Trip Report: Leaving Paradise: Ethiopian Business Class Mahe to Addis Ababa to Paris

Ethiopian Flt. 878 SEZ to ADD
Boeing 737-800, Business Class, Dep. 4:12pm Arr. 6:30pm

Ethiopian Flt. 704, ADD to CDG
Boeing 767-300, Business Class, Dep. 11:55pm Arr. 5:15am (+1)

After a great five days, it was time to leave the Seychelles. We arrived at Mahe’s airport about two hours before departure, and checked-in at the outdoor check-in area. There were a few shops outside and I did some souvenir shopping. I figured I would leave the lounge early and spend the rest of my Seychelles Rupees at duty free in the terminal.

Outdoor check-in at SEZ

Outdoor check-in at SEZ

There was no wait for security or immigration, and soon we were in the small but modern air-conditioned terminal. At check-in, we had received passes for the Salon Vallee de Mai, Air Seychelles’ business class lounge. The space was newly renovated and pretty empty, with plentiful seating. The only real negative was that the bathrooms in the lounge were not air-conditioned, which was just uncomfortable. They did have pretty graphic designations, though.

Well, then.... Bathroom doors at the SEZ lounge

Well, then…. Bathroom doors at the SEZ lounge

SEZ Business Class Lounge

SEZ Business Class Lounge

SEZ Business Class Lounge

SEZ Business Class Lounge

IMG_0512

Salon Vallee de Mai,  Air Seychelles' business class lounge

Salon Vallee de Mai, Air Seychelles’ business class lounge

There was a small buffet with afternoon snacks, including pizettes, one samosa, bologna sandwiches, pates, quichelettes, fruit, and cheese. The food supply was low and it didn’t seem it would be replenished. There was also a full self-serve bar, along with sodas and juices and a coffee machine. The free wifi was okay.IMG_0507

Food at Salon Vallee de Mai

Food at Salon Vallee de Mai

I left the lounge about 25 minutes before scheduled boarding time to shop and spend my remaining Seychelles Rupees. As I got down the stairs, though, I saw that the plane was boarding “All Zones.” I ran upstairs to the lounge to get my boyfriend, and ran back to hear “Final Call”– about 20 minutes before scheduled boarding time! I gave up on duty-free shopping, and ran to the gate. There were plenty of people who boarded after us, but boarding ended up being completed at the time boarding was scheduled to start. (Tip: Seychellois Rupees are not easily convertible outside the islands. So if anyone needs about $15 of rupees, let me know.)

Our 737, looking tiny next to the Emirates A345

Our 737, looking tiny next to the Emirates A345

This 737-800 had a much newer interior than our flight into the Seychelles, though oddly, this one did not have in-seat power- not a huge deal for 3.5 hours of flying time. The business cabin was a lot more crowded this time, with 13 of 16 seats filled. There was a francophone African couple, a woman who I think was a travel writer, us, two nonrevs, and an American family with 3 kids and an au pair (all of whom were pleasantly quiet after settling into the cabin).

Ethiopian B738 Business Class

Ethiopian B738 Business Class

The crew was a little friendlier than that on our outbound flight, which I think may have had an gender component, as these were women as opposed to an older man. We were offered newspapers and magazines pre-departure, followed by a choice of champagne, juice, or water. Once in the air, we were offered hot towels and menus. Unlike our outbound flight, no amenity kits were offered.

Flying over the Indian Ocean

Flying over the Indian Ocean

What followed was an extremely odd meal service, some of which I think had to due with catering (we deduced the meals were actually catered out of ADD), and some of which was odd service. The menu was shorter than on the outbound; only two choices of main course (prawn curry or vegetarian ravioli) and one starter (couscous salad), as compared to four and two, respectively, plus a salad on the way out.

SEZ-ADD Menu

SEZ-ADD Menu

Trays were brought out with the starter on it. Although described as a “hot snack,” it was just a cold couscous salad. So far, the order of things wasn’t that kooky, but next came the main dishes. We wanted some meat, so went with the prawn curry, but the pumpkin tortellini looked better. The curry didn’t taste much better than it looked, and was pretty spicy. Yet the vegetables and rice lacked any flavor and required salt and pepper. But what would have really helped would have been a beverage. No such luck. Next came bread, followed by wine. Then, after we were done with our meals, came water. After our plates were cleared, we requested Diet Cokes, which were brought with a smile.

Food but no drink, SEZ-ADD

Food but no drink, SEZ-ADD

The dessert cart came down the aisle, and I’d actually seen the flight attendants preparing the cheese plate in the galley earlier, with what looked like boxes of cheese from the supermarket, and unwrapping packets of crackers. It looked better on the cart, but I still didn’t bite. I went with an apple and the mocha mousse, which was just okay.

Dessert (with drinks), SEZ-ADD

Dessert (with drinks), SEZ-ADD

The flight itself was uneventful, with some television programs on the overhead TV screens. As we made our initial descent, I had my first look at Addis Ababa – which I hadn’t realized was quite so sprawling.IMG_0531

Flying over Addis Ababa

Flying over Addis Ababa

Unsurprisingly since we left so early, we arrived at ADD nearly a full hour early — giving us five hours at ADD. Dusk was setting in, and the airport was completely empty– we were the only plane at a gate. The terminal was pretty empty, and we headed right to the Cloud Nine Lounge 2, which looked closed, with no one at desk. So we tried Lounge 1, which seemed closed too. We finally found someone who said both were open. It turns out we were the first arriving flight for the evening bank into ADD, and it was still hours before the outbound flight bank.

Empty ADD

Empty ADD

The dinner spread at the lounge was just being put out, and it was far better than the breakfast spread, though still hit and miss. I had an entertaining experience trying to find the lights in the large men’s restroom, as it appears I was rechristening it from a break and cleaning. The internet started out faster, though the connection gradually dropped as more people came around for the evening round of departures, which included Ethiopian flights to Rome, Washington, Toronto, Tel Aviv, and Cairo, and a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I had actually thought about switching us to the Lufthansa Frankfurt flight, then connecting to Paris in the morning, but the change fee wasn’t worth it given how much later we would get to France, the extra stop, and the “meh” factor of Lufthansa business class.IMG_0552 IMG_0553

Dinner at the Cloud Nine Lounge at ADD

Dinner at the Cloud Nine Lounge at ADD

We occupied ourselves with reading material, and futile attempts to use the internet.  Not much else to do at ADD.

About 10 minutes prior to boarding, we headed to the premier security area, which, again was glacially inefficient. Once through, we made our way to the gate, which was blocked by about 75 people on line at a counter for no apparent reason. Following a Belgian businessman, we pushed our way through to the boarding area, where we waited on another line, where there was a passport check, before finally boarding the plane.

Most of Ethiopian’s European flights use older 767s, including our flight to Paris — which continues on to Brussels,  except for flights to Heathrow and Frankfurt on the 787.  We weren’t expecting much, and the plane was extremely outdated, and not in good shape – in stark comparison to the modernity of Ethiopians other longhaul planes – the 777-300 ER, the 777-200 ER, and the 787.   Business class was four rows of a 2-2-2 seating arrangement, and we were in the middle section. The cabin and the seats both felt pretty narrow, though there was plenty of legroom. The feeling of crampedness wasn’t helped by the fact that this was the only full business cabin we flew in on our trip.  It was a mix of Europeans and Africans, and a few Americans, including our friends the family with the au pair.  The red upholstered seats were old recliners, with lots of scuffs and rips. Disappointingly, while our first old plane, which had similar seats, had in-seat power, this plane only had the old “Empower” ports. There were screens in the front of the cabin and in the aisles, showing the standard airshow — nothing else ever came on.   The center console was too high and made for an extremely uncomfortable armrest. IMG_0555

Ethiopian 767-300 Cloud Nine Business Class

Ethiopian 767-300 Cloud Nine Business Class

There was the same pre-departure beverage and newspaper service as on our other flights, followed by distribution of the same amenity kits as on our IAD-ADD flight.

The flight was pretty late, departing close to midnight Ethiopia time, nearly ten Paris time, so a majority of the cabin, including my boyfriend, went right to sleep. I figured I’d try and stay up to catch the meal service- more to blog about.IMG_0558

Two menus for ADD-CDG

Two menus for ADD-CDG

Menus were distributed, and they were a bit confusing, as there were two different menus. One was a a “hot snack” of a salad, followed by a choice of beef filet or the same prawn green curry, and dessert. Except for the beef, it was the same as on our SEZ-ADD leg. The second was a “Quick Meal”, consisting of a choice of sandwiches, and dessert – a different dessert. I couldn’t tell if one of these was an “express meal” like some flights have, with everything served at once, as there was no explanation. In the end, there didn’t seem to be any timing difference whatsoever. For both meals, entrees and starters came at the same time , and dessert was separate. The beef was very tough and hard to eat with the given small knife, but I wasn’t super hungry. I picked at my couscous and ate the beef, and grabbed some red wine and got ready for sleep. There were two different flight attendants covering the business cabin, one in each aisle, and I had the more efficient one. My boyfriend (who had woken) never got water with his meal, tried to get the flight attendant’s attention several times, and even rang the call button twice with no response, until the attendant in my aisle finally asked him what was up.

Beef and accompaniments, ADD-CDG

Beef and accompaniments, ADD-CDG

There was also one man in the cabin, perhaps a relief pilot, who seemed to have no function other than to stand in the aisle next to my seat and talk to the guy in front of me.  There seemed to be a lot of people doing not much

Despite the age of the seat, I was able to get myself into a decent position and sleep for nearly all of the flight post- dinner, about 5.5 hours, waking up just as they were setting up breakfast in the galley, about an hour before our scheduled landing time.

Breakfast was small and continental – croissants, yogurt, and fruit — but given the busy morning we were going to have, I wanted to have something in my stomach (the cabin was too dark to photograph it). We were originally going to go straight to Lyon from the CDG rail station (with a three hour wait at CDG), but needed to head into downtown Paris first to pick something up, and were going to take a slightly later train out of Paris’s Gare du Lyon main train station.

Some service snafus continued as my coffee came without milk, so when I wanted a refill, I specified “coffee with milk”, only to have my coffee cup refilled solely with milk. The food was fine, though I popped up the TV monitor in the center console while I ate my breakfast, but couldn’t get it to show anything but the welcome screen, so maybe they weren’t activated.

A seemingly vestigial remote
A seemingly vestigial remote

We landed in Paris around 30 minutes early, at around 5:15am, and again were the only plane in sight as we walked through the eerily empty terminal 2A at DeGaulle. We hadn’t gotten an “Access No. 1” pass for immigration, but it was unnecessary since we were literally the first to get to immigration, and the agents hadn’t even opened yet. We were easily through, and proceeded to the cleanest newest airport restroom I had ever been to, where I changed and freshened up.

* * *

This was the last of our four flights on Ethiopian, and I definitely wouldn’t have any fears of flying them again. That being said, it is not a luxury carrier, and the service and hard product were both hit and miss. Addis would not be my choice of connecting airports generally. But it was fine, and as I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more it’s about where you go and who you’re with.

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