Welcome, dear reader, to the second stage of a little adventure I’m calling “Around the World in 80 Hours.” This flight report is the second in a series that will take your humble flight-reporter aournd the world over the course of roughly 3.5 days.
When we parted last, I’d just showed up airside at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, Ethiopian’s hub and a bustling little airport, that’s going to get a lot bigger in the near future.
I happen to arrive into the concourse right next to Ethiopian’s Star Alliance Gold lounge. I step inside, but not for long. I won’t beat around the bush about this, this is probably the worst lounge I’ve had the displeasure of entering. Old, ugly, over-filled with seats, and almost all of those seats are occupied. The food appears meager and uninteresting, the bathrooms are an absolute mess, and best of all, the smoking room appears to have an open-door policy, so the whole place pretty much reeks. I quickly decide to retreat to higher ground and come up with some better alternative to this place. There may or may not have been free WiFi available. There was nobody at the “checkin desk” out front when I wondered in to let me know, much less vet my access privileges. I wonder if that has anything to do with the way overcrowded status of the lounge? Hmmmmm.
Having quickly given up on that, I notice a sign pointing towards the “Cloud Nine Lounge 2” just down a hallway to my left. I figure I’ll give this a try, and after a short walk, I arrive at this second and newer lounge exclusively for business class pax.
Here, my boarding pass is inspected, and WiFi password is offered. A quick look around, and this lounge is larger, and much better spaced out, with a business area with some desks, a front parlour area that features some charming wooden chairs and tables, a bar, and a long room full of fairly comfortable seating. Definitely a step up.
The buffet is also offers decidedly more options for passengers, and I check it out, but decline to eat. I’m still pretty full from breakfast on the plane, and I’m just a couple of hours away from lunch on another plane.
A very cool feature of this lounge is a setup where the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is offered, including smoking incense and a hostess in traditional garb (or at least the ET uniform version thereof.) This was in full swing and going when I first got to the lounge, but shortly thereafter, the hostess disappeared, and would not appear again during my stay. I had hoped to get in in it, since it looks like a pretty unique experience.
I grab some water, and get some work done for about an hour, until just a couple of minutes before the boarding time shown on my boarding pass. Then I start making my way out of the lounge, towards Gate 1C.
Gate 1 A through F is a large holding area at ground level, and guess what that means? Bus gate! Oh yay. When I arrive, it’s pretty packed in a state of constant motion. There’s an ET agent at the bottom of the escalator who asks where I’m headed. When I say Dubai, she says “not boarding yet,” and motions me over to the seating areas behind me. I mill around there.
Most of this terminal isn’t exactly up to top marks for beauty or cleanliness, but this area is particularly bad. It’s basic and ugly and with so many seats in so little space, there’s litter everywhere. There are a few screen, which I suppose in theory are there to provide some entertainment, or maybe offer flight information on flights leaving from these gates. But I don’t know, because none of them are working. Well that’s not true. There’s one that turns on. Its screen reads a terribly un-useful “No Signal.”
The PA system is brutal, even by the low standards for PA systems, and is hard to understand, even when the gate agent is speaking a language I understand. A flight is called, and a bunch of people rush forth for 1D, and are quickly also lead over to 1C. I check with the agent to confirm this is NOT Dubai that’s been called, and she says that no, it is not. “We will call you when boarding begins.” At this point it’s about 15 minutes past boarding time, and that’s the closest I have to confirmation that the flight is, in fact, still leaving from this gate, and that I haven’t missed a gate change due to the lack of signage down here.
I’m impressed by how quickly they get people onto the busses and off to their plane. The picture above, and the picture below, were taken exactly ten minutes apart. That’s some pretty good work.
I assume that with the previous flight cleared out, our flight will be called soon, as we’re rapidly approaching, and in fact passing, the scheduled boarding time for this flight. No such luck. Eventually, a couple of other flights are called for other parts of the Gate 1 complex, but still no word on when, or if, they’ll call Dubai, other than “We will call you when boarding exists.”
More waiting. And more waiting. It’s amazing how long waits can seem when there’s no free WiFi at an airport. What, me addicted to technology?
Finally, almost an hour after boarding was supposed to be called, and in fact, a few minutes past our scheduled departure time, boarding is called, starting with Zone 1, which seems to Business Class and top-tier Sheba Miles members. Maybe Star Alliance Gold as well? I can’t quite tell. Happily, priority boarding is enforced rather effectively, as the agents try to explain to people lined up in zones 3 and 4 that they can’t board quite yet. I’m the first person in the lineup who actually gets to board, and my boarding pass is quickly scanned, and I’m off to the bus out to our ride up and over to Dubai. I’m joined by a handful of people on the full-size standard airport transfer bus, and we’re off to the gate, a short bus ride out, where I can confirm that our plane is ET-ASG, which, like the plane I flew in on, is one ET’s newest 787s, delivered just earlier this year. That also means it’s got the same cabin as my flight over from Toronto, with 180-degree flat seats.
I’m of mixed emotions about this. On one hand, after getting the flatbed on the longhaul (for which I was greatly thankful), I was kinda hoping to get the older angle-flat seats to this short jaunt to Dubai. On the other hand, I’m pretty tired, and I think getting a decent nap after lunch is going to be a lot easier on the flat bed than the angle-flat “slider” seat.
I’m the last of the passengers on the “priority” bus to board because I stop to take a couple of picture of the plane before boarding, but when I head up the stair and enter the now-familiar Cloud 9 cabin, I’m surprised to see exactly one other passenger here, sitting directly in front of me. I suspect J is not exactly sold out on this flight.
For this flight, I’m in seat 3A, the same row as my flight in from Toronto, but on the other side of the plane. The seat is pretty much equipped exactly the same as the other flight as well.
One surprise — the IFE has almost an entirely different collection of “Blockbusters” as the plane I flew to Addis on. So that’s a good thing. Other categories appear mostly the same. In the mood for something fun and mindless, I choose Minions. It is both, and I quite enjoy it.
The seat is comes equipped with the same Ethiopian-yellow blanket offered on my longhaul, the same measly economy-worthy pillow, and the same headphones, which I once again won’t be using in favour of my own Bose set.
The lovely young flight attendant who’ll be leading the service in J this afternoon comes around an introduces herself to me, referring to me by name, without benefit of a visible “cheat sheet” in hand. I suppose with just two bodies in the cabin, that’s not such a surprise. But the first service item, a single red rose, is a surprise. A pleasant one at that, as no rose was offered ex-YYZ. The rose doesn’t appear to be in the best shape, but it’s still quite a nice gesture.
Another surprise next, as she comes around to both of us with amenity kit, the same one offered on the long-haul. I’m quite surprised by this on a flight of less than three hours. In the airport, I noticed a gentleman with the same amenity kit bag in yellow/gold, so I presume they make them in all three of ET's primary colours. Makes me wish I'd received a different colour on this particular flight.
Next up, the familiar pre-departure beverage ritual, with pre-poured water and orange juice, and chanpagne (Jacquart) poured upon request. I do just so, and request some champagne and some water. Good stuff.
Up next, menus are distributed. Because there isn’t another page for a second service or beyond, this one isn’t quite as educational as the longhaul menu, but still finds time to remind us that Ethiopia is the home and native land of coffee. While the menu is impressive — a choice of two appetizers and four mains on a flight roughly the length of Toronto-Orlando? Pretty good! — I’m somewhat saddened to see that another round of injera and wot won’t be offered on this flight.
I also remember to grab a picture of at least the wines page of the drink menu this time around. Lineup is exactly the same as YYZ-ADD.
After drinks are shared, a pre-departure hot towel is offered. About this time, another brave soul comes forward to join us in Cloud 9, taking his seat a 2L, a window on the far side of the plane from we other two passengers. It will remain just the two of us for this flight. Three business class seats of 24 filled and (at least) one on a reward ticket? This is not shaping up to be a super-profitable flight for ET.
I presume the load is pretty light in Y as well, because “Boarding complete” is announced in a ridiculously short time, especially given the need to bus passengers over from the terminal. As we push back, I notice this 763 in UN colours taxiing out to the runway.
The safety video rolls, and we begin our taxi behind the UN 767, which takes off two before us. Immediately ahead of us, this mighty Beechwood. After it takes off, I notice a big plane landing. I figure out too late that it’s an A350, in Airbus house colours — my first spotting of any variety of this new bird “in the wild.” Unfortunately I don’t get a picture of it, yet. With ET taking delivery of its first 350s next year, it seems they’re doing a demo run to fly the new plane for airline and government bigwigs, and likely to confirm the 350 as a “hot and high” plane. (http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/index.php/news-headlines/item/4126-airbus-a350-to-conduct-demo-flight-in-addis-ababa)
With the 350 moved along, we line up and begin our takeoff roll, starting past this ET Q400. Go Canada!
As we’re rumbling along, we pass the 350, and I get this thoroughly disappointing picture of it. But at least it (sort of) confirms it was there.
After that, we’re up and away, and quickly into the cloud above and beyond Addis.
The flight attendant serving us comes by again, and takes orders for everything — drinks, appetizer, and main. I request a glass of water and a glass of the Rift Valley White, having sampled the Rift Valley Red on the flight to Addis and quite enjoyed it. For lunch, I select the antipasto and the chicken. Chicken twice in a row? So unlike me, especially there’s lamb on the menu. But for some reason, this curry dish just sounds like it’ll hit the spot.
Drinks are quickly brought, along with the choice of the same airplane-shaped snack crackers I had on YYZ-ADD, or Kolo, the Ethopian snack of roasted barley. I decide to go with the kolo, having read up on it on the menu of the flight over. I’m not disappointed. Quite nice, in fact! A 600 ml bottle of water is offered immediately afterwards.
I sit back a little, enjoy the movie and nibble on the kolo for a few minutes, and before I know it, the tray with the salad and appetizer are brought around. Neither are fantastic. The antipasto is not great, aside from the grape leaves. But they were the main reason I got this dish anways. And the salad is just kinda limp and iceberg lettuce-y. Bread from the breadbasket is offered, and I choose an olive roll type of deal, although it seems to have been camera-shy.
With just three passengers to look after, service is really attentive, and no sooner have I wrapped up the starter and salad than the main is offered. The vegetables included are a little boring — zucchini usually is unless grilled, in my opinion — but the chicken is is tender and delicious, with the sauce offering just a nice little bit of heat. All in all, I’m quite satisfied with the main.
Once the flight attendant sees the entree has been devoured, she quickly removes it, asking “Did you like it?” with a smile. I did. I did indeed. She heads back to the galley, and quickly reappears behind the dessert cart, which has a couple of cakes, a donut-looking type of pastry, and cheese. I ask what the donut-looking thing is, and she says “beignet,” so I’m sold. I’ll have that and some cheese, please.
The dessert is fine, although it seems to be more of a cream puff than any kind of beignet I’ve ever had before. But local differences, I suppose.
The cheese course is quite good especially the smoked cheese. Mmmmmmmm.
And, of course, lunch is finished with coffee. Because Ethiopia. This one seems a little stronger than the YYZ-ADD coffee, but still wonderfully smooth.
With lunch and Minions wrapping up at around the same tim, about an hour into the flight, I decide to investigate the nap situation. I grab the spare pillow on the unoccupied seat next to me, and put my seat down into a bed. It’s not quite as warm on board as it was on the longhaul, but still warm enough, so again, no blanket for me.
I pass out quite quickly, and by the time I wake up, we’ve begun our descent. Ethiopian is very funny about its announcements. Most are given in both Amharic and English. Some are also given in French. And at least once on the longhaul, they even threw in a German announcement. I had figured French was offered on the longhaul because it was a flight out of Canada, which is officially both English and French. But the German is a mystery to me. And why still in French on this flight out of Addis to Dubai? Oh well. It is what it is.
We break through the clouds over the desert, then fly out over the Gulf, before turning back towards Dubai, and settling onto the runway. A short taxi, and we park not far from the gate we’re about to occupy. The only problem is that it itself is currently occupied. We have to wait for this Saudi Arabian 7777 to push back before we take its place, parked right next to a Saudi Arabian A319.
I don’t know what they cleaned the inside of the windows with in Addis Ababa, but it seems like very dirty washwater to me. I don’t know what shape they were in before being washed, but I kinda doubt it was worse than this cloudy film all over all the windows.
We push up to the gate, and it’s quickly opened. We’re all bid a warm goodbye, and I say goodbye to the Ethiopian Airlines portion of this adventure.
When I originally booked it, I had about seven hours in Dubai, and had planned to head into the city to do some sightseeing to kill the time. But then Ethiopian pushed back this flight’s timing by almost an hour. And then the flight was an hour late off its new timing. So there will be no exploring Dubai for me, unfortunately. I’m off to find the transit desks for my next flight, which is where we’ll pick up the narrative.
Thanks for reading!
Ethiopian Cloud Nine Lounge 2
Addis Ababa - ADD
Dubai - DXB
I was expecting to enjoy the first portions of this RTW trip on ET, but not as much as I ended up enjoying them. On both flights, I found the service offered on-board well above expectations and up there with some of the best I've seen in business class. Catering is also solid, and the seats are fine, and although they are lacking for all-aisle-access, moving to flat bed seats is a big improvement.
Definitely glad to have had the experience, and I wouldn't hesitate to include ET in my travel plans in the future.
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