However, I can confidently say that RJ is a hidden jewel among the carriers in the region. The combined friendliness and professionalism of the crews, passenger comfort onboard, and a very modern and comfortable hub airport amount to a world-class passenger experience. RJ is an airline I will fly again, and I intentionally want to book my next flight on the 787, which arrives in a couple of months.
I especially look forward to the new IFE technology. The seats on the A340 are nice and comfortable, but a bit dated, given the constant upgraded retrofits major world carriers make. As of this writing, no details have been provided as to the type of seat that will be available on the new fleet, but I hope the RJ adopts a more modern seat and a configuration that can give constant aisle access to all Crown Class passengers. ‘Oneworld’ flyers, and passengers at large, who have not experienced RJ will be very pleased with the overall quality of this great airline!