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May 7, 2017 / oneworld82

The beginning of our honeymoon-adventure: DFW-MIA-MAD-TNG on AA First Class and Air Arabia Maroc

Morocco is often thought as an exotic place by European and American holidaymakers. I do not like that word though, because exotic reminds of something different, almost alien. Instead, the history of Morocco and that of the Western World have been intertwined for centuries. Maghreb – the farthest land to the East in the Umayyad Empire that followed the advent of Mohammed and Islam, saw powerful kingdoms (Almoravids and Almohads) that exercised power and influence across big parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Food, religion, science, and people flew between this extreme corner of Northern Africa and Southern Europe, shaping one another’s features in an everlasting fashion.

So, no, I do not think Morocco be exotic; I think Morocco as an extension of us; visiting and understanding this country would only be a way to gain a better understanding of ourselves.

There is a book that I read before embarking on our honeymoon: A Year in Casablanca by renowned British-Afghan writer Thahir Shah. The book is an entertaining and melodramatic recount of the attempt the author did to move his family to Casablanca looking for a slice of Paradise and good life, allured by the time he spent there with his family as a kid. The book explores the lives and culture of the people surrounding Thahir as he tries to navigate the intricate underbelly of Moroccan society in order to find people and materials to fix his newly purchased house in Casablanca. The book is enlightening because it shows how different yet similar to Southern European cultures Morocco can be: the importance of relationships, the role of the extended family,  etc. The book set the tone right for some good old observation while in Morocco, and made me genuinely excited to go.

Our itinerary to Morocco was DFW-MIA-MAD-TNG (Tangier), on a mix of AA and IB. I had booked two separate tickets to MAD and then to TNG (using Avios), with what I thought to be a big enough bigger in MAD. Unfortunately, first a mechanical problem and then a storm delayed us around 2 hours in Miami, and so we were going to miss our connection in Spain. Thankfully, Air Arabia Marco offered cheap, same day fares on a later flight, and for around $60 per person we were able to book ourselves on that flight. The annoying part of it all was that I wasted 18,000 Avios (which cost me around $100 to collect), and that because of the later flight we couldn’t stop in Tetouan for some sightseeing (I was relishing that given that Tetouan is off the beaten path).

In any case, no big deal – as any frequent flyer knows, these things happen. I knew it was going to be a bad day when our flight to Miami was delayed 2 hours. And then 3. And then downgraded from a 767 to a 321, which meant no chances for an upgrade. At least the IFE was good and I watched Manchester by the Sea while Thuy napped. Then in Madrid we paid a quick visit the renovated Admirals Club by gate D12, before having a quick bite at the Centurion lounge.

While the AA lounge was a zoo (read: very crowded), the new design looks neat and I snagged a few photos (but I couldn’t do more given how many people were there). The food offering was same as usual, but I suspect that will change for Premium passengers once the pre-dining opens up. The chicken soup we tried was rather good.

The Centurion Lounge was crowded as well, but comparatively less so than the AA club. We got some prosecco, some brisket with potatoes, we enjoyed the view… and then it was time to board.

Flight AA68, MIA-MAD
March 23rd, 2017
08:10p-09:25a+1 (scheduled)
10:00p-11:10a+1 (effective)
First Class, Seats 1D & 1G
Boeing 777-200, old version (16F)

Boarding was a breeze, and thirty minutes before our scheduled departure time we were onboard. Everything looked good, until I saw a couple of maintenance people around the cabin. Apparently, there was a problem with the intercom. No big deal the captain announced, we’ll be leaving 10 minutes behind schedule. Than those 10 minutes became 30, and that’s when I started to worry, as this is the exact pattern I had encountered 3 weeks earlier on the very same flight on my way to Madrid for work – that flight was eventually delayed 90 minutes. I was frantically doing mental math, as T4S to T4S connections in Madrid are fairly quick – 45 minutes would have sufficed especially silly since we had no checked baggage and since we already had the IB boarding passes. 40 minutes behind schedule we were ready to go… and then a storm hit, closing the ramp due to lightnings. Fantastic, another good 35 minutes delay and no real chance to make the connection to Tangier. Resigned, I looked for options and I came across the Air Arabia flight, which I promptly booked. I also informed our driver of the change of plans, and we were set.

Good riddance old AA first class!

The crew was good during the delay, offering drinks and nuts to the passengers in first class – the captain was communicative and apologetic.

In any case, all the usual amenities were at our seat when we arrived. The seat really looks old, and it’s good to know there will be no more old seats on AA premium cabin by mid-Summer!

The redesigned Cole Haan First Class kit is an improvement over the previous one – it’s a stylish big bag that I can actually see myself using! On the way back Lufthansa would give us a similar one, although it would be Jil Sanders (and hence higher quality) with La Prairie amenities instead of 3 Lab ones.

After taking off, the crew started frantically to get dinner ready. Table was set, food was taken out… but service was very rushed and impersonal. First of all, no pre-meal drinks were offered. Then, I got no drink until I had finished my appetizer, and when I asked for a refill I was told “when I have some time I will bring you some more”. Wow.

Anyways, service is a low point for AA – we all know that – and hopefully the company will invest heavily in rejuvenating and train its flight attendants.

I must say it was a very good selection of items, and the quality of the meal was overall good.

I started with the charcuterie board, which featured capicollo, Genoa salami, and… it was very tasty – even more so when enjoyed with some warm pretzel bread.

Then the salad came – it was fresh but plain.

The main dishes were very good. I had the beef rendang – it was very flavorful and not chewy – not as good as the one on Singapore Airlines back in November, but still very good.

Thuy had the vegetarian meatloaf with barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes – it looked and tasted good.

For dessert, Thuy had the chocolate mousse (which she enjoyed) while I had the upside down cake – this was was spectacular, especially because the jackfruit convened a certain punchiness to it!

After the meal I made the bed myself with the pad that was provided, and got four hours of sleep – not particularly restful as I got warm, but not bad either.

bed controls

When I woke up we were right off the coast of Portugal, about one hour ten minutes from Madrid. Breakfast was being served, and I decided to have some. Only the egg strata was left, and everything was served on a tray with a biscuit, butter, orange juice, and choice of coffee.

The strata, accompanied by sausage and potatoes, was very dry and not so good – I had good ones on AA before but not this time.

Breakfast on AA first class

After breakfast I went to the washroom to refresh and to change into my clothes, and not long after we landed in Madrid, 1h41m behind schedule.

As we left the plane we decided to run to the gate where the Iberia flight to Tangier was supposed to depart, as one of the boards put the flight on “last call”. We ran through security… panting and all… but the flight had already left. It turned out we missed the flight by about 10 minutes, a pity. The whole connecting process took us only 20 minutes, so we were very unlucky I felt.

As we were dirty and tired, we made our way to the Priority Pass lounge (Neptuno) to take a shower and freshen up our low mood. As we were there we had some snacks – the selection of chorizo and jamon serrano was good.

Travel planning

Spanish snacks

After one hour or so we left the lounge and made the way to the exit to catch a bus to Terminal 1, where the Air Arabia Maroc flight would depart from.

Check in opened 3 hours ahead of flight departure time, and after making our way through security we headed to the Cibeles lounge to rest. Terminal 1 in Madrid is home to SkyTeam carriers and others like Air China, and the Cibeles lounge partners with some of these carriers as well. As a result, the lounge is really big, with similar decor to the other Priority Pass lounges and similar food and beverage offerings. It turned out that the lounge did have a shower, contrarily to what stated on the Priority Pass app.

As we had some time to kill we tried some more food – the quality was ok (wife preferred the KFC outside the lounge anyways).

Forty minute before our flight we trekked our way to our gate A2, where no more than 40 people were waiting to board the flight to Tangier.

The Air Arabia Maroc plane turned out to be perfectly fine and rather new, and while we slept for most of the flight we enjoyed some nice views over the Gibraltar Strait and over Tangier on approach.

Tangier’s airport is very small – one of those were you just walk from the plane to the terminal, but immigration took a good half hour, after which we met our driver Said and started our honeymoon through Morocco.

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