By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D.
Man my wife can be bossy sometimes. You would think a kid-free anniversary trip to the Seychelles would be enough but nooooo she insisted on flying Business class too. Well I still know how to save a buck! Four flights and 12,000 miles later we finally made it to the Seychelles.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND:
Making the Seychelles our 19th anniversary spot was probably a mistake. How could the Seychelles be a mistake you ask? Well, I should have probably saved The Seychelles for the 20th because now I have to figure out how to step my game for the 20th. The Maldives, The Seychelles and Mauritius are three Indian-Ocean island nations that I have always wanted to visit. We hit The Maldives for our 15th (I still see that place in my day dreams) and I just might make Mauritius the spot for the 20th (shhh, don’t tell).
My wife made it very clear that we would be flying Business Class. She reasoned that given the long distance and the fact that we were travelling sans children, it would almost be a crime to fly Coach. With reasoning like that how could I argue? As you might imagine Business Class to The Seychelles isn’t cheap so I had to be resourceful. I was able to get Saver level (i.e. the lowest) Mileage Plus Award tickets for the flights home in Business Class but there was absolutely no Mileage Plus award space availability in Business for the flights out. Thanks to the creative routings of Kayak, I was able to score two paid Business Class tickets for the outbound flights at a relatively reasonable price. The catch was that we had to fly to LAX first. That circuitous routing however cut the one-way fare by more than half so LAX here we come!
United Airlines flight UA354 from Chicago O’Hare to LAX was our first flight. I always thank God for the blessing known as Pre-Check. We were quickly through security and at gate C-21 where Boeing 737-800 N75632 was waiting to take us to LA LA land. N75632, a 1 year old 737 delivered to United in May of 2016 would be our cross-country steed for this 3 hour and 55 minutes flight.
This Boeing 737-800 being one of United’s newest and was outfitted with the new slimline (aka Ass-killing torture boards) seats in Economy Class as well as the Boeing Signature interior. Luckily we were not in Economy Class, unfortunately we were stuck in the bulkhead seats (1E and 1F) which meant less legroom due to the wall in front. Still, the seats were comfortable enough for the almost 4-hour flight to the left coast though the recline was pretty paltry.
Bonus for us! Trash from an earlier flight. While the cabin was overall clean and in good shape (better be for such a new bird), I have to say that I was not impressed with the dirty napkin and coffee stirrer that was sitting in my wife’s front seat pocket. It wasn’t even concealed so I’m guessing the cleaning crew must have been in a rush. We got the standard offer of water or OJ for a pre-takeoff beverage (I usually get the water because hydration is crucial for 36+ hours of flying) and soon we were pushing off of the gate for an on-time departure.
Aviation nerd alert! You have been duly warned. Is it just me or is there something sexy about a good winglet, especially the Scintmar split winglet? Maybe it’s the curves, maybe it’s the functionality, maybe it’s both. I guess I am just a sucker for beauty and function.
Aviation nerd alert part 2! I spotted Lufthansa’s special Fanhansa Boeing 747-800 that would be heading off to Frankfurt a couple of hours later. The Fanhansa livery was created to celebrate the World Cup.
A quick take-off to the north and we were on our way…..Only 36 hours to go! Soon after take-off we banked to the right establishing westward heading. This gave a pretty cool view of the massive expanse that is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
A hot towel (always refreshing on a plane) started the service after take-off.
Lunch was then served. Choices were Shrimp with grits or Beef with noddle’s. I went for the shrimp which for an airplane meal was actually pretty decent.
Now I understand the need for corporate cost cutting but I think U.S. carriers sometimes take it to an obnoxious level. I’m okay with the increasingly common Personal Device Entertainment (i.e. we will rip all TV screens out to reduce weight and save fuel and money) BUT, if you are going to make passengers view your entertainment content with their own devices you really should provide appropriate infrastructure like……oh….I don’t know….maybe something to hold the device so that you are not struggling to hold your phone or i-Pad with one hand while eating with your other hand while trying to prevent the turbulence from spilling your drink with your third hand. Spoiler alert folks, I don’t have a third hand.
Anyway, lunch finished I settled in and watched a few episodes of Arrested Development (one of my favorite off beat comedies) and People of Earth (a new TBS comedy that looked promising but didn’t quite hold my short attention span) between glances out of the window. Really the most entertaining way to spend a few hours at 35,000 feet is watching the show outside of the window anyway.
Cross-country flights always have great scenery ranging from the flat Midwest
To the beauty of the snow capped Rockies
To the red and orange hues of the desert and Grand Canyon.
Now I can never turn down a mid-flight cookie though I did notice that United is apparently serving packaged cookies up front instead of the unwrapped warm cookies that I remember from previous flights.
Wrapped, unwrapped it was delicious though. Now why did I have to turn that dang wrapper over? I was going to eat it no matter what the “nutrition” information said so why depress myself? Three hundred and twenty freaking calories!!
Just shy of four hours after take-off from O’Hare, the massive sprawl of the LA basin came into view as we made our descent.
The pilot made a greaser of a landing at LAX. As we taxied to gate 71 at terminal 7 my eagle eyes caught a glimpse of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 that would be taking us to Dublin and Addis Ababa later that day as she sun bathed on a remote parking stand.
With almost 8 hours to spare (later flights from ORD were already sold out when we booked) we debated if we should just leave the airport and go to either Venice Beach or the In-N-Out burger on Sepulveda. Ultimately since I was lugging my roller bag and my computer bag, we just opted to walk over to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and chill the hours away in the new Star Alliance lounge there.
I have to say that the new lounge is quite impressive and the open air patio with it’s great tarmac views held my attention for hours (translation until my wife insisted that she was cold and we had to go inside). The buffet was well stocked which was bad for my 36+ hour sedentary waistline but I had to do what I had to do (and I did it well and often!).
Finally the time came and at 10:45PM we made the journey from the Star lounge to gate 135 where our Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 was waiting. The LAX-Addis Ababa flight makes a refueling/crew change stop in Dublin, Ireland with fifth freedom rights. This meant the passengers waiting to board were an interesting mix of American backpackers heading to Ethiopia, ethnic Ethiopians likely visiting friends/family and Irish folks returning home from a trip to the states.
Our steed for the next 18 hours was ET-ASG, a Boeing 787-8 delivered to Ethiopian Airlines factory fresh in December of 2015. Luckily this was one of Ethiopian’s 787s with the new fully flat business class seats, no angled lie flats for us! Our total flight time was 9 hours and 8 minutes for the 5,175 mile journey from LAX to Dublin followed by 7 hours and 20 minutes for the 3,959 mile second leg from Dublin to Addis Ababa.
Boarding was called on-time and soon we were on-board making that lovely turn to the left walking to seats 3J and 3L in the Cloud Nine cabin (what Ethiopian Airlines calls it’s Business Class).
The cabin was spacious and the high ceilings and large windows of the 787 always give a nice open feel. I have such a love hate affair with the 787. I love the cabin, the windows and the increased humidity. I hate the fact that the cabin crew can take control of the windows, dimming them to the darkest setting and then locking them (I’m looking at you United, locking the windows for the entire 16 hour flight from SFO-SIN). Thankfully that wasn’t ever an issue on ET.
We were given a hot towel and choice of pre-departure beverage (I went for water, gotta hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!).
Here is the used hot towel for proof that it indeed did exist.
The cabin crew were all really personable and attentive and I loved the mix of modern western crew uniforms and
traditional Ethiopian uniforms.
A blanket and pillow were placed on each seat
And menus were distributed. One look at the menu and I knew my diet was in trouble……..again! The menu listed the options for both legs (LAX to Dublin and Dublin to Addis Ababa). Given the late departure hour, the after take-off meal was a lighter hot option followed by a canapés before landing. The second leg out of Dublin had a full dinner after take-off followed by a full breakfast before landing in Addis Ababa.
We pushed off of the gate on-time as thecabin crew distributed water bottles for middle of the night hydration, always welcome. Given the late hour, traffic at LAX wasn’t too bad. Some other international departures and cross-country red eyes were our only tarmac companions as we slowly made our way out to the active runway.
We had a nice powerful takeoff to the west over Venice Beach quickly crossing the Pacific coastline. There is something about the long, powerful roll of a heavy at the start of a long journey that just makes your little aerophile bits tingle…….or maybe it is just me.
Soon after crossing the Pacific coastline we made a lazy 270 degree turn
over the Pacific ocean
eventually establishing a northeastern heading.
I have to admit that I found ET’s catering to be a bit strange. I had stuffed myself sufficiently in the Star lounge so I wasn’t hungry per se but for a flight scheduled at 11 hours gate to gate, I expected larger meals. Their catering further confused me when later in the trip I experienced a gut busting multi-course meal on a 3 hour flight. Not complaining, just sayin’.
Here is the catering for the second DUB-ADD leg.
Not an alcohol drinker but for those of you that do, these were the options.
The mood lights were set to a soft orange as the light meal service began with a starter of salad which was accompanied by a delicious seafood dish that was a combination of tuna and crab. I still see that appetizer in my dreams folks, it was delicious!
The main then came. I selected the Gnocchi which was actually pretty good. It was like a combination between pasta and bread that was covered in marinara sauce and topped with cheese. Still don’t really know what Gnocchi is (I presume it’s Italian based on the name) but what can I say? I’m not a picky man!
Desert followed and I opted for the Petit Fours which was actually three tiny (and delicious) little cakes. Alas, my only regret was that they were indeed petit and there were not four (clearly I don’t speak French folks).
After dinner the mood lights were changed to the dark blue night setting and my attempt to start the movie Loving was quickly thwarted by my post-call, already been on the road for 12 hours and it is close to 4AM at home in Chicago fatigue. So I gave in, converted the seat to the full flat bed setting and actually slumbered quite nicely. This view was the last thing I remembered until
I awoke as we cruised to the south of Greenland. By now the sun was high in the sky.
I really love the 787’s dimmable windows which allow you to see what is going on outside without flooding the dark cabin with light. I also liked that the Ethiopian cabin crew did not lock the windows on the darkest setting like my United crew did for the entire 16+ hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore even though it was a completely dark outside for all but the last 30 minutes of the flight when the sun started to rise. But I digress……again…..thank you Ethiopian.
Feeling pretty energized at this point I set the seat to recliner mode and finished watching Loving which was actually a pretty good movie. No, this isn’t a scene from Loving its just the beautiful wing flex that was going on outside while I was watching Loving. Thats what you guys wanted to see anyway, right?
Just as the movie finished and a little fatigue started to come back over me, the mood lights were switched to orange for sunrise (even though it was now close to 4PM in Dublin it was sunrise for our body clocks) and preparations began for the second meal service.
Refreshing hot towels came first.
The meal service then started with beverages. I opted for a Coke and went for the non-veg option for my meal. The non-veg consisted of a prawn, beef kabob, halloumi and a vege spring roll. Yum yum!
My wife went for the vege option which were samosas, spring rolls and a vege pizza.
I quickly checked out the contents of the Selamata in flight magazine.
Which included my favorite page……Yup, fleet details.
I like the stickers that you can place on your headrest letting the cabin crew know if you want to be awakened for meals or just sleep the night away. As for me, there is no need for a sticker. You can wake me anytime you want to shove some vittles down my gullet.
Meal done, I un-dimmed the windows to find this beautiful site.
And this one too. No photoshop btw, just the effect of the sun and the window coating I guess.
Soon we were cruising in over the Irish coast which was strikingly green.
Short finals which ended with a rather firm touch down at a rainy and overcast Dublin International airport.
Surprisingly the great majority of passengers in both cabins were in transit to Addis Ababa which meant that only a few folks disembarked along with the off going crew before the cleaners boarded to give the plane a quick freshening up.
I decided to stretch my legs and walk the length of the Boeing 787’s cabin.
The aft door was open, I’m guessing for the cleaning crews, which provided a nice opportunity to get a few breaths of non-recycled airplane air.
I was really impressed by the professionalism and warmth of the Ethiopian crew on both legs of the journey. I totally got busted getting a shot of this particular cabin crew member entertaining one of the youngest passengers in the rear galley.
After what seemed like only 30 or so passengers boarded in Dublin, I made my way back to my seat 3L to find a nice pre-departure beverage waiting for me along with another bottle of water for the next night of flying. Thanks!
We pushed off of the gate about 20 minutes late and another slow and heavy take-off soon had us high above the green Irish landscape.
I put my seat into recline mode as the sun set and my stomach prepared for the food whose aroma was wafting through the cabin. Another hot towel started the dinner service.
By now a beautiful sunset was unfolding outside of my window.
I started watching a strange but interesting movie with Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell about fallen angels.
The dinner service started with a chilled lamb dish and a side salad.
Followed by my choice of main which was a lamb shank. I love lamb so sue me! The lamb was a bit dry which is actually pretty standard for an airplane meal I guess.
My wife went for the salmon and rice pillaf which in the interest of trip reporting I had to try. Surprisingly, the salmon was actually pretty moist. Maybe it stole my poor little lamb’s moisture.
Desert followed and I once again indulged in the Petit Fours. They were tried and tested on the first leg out of LAX, so I figured why mess with success?
Dinner done and movie over, it was time to dim my windows.
Recline my seat into the full flat bed mode.
Store my glasses in the little cubby behind the seat.
And slumber my second night away as this 787 plied the night skies. Cabin crew passed out a breakfast request slip giving you the opportunity to either sleep or have breakfast. If opting for breakfast you had the ability to decide between a full hot breakfast, a lighter breakfast or a continental breakfast. The smaller the meal, the longer they would let you sleep before serving it.
And slumber I did, finally awakening as the mood lights switched to dawn mode and the cabin crew brought hot towels. By now we were over southern Egypt with about two hours before landing in Addis Ababa.
My wife opted for the French Toast which looked pretty darn good. Gotta be honest, I was having a bit of French Toast envy.
Luckily the scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms that I selected were also pretty darn good…..well, for an airplane breakfast.
Soon we were descending into the pre-dawn skies over Ethiopia and before long the city lights of Addis Ababa were beneath us. Another….shall we say firm landing and we were in Addis Ababa making our way to a remote parking stand. At this early hour Bole airport was actually pretty busy as a wave of flights from varous Europe and African cities arrived.
Nothing really to see here. Just proof that we were in Addis Ababa.
We made our way to the Business Class lounge. Based upon reviews that I read, of the two lounges (Business class and Star Gold), the Business Class lounge is the better option in Addis.
“Better option” is a relative term but the lounge sufficed for the three hour layover. Free food (including Injera aka my secret Ethiopian lover), wifi and relatively clean bathrooms were really all that I needed anyway. Ethiopian’s in-flight product is pretty good but their ground game in Addis really takes away from their premium product in my humble opinion.
Another proof-of-life pic. See, thats me in the Ethiopian lounge.
We cooled our jets for a couple of hours and shamefully ate again before making our way to gate 12 for our last leg to Mahe Island in the Seychelles.
In reality gate 12 is just a crowded hot box that leads to a door that leads to the bus that leads to your remote stand. Gate 12 was very, very crowded since it served multiple flights. Again, the ground game at Addis is ET’s premium product weakness. Apparently there is a “Premium” gate (#13) that has shorter lines and takes you to the premium buses but we could never find it and it was never printed on our boarding passes as the gate we should use.
Any true aerophile loves boarding from a remote stand because it means two things. Number 1 a bus ride out on the tarmac.
The short ride to the plane let us spot tons and tons and tons of Ethiopian aircraft. Bole is bustling and I’m guessing an expansion is in order if ET wants to keep growing.
and Number 2, boarding the plane by airsteps. After bobbing and weaving amongst the traffic at Bole airport, we pulled up to ET-ALK, the Boeing 737-700 that would be taking us on the three and 22 minute 1,491 mile journey across the Indian ocean to the Seychelles. I was surprised to see a -700 since we were scheduled to be on a -800. Now most ladies don’t want to called short nor pudgy, but there is something so sexy about the short little pudgy -700 frame, so I definitely wasn’t disappointed to see her. ET-ALK was a 14 year old 737-700, delivered to Ethiopian in April of 2003.
I watched the activity of the tarmac like any good aerophile would while the rest of the passengers boarded.
The Cloud 9 (aka Business Class) cabin of this 14 year old Boeing was clean though the lounge recliner seats did have a bit of a retro look and feel to them. My wife and I were the only two passengers seated in Cloud 9 which meant that we had the entire cabin and two crew members all to ourselves. Even with just two of us up front, the crew enforced the “use the bathroom in your ticketed cabin” policy very strictly. I actually felt a little bad about that.
Despite the old school look, legroom was more than adequate for a regional Business Class at 48 inches. US carriers could learn a little something about what to do up front on their domestic/regional fleets and I’m not even going to get started on the European carriers.
As we waited, the lovely cabin crew members offered us a pre-departure beverage of either OJ or water, I choose the former.
Hot towels and bottled waters were passed out as was the menu detailing the lunch service.
Again I could see that any remaining shreds of my diet’s dignity were about to be unceremoniously ripped from me.
We were even given a full sized pillow and blanket for the short flight across the Indian Ocean this morning. Again, legroom was great.
Like I said, a bit old school but still comfortable.
The Seychelles requires that all aircraft cabins be sprayed with a specific pesticide after the boarding door is closed. Likely a measure to protect the unique flora and fauna of the island nation. Sorry sister, I know I didn’t catch you at your most flattering moment.
We pushed back on time and made our way to the active runway. I caught a glimpse of two of Ethiopian’s newest A350-900 jets as they caught some rays awaiting their next long haul missions.
Guessing these bad boys haven’t been airworthy for a bit of time now.
Hello A350-900. One day I shall fly you…..
I spied a Boeing 767 of Gabon Airways either getting some really really heavy maintenance or just slowly disintegrating in the sun.
ET seems to have pretty extensive maintenance facilities here at ADD.
We had a nice long takeoff roll after all Addis Ababa is hot and high.
Of course my nose was glued to the window as I snapped some pics of the landscape as we flew over Addis Ababa
And then over the countryside.
The cabin crew came through closing all of the window shades at the unoccupied seats as they prepared our tables for the lunch service.
I don’t know what this snack dish was but it was delicious. If you know, please clue me in.
The starter was a smoked salmon which I’m sure was good enough. Unfortuntely I have a texture thing and there was no way I could eat that salmon. Luckily my wife did her wifely duty and unburdened me.
Next was an Ethiopian sampler tray that was absolutely phenomenal! I had no idea this was a sampler tray. I figured I just misread the menu and there was either an Ethiopian option OR a Western option. Either way, it was delicious.
As I was enjoying lunch, the landscape outside was taking on a beautiful deep red hue over Somalia.
Stuffed to the gills, I thought lunch was finished when all of the sudden the cabin crew brought a third plate, this time with chicken and rice. Clearly it was AND not or, Ethiopian AND Western. I guess I can read. I stuffed as much as I could into my already bursting stomach but about half way through I had to call uncle! I was so stuffed I even skipped desert, something almost unheard of for me so you know I was suffering.
As the lunch dishes were cleared we were crossing the Somali coastline beginning our journey over the Indian Ocean.
And for miles and miles and miles and hours and hours and hours there was nothing but the blue of the sky meeting the blue of the ocean until this lonely little atoll came into view under our wing.
After a brief but surprisingly deep and comfortable nap, we were descending into Mahe Island.
Well hello……you look quite inviting indeed.
This landing was a bit more of a greaser. Could that water be any more turquoise?
And we made our way to the remote stand. As we taxied to the stand the pilot announced that we COULD NOT stand nor open the overhead bins until the aircraft had been inspected by…..well, whoever inspects for flora and fauna here. If a bin were opened before the inspection we would have to be re-sprayed which would require another 30 minutes. Since we were on the last boat to Silhouette Island that afternoon, the idea of a delay was not all that welcome. And don’t you know it, the captain comes over the PA (must have a camera to survey the cabin) and yells at someone to sit down. He then bursts out of the cabin yelling at the offender who continued to stand and in fact opened the overhead bin. “Seriously! Are you kidding me? he continued. “I just said not to stand or open the bins and you did both!” The deed was already done though and we had to be re-sprayed before our inspection. Luckily it didn’t take more than 15 minutes. I was irritated but I felt bad for the poor passenger who I’m pretty sure did not speak English. Oh well, bump in the road but welcome to the Seychelles!!!!
As you can see the traffic here is pretty minimal.
Next stop, the Hilton LaBriz on Silhouette Island. Be sure to check out parts 2 (our time in the Seychelles) and 3 (the trip home including Austrian Airlines Business Class).
Part 2-Out Time In The Seychelles
Part 3-The Long Journey Home.