By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D.
Two islands, two hotels, three days of illness and an innumerable number of creepy crawlers later, our seven days in the Seychelles had finally come to an end. Will the 24 hours of the journey go a little smoother than the first week?, Check out part 3-The Long Journey Home.
And then it came, our last day in the Seychelles. The last day is usually frought with a combination of sadness because vacation is over and dread of going back to my life of 36-hour shifts, sleepless nights and unpredictable Chicago weather. While a bit sad, this time was a little different. Between the uncomfortable first accommodations and the fact that half of my trip was marred with illness, a part of me was ready to put this particular trip in the history books. Plus having 24+ hours of flights to look forward to in the front cabin always squelches a bit of that usual sadness.
We had a late breakfast on our deck enjoying the sounds of the ocean one last time and then
we headed to the spa……again. One last spa treatment under our belts (yup, I’m a fancy boy and I just don’t care what you think), we endured one last nausea-inducing drive, this time to Victoria International airport.
Check-in using the empty Priority lane was quick and our bags were tagged all the way through to Chicago (by way of Addis Ababa and Vienna). The non-existent immigrations line was a breeze and we were soon in the newly refurbished Air Seychelles lounge where our crew was apparently resting awaiting the return flight to Addis Ababa.
The lounge is small but nice and it has a perfect view of the airports tarmac acitivities.
Here an Arkia Boeing 757-300 (aka the bowling alley) taxis out to the active runway preparing to depart for Tel Aviv.
And here is our steed, a Boeing 737-800 resting under the Seychellois sun awaiting it’s next mission back to Addis Ababa.
An Emirates Boeing 777-300 next door awaiting it’s next flight back to Dubai.
Two Air Seychelles Twin Otter’s on the tarmac. The one in the foreground apparently has a special livery.
Close up of this Twin Otter’s unique livery as it completes it’s short inter-island flight.
Soon we boarded ET-AQP for the 1,491 miles 3 hour and 31 minute flight to Addis. This two year old Boeing 737-800 was delivered to Ethiopian in June of 2017. I’m always a little wary taking tarmac pics especially abroad, but if he can do it so can I (even if I am getting a bit of side eye).
The Cloud 9 (Business Class) cabin of this 737-800 was in much better condition that the Cloud 9 cabin of the 737-700 that brought us to Mahe. Something about the Sky interior always makes the cabin look sleeker and new.
Tried to sneak a somewhat blurry pic of the Economy Class cabin. Apparently Mr. 5C also wants to give me a bit of side eye.
Much like the flight here, the 48-inch pitch made for a very comfortable regional Business cabin with plenty of room to cross one’s legs. This time there were only four people in Cloud 9, my wife and I, a male passenger sitting in front of me and the pilot that flew the ADD-SEZ leg who was in the last row of the cabin.
Basic lounge recliner controls. When fully reclined, the seat was pretty comfortable for a flight five hours or less.
See? Plenty of room to cross my legs and I’m 5 feet 11 inches.
Just like our other three Ethiopian flights menus were distributed shortly after boarding.
And just like the other three Ethiopian flights, I knew I was going to thoroughly gorge myself. It doesn’t count if you are on vacation, right?
A Qatar Airways Airbus A319 was towed over to prepare for it’s next flight back to Doha.
Pre-departure drinks (I had OJ) and hot towels followed the menus.
Once the boarding door was closed, the mood lighting was set to blue as the engines started and the safety video played.
Given that we were the only active traffic at the airport, taxi and take-off were quick and we were soon climbing into the sky over Mahe island. Adieu Seychelles, I’m sure we will meet again one day!
The sunset on our side of the aircraft was mesmerizing and I just kept snapping pic after pic after pic.
See?, I just couldn’t stop taking pics of the ever evolving hues of yellow, orange, red and blue.
As much as I was enjoying our sunset, it looks like the other side of the aircraft is where the really good views were. Unfortunately this across the cabin shot did the sunset no justice but trust me, it was something to behold.
And then the meal service started with the same snack that I had on the previous ET flights. Still have no idea what this is but OMG, if I find it here in Chicago my waistline is going to be shot straight to hell.
As the meal service continued, the sun continued to set as darkness caught up with us. At this point we started to experience some pretty rough clear air turbulence. I’m not a nervous flyer but these were some pretty rough turbulence and there was just something about being rocked around with nothing but the vastness of the sky and the ocean around us to make me just a wee bit uneasy.
While I waited for the main meal, I dusted the old Mac off and encouraged my neurons to start firing so that I could get started writing about the trip.
Table was set
And the meal started began with a chilled beef appetizer and a roasted butternut and safou salad.
And here is my wife’s appetizer. Before you ask (and don’t you dare judge), yes I did eat her’s. She’s not a big fan of beef and how could I sleep well knowing that food had been wasted? So, I selflessly stepped in and did my husbandly duty.
For my main I choose the sizzled chicken with ratatouille and bulgur. I admit it, I’d never heard of bulgur before but apparently it is a grain kind of similar to quinoa or cous cous. Descent but honestly not my cup of tea. Quinoa and Cous cos no need to worry, you are safe and will always have a place in my cupboard. After about 45 minutes, the air finally settled by which time I was finishing my meal and trying to digest my very jostled dinner. With the cabin lights dimmed, I decided to recline my seat and take a nap.
When I woke up, we were descending over the suburbs of Addis Ababa as the crew readied the cabin for landing.
The landscape was getting denser as we got closer to Bole international airport.
Soon we were on short finals and
with a barely perceptible thud we were back on Ethiopian terra firma.
Bole airport was hopping with flights preparing to depart for the US, Europe, Asia and South Africa.
Ethiopian aircraft as far as the eye can see.
Again we parked at a remote stand and the three of us in Cloud 9 were ushered to a special “Premium Cloud 9” bus while the other 100 or so folks were squeezed into a non-premium bus. I was conflicted. My inner-diva loved the space while my inner humanitarian felt bad that the other 100 people were being squeezed into one bus while we needlessly contributed to the earth’s carbon footprint.
Back in Addis and back at the Cloud 9 lounge I was shamelessly eyeballing the food spread. Unfortunately my stomach was still about to burst from the meal on the flight from Victoria so I showed a little hard fought for restraint and slowly stepped away from the buffet. Again, late night is primetime at Bole international airport and it was also primetime in the Cloud 9 lounge. Finding a seat next to a charging station was difficult and getting a seat in the bathroom was next to impossible. TMI? Probably but flying gets me (and most folks, it’s physiologic, trust me, I’m a doctor) all kinds of gassy. If I don’t let what needs to happen happen when it needs to happen (you still with me?), I get really uncomfortable later. So as you can imagine, I really wanted/needed a seat. Unfortunately it never happened. After a 2-hour stay (in the lounge not the bathroom), we headed to the special Cloud 9 security line which while moving faster than the general security line was still moving pretty darn slowly. All in all my experience with Ethiopian Airlines was actually pretty good. The one drawback to the premium class experience is the Bole airport ground experience. The lounge is mediocre at best and the airport infrastructure (priority lines, security lines, etc…) is actually pretty terrible.
Finally through security, we headed to gate 12 and onto the bus taking us to our waiting Boeing 787-8, ET-AOS (aka Lucy) a 4 year old Boeing 787-8 delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in September of 2012. Our 3,001 mile flight was planned at just under 6 hours at 5 hours and 54 minutes. Yeah, yeah you got me, clearly it can’t be midnight in this pic. This picture was actually taken on the other side of the journey after landing in Vienna. I was slacking in Addis Ababa and did not bother to get my camera out when we were boarding.
Always a pleasure to make that turn to the left after boarding. While we were luckily enough to fly on one of the 787’s with the newer Cloud 9 product on the flight from LAX-ADD, tonight our luck ran out. Tonight’s 787 had the original Cloud 9 product with angled flat seats instead of the completely fat seats. Why an international airline would have even put angled flat seats in the premium cabin of a new plane I don’t quite understand. I was actually kind of eager to give the angled lie flats a try though so that I could see what all the fuss was about. What better time to dabble than on a relatively short 6-hour flight?
Definitely less storage space than the newer lie flat seats. As we were getting settled, the cabin crew started a pre-departure beverage service.
I’m boring so OJ it was for me. With the choice of either champaign (I don’t drink), water (they already distributed bottled water for everyone for later) or OJ, the choice was pretty clear.
Hot towels followed. Exhaustion was totally starting to set in as I kicked off my shoes and donned the socks from my amenity kit. And then it happened. The pilot came on the PA to announce that there was “an issue with the AC” that would require us to deplane for approximately two hours while maintenance addressed it. Dooohhhhh! The thought of having to re-clear security made me a wee bit sick but whatcha gonna do. Bags retrieved from the overhead bins, we lumbered back down the airstairs and onto the buses back to the terminal.
We had a five hour layover in Vienna so time wasn’t an issue yet. The upside of the delay was that the lounge was emptier now which made finding a seat in the lounge and in the bathroom a little easier. A few minutes later I was much happier. Two and a half hours later, boarding was again called and unfortunately the painfully slow priority security was now closed which meant suffering through the even more painfully slower general security line. And the cherry on top? Literally only one lane was open. As you might guess, security clearance took forever and now 3+ hours passed our scheduled time of departure, I was getting a bit nervous for our connection. We were getting to the point where everything had to go right if we wanted to make our Vienna-Chicago flight without having to haul booty across the concourse in Vienna.
Back on board menus were distributed and the offering was a hot light meal after takeoff.
Another round of pre-departure beverages were distributed and while appreciated I was just really getting anxious to hit the road.
Thankfully reboarding was pretty quick and we were soon pushing off of the remote stand making haste toward the active runway which was not nearly as busy as it had been hours ago.
A short taxi followed by a nice hot and heavy takeoff and we were climbing into the skies above Addis Ababa.
Now prepare to be shocked and amazed. I was too tired to eat (gasps). Yep, I just reclined my seat and gave into the siren song of the Sandman. As for the angled flat seats, definitely light years ahead of cramped coach on a long haul flight but not my cup of tea. The sliding that I hear so much about wasn’t an issue as much as the break in the seat/bed. I was only halfway comfortable on my side and even that wasn’t super comfortable. Are angled flats perfectly comfortable?, no. Sufficient for a 6 hour flight?, sure. If I had an angled flat for a long flight like the LAX-ADD segment I would not be a happy camper but word on the street is that all ET wide-bodied aircraft are being retrofitted with the fully flat product soon.
When I woke up we were high over Romania. Feeling pretty rested I decided to take a quick walk around the cabin.
See? Here I am walking around the cabin. Seems like the sleeping to movie watching ratio was 1:1.
They definitely weren’t sleeping as the sun started to rise.
Even with the dimmed windows, the sunrise was pretty darn spectacular.
Failed video attempt. Due to the dimmed windows and the inability of the iPhone 7 to figure out where exactly to focus, the sunrise video wasn’t all that nice but here it is anyway.
Soon the mood lights were changed to sunrise as we neared Vienna.
By the time we were starting our descent into Vienna all of the windows were un-dimmed (making up a word?) and the cabin was being readied for landing.
This hills are alive with the sound of music……. Sorry, I had to.
How very European this little town looked.
Anemomenphobia. Thats all I have to say about that!
A smooth landing and we headed over to a remote stand. Given our relatively short connection I was really hoping for a gate at the terminal to shorten the transfer time. No such luck. Luckily once the forward door was open, a ground agent called our names over the PA and beckoned us to the front. He gave us boarding passes and escorted us (along with Amsterdam passengers apparently with a tight connection) to a small bus. You will have no problem making your connection he said (me=happy face) but unfortunately you don’t have time for the lounge he followed with (me=sad face). All in all, transferring at Vienna was actually pretty painless and I would do it again in the future without hesitation.
Off to gate G11 where our Boeing 777-200 aircraft OE-LPE was waiting for us. This 19 year old aircraft was delivered to Aeroflot in May of 1998 before being transferred to Vietnam Airlines in 2005 and finally to Austrian in 2014. Today it was flying the 4,707 miles to Chicago in just over 9 hours and 30 minutes.
An Austrian Boeing 767-300 next door was being readied for it’s flight to the Big Apple.
Soon priority boarding was called for Austrian flight OS 65
and within minutes we were aboard the Boeing 777 with it’s calming blue and white interior.
First impressions of the cabin were positive. Nice color pallet and nice seats gave the cabin a smart and modern feeling.
A pillow and blanket were waiting at every seat.
Which I kept in my lap because the idea of placing something on an airplane floor that I would soon place my head on just didn’t feel right.
Every seat pocket had noise cancelling headphones with disposable covers.
And each storage pocket had an amenity kit with pretty standard contents in them.
In case you forgot, you are on Austrian Airlines.
Good leg room but the narrowing of the footwell can be a bit bothersome in the lie flat position when trying to sleep. Oh well, start a collection for me, guess I will just have to suffer through the misery and indignity.
Each seat had both USB and AC charging capabilities as well as a small storage space ideal for glasses.
Seat controls were a wee bit glitchy but I loved the in-seat massage function. A+ Austrian!
Menus were distributed.
First meal service options.
Second meal service options.
And finally for those who drink, bar options.
Guess who is going to eat way more than he should……..again?
Pre-departure drink in hand (yup, OJ again), we kicked back and soon the mightly 777 was pushed off of the gate and headed for the active runway.
Company 767-300 later bound for NYC seen as we push back.
Safety is always important, even for animated figures.
Traffic at Vienna that morning was pretty sparse. We were number 3 in line behind a company 767-300 and Airbus 320. When it was our turn a couple of narrow bodies peeped our 777’s engine game as she applied maximum power. Engine envy little fellas?
A nice takeoff and we were soon soaring over the skies of Austria.
Last call, looking for the Von Trapp family, calling the von Trapp family. Is the third time a charm?
Only 9 hours and 13 minutes to go.
I decided to watch Moonlight (I had to see what all the buzz was about) while lunch was served. The service started with hot towels.
and we started with mixed nuts and a Coke.
Harder beverages for those opting.
Next came the potato soup which was really good along with a bread basket.
The appetizer sampler followed (along with another bread basket siting) and it too was delicious! The crew were very proactive in offering you as many of the sampler items as you wanted but I didn’t want to make a total sow of myself So I only had the shrimp, beef and the smoked salmon all of which were great.
For my main I had the chicken which was also actually pretty good. Have to admit, I’ve never had Lima beans on a plane. Desert however was mediocre at best. I’m a simple guy when it comes to desert. Forget the fancy, I just want fatening and sweet, thats it! We finished lunch as we were cruising over the UK and thankfully it was a nice clear day for flying with beautiful views from aloft. After Moonlight (worth all the hype? Not so sure. Good flick? Yes), I reclined the seat to the lie flat position and had a pretty comfortable rest. For me the only drawback of the seat was a frequent drawback that I find with most lie flats, the foot well was a bit restrictive when I tossed and turned.
Nap over I felt nicely refreshed so I decided to explore the second business class cabin. The first cabin was completely full however save this one sole passenger, the second Business cabin was completely empty.
Second Business cabin looking forward.
The pre-Arrival snack was accompanied by an extensive coffee and tea menu. Too bad I kicked the coffee habit a couple of years ago because had this been 2015 I would have been in Hog heaven.
The pre-arrival snack was an odd one for me, a burrata which looked interesting and tasted only okay. Never had it before and likely won’t be having it again. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream giving it an interesting texture.
With less than an hour to go, cabin preparations started.
Entering US airspace over the state of Michigan.
Soon we were descending over western Michigan.
By the time we started to cross Lack Michigan we were well established in our descent.
Unfortunately because of cloud cover I could get a good view of downtown Chicago when we crossed the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Chicago was cloudy as it frequently is but it is always nice to see sweet home Chicago below my window.
After a nice smooth landing we made our way to a busy international terminal, afternoon is when terminal 5 really bustles. Once the main boarding door was opened, the cabin crew blocked Economy so that Business class passengers could deplane first since the #2 doors were being used. God bless Global Entry because clearing immigrations in 2 minutes never gets old. Unfortunately the priority tags on the bags meant nothing today, still our bags came probably with the third set of bags delivered and we were out of customs within ten minutes and in our Uber soon after that.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out parts 1 (the trip to the Seychelles) and 2 (our time in the Seychelles) below.
Part 1-Getting to the Seychelles
Part 2-Our time in the Seychelles