Ethiopian Airlines Flt. 879, Cloud Nine Business Class, Boeing 737
Dep. ADD 10:10 AM Arr. 3:25 PM
Upon arriving in Addis, we were let out right into the main terminal at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport. I’d never been to an African airport before and I was caught by surprise just how bare it was. The entire rectangular has two long parallel corridors, with some independently owned clothing and souvenir shops, a few independent restaurants, a currency exchange, and two large duty free shops. There are two security checkpoints, one on either end of the terminal. There’s minimal seating before security, and minimal services after security, so that is a bit of a mess.
Our flight landed a full hour early, meaning we had 3.5 hours to spend in the airport. We headed for the lounge, and saw signs for Cloud Nine Lounge 1 and Cloud Nine Lounge 2. We went to the first one, but were told we should go to the other one, 10 feet away from the back door of Cloud Nine Lounge 1. which was the Business lounge. Cloud Nine Lounge 1 is apparently used for Star Alliance Gold members, and is significantly smaller (and darker). There is also a third lounge, the Sheba Miles lounge, just for Ethiopian elites, I believe.)
The lounge is basically two large open rooms, with a small food buffet, and a “rest room” on the side. It was pretty crowded before 7 am, with lots of folks presumably arriving from overnight flights and proceeding elsewhere in Africa. The passenger mix was mostly European and African, though there were a few Asian travelers as well. We found seats with outlets and grabbed some nosh.
There was a lot of hot food, but I had no idea what most of it was. Not the highest quality, but we did enjoy some french toast-type thing, as well as coffee. There were codes distributed for the internet, but it was a very spotty connection. Related, I saw something particularly brazen – an Asian traveler came into the lounge, grabbed a wifi password off the check-in counter and then nonchalantly started out. The desk agent made him come back and give it back, but the traveler had obviously memorized the password – as proven when we left the lounge and he was standing right next to the door with his laptop. Balls.
Despite being crowded, the lounge was quieter than many. The desk agent came around and announced each departure, and the lounge staff regularly cleared dishes and the like. There were a variety of newspapers and magazines, a business area with desktop computers, and two large TVs showing soccer, but no monitors showing departures. The bathrooms were not particularly clean (no showers) and there was a small smoking area. On the plus side, it was roomier than the Lufthansa Business Lounge at IAD.
Since our flight landed an hour and a half early, we had a pretty long layover – over 3 hours. After sitting for a bit, my boyfriend wanted to stretch his legs, so we left the lounge for a stroll around the airport. There wasn’t much to see. We did see that there were absolutely massive security lines, one on each end of the terminal – one for Gates 1-4, and one for 5-8. Post security, the gates were all connected, though, and there was one smaller security area in between for business class and Star Alliance elite passengers. After about 10 minutes seeing all there was to see, we headed back to the lounge. It was starting to empty out as the 8:30-9:30 bank of flights was boarding. Alas, by that point we were down to no internet anywhere in the lounge.
About 15 minutes prior to our scheduled boarding time, we left our lounge and headed to the “elite” security checkpoint in the center of the terminal. The concourse had cleared out a bit since we had earlier wandered about earlier. Security was super slow as it wasn’t properly designed, you walked through a doorway about 3 feet in front of the metal detector, but the x-ray belt was on the right, so you had to cross in front of the metal detector to put your bags on the belt, then walk back upstream with competing traffic.
We made it through, but then it was really hard to find a screen showing us which gate to go to. After finally finding one, we determined our flight departed from gate 1, a lower level area where there were doors to buses to hard stands for several different flights. It was pretty chaotic, and very hard to hear the overhead announcements – lots of gate lice. Soon enough boarding seemed to begin, and everyone was herded onto one bus for a ride to our waiting 737.
As expected, the plane was nothing special. The business class cabin was similar to an older domestic first class cabin in the States, with old school recliner seats with manual adjustments. There were drop-down TV screens throughout the cabin, and, surprisingly, in-seat power. At our seats were the same blankets we had had on our longer flight, as well, though different (older) pillows with a worn pillowcase.
The business cabin was pretty empty, with 5 seats of 16 filled with passengers, and a sixth non-rev. (The emptiness explains why Ethiopian dropped the route – we flew on its last week of operation.) The crew was nowhere near as friendly as on our long-haul flight, though. The older male purser was very chatty with one of the Ethiopian cabin passengers, but otherwise pretty disinterested and curt.
Pre-departure, we were offered champagne, orange juice, or water. We were given the same amenity kits we had received on our first flight, just in a different color, along with menus. When the cabin doors were closed, a disinfectant was sprayed, as per Seychelles regulations. After take off, we received hot towels, followed by a drink service and dishes of kolo and little airplane shaped Ritz crackers.
Soon the purser came around to take our lunch orders, and he oddly just said “chicken, beef, or fish.” This was odd as the menu didn’t list beef, just lamb. I also thought it was odd that he was taking our orders, since there had been no order-taking on the long-haul, but then realized he was probably lazy and didn’t want to heat more courses than he needed to.
When we tried to specify what starter we wanted, he said “It’s already on the tray.” Sure enough, when the appetizers and trays came out, we both had beef appetizers, though there was also a prawn and salmon appetizer that I saw another passenger had. There was a tiny salad as well, as well as bread from a bread basket. The beef starter was pretty bland, as was my main dish of Moroccan lamb (the “beef”). My boyfriend had the chicken coconut curry, which was definitely better. In between starter and entree was the same traditional Ethiopian course we had on our long flight, though we were served very skimpy portions, while the Ethiopian passengers were given larger plates. The best course of the meal, though, was dessert. We each had the chocolate “brownie”, which was really a chocolate tart with passion fruit sauce, and we split a mixed berry mousse, which was light and yummy.
During lunch, the overhead screen showed an episode of “Elementary”, followed by “The Good Wife.” After that, there was a European Discovery Channel-type show that I didn’t care to watch.
We had to wait a bit as Seychellois health authorities met the plane and made the purser show them the empty can of disinfectant. Then we were down the stairs and walked across the tarmac into the terminal. We were stopped to ask if Addis was only a transit point (otherwise we would have had to produce Yellow Fever certificates), and proceeded to immigration. Passengers are required to produce proof of onward travel, which I had, but the guy next to me was trying the “Just let me use your PC; it’s on my Gmail” approach.
And voila, we were outside in the humid Seychelles air, where we dealt with a Hertz rental car saga that I’ll tell you about later….