Hello, dear reader, and welcome to the beginning of a little adventure I’m calling “Around the World in 80 Hours.” This flight report is the first in a series that will take your humble flight-reporter around the world over the course of roughly 3.5 days.
Stage 1: 11/10/2015 - ET503 YYZ-ADD - You are here.
To create something of a sense of suspense, we’ll just keep the rest of the route quiet for now.
Why would I put myself through something like this, you ask? Because like many of you, I enjoy flying. I enjoy trying new premium cabins from carriers I haven’t tried before. Also, I’ve got a rather large pile of Aeroplan miles accumulated over the last few years, and upcoming changes in our family mean that longhaul family travel is unlikely for the next few years. So I’m burning through as many miles as I can in the next six months or so. I’m going to Hong Kong, with briefs stops in Beijing and Singapore, with my mom, who’s never been farther from home than the UK, in January. And next month, I’m taking a quick jaunt over to Europe to try a couple of European Star Alliance carriers I’ve yet to try. And I’m doing this adventure.
This one started simply enough. I really want to try to fly as many of the Star Alliance 787s as possible, having “completed” my set of Star Alliance A380s earlier this year with Asiana. So I started our looking at simple YYZ-ADD turn availability on Ethiopian’s “Cloud 9” Business Class. This date turned up, and worked well for me. But return options didn’t look so good. So I had to get creative.
Using the multi-city trip tool on Aeroplan, I tried to figure out a set that would likely work to extend this trip beyond Addis Ababa. And soon enough, I found it. One of the routing options I found checked a few additional checklist boxes I’d like to check in terms of airline experiences, so I pulled the trigger.
While I’ve long wanted to try Ethiopian “just because.” One of the first airlines to fly the 787, and one of the more “exotic” Star Alliance members. The fact that they happen to offer very long-haul 787 service from my home airport really puts it over the top. But my interest has been somewhat tempered by the fact that ET, for some reason, decided to go with angle flat seats on its 787 fleet. That’s kept me from rushing to try this very long flight with ET. But ultimately, I decided, it was time to try it out. Besides, I’ve been on some angle-flat products that aren’t too bad. Maybe this will be one.
However, I was given a little treat the night before my departure, when I checked in on Flightradar24 for the ADD-DUB-YYZ flight that would bring my ride over to Canada, and found the flight was being operated by ET-ASH, one of three brand spanking new 787s delivered to Ethiopian this year, and therefore, one of three brand spanking new 787s to feature Ethiopian’s new 180-degree flat seats in Business. This is a major win for what will be the longest leg of this journey, and I’m quite excited to try this new product.
So with the background set, here we are, bright and early on a Tuesday morning, at Toronto Pearson.
The signs point me towards aisle six for Ethiopian, but when I get there, everything’s taken up by Air Canada. While other less-than-frequent Pearson tenants like Avianca and LOT have permanent locations in T1, my guess is that Ethiopian, with its thrice-weekly departures to Addis, does not warrant dedicated locations. Since it’s still more than four hours pre-flight, I presume that a bank of a few counters near the front of row 6 will eventually be turned over to ET, so I go for a little wander. Here’s a bizarre piece of “art” in the area between the intakes for domestic and international gates at T1, that features little plastic semi-formed cubes floating in a big tank of water. It’s eye-catching and decorative, but I don’t get it.
I come back to the counters about a half hour later, and sure enough, things are looking much more promising.
The crew is still setting up their counters, but after a few minutes wait, the check-in agent waves me over. With a smile she asks for my passport, and my final destination. When I tell her, here eyes just about bug out of her head. “That’s an awful long way around,” she says, and asks why I didn’t book via the Pacific on Air Canada. I say I’m on an adventure, trying some new experiences, and that you can do some very interesting things with Aeroplan if you try. We small talk a little bit while she gets the system to comply, and promptly spits out my first two boarding passes. With a final reminder that any flight over seven hours is too long for her, she bids me a good flight. I presume she’s never taken her employer’s much-longer-than-seven-hours flight, in that case.
The priority security line is fairly short, and soon I’m airside, ready for the long walk down to the “hammerhead” of Terminal 1, where the international gates are located. Fortunately, the accelerated walkway is working today, so it’s a very quick walk indeed.
I decide to forego the lounge for a few minutes. According to Flightradar24, ET-ASH has just landed at Pearson, and should be heading to Gate 171 within minutes. I might as well check out her arrival. Sure enough, the plane shows up just a couple of minutes after I arrive at the gate.
A little bit of spotting done, I head up to the familiar confines of the International Maple Leaf Lounge. I’ve reviewed this lounge before, so I’ll keep it brief. It’s a fairly large lounge that overlooks the departure gates, with two main rooms of seating, and numerous nooks and crannies.
Although it’s a familiar place, some things have change since last I was here. The space behind this little alcove where I set up shop was full of work cubicles when last I was here. Now it’s more lounge seating.
Naturally, I head off to the buffet to check it out and grab a bit, as I’ve been up for a few hours now and have yet to eat. Last time I was in here at breakfast time, I was disappointed with the food on offer. But just as they’ve recently enhanced (for once used in a non-sarcastic sense) lunch and dinner offerings, the breakfast has been improved, with a wider variety of hot dishes, in addition to the usual pastries, yogurts, fruit, and the omipresent Maple Leaf Lounge Oatmeal.
I grab myself a breakfast and some orange juice, and head back to my seat in the lounge. All in all, a pretty good meal, although the frittata-type egg dish disappoints a bit. Advertised as eggs with potatoes, cheese, bacon, onions, and peppers, it’s really more like potatoes with eggs, and some little bit of the other stuff The ham with pineapples as quite good, the sausage was what you’d expect, and the pastry was quite tasty indeed.
With breakfast done, I do a little bit of work, and then decide it’s time for a shower before the long flight to Addis. I hand my boarding card to one of the gate agents, and she shows me to one of the two shower suites in this lounge. It’s actually quite a large space, with a good size shower stall semi-open onto the rest of the room, which has a sink, a toilet, and a changing area with a bench and even a little closet space for hanging up one’s clothes.
Shaved, showered, and ready for the rather long to Addis, I head out of the lounge and downstairs about ten minutes before the boarding time posted on my boarding pass, only to find that boarding is already underway, with the first two zones being called. Boarding early. Now that’s novel. I join the short lineup to board. A quick scan of the boarding pass, and I’m on my way down the jetway. We board through L2, and I’m pointed to the starboard aisle and to the left. ET puts 24 J seats on their 788, four rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. For today’s flight, I’m in 3L, the third-row starboard window. Immediately upon boarding, these seats look familiar, they’re basically the same seats that United used in BusinessFirst on its ex-Continental 767 and 787 fleet. Pretty much exactly the same, only the in-flight entertainment system is clearly light years ahead of what UA offers on 767s, with a very large screen.
Legroom is more than adequate, and despite the window-seat footwell looking pretty small, I’d later find it quite adequate when laid flat.
Next to the seat, the IFE remote control is tucked away, and as one would expect, fairly simple seat controls are located in the top of the console between seats.
Service began with an offering of orange juice, water, or champagne. I request both water and champagne. Water and OJ are pre-poured in glasses, while the champagne is poured by the flight attendant.
It’s followed shortly by a pre-departure hot towel. A little different, but appreciated.
As boarding continues, I explore a little bit around the seat area. Taking a look around the IFE, it looks like there’s a fair number of movies, although there’s kind of a shortage of films I haven’t seen and have any interest in seeing. Oh well. The TV section has a pretty good selection, but they seem to have gone the route of having a couple of episodes of a lot of shows. I really prefer it when they load up multiple episodes of the same show. Long-haul flights are a great opportunity to binge-watch the right show.
Moving right along, let’s see what’s in the ET amenity kit. In a smart green pouch, a pretty standard setup, with everything individually wrapped. Earplugs aren’t in a plastic protector, so they’re a little squished. Other than that, pretty much everything is as normal.
There are pre-wrapped earphones, with a friendly reminder not to swipe them. They don’t look very good, so I’ll just use my own noise cancelling set.
Menus are up next. Based on the one flight report in English on ET, I wasn’t expecting much, but the offered menu is actually one of the better ones I’ve seen, with a full rundown of the meals, and some education on Ethiopian foods like Injera and Wot, Kolo, and…. coffee. Because they did it first. Just ask ‘em.
I strike up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me on the aisle seat, a likeable Albertan heading to Chad. He works in oil and gas and comes over here about once every two months. Twenty-eight days on, 20 days off, or something like that. Ooof. He says the company books them Ethiopian because they’re the cheapest by a longshot, and when they can, they upgrade to “first class” (his words, not mine) on points. I clarify with him that that he flies this very route regularly, and then ask if he’s had these lay-flat seats before, as I understand most of the Ethiopian fleet still has angle-flat seats. He says that no, it’s always a flat bed, but there are angle-flat seats “in the next class back,” although economy very clearly starts immediately behind door 2L. He also seems to be surprised to be on a Dreamliner, although ET has been running 788s into Toronto for quite some time now, barring when they play the magic wheel of fate equipment swap game.
The business cabin continues to fill up, it likes a load of about 16 passengers, and most seats in the first three aisles are full. In the final row, only the two windows seats are taken. The one behind me must be the “official’ rest station for the third pilot, as it is draped off shortly after takeoff.
Shortly afterwards, the safety video rolls, in a very old-school bit of animation. And we push back, actually a few minutes early.
A short taxi out to to the runway, and off we go… on and up and on our way to Addis. Still love these big 787 windows.
After enjoying watching the climb, I check out the moving map, which for once isn’t AirShow. Still, it’s pretty nicely animated, and flight information and other specifics are available from a menu off the bottom of the screen.
As we reach cruising altitude, I choose A Royal Night Out as my first movie of the flight. I’d not heard of it before, but it’s actually pretty entertaining.
Service begins quickly with the drink cart, accompanied by a ramekin of snack crackers. While the bar if fully stocked, I decide to just go for some water at this point in time.
600 ml bottles of water are also distributed.
Then tablecloths are distributed, and the tray with appetizer and salad. The smoked tuna with asparagus, grape tomatoes and sprouts is a nice light starter. The salad is simply mostly baby spinach with some peppers and a couple of walnut halves, it’s accompanied by a little packet of Kraft balsamic vinaigrette. Not exciting, but at least it’s different than the omnipresent AC balsamic and olive oil dressing.
Wine is offered, and I go for the Ethiopian Rift Valley Red. It’s a little bit lighter than the reds I tend to enjoy the most, but is bright and flavourtful. And here I didn’t even know Ethiopia had a wine industry.
Up next is the part I’m perhaps looking forward to the most, the Ethiopian injera and wot dish. This service is done from a cart, with long rolls of the injera and five large trays of different stews to try. I request a little bit of everything, and the flight attendant asks if I’m okay with spicy food. I say I am, and she serves out a little bit of everything. This dish didn’t disappoint, brining the heat, lots of flavour, balanced with soft, slightly sour injera. Very enjoyable.
As she clears the dishes from the injera, the flight attendant asks which main course I’d like. I request the chicken, and it’s promptly brought out for me. This brochette dish really hits the spot. The rice doesn’t excite me very much, but by this point I’m already feeling like I don’t need to add a lot of “bulk” to the meal. The curried vegetables and the simple chargrilled chicken breast with raita make a simple but satisfying entree.
The dessert cart comes around next, with pre-plated fruit, cheesecake, or chocolate cake, as well as cheese and crackers. I request the cheesecake, which is small but very enjoyable, and the cheese, which is accompanied by water crackers, grapes, celery and carrotts, as well as an interesting solid prune jelly type of side. The cheese is nothing too exciting, but is quite enjoyable.
Lunch wraps up with coffee, tea, and liqueurs. Having bought into the hype, I ask for a simple black coffee, and I find it very nice, with a good amount of flavour, but very smooth.
With lunch done, I set my seat back to a nearly-full recline, and watch the end of the movie. I discover a neat feature I don’t think I’ve seen before, a button on the remote pulls up a picture-in-picture moving map. Pretty cool.
Next up, Terminator Genisys, of which I have pretty low expectations. But it’s actually kind of entertaining. At some point in here, I requested a St. George, an Ethiopian beer, but as the cabin was fully darkened, I didn’t get a pic. Quite enjoyable, though.
After Terminator, I lay all the way down for a little bit and try to doze off, but it’s just mid-afternoon as far as my body is concerned, and it’s not having any of that. The seat is quite comfortable in bed mode, and there’s no problem with space. I never bother to even unwrap the provided blanket, as I find the cabin quite hot and the idea of adding a layer, however thin, seems pretty counter-intuitive. The seat itself also seems to generate a fair bit of heat. Not “risk of fire” hot, but noticeably warmer than the ambient temperature, which is itself quite warm. My only real disappointment with the Ethiopian J experience is the brutal Economy-worthy pillow provided. This is one place where they could really step up their game.
Tomorrowland is up next on the movies. I don’t think I’d even heard of it before, but it’s entertaining enough for a plane movie. Then, I really hit the bottom of the barrel and put on the only remaining “Blockbuster” that I haven’t yet seen and would even consider watching (Pitch Perfect 2? Yeah. Just not happening.) I went in with very low expectation of Paul Blart Mall Cap 2, and the movie lives down to them. Somewhere in here our flight attendant offers a sandwich or other snack for a mid-flight meal, but I decline. I’m still full enough from a very large lunch.
With that over, we’re already well underway, with the moving map out over Albania. With about five hours to arrival, I decide I’ve got to get serious about sleep if I’m going to get any on this flight, so I put my headphones into my iPhone, pull up a podcast, recline all the way and just relax. As expected, it works like a charm, and I’m soon out.
I come to with the cabin lights already up, and my seatmate already sipping on some orange juice. Clearly, I have once again slept through the beginning of the breakfast experience. But our flight attendant quickly notices I’m away, and is there right away with a hot towel to help get my mind back into the game. She offers a drink, and I request orange juice.
The table is set, and I’m asked for my breakfast preference. I go with the omelet, and it’s brought out seconds later. Service in Cloud 9 seems very quick, and quite attentive without being unnecessarily intrusive. The bread basket comes around, and I request a croissant. With about 60 minutes left in the flight, I throw on a 20-odd-minute documentary from the TV section exploring the monuments on the National Mall in Washington DC. It’s an Ethiopian Airlines destination, y’know!
Breakfast, in general is good. The yogurt is yogurt, the fruit is fresh, and the main is quite enjoyable, particularly the omelet, which while plain is not overdone and has some taste and consistency to it, and the mushrooms and sausages. I’m not a big fan of cooked spinach, and particularly not as a breakfast food. The sausage is also a little dry, although it has enough taste.
With breakfast over, I “open” the windows, and am treated to a very nice sunrise, although the ground below is mostly obscured by a thin layer of cloud well below us, up here at 40,000 feet.
With breakfast over, and my documentary over, I put on another documentary — this time discussing animals that kill humans. It’s almost perfectly matched to what the IFE screen is saying is the remaining flight time, about 45 minutes. I don’t learn a lot from it, as most of the “surprises” are things I know — like mosquitos kill a LOT of people every year, while sharks don’t.
I take a second to take a look around the cabin. It’s all nice enough, although I think ET could have done something to add some colour or flair to that front bulkhead. Perhaps it was impractical because of the locations of the bassinet mount. But speaking of that — isn’t that a pretty impractical location for the bassinet mounts? I guess they don’t have any other choice, but it seems quite high for parents to comfortable check in on baby.
One other detail I’ve overlooked mentioned until now — over my right (outboard) shoulder, there’s this convenient storage space, which will take quite a bit of gear — a phone, a laptop, a bottle of water, and a headphone container were all piled in here together whilst I slept. This also houses the power socket, a USB power outlet, and the headphone jack for the IFE.
The captain comes over the PA system and says we’re beginning our descent into Addis, where it’s a nice morning, and that he expects us to be on the ground a little after 8 o’clock local time. Right on time.
Soon enough we break through the clouds, and the Ethiopian landscape begins to unfold below me. It looks quite beautiful from up here, contrasting bright greens with browns and beiges, and occasionally, a small lake.
Eventually, signs of civilization start to appear, and I presume we’re into the suburbs of Addis Ababa.
Then suddenly, we’re over the runway, and we touch down, seemingly quite fast although that’s not too much of a surprise for a high-and-hot (okay, this is November, so it’s more like high-and-really-warm) destination like Addis.
As we taxi in, I notice that there are an awful lot of remote stands in use — not surprising, I suppose, for an airline that’s growing as quickly as ET. I know they have a master plan to redo ADD and make it the largest terminal in Africa, I believe, but right now, there clearly isn’t the gate space. So I’m none too surprised when we ourselves pull in at a remote stand, right next to our older plane’s sister, one of ET’s oldest 787s, named Lucy.
The crew thanks us again for flying Ethiopian, and we’re quickly off the plane, and onto the tarmac for a great quick “close encounter” photo with the plane, before getting on the exclusive mini-bus marked “Cloud 9 only,” which quickly takes us over to the main terminal.
Down one hall, and up an elevator signed for transit passengers, and I’m airside at the terminal in Addis, which is where our next flight report will pick things up.
Thanks for joining me on the first leg of this trip!
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge International
Toronto - YYZ
Addis Ababa - ADD
A great first experience on Ethiopian. Plenty of pleasant surprises, from the flat-bed seats when expecting angle-flat, to very good catering, to fantastic service from a pair of stunning young flight attendants. I'm glad I decided to give them a try, they are certainly running a good product!
2 LIKESLIKE TO THANK THE AUTHORTHANKS ! FLIGHT-REPORT LIKED
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