By Omar Azizi
By Omar Azizi
New York – I had never before flown first class on Royal Air Maroc, and had always been one of those people who avoided flying with RAM whenever possible.
As a young man without children, I flew RAM many times. Each time I flew them between 1990 and 2008, they were invariably late, their planes filthy, and, the most inexcusable part was that the flight, the attendants were beyond rude. Asking for a glass of water on RAM was not the same as asking for a glass of water on any other airline. The flight attendant would simply glare at you, pretend she heard you, and not return. When you asked a second time, she would act like getting a glass of water for you was not part of her job description. Ultimately, when the food arrived, which, to be fair, was always of very high quality (pre-2008) – you would get your glass of water.
As if that was not bad enough, I once flew to Mauritania, and prior to boarding the plane, I confirmed with the woman working at the gate that a visa was not needed to fly to Mauritania (I was travelling on an American passport). Since I knew that airlines are the ones who are penalized if people go to a country without a visa, I had no reason to doubt her word. You can only imagine my shock at being refused entry to Mauritania and put back on a plane as soon as I arrived. The next two days were spent frantically trying to get a visa so that I could complete my trip to Mauritania. The shock was that RAM not only refused to refund the cost of my ticket, they were not even remorseful about it.
I went to the RAM office in Rabat and they were beyond useless. I filed a complaint with the airline in the Centreville Rabat location, too. I then decided to go to the very top, because I truly believed that top management would not want customers to have this kind of horrible experience. I was certain that if they knew what had happened, they would personally act to make things right. This is when I discovered that RAM was run by two brothers. This is also when I found out that despite having a monopoly, RAM was still not making a profit. When I realized that RAM was not generating ANY profit and was run like a family business, this is when I understood that complaints to RAM would always fall on deaf ears.
RAM acts like a Mafia. They do not sell drugs, engage in murder for hire, and other kinds of activities we associate with the Mafia, but they are a Mafia in that they have a captive market in the form of a legalized monopoly, and although they receive bailouts and cash from government tax coffers, the “leadership” of the company (for lack of a better word) is completely and absolutely unaccountable to its customers. In other words, they couldn’t care less about how their customers felt. They know their control over the company is solid, and heaven and Earth can’t change that.
I took my anger online and wrote several scathing editorials and reviews about the airline, and resolved to NEVER fly RAM again in my life. Then I had kids. Once you have kids, especially young kids, you become acutely aware of how important it is to NOT take indirect flights. Paying an extra few hundred dollars to have a direct flight is a must. Consequently, I was forced to take RAM, as they have the monopoly on direct flights between Morocco and the US. So what happened?
The service had actually gotten better. The female flight attendants who previously lacked any kind of social graces had been replaced with young male and female stewards who at least made an effort to be polite. The airplanes were cleaner than I remembered. The only real negative was that the food had decreased in quality.
Fast forward to last year: I took a RAM flight from Tunisia to Morocco, and because I needed to take extra luggage, it actually worked out to be cheaper for me to buy a first class ticket one way than it would have cost to pay for the extra bag and fly economy. Thus went my first flight on RAM First, and this is when I realized that business in Morocco, all high level business, for that matter, was not run in a way that had any resemblance to what I grew up with in the United States. In the US, the CEOs want their customers to be happy and look for opportunities to engage their customers. As luck would have it, on my flight back from Tunis, who would be sitting in the first class seat right behind me other than the CEO of Royal Air Maroc? I looked at this man and expected him to be 40 to 50 pounds overweight smoking a cigar, in line with how I assumed all Mafia godfathers would dress. Unfortunately, this was not the case at all. As the alcohol was passed around the first class cabin, he did not drink. This also surprised me, as I assumed that someone who cared so little for the interests of the Moroccan people would have the same kind of vices associated with other types of gangsters. Unfortunately, he did not live up to my expectation of pure evil, so what did that leave?
The CEO did not engage people, even in the first class cabin, much less the economy section, to enquire about their comfort during the flight (there was significant choppy air turbulence) – he just did not seem to care one way or another. Now, to be fair, he could have recently had a very difficult situation in his family. He could be going through a divorce, facing health issues, etc… so it is not really fair to make too much out of his seeming lack of interest in getting the opinions of people who had paid good money to use his company’s services. However, taken in concert with the complete lack of accountability I and countless thousands who have flown RAM in the past have experienced, here we had further confirmation that RAM was run like a personal piggy bank – the CEO, far from being concerned with improving the services of his carrier, far from fearing for his job, simply did not seem to care.
Did you know that it is illegal in Morocco for Moroccan Muslims to serve alcohol? Did you know that consumption of alcohol by Moroccan Muslims is illegal? Yet, on all RAM flights, you have Moroccan “Muslims” (whether they pray or not, I don’t know) – but they certainly don’t eat/drink in public during Ramadan. These people serve alcohol to Moroccan customers. In other words, criminal activity takes place on every single RAM flight that takes off and lands every single day, yet nobody has been held accountable.
If nobody has been held accountable for breaking Moroccan law on ALL RAM flights, what makes anyone believe that anyone will be held accountable for customer complaints? RAM has a monopoly: a monopoly that finally reported a profit for the first time in its history this year! Samir Gas, Alliance, CGI, and a long line of other Moroccan companies are similarly given “preferential” treatment by the government, and the management of these companies is miraculously never held accountable either.
I hope that this time is different, but if the powers at be were to react differently to RAM, it would set a very dangerous precedent. It would rock to the core the lynchpin that holds Morocco’s delicate patchwork of interests and moving parts together.
I would be absolutely shocked to see RAM start complying with Moroccan law and stop serving Moroccans alcohol on flights. I would also be shocked to see RAM’s bosses stripped of their control of the company. The reason I would be shocked to see any action taken against the CEO of RAM is that this would represent the arrival of accountability in Morocco. In order for the “system” to survive, it depends on two things, NO accountability for members of the oligarchy and no absolute rule of law. Thus, the criminal justice system will always be a place where injustice reigns supreme and top level business leaders in Morocco have no interest in generating revenue or being accountable to their customers. They just take their piece of the pie and try not to make waves. If accountability were to find its ways to the shores of Morocco, it would represent instability to some, and though it would likely be welcome by the masses, it would threathen the interest of the oligarchy.
There are no easy answers, but one thing is certain: the CEO of RAM will not be going anywhere without a seriously large golden parachute. The survival of the clientelist system depends on it.
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