A Royal (dis)HHonor: Royal Jordanian Business Class Bangkok to Hong Kong

Introduction
Aloft San Francisco Airport
Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to Singapore
St. Regis Singapore
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge Singapore
SilkAir Business Class Singapore to Koh Samui
Conrad Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Koh Samui to Bangkok
Le Meridien Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge Bangkok
Royal Jordanian Business Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” First Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco


As I sit here and try to write this installment, I just can’t get any words out. It’s not that I don’t know what to say, it’s that I have so much to say and I don’t know where to begin. Truthfully this has been the most difficult trip report I’ve ever written, simply because with every installment I’ve had flashbacks of this flight in my head, and I feel like a total idiot about it. So let me give it a shot, at least…

Royal Jordanian 182
Bangkok (BKK) – Hong Kong (HKG)

Saturday, March 30
Depart: 3:25PM
Arrive: 7:00PM
Duration: 2hr35min
Aircraft: Airbus A330
Seat: 3H (Business Class)

I was kind of excited to try Royal Jordanian on this route. Bangkok to Hong Kong is one of those unique routes that’s operated by a bunch of carriers on a “fifth freedom” basis. Heck, Emirates, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, and Royal Jordanian all operate this flight as a “tag.” So rather than flying Cathay Pacific on the route in their regional business class we decided to fly Royal Jordanian. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to sample them without flying them longhaul. It’s my goal to review as many airlines as possible, so I couldn’t not do it. Besides, I’d flown the three Middle Eastern giants — Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — and was curious to see how Royal Jordanian compared.

Upon boarding through door 1L we were acknowledged by three flight attendants. They were all Jordanian men and wearing pinstriped button downs, which actually looked pretty sharp.

We quickly found our seats in row three. Royal Jordanian has angled flat seats in business class on their A330s and while they’re probably not the most comfortable in the world for longhaul flights, for a flight between Bangkok and Hong Kong they’re tough to beat. The design and colors of the seats were sufficiently neutral so that I neither loved nor hated them. The cabin consisted of 24 seats across four rows, each of which was in a 2-2-2 configuration.


Our seats in row three


Seats in row four


Legroom

At each seat was an unwrapped pillow and blanket.


Pillow and blanket

Between seats were headphone jacks and 110V/USB ports.


Power ports

Also on the center console were the seat controls and entertainment remote, both of which were intuitive.


Seat controls


Entertainment remote

On the seats in front of us were cutouts, I assume either for bottled water or maybe shoes.


Cutout


Plentiful legroom

The flight wasn’t very full, and from the looks of it we were actually the only business class passengers originating in Bangkok. The six other business class passengers were connecting from Amman, so hadn’t even deplaned in Bangkok.


Cabin view

There seemed to be a grand total of five flight attendants working business class — three Jordanian men in the galley, one Jordanian female working the aisle and galley, and one Thai female working the aisle. More accurately there seemed to be one and a half flight attendants working business class, as the three male flight attendants didn’t once leave the galley. For that matter I never actually saw them in the galley, but rather only chatting in their jumpseats the whole time.

The Thai flight attendant offered us some pre-departure beverages. She was friendly though seemed a bit intimidated and/or reserved. I had a glass of apple juice, while my friend had water. If nothing else they deserve bonus points for their glassware.


Pre-departure beverages

The female Jordanian flight attendant made her first contact with us by asking for our boarding passes, which I had already placed in my passport holder in the overhead bin. We presented them to her, at which point she walked away. She returned a few minutes later with an Aigner amenity kit for each of us.


Amenity kit

As far as business class kits go it was well stocked, with lotion, socks, eye shades, a comb, toothpaste, and a toothbrush.


Amenity kit contents

Shortly thereafter we were presented with menus for the flight.


Menu

There was never an announcement from the cockpit, though the flight attendant made an announcement informing us of our flight time of 2hr15min. As we pushed back the safety video began to play. It was entertainingly animated, and while I can’t find it online, here’s the similar A340 safety video:

We taxied out to runway 19R for our departure and passed some pretty cool traffic, including Orient Thai and Transaero 747s.


Taxiing to the runway


Transaero 747


Orient Thai 747

Once at the runway we were immediately cleared for takeoff and had a smooth climb out of Bangkok. It was a clear day, which made for some nice views.


View on the climb out


Airshow

As we climbed through maybe 10,000 feet the seatbelt sign was turned off and I started playing around with the entertainment system. I asked for some headphones, which I was promptly given. They were the cheap kind, which hurt your ears if you have them on for more than 30 minutes or so.


Headphones

The entertainment selection was surprisingly decent, and consisted of dozens of movies and TV shows.


Entertainment selection


Movie selection


TV selection

Rather than listening to the 29 hour audio book of The Holy Quran, I settled on The Middle instead.


Wonder if anyone’s ever finished that on a flight? 😉


The Middle

As we leveled off at our cruising altitude the polite Thai flight attendant offered us hot towels.


Hot towels

At that point the meal service began. The menu read as follows:

And the drinks list read as follows (interestingly they’re not a dry airline outside the Middle East as far as I know, though they don’t publish a wine list):

Service on the flight was efficient, and within 30 minutes of takeoff my table was set and I was served the salad and appetizer. The appetizer consisted of beef, salmon, and asparagus, and was quite good. While the salad was small, I was happy it consisted of more than just lettuce. We were also offered wheat rolls from the bread basket.


Appetizer and salad

For the main course I ordered the rigatoni, which was fine. My friend ordered the roasted duck, which he enjoyed.


Rigatoni with vegetables in cream sauce


Roasted duck breast with orange sauce

At that point the flight attendant cleared my tray. I figured dessert was still coming, though after not being served any for 10 minutes I decided to follow up, and she said “oh, you didn’t say you wanted it.” Figured it was something they’d proactively offer, but…

Anyway, for dessert I had the date cake, which was really good. I had a cup of tea to go along with it.


Arabic cake date with caramelized figs and tea

After the meal we had under an hour to go to Hong Kong, so I figured I’d work on writing my trip report on my laptop. I was actually writing about how disgusting I found the whole service experience on Royal Jordanian. The poor Thai flight attendant was working her rear off, while the three male flight attendants sat in the galley laughing and talking the whole time. It really made me sick to watch. And it also kind of explained why she seemed to lack confidence — I can’t even imagine what she has to deal with on a daily basis.

Up until this point the most puzzling part of the flight had to be that the call button went off literally every 10 seconds for the entire flight. I don’t know if someone’s was stuck and kept ringing or what, but it went off a couple of hundred times during the flight, and was nonstop.


Slowly approaching Hong Kong

About 30 minutes before our scheduled arrival time one of the flight attendants came on the PA to inform us nonchalantly that we would be delayed 30 minutes and circling due to heavy traffic in Hong Kong. That caught me off guard a bit. I hadn’t checked the weather forecast for Hong Kong, and stupidly assumed it would be nice. The weather outside in every direction looked beautiful as well. So I figured there was just some congestion at the airport, which isn’t too unusual in the afternoons.

It seemed to catch the lady on the other side of the aircraft even more off guard, because she started screaming “why 30 minutes, that’s too much? How about five minutes instead?”

I figured I could keep working on my laptop since we were still at 30,000 feet, though the crew made an announcement saying to turn off all electronic devices, so I powered down my laptop.

As we began our descent we hit some pretty serious chop. If you’re not scared of flying, you know how sometimes when you first hit some serious chop you weren’t expecting you chuckle a bit? Well yeah, it was that kind of chop. Or maybe it’s just me…

Well the chop got progressively worse and turned into turbulence, and we quickly found ourselves in what was no doubt some of the worst weather I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t scary in and of itself, though it was the type of turbulence that causes you to tighten your seatbelt a bit and make sure all belongings are secure so they don’t fly around the cabin. We were in some thick clouds, to the point that we couldn’t even see the wing.

The weird thing is that it didn’t seem like we were circling, but rather we were descending rapidly. We proceeded to descend through some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced for about 15 minutes. And it wasn’t just turbulence, but lightning too. It was clear we were right in the middle of the storm based on how frequently we heard the thunder and how loud it was.

Then we leveled off, which was kind of the turning point of the flight for me. Up until this point I wasn’t scared, though that quickly changed. The pilot side of my brain switched on. Hmmm, we had steeply descended for about 15 minutes, so must have descended at least 20,000 feet or so. At this point I figured we were at around 10,000 feet, maybe a bit higher, though more than likely a bit lower.

The next 15 minutes were probably the worst of my adult life. The turbulence and lightning got progressively worse, and we were struck by lightning. Not the first time it’s happened in my 2.5 million miles of flying, so I wasn’t too worried. What worried me was how the pilots were flying the plane, or at least how I perceived it. We had leveled off though had an abnormally high pitch attitude (meaning our nose was up). The weather was the worst I’ve ever experience on the plane. But the baffling part was how the pilots were flying the plane. The engines would idle all the way and you could literally hear a pin drop on the plane. Actually all we could hear was the rain with bursts of hail hitting the side of the fuselage and the lightning getting progressively louder. In the cabin was nothing but silence mixed with crying. Then we got struck by lightning… again. There was a loud thump.

And then as the nose pitch got higher and higher the engines would spool up to close to 100% again, only to be brought back to idle. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was going on or why they were doing that. What was going through my head? For one, the possibility of a stall. We were at a sufficiently low altitude that we probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of it if one occurred. But more than anything else I was wondering just how distracted the pilots were.

As a passenger with a bit of pilot experience and a lot of passenger experience, this is the point at which you start to go crazy. We’re at a low altitude, we’re in the worst weather I’ve ever experienced, we’ve gotten struck by lightning twice, we have a ridiculous high nose up pitch attitude, and the use of the engine throttle isn’t just adjusting for wind gusts (as is the norm), but is literally going from near idle to near full power, and back, every couple of minutes. Beyond that, the captain hadn’t made an announcement the entire flight. Sure he could have anticipated the weather was going to get bad and could have made an announcement before we got into the storm, but he hadn’t.

The amount of stuff running through my head at this point in the flight was just ridiculous. At this point I had more or less written off my life. I put my passport in my pocket (for obvious reasons), and tried to turn on my phone to text my mom. What I felt worst about was that my parents didn’t know I was on this flight, as we weren’t originally booked on this itinerary. For that matter my oldest brother passed away 20 years ago, and I wondered why the hell I even got on a plane, and that I couldn’t let my mom lose another son. At that point I literally figured I was done, and at least hoped it would all end easy.

I also briefly chuckled (oddly) at the fact that before the flight I tweeted “About to fly Royal Jordanian… wish me luck!” I figured at least that earned me my place in the “Air Crash Investigation” episode about the flight.

The other side of my brain (I’m not sure if that’s the rational or irrational side) had a different plan. I was at the point where I wanted to ring my call button and have the crew call the cockpit to climb out of the bad weather and fly us somewhere else. I’m sorry, but as a commercial pilot you don’t hold in a “red cell” for 30+ minutes. You just don’t. I decided against it in the end and of course the plan was ridiculous, but I was so close to devising some plan to get the plane to divert elsewhere or just get out of the general mess, even if it meant I’d end up in jail somewhere.

Anyway, we continued our descent through the horrible weather, and after nearly 40 minutes of not even being able to see the wing tip we finally broke out of the, well, I don’t even know how to describe what it was, and saw land and lights. I didn’t know what land it was and figured we were diverting somewhere. About a minute later we saw some runway lights off in the distance. It didn’t look like Hong Kong Airport to me, but again, I didn’t care where we were landing, I just knew I was going to get off the plane, kiss the ground, and take a boat back to the US.

At that point the landing gear came out. I don’t remember the last time I cried prior to this, but I literally had tears running down my face as the landing gear came out. I wasn’t totally at ease yet since there was always the chance of a go around and I began to wonder just how much of a fuel reserve we had left.

But sure enough we touched down with what felt like the smoothest landing ever, and I quickly realized it was Hong Kong Airport. The feeling I experienced when we touched the ground really can’t be put into words. I was so weak that you could’ve probably cut through me with a spoon. I felt extremely grateful and happy to be alive. I also felt angry at the whole situation. And confused.

We taxied to the gate and the male Jordanian flight attendant made an announcement as if nothing had happened and welcomed us to Hong Kong.

As we got to the gate and seatbelt sign turned off I tried to get up, but initially couldn’t. I was so drenched in sweat and weak that I could hardly move.

As we walked up to the door by door 1L, the three macho male flight attendants that showed no emotion the whole flight admitted that was the worst flight they had ever had. And they didn’t even have to say it, because the sweat on their button downs around their armpits was revealing enough.

The Thai flight attendant had tears running down her face. And the female Jordanian flight attendant emerged from the cockpit with her make up all messed up, clearly from crying. She explained that the “pilots needed [her] help during the descent,” so she was in the cockpit. She said “they both said they’re retiring after this flight.” Doubt she was actually being serious, though I think the sentiment more or less is.

Anyway, y’all are certainly free to take what I say with a grain of salt and think I’m crazy. I’m also not going to beat a dead horse any further. I’m incredibly grateful to be alive, though also have a bunch of questions, which I shared in this post.

I wish the flight didn’t have such an impact on me, because flying is my passion. It’s what I’ve loved since a really young age, and my enthusiasm for it hasn’t worn off in the 15+ years I’ve been obsessed. Sadly I’m still extremely uncomfortable when flying, even a few trips later. I’m hoping it’s a “phase.”

To be clear, it’s not that I’m actually scared of flying — I understand how it works and how safe it is. It’s that I’m scared of being in such a hopeless situation again, one I can’t get out of, and the flash backs I have. I’ve even seen some doctors since the flight due to issues I’ve developed (and I’m not the type to usually go to doctors, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a doctor outside of getting a check up prior to this).

Anyway, this will be my last post on the flight. Thanks for letting me express myself, and hopefully some closure comes with it…

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Comments

  1. Woah Lucky,

    Reading your post I first thought you had lost it, but it is the comments from the flight attendants at the end of the post that really got to me.

    Looks like you had a memorable experience (!). Well, at least you will remember it in 50 years.

    Glad you made it. Don’t stop what you are doing. Truth is, anyone of us can go to bed and never wake up again. Have a glass (or more) of good wine and enjoy the fact you are alive, healthy, and very Lucky to have this life.

    Cheers.

  2. Lucky, I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience – I can’t imagine what it was like. Thanks for sharing further about the flight and how you have been doing.

  3. sorry that it still feels this unsettling! my second flight ever was on royal jordanian. glad it was not like this once, because it would have stopped me from ever setting foot on a plane again. the food in coach in 1985 looked better than your food in business in 2013.

    come see me in pdx when you come through.

  4. I’m no expert in this, but it sounds like you’re suffering from PTSD from what you certainly perceived (valid or not, it’s irrelevant) as a near death experience. I think seeking professional counsel is probably a great idea, and I would continue with that until the “phase” passes. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing the very best for a speedy recovery.

  5. So glad you’re ok, Ben. Has anyone from Royal Jordanian contacted you with apologies/explanations?

  6. Ben, I am sorry to hear it is still affecting you so much. I am glad you are seeking out some help though. We were in HKG this past week and took off in a rain storm. I couldn’t help but think of you. I do think time will slowly help.

  7. Coins, glad you’re still here.

    I did notice the El Al 7-4 in your photo. Did you know that EL AL in Hebrew means ‘to go up’?

    dhammer53

  8. I am generally ignorant of all things Biz/1st Class seats. I flew the RJ A330 from BKK-AMM and then the A340 from AMM-ORD and thought that both of the seats were lie flat, but after looking at their website again I see that they actually weren’t. I slept most of the way, so I didn’t pay much attention when in full recline.

    I didn’t want to be too critical of RJ’s Biz Class because my only other Biz Class point of reference was CX from ORD-HKG. I didn’t have the same service experience that you did, though, with all of the men gabbing and not working. Or, if I did, I didn’t notice it. Maybe harder to get away with that when it’s a longer flight.

    I felt their check-in in Amman was a disaster. I have rarely ever seen such a slow, inefficient check-in as I did for RJ in Amman. Maybe it was a bad day, but i was there a few hours early and practically had to run to the gate.

  9. A great, harrowing read. You’ve got a new reader in me, so I very much hope you’re in this for the long haul.

    Be well,
    Eric.

  10. Lucky, sorry it was such a bad experience.

    I was on CX 879 SFO-HKG arriving about the same time as your flight on the same day. I have to admit it was very rough with a lot of turbulence, probably the worst turbulence I have experienced on a plane.

    I was in the cone, row 1, of the 747-400 and I could hear the rain/hail against the nose of the aircraft. The lightning was also fairly frequent.

    In my case, one of the pilots made two very calm and confident announcements during the event apologizing for the turbulence. I think this was very helpful for the passengers.

    One thing I noticed from the flight map is that they had us circle just south and west of Hong Kong Island and I think that was where the storm was located. Finally, we turned east and things got better, then we did a 180 back west returning into the storm. It’s hard to imagine that ATC in HKG would construct a holding pattern where the planes circled in the heart of the storm.

  11. Was about to hit the sack and saw this one. It feels very painful and it was not me on that plane. Commercial flying is safer than any other method of transportation, but never 100% safe. It is good that you are writing your experience, it will help you bring closure to this matter. Like they say, This Too Shall Pass.

  12. Have to say I misjudged this in my original post. I remember thinking you were a bit ridiculous in wanting announcements in your immediate reaction post, but upon reading this fuller account while I don’t think announcements during landing were warranted if it would have hampered landing the plane, any decent pilot (even new RJ pilots) should have the common sense and decency to at the VERY LEAST apologize once landed.

    Also – they should have notified that weather landing in Hong Kong would be choppy so you at least aren’t as seriously questioning the knowledge and abilities of the pilots.

    I recently had a flight to Austin that was diverted to Dallas due to weather sitting over Austin (main reason probably being they actually briefly closed the airport)… and while I was annoyed at the time for the 3 hour detour (including refueling, sitting, and flying back) after the fact I’m always grateful for pilots and air traffic control folks that err on the side of caution. What a mess of a situation in HK!

  13. black rain in Hong Kong, glad you made it. bad on the ground, can’t imagine in the air. I’m surprised they don’t route you to another airport as during typhoons.

  14. Ben…I’m glad you shared this with us. I think what you’re experiencing is very normal in traumatic circumstances (I was very close on 9/11, heard the first plane, went outside and will never look at the world in the same way). But while you shouldn’t ignore what you experienced, I don’t think it stop you. Will it make you more cautious? Yes, perhaps only temporarily. And thinking of your brother must have added a layer of extreme anxiety to a frightening situation. Very sad for your family-that must be very hard to deal with. You, Lucky, will be ok. But it will take time so don’t push yourself. And remember you have a lot of fans out here cheering you on

  15. I think you are being too dramatic. I flew SQ 872 on the same day, which arrives at about the same time and had a similar experience with turbulence. It was rather bad but certainly not the worst I’ve experienced around the South China sea area. I fly over the South China sea 4-6 times a month and this happens about once a year or so at HKG, SZX, HAN, CAN, HAK, etc

    I experienced worse turbulence departing HKG on SQ 863 on May 16th than on March 30th.

  16. What a flight. Can’t imagine. I too fly a bit and back in the day was a student pilot. I totally understand where you’re coming from when you say you’re not scared of flying but it’s the lack of control. That crew gave no indication as to how things were being handled. I know in the thick if it that communication would be inappropriate but geez they should have said something before and after the red cell.
    Unless I’ve missed it, I don’t recall you mentioning much about how your friend perceived the flight through the cell. Was the individual more or less scared or in line with your experience?
    I knew this post was coming up and thought of it on my CX flight between HKG and BKK last week. Was hoping it wouldn’t come out before then as I was worried it would freak me out.

  17. I had a similar, but not as scary experience flying Avianca Domestic Cartagena – Bogota; landing Bogota in the middle of a thunderstorm in an old MD-80 in 2006. Not a word was spoken from the flight deck and I don’t even recall the safety announcements at the start were even given in English. Was a relief to get on the ground.

    The feeling goes but I’ll always remember seeing that lightening off the wing, and worrying about that AA flight (at the time) that crashed into the Mountains surrounding Bogota in the 1980’s

  18. Would have been interesting to see FlightAware data for this flight. Unfortunately for whatever reason, the tracking seems to have stopped once the aircraft left Thai airspace.

  19. I don’t see how someone like MT above can post that you are “being too dramatic”. How would he/she possibly know exactly how turbulent your flight was and how he/she “experienced worse turbulence”? Dumb.

    As a person who is irrationally afraid of turbulence, I have often thought about pulling out my passport to put into my underwear, all the while knowing that all my clothes would surely not be found anywhere near me, if at all, in a plane crash. We do what we can to feel in control. I probably would have been furiously writing notes to my kids and sticking them in the zippered seat cushions or something else just as useless.
    I don’t doubt for a minute that you need time to recover, and I am certain you will because you got on a plane very shortly thereafter and were able to do it. Sometimes a little Ativan helps, too!

  20. Ben,

    As a long time flyer, and supporter of you here on the blog and FT, I wish you the best. You are certainly an inspiration for many of us, and I am very grateful for your advice and trip reports over the years. Know that you have an extended family that is more than willing to help should you feel the need…if anybody “gets it,” surely we do. After having several go-arounds and diversions myself, I am glad that you made it safely. As somebody who is based in ASE, I can certainly relate to the feeling of helplessness in dicey weather conditions. Thankfully, both you and I are still here — proving how safe air transportation truly is!

  21. @lucky I recall that when you first posted about this, a reader commented that due to Jordanian regulation, the pilots have no leeway in choosing to get out of such a mess if they are ordered to hover there, which might explain why people who landed at HKG the same day had bad but not dreadful experiences.

    Did you find out more about how this works? I’d be very interested to learn whether on some airlines pilots are allowed less initiative so that such things might happen.

  22. I had a similar experience on a creaky old Air Rwanda plane trying to land in a storm at EBB. The problem is the pilots deliberately flew into a storm. In my case they knew this and told us just before take off. I wouldn’t have minded a good delay to let the storm pass over the airport.

    I think in both our cases, the pilots made a decision that was not rushed and that could have been thought over a bit more carefully. Delays and re-routings cost a lot of money, but not as much as a crash costs.

    I wonder in your case if they hadn’t loaded enough fuel for the tag route to HKG? So their only decision was to Rambo it in to HKG or divert?

  23. Lucky, sorry to read about the awful flight. Goes to show that these planes are safe, even when flown by a team in which you may not have confidence. That’s the thing to remember… it was a terrible storm, but you landed safely. I remember landing in a storm in Auckland and another in Miami, and in both instances I had to hold on to the under-side of my seat in business class, to anchor myself down. I felt like my head was going to hit the ceiling, it was so bumpy. Freaked me out for a while, but I still fly and I don’t get nervous anymore. Hang in there – the fear and stress will pass.

  24. @UAPremierGuy said it perfectly: you do have an extended family that is here to help and is grateful for what you do — and more importantly — who you are. It may be the best part of the internet that our humanity and compassion come through in these online “relationships”, and it is a testament to you that this support system has grown so naturally out of how warmly you share your self. As others have said, it might indeed be PTSD, and there is no need for anyone to judge…our experiences are our own and needn’t be belittled by those who weren’t there and don’t have the empathy to realize that we all experience things in individual ways, and that whatever we feel is legitimate. Let us know if we can be of assistance.

  25. To answer your question about the call button going off about every 10 seconds or so, it sounds like a fault in the lav smoke detector. Whenever the detector is set off, instead of a loud and possibly frightening buzz/alarm sound in the cabin, the standard “ding” sounds about every 10 seconds until the fault is cleared. However, and why this is the case I’m not sure, if there is a fault in the system, it can only be reset on the ground. To my knowledge, and this may have changed since, but there isn’t a way to override the alarm in the air and you have to suffer through it until maintenance on the ground resets the system and clears the fault. Seeing that the flight attendants and pilots weren’t exactly forthcoming with information, it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t come on the PA and explain why you would be hearing that for the duration of the flight.

  26. @ Lisa S, I am not suggesting I experienced what Lucky. However, the flight I took is scheduled to arrive about 10 mins prior to the one Lucky was on so we likely had the same or similar path for landing. I recall some delay but its been a while so unsure how long. And I have no idea whether Lucky landed first or I did but I suspect we were within 10-15 mins of each other if the departures were on time.

  27. No, Ben, I do not think you are crazy. That said, with the claimed 2.5 million miles under your belt – and some limited piloting experience as well, you ought to know that Stuff Happens. O don’t know why the flight crew did not make any announcements, but maybe they were Busy – the A330 has only two… As for the do-nothing ‘male’ FAs, do you know that they were working staff and not just filling non-rev jump-seats? (FIVE FAs for a smallish business class cabin seems a bit much – don’t you think?) While I’m sorry to hear that yo had a rough flight and a few minutes of truly rough air, with so much experience I guess you’re a bit overdue. And a simple question: Before this unpleasant event, were you one to keep your seat belt ON, at least most of the time? If not, I’ll bet you are now! If it matters, I keep mine on unless there is some specific reason to remove it. In the end, I’m sorry that you had an unpleasant experience, but direct your anger toward the weather, not Royal Jordanian. Stuff happens – and you ought to know that. Regards,

  28. @lucky – my cousin survived SQ006 back in 2000. There are some news articles where he is interviewed. He was a frequent TPAC traveler, being based in LA. After his flight back to LA, he didn’t step foot on another plane for about 18 months. Even then, his first flight was really tense, but got through it thanks to an in-flight nintendo system (or something) in business class.

    @MT – although you may have been flying at a similar time through similar conditions, you should know as well as anyone else that pilot ability, specific routing, and timing differences can have a huge effect on the ride. Also, given the FA and pilot reactions once they were on the ground, it does seem Ben’s flight was a bit worse than usual bad turbulence.

  29. That flight sounds far worse than any I’ve ever been on, and I can’t imagine how tough it would be to get on the next flight after that.

    I’m curious to know how you knew the plane was in such a nose high pitch if you couldn’t see the horizon (or even the wings) through the clouds. Is that just an assumption based on how it felt at the time?

  30. Thanks for all the supper, guys!

    @ Tom — Nope, haven’t heard from them or reached out to them, not that I think it would get me anywhere either.

    @ Andy — Great to hear from someone else flying that day, and happy to hear your pilots were more calming.

  31. I’d say it is a phase. I went through a similar situation flying from Kansas City to LAX years back. We got out of KC just before they closed the airport due to a tornado warning. This was after spending the last two weeks in SE Missouri dodging tornadoes.

    We spent two hours bouncing around like a pinball. Granted, this WN pilot kept us updated and we all knew it would be bad, but not nearly as bad as it was. After that I spent 4 years with sever flying anxiety. It look about 100,000 flying miles and numerous trip and MR’s to get it out of me. The good part: it does go away. The bad: it does take some time.

  32. @ MT — Respectfully I don’t think it’s safe to assume the conditions were the same just because the arrival times were simile. All other factors — pilot communication, pilot “skills,” routes, negotiations with ATC, etc. — could very well have differed. Happy to hear you had a somewhat better experience, though.

    @ Foivos — It’s not a specific policy, per se, but I think CJ outlined the essence of it pretty well in the quote I have of him here:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2013/04/03/reflecting-on-my-royal-jordanian-flight-a-few-days-later/

    The idea is that many airlines encourage pilots to be “safe rather than sorry,” so to speak, and there are no repercussions if they choose to divert, do a go around, etc., even if it costs the airlines more money.

    Then there are other airlines where if a pilot “screws up” (which to the airline could mean wasting money on a diversion or whatever), they could face punishment.

    Hopefully that makes sense.

  33. @ Stimpy — Truthfully fuel was one of my biggest concerns as well, and the Avianca crash in NY was on my mind almost the whole time. While US airlines are almost overly cautious about loading extra fuel, I wondered just how much extra fuel Royal Jordanian factored in for the flight. After all, if the pilots couldn’t let us know in advance that we’d be experiencing bad weather, I have to wonder how much planning they had done.

  34. @ UAPremierGuy @ Tom (and almost everyone else) — I love you guys! Thanks so much, really means the world to me.

  35. @ Cook — They were definitely all on duty. They made announcements. I think the reason they stayed in the galley is because coach was fairly empty as well, so I’m guessing they “delegated” that work and decided to take time off. Saw a few more Thai flight attendants in coach, so I’m fairly certain they decided to just kick back and relax.

  36. @ Robert — Ultimately I couldn’t see the horizon, but I think you can tell pretty easily over time what the pitch attitude is. We definitely weren’t “leveled,” and based on the huge variation in pitch I’m lead to believe we were trying to maintain altitude vs. climb.

  37. Lucky, I’m not afraid to fly, in fact, I LOVE to fly and try to fly is often as I possible can – though I’ll never fly like you and most of your readers. My only issue with flying is the turbulence.

    I just don’t understand the physics enough at play to know what is normal and what is not.

    Even light chop from heat rising off the afternoon earth makes me invision the plane crashing.

    I’ve been on a flight with moderate-to-severe turbulace on decent to ATL years ago. Thankfully the pilot came on and advised us that we would be experiencing turbulance that most had likely not been through ever and told us it would begin in 15 mins….and on Q, it did just that.

    What are the limits to these planes? How do I get to finally just enjoy the flight and not give a 2nd thought to chop and light turbulence?

    I want to be like the rest of the seasoned passengers who don’t even realize the plane is moving.

    Why can I drive down a bumpy road, but freak out (internally) at a bump in the road 30K in the air?

    Is it a control issue I need to let go of?

  38. I for one will be happy to forego your experiences on small, insignificant airlines that I would probably never fly!

  39. Wow Lucky, I experienced something very similar to this once on an ascent out of MSP. For a brief moment the pilot lost control of the plane and I was ready to blow my brains out because it couldnt get any worse. To this day I travel at least 50K miles per year but Ive never been able to get over that. PTSD. Its the worst.

  40. Wow. I just read this article this morning and agree UAPremierGuy said it best! As what others say, learn from the past, LIVE today, and hope for tomorrow! Enjoy Budapest!

  41. Lucky, as someone was in a nasty car crash (and by nasty, I mean one of the other passengers didn’t survive), all I can say is…get help or get over it. Not trying to be mean here, not saying you are being dramatic…but it could have been much worse.

    With regards to Royal Jordanian pre-bad weather, Lucky’s review seems to be accurate to other TRs out there. Decent seating, slightly better than average food, average to horrible FA service.

  42. Lucky, your experience is even scarier w/ your description that the nose was up and the engines continually spooling and then idling. Like you, I would’ve feared a stall, a la AF447 . . .

  43. ‘all I can say is…get help or get over it. Not trying to be mean here’

    He IS trying to get over it. Writing about it on his blog (among other things) is helping him process it.

  44. @ Lucky– Thanks for sharing your riveting, heart-felt account. Your followers are all hoping we never get to share the same experience. The only omission from the amenity kit was valium. 😉 Enjoy Budapest and the lovely view of the Danube. It should soothe the soul!

  45. Lucky:
    Would you explain further or define the terms “tag” and “fifth “freedom” as used in the first paragraph of your report. I am not familiar with these terms.

  46. Trip sounds awful. I can relate a little. 3 weeks ago was on an AA MD80 that developed smoke in cockpit/cabin within 5 min of takeoff from RIC. It was very scarey (after 5+million flying miles)-most scarey of my flying career. I admit being terrified and said my Act of Contrition (catholic thing). Pilot came on PA saying exactly “smoke in cockpit. Returning to RIC. Listen to flight attendants”.

    3 min later we landed hard and fast to lots of flashing lights. Eventually safely de-boarded (no chutes) Fab AA CSA team announced that MX was working o fix plane. Check back in an hour. There was NO wAY I would get on that plane or another MD80! I drove to DCA then flew to DFw on a 737. I admit. I am terrified now on MD80s. Sweaty palmed, pounding heart panicked. I’ve done it a few times but not sure I can do it many times more. It’s 10 pm and I’m on a 6:30 departure on an MD80 tomorrow. I can relate to your experience cause I’d do almost anything to not fly tomorrow. Good news is – the hard flight is first then have 2 easy 737/s to get to MGA.

    Hope we can both get past our issues. Theres too much to see and do out there. Plus I still haven’t flown the 787 yet!!

    Safe travels

  47. Glad you are still alive. Hopefully this terrible experience will pass. I agree with your assessment here – this was an awful flight. And extremely unusual. You’ll get over the fear. I did.

  48. @ gsorob — Wikipedia (accurately) defines fifth freedom routes as: “the right to fly between two foreign countries during flights while the flight originates or ends in one’s own country.” So the “tag” flight in this case is the add on from Bangkok to Hong Kong as part of an Amman to Hong Kong service.

  49. Just for reference, the current reports on this morning’s emergency landing at Heathrow Airport (Friday 24 May 2013), the pilots made at least 2 announcements to passengers as the plane was positioned for an emergency landing, with an engine on fire. No excuse for the Royal Jordanian pilots in not making any announcements during a rough landing in HK! They should have said something.

  50. Good g*d, your post has left me weak at the knees. As a highly seasoned traveller and private pilot I would’ve had a similar reaction. In the past 40 years I’ve only had two concerning experiences on a flight but they were bad enough that we felt the need to write notes to loved ones and prepare for the worst. I heartily empathise and am glad you’re OK!

  51. @Lucky, keep flying. You’ll get through this and return to the joy of flying. Talking about it helps. I went through a similar experience in 1991 from TPG to TXG in a small plane with 8 seats in it. When the male flight attendant put his head down between his knees and started praying due to the extreme turbulence, I knew we were in trouble. I had been writing a postcard, and the jagged scribbles read, “If I get out of this alive, I’ll kiss the ground in TXG.” I did kiss the ground when we landed safely and our faces all white as sheets. I took the train back to TPE. However, I’ve been flying ever since – prefer the right side of the plane over the wing when not in FC or BC, less bumpy there.

  52. Dear Lucky,

    I’ve only been reading your blog a couple weeks. I stumbled on your post on the best credit card offers for May, and it helped me kick off my new quest for miles. I’d been spoiled for cheap travel for years, as my brother was a Delta Comair pilot, which gave me access to non-revenue standby travel. It was an incredible bargain, allowed me to change my travel plans up to the last minute and frequently provided me a business seat at no extra charge. The trade-off, of course, was that it was standby travel, and finding flights with empty seats for non-revs is its very own game. However, due to the liquidation of Comair my brother has had to move to a new airline, which no longer provides me such benefits. So I’ve entered the miles game, as I just can’t fathom paying “normal” prices to fly. You and others are incredibly generous in your advice. Thanks a lot!

    I am certain that your recent experience was as serious and traumatic as you describe. The dismissiveness of some commenters really gets me. I come from a family of very frequent fliers, and I completely believe that you’ve experienced just about everything before, but this was different. In fact, your experience might have made you even more aware of the danger than a less experienced flier. You very likely have PTSD, and you’re right to seek medical help and therapy to get you through it. I’m very sorry your joy in flying has been diminished. But the important thing is that you’re alive, that flying remains a very safe way to travel, and that you’re not letting go of what you love. It won’t ever be the same, but it WILL get better, I promise. Thank you again and take care.

  53. SOB SOB I’m sorry, but I thought you were going to die. That would’ve been horrible consider I don’t read any other travel blogs.
    I remember one time I flew Northwest Airlines from Detroit to Salt Lake City in 2008 and we were being thrown around for two and a half hours nonstop. I was crying and my dad was yelling at me and I was screaming and crying even more and this pretty flight attendant was crying and I had a panic attack and I jumped into her lap and we screamed and cried even more and they had to make an emergency stop in some airport in the middle of South Dakota and take me and her to a panic relief hospital where I was trapped for almost a month. Scary, huh?
    I’m just glad SOB SOB SOB, that you survived.

  54. Hey man, you already have quite a few comments already, but I’ll throw my experience in for what its worth.

    I think my early life was actually quite a bit similar to yours- flying since I was in the womb, MP member since age 1, and probably spent more time in the air than on the ground before I turned five. There is just something about flying when you are a very little kid, especially “back in the day,” and it affects you for the rest of your life. Makes you love flying in a crazy way that only people that have had that kind of experience can really appreciate.

    Anyway, in 2006, I was on an MR on an UA RJ flight from ORD to SBN, a <1hr flight and my first RJ experience. Over Lake Michigan we hit the worst turbulence I've ever experienced- not terribly protracted, but extremely rough, and the fear factor was compounded by the tiny aircraft. At one point the plane dropped several hundred feet in less than 3 seconds; many pax were screaming by that point, and even the two NetJets pilots in front of me were gripping the seats, white- knuckled. I was sweating bullets.

    Flying wasn't the same for a while after that; I got sweaty and white-knuckled with the slightest bit of chop, or even the captain announcing a rough patch ahead. Channel 9 on UA became a crutch, and I would listen desperately to be reassured that the pilots were requesting smoother altitude. RJ's, no matter how smooth the flight, were a white-knuckle experience rotation to touchdown. A turboprop meant I needed to take Valium just to board.

    I can't say you get over it quickly, because you don't. For me it was a solid couple years before I started to feel like things were getting back to normal. That said, to this day 7 years later, chop on smaller equipment will still make me nervous, and I instinctively try to avoid RJ's where I can (as if more incentive to do that was necessary). I found that the combination of continued exposure, as well as constantly reminding myself during periods of choppy air that turbulence doesn't take planes out of the sky, and for every down draft, there is generally an up to follow generally kept me from the edge of losing it on rougher flights thereafter.

    It will take time, but I'm confident you'll get through it. Probably the best consolation I can give is that at no point was it ever enough to get me even thinking about giving up this hobby, and I'm very glad I didn't.

    Best of luck, man. Hang in there.

  55. Some really vapid comments by some posters here who seem to think they can tell you what you went through! I’m glad that others get it though. It is very scary when you realize that you have no control over your fate – even more so when you have some knowledge about your circumstances.

  56. I can relate a bit to your story. Once I flew Pittsburgh-Dulles in a 19-seat plane during a snow storm where I had to hold on to the seat in front of me the whole flight.

    After that, we took the flight from Dulles to Amsterdam and got hit by lightning.

    I was terrified to death in the first flight, the lightning didn’t scare me that much. However, two weeks later I went to Barcelona for a weekend. Even though it was the most relaxing flight, with great weather and without any turbulence whatsoever, I was scared. Really really scared. On the flight back it was a bit better already, but it took me a while to get over it.

    I’m okay now, it’s been quite some years. Still, every plane between 10-50 seats scares me ;). No problem with a 4-seater or an A340, but those mid-small-thingies… nah ;). Still I take them as much as possible, would love to get rid of the last piece of it.

  57. Very well written. Please stop second guessing yourself. You feel, what you feel, it’s how the Human brain works. You love flying, and once you have a few more flight under your belt, you will love flying again.

    Thank You,
    Wm. Drew Bertrand

    P.S. Who else do we have that can right these great reviews?!

  58. I too was a happy go lucky frequent flyer until we hit an air pocket over the Rockies on the way to Oregon. I was never the same flyer again. That experience of dropping in that air pocket would not shake itself from my consciousness and I was literally unable to fly until a dr. friend wrote me a scrip for ATIVAN.
    With ATIVAN in my system, I have no fear of flying and fly twice a year to Asia no problem. its amazing how a little yellow pill can just focus in on that one part of the brain that’s causing all the anxiety. try it, you’ll be cured too.

  59. Lucky and others, the issue for both pilots and ATC is that not only is ATC trying to keep you away from weather, but from other aircraft as well. This is the reason for so many flow control restrictions in US airspace, as the FAA decides to reduce the number of planes needing to transit areas with heavy storms at a particular time. By holding planes on the ground, they reduce the number of planes needing to hold in the air, possibly encountering weather because there is nowhere else to go.

  60. JUST FYI — those Jordanian men in the brown suits weren’t stewards.

    All Royal Jordanian planes have security – ie air marshals – on board in case of hijacking.

    It has been that way long before 9/11 – given’s Jordan’s experience with PLO hijackers in the past 40 years …..

  61. Lucky,

    Just read this old post and was wondering how flying has been for you for the past 16 months or so since this obviously harrowing flight?

    I am a huge fan of your blog, love to fly (especially in the pointy end!) but still get freaked out even with moderate chop. I’m so sorry for your experience and more sorry for some of the ignorant and insensitive comments posted here.

    I really would love to hear how you’ve been making out and where the “phase” is at now? An update to this story would also go a long way to those of us who love flying but have an irrational (or rational?) fear of turbulence or who have had similarly harrowing flights themselves.

    Thanks Lucky and thanks once again for the best damn travel/points blog there is bar none!

    Rob

  62. “we heard the lightning and how loud it was.” … I think you mean thunder lol. And you kind of made it seem like it was RJ’s fault. They cant control the weather.

  63. Think of those who perished in Air Asia and be thankful the pilot landed you safely. i have no doubt is was terrifying but your post came off as a mega drama queen.

  64. Recently flew RJ HKG – AMM – LHR return business class on their new 787 dreamliner, I had a lovely experience both ways and the price is unbeatable. Reading this post I can’t help but feel that your review is unduly harsh on the RJ for something that is out of their control i.e. turbulence. Landings in HKG are often difficult due to bad weather systems in the area, the pilots got you there safely and who knows what the conditions they were dealing with were like, as far as I am aware their pilots are highly trained and RJ is generally highly rated for safety so your review comes off as being slightly overdramatic to be honest.

  65. Man, sounds like it was a pretty rough flight.

    I still remember the flight that I was on a couple years back. I forget the flight number, but it was in a US Airways A319. We were en route Phoenix to Cancun and we hit an area of really bad turbulence. The pilots decided to make a rapid descent, but we had no idea. We suddenly felt the plane head into a nosedive, followed by the engines idling, although it sounded more like an engine failure. This was the scariest moment of my life as we dropped at least 5,000 feet within those 15 seconds. I hope you have recovered from your experience and continue flying.

  66. I read a lot of your posts and decided to respond due to the keyboard warriors thinking they’re all macho without going through anything similar. First off , you’re not a drama queen or whatever other insults these anonymous people want to label you. You’re a brave person not only for not ripping these pilots heads off at deboarding but also for sharing your personal experience with the community. Even though some of the community are d bags , the majority of us feel for you.

    Personally I love the blog. I only started reading in middle of 2015 and working my way backwards and I ended up at this spot. Not many of us get to fly anything except coach so it’s great to hear unbiased opinion on airlines if I were to decide to splurge on a flight.

    Sorry for the rant. It’s bed time and these rude people commenting really got to me. Nobody knows the situation you were in except you and the other passengers and even then it’s your personal experience. Because some people don’t care about flying in a lightning storm doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t be affected by it. I know this is old and you’ve done dozens of excellent trip reports after this one , but I really hope you’re doing great. Keep up the good work and if you ever need to talk or vent , you have a friend in me.

    Thanks again

  67. just a point on the 29 hr long Holy Quran length – the length is there just as a statistic. In general, the Quran is listened to on a per chapter basis (114 chapters of varied lengths in total). In essence, one would pick and choose the reciter and perhaps listen to a few chapters and move onto the next reciter and so on.

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