REVIEW: Royal Jordanian Business Class Chicago - Amman


Once a year a group of my friends picks a destination to explore together. Sometimes it’s rather tame, other times it’s a bit exotic. Jordan was a bit of a hard sell for my friends. First I needed to explain where the country was located. After we were all on the same page, I had to explain that despite being in the midst of a rather volatile cross-section of the Middle East it was going to be safe and fun for everyone. It took some soul searching and a few spectacular pictures of Petra but I did finally get everyone on board with my idea. We agreed to spend a little over a week in Jordan and then hop over to Dubai for a few days. Vacation set, time to get the logistics in order!

Since almost all of my mileage accumulation is with American, booking an award ticket with Royal Jordanian (RJ) seemed to be the most obvious way to get to Amman (AMM). I wasn’t originally keen on the idea since RJ’s business class product is a bit less than desirable as it wasn’t a fully lie-flat product and the pictures online seemed to indicate that the seat wasn’t very private. As a solo traveler, the ability to zone out a nosey/undesirable seat mate can be a huge selling point. I debated a few other options utilizing more traditional carriers with more modern products, but in the end I decided the additional hassle of connecting at an airport in Europe and the additional monetary expense that would require wasn’t worth the marginal increase in hard product. I booked my ticket with Royal Jordanian and was looking forward to adding a new carrier’s premium cabin under my belt.


This is probably a good place to note that Royal Jordanian recently debuted its Boeing 787 plane on a few select routes. This new plane has a rejuvenated business class product that does include a fully lie-flat seat and additional amenities that bring it much closer to the industry standard. The product that I’m reviewing is still the most likely premium cabin product someone traveling in business class with RJ on a long haul flight will encounter as the carrier has few 787s and won’t acquire enough to replace all existing long haul aircraft.

CHECK-IN

My original booking with Royal Jordanian was scheduled to depart out of New York JFK. I had arrange it as the final leg on my last (now defunct) oneworld explorer award, continuing onward from my flight into JFK a few weeks prior with AirBerlin. Since I was back in Chicago (ORD) to continue living my life, I need to book a ticket from ORD to JFK to pick up the flight to AMM. I booked an easy routing with American Airlines connecting in Washington DC to do just that. Sadly my flight went mechanical on the DC to JFK leg and there didn’t seem to be any opportunity to get into New York to catch my flight onward to AMM. I was a bit nervous at first but one of the lounge agents at the DCA Admirals Club was able to solve my issue by sending me right back to ORD and book me onto RJ’s ORD – AMM flight. Problem solved, though at that point I had wasted a good 8 hours traveling from ORD to DC only to get put on a flight right back to ORD. The adventures of travel!

This solution created a few new problems for me though. I was meeting my friends in AMM and one of them just happened to be booked on RJ’s ORD-AMM flight, so we’d now be on the same flight in different cabins. No hard feelings of course, but it’s still a bit odd to be on a plane with someone you know and be in a much nicer seat. In addition to the tandem flight, another issue I faced was that when I arrived back in ORD it was still quite a few hours prior to RJ’s check-in opening. As I was on a separate ticket, the AA agents throughout my trip weren’t able to print out a boarding pass for me to enter the airside and hang out in a lounge. So I had to park myself on a bench at ORD for a few hours and idle the hours away until I could finally check-in. I survived, but I can tell you that there’s a serious lack of interesting things to do landside at ORD. I was able to snap a picture of the Royal Jordanian check-in area prior to the rush of folks on our flight arriving though.


And a relic of more profitable days from a former oneworld member.


About an hour before check-in officially opened, Royal Jordanian customers started to arrive and line up for check-in. After about half an hour the line for economy must have been 70 passengers deep, the majority appearing to be Middle Eastern and South Asians on their way back home. Stacks and stacks of luggage dotted the line. I started to debate whether I should get in line myself, but at that point only one passenger was queued up for business class check-in and I decided to keep my comfy seat on a bench with access to an outlet until RJ’s ground agents started processing passengers.

Once check-in opened I hopped up and walked down the assigned aisle for business class passengers. They were helping the one person who had lined up and within 2 minutes it was my turn. The agent that helped me was very friendly and even took the time to thank me for my loyalty when he saw that I was a oneworld Emerald via my American Airlines Executive Platinum status. He handed me my boarding pass along with an invitation to the lounge Royal Jordanian uses in ORD – the Air France/KLM lounge. ORD’s international terminal has a British Airways lounge which is also used by Cathay Pacific (CX), but Royal Jordanian still funnels passengers to AF/KL for some reason. Perhaps BA is asking too much for usage and AF/KL was offering a better price point?


LOUNGE

Like any good traveler I had done some research ahead of time and learned that the AF/KL lounge wasn’t exactly receiving rave reviews. I wanted to leverage my oneworld status and go to the BA lounge instead, but as typically happens the lounge dragon informed me that the lounge was just too full today to accommodate status passengers on other airlines. I’d like to note that BA’s lounge at ORD has never, ever allowed me to enter the facility unless I was flying on BA or CX and has always noted that the facility is just too busy with customers, even during the lulls between BA/CX departures. I suspect this is operational policy for them and it has little to do with actual crowding at the lounge. There are times when it would indeed be quite packed but others when things are quite quiet.

Defeated, I headed back to the AF/KL lounge to bide my time.


The sign on the wall next to the lounge listed it as the VIP Lounge and included a list of airlines who’s passengers would be eligible for entrance. It’s not visible in the picture but the banner in front of the door had Air France and KLM information identifying it as the AF/KL lounge as well. The agents inside the lounge took my invitation and waved me into the lounge. Literally waved me in. No hello, no welcome. Just a dismissive wave of the hand.



The space was essentially one long room. Walking away from the reception desk you can see cafe-style tables and seating on the left with food and drinks on the right. That’s followed by more traditional lounge seating with padded chairs and desks further back in the room.

It appeared that multiple airlines that utilize the lounge had flights departing around the same time as Royal Jordanian, so things were pretty busy. I was able to find an open seat where I dropped off my shoulder bag and then headed up to see what kinds of beverages and food were on offer.






The food selection was better than most domestic lounges but far below the average offering of an overseas location, which means it was just about on par with a church fundraiser at a local community park. Lots of packaged food and things wrapped in plastic. There’s really no need to offer plates or utensils as everything seems to be finger food.





The lack of food would likely be forgiven by many lounge patrons based on the abundance of self-serve alcohol left on the counters, but I’m a non-drinker so I was beyond disappointed with RJ’s choice in lounge here in ORD. I grabbed myself a watery coffee and a ginger ale (from the fridge I didn’t manage to snap a picture of) and turned to Facebook for entertainment.


The lounge did have a television toward the back turned to CNN, but it was a bit too far for me to enjoy. The only real entertainment going on was the very active movement of planes in and out of the terminal as I waited for boarding to be announced and my friend to arrive.



Needless to say the lounge situation was a huge disappointment. It was certainly a bit more peaceful and comfortable than hanging out in the terminal, but when my friend called to let me know she’d arrived and made it through security, I didn’t feel any remorse gathering my bags and going to wait with her at the departure gate.

THE FLIGHT

The flight appeared to have quite a few empty seats in business class prior to departure based on inventory viewed on ExpertFlyer.com, so my friend had inquired about paying for an upgrade to business class. They offered one to her for the low, low price of $2000 USD. She politely declined, so would be flying to Amman in economy class while I was in the business cabin. I hinted that I’d be willing to trade seats with her if she wanted, but I think she has a bit too much pride and insisted on keeping her seat for the duration of the trip.

Not too long after relaying this story to me, the ground agents handling RJ’s flight announced that boarding was commencing and invited business class passenger and elites to make their way onto the plane. I bid adieu to my friend and walked down to the plane.


When I arrived a few passengers were already seated in the cabin. I’ve heard Royal Jordanian keeps security guards for inflight safety in their business class cabin so I’m assuming one or more of the folks fall into this category. The FAs stationed at the door greeted me with a smile and directed me down the first aisle to get to my seat at the front of the cabin. RJ’s business class cabin on the Airbus A340 is arranged in a 2-2-2 layout. I was seated in 1C, one of the internal seats at the front bulkhead. RJ’s seat in business class is a bit antiquated but looked to be holding up well despite the age and use.


Even though the color palette is actually pretty boring, the cabin did strike me very nicely. It’s calming and the mix of taupe, beige, and red accents played well with my visual sense. I immediately felt comfortable and at ease. At the seat were a big fluffy pillow and a rather thin comforter. I honestly don’t understand why so many airlines make these items available for passengers prior to take off. While not so much an issue in first class, business class seats typically do not have adequate storage for these times other than the overhead bins. My Crown class seat at the bulkhead meant there was no additional storage available for me, and the luggage heavy flight meant the overhead bins weren’t open for pillow and blanket storage. I really would prefer if these were kept elsewhere and handed out immediately after take off. For most airlines it’s not like passengers can recline and make a bed prior to take off to make use of the items immediately any how.




That being said the bedding itself was actually quite good. The pillow was much better than most I’ve received in business class on other carriers and while the blanket wasn’t too thick it worked out since Royal Jordanian seemed to keep the cabin temperature quite high during the flight and anything heavier would have caused me to sweat quite a bit.


Despite having open seats prior to departure it appeared that Royal Jordanian did quite a bit of upgrading as our cabin was soon completely full. Crown class appeared to be staffed with four FAs (two women and two men) and one service manager (male). One of the quirks of my flight with RJ was that despite having so much staff that never appeared to leave the Crown class cabin (meaning they didn’t appear to be helping or working in the economy cabin), the two female flight attendants did all of the work.

This was an element of my Royal Jordanian flight that made me extremely uncomfortable. The FA working my aisle was a Jordanian woman in a traditional dress while the other aisle was worked by a Thai woman in the standard uniform. They were the only two people that ever interfaced with passengers. The three men remained in the galley and sat on jump seats while chit chatting the entire flight. Occasionally the service manager (he wore a suit that was different than the FA uniforms) would come out and walk the cabin to survey how the service was going and then proceed to yell at the two women about whatever was lacking (likely due to the men lounging about and not helping). This division of work along gender lines really set a sour taste in my mouth after what would ultimately turn out to be a good flight otherwise. It reeked of sexism and while perhaps that’s the way things are structured culturally at Royal Jordanian, it didn’t sit well with me at all.


Back to the actual flight review though…..

The lovely, friendly flight attendant in the traditional dress working my aisle approached me and offered me a pre-departure beverage. I opted for a glass of orange juice which was served to me in a real glass with RJ logo.


Royal Jordanian doesn’t allow the use of handheld electronic devices once the doors have closed and only allows you to use them once you’re in the air, so I took some time to thumb through “Royal Wings”, their inflight magazine during taxi and take off.



The English section of the magazine was relatively small. I flipped through it casually but didn’t find anything that struck my fancy. I spent more time going through the Arabic section to practice my reading comprehension skills. Fun fact – I took two years of Arabic language study. I’m not fluent, and I have a hard time putting sentences together, but one of the skills that didn’t leave me as soon as I finished classes was reading. So I can read the script, but rarely ever know what the word is I’m reading.

Once we reached cruising altitude the two female FAs were in the cabin passing out menus. Additionally they handed out a sticker to each passenger that could be used once the meal service was finished and people were laying down to sleep that would note whether you should be woken up for the second meal service.


Considering how little I had to eat in the lounge, and the fact that I’d spent the few hours prior to that camped out landside at ORD without a food establishment for miles, I was pretty eager to get dinner started. Here’s a look at RJ’s business class menu for my flight:





Unlike some Middle East-based carrier, Royal Jordanian does serve alcohol. They even provide business class passengers with a small pamphlet detailing offerings.




Now is probably a good time to note that Royal Jordanian doesn’t offer inflight wifi for passengers at this time, on any of its aircraft. This is important to note because as I was skimming through the menu and ran across the word “pangasius”, I really felt like I needed to be rescued by Google. Using my impressive powers of deduction though, I determined it must be fish since the other three dishes on offer were beef, chicken, and vegetarian. When it was my turn to order I selected the pangasius, partially because I liked the description and partially because I wanted to see if it actually was fish.

I was brought my beverage of choice (hot tea) and some warm mixed nuts to start. Standard opening to a meal on most airlines.


I order hot tea on planes quite a bit (because my spirit animal is an older, dowdy British woman) and one thing that annoys me a bit is when they bring you the tea with the bag inside the water but nothing to put the bag in after it finishes steeping. Some thoughtful FAs will bring a small ramekin or empty glass to toss the used bag in, but for the most part you’re stuck trying to find a place to put it. The napkin is my default location but considering how flimsy those things are and how wet a tea bag is, it never really works out well and I just make a mess.


I had some time to sip my tea and snack on some nuts prior to the FA swinging back around and dropping off a meal tray. It included the appetizer, salad, bread, some cheese, and seasoning items.


The FA offered to fill the two empty classes on my tray with water and wine, respectively, though I declined the offer for wine. The smoked duck was actually quite smoky and flavorful. It could have used a tad more sauce (you can see the small dollop provided) but even on its own was quite tasty. The stuffed vine leaves were just okay, coming off as a bit of cold mush when eaten. Not my favorite. The crab meat was tender and not dried out, but other than that lacked any seasoning. The small side salad was pretty basic, nothing to write home about. The bread served as an reminder that all TSA does to stop people from bringing dangerous materials onto a plane is a charade as one can simply board the flight and use the frozen, stale bread bun being distributed by the FAs as a deadly weapon.


After completing the appetizer and salad the FA removed my plates and promptly brought out my main course – the pangasius. Indeed, it was a white fish served with white rice, a tomato sauce, and a single “herb-crusted” broccolini tucked underneath. The fish was moist and the tomato sauce flavorful. Surprisingly the rice was cooked fairly well with only the portions around the edges being overcooked. I’m not 100% sure what happened to the herb-crusted broccolini, as it was neither herb-crusted nor broccolini. It was a steamed broccoli stalk. End of story. Still, not the worst meal I’ve had on a plane, and overall ranks right in the middle of the pack for business class meals.


Once I had finished my main course the FA was quick to remove my dishes and replace it with the dessert and a tray of tea. She must have noticed my struggle with the tea bag earlier as this time she presented me with a tiny silver tray along with the cup. I skipped the cheesecake due to my much mentioned chocolate allergy, so cannot tell you how it tasted. It’s a bit depressing how many desserts on airplanes contain chocolate. I understand that it’s likely the most crowd pleasing option to provide, but it does make it difficult for a freak like me that simply cannot eat it without some very uncomfortable side effects. On the plus side, it helps me maintain my bird-like, petite figure.

Being seated at the fr