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Monday 30 December 2019

Experiencing African Hospitality (Part 1: SIN-ADD)

Welcome to my trip report on Ethiopian Airlines

This trip report also gives you an idea of how to obtain a transit visa and to get to the hotel and back from the airport. Hope you find this information useful. 

Do note: Transit Visit is only applicable for Ethiopian Airlines passengers connecting thru Addis Ababa with a flight connection of more than 8 hours. The connecting flight must be travelled with this airline.


Flying to London in December was a plan for both my partner and myself. We had other destinations in mind but because my partner had not been to London and I was familiar with the city with my family based over there, I thought why not make this trip once again and this time with another airline. I was in London earlier this year in March, you can check out the trip reports over here. So once decided on the destination, it was time to discuss my favourite topic, airlines! After much discussion, I would stay longer in London so for this trip only (hopefully), we are flying on separate airlines. I always wanted to discover Africa and when I saw the airfare with Ethiopian Airlines, I knew I had to go for it. I was fortunate to score myself a very good airfare which includes a long layover for the outbound flight. Later on, I discover that this airline offers hotel stay for flights for more than 8 hours, I would explain to you in details the procedures and my experience. Is it worth the hassle? Read on to find out.

About the airline 

Photo of Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350 being prepared for delivery to the airline. This aircraft ET-AWP has joined the fleet. (Photo: Dn280)

Ethiopian Airlines was founded in 1945, started operation a few months later in  1946. It started its first international flights in 1951. Originally known as Ethiopian Air Lines, it was renamed to Ethiopian Airlines in 1965. The home base of this airline is Addis Ababa and are serving around 130 destinations altogether. This African Airline has gone through its fair share of ups and downs. Joining the Star Alliance in December 2011, the airline has grown to become the biggest African Airline and has won many awards for being the top airline in Africa. 

Unfortunately, there were a couple of recent accidents involving the airline's aircraft, the Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX 8 (which is now grounded). I wasn't worried about flying with this airline since the Airbus A350 and B787 are safe aircraft to fly on. I am curious about how the airline is faring especially after the 737 MAX accident. 

Just like other airlines, every member of the alliance is required to paint at least an aircraft in the alliance's livery. This is Ethiopian's example, painted on the airline's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. (Photo: Simone Previdi- Malpensa Spotters Group)

The airline's mobile app

I used the mobile app to do the booking, the interface of the application is basic but it can be a pain in the neck to use. I often get error messages during my attempt to book but fortunately, I got it done after a while. I was using my house's wi-fi so the connection was not an issue. For the web check-in, I wasn't able to do so as I was required to enter my Ethiopian Visa which I did not apply for since I was only there on transit. Transit Visa was required and according to the Ethiopian Airlines staff, I did not need to worry about it as the airline would provide hotel and transit visa for me. As check-in was opened 36 hours before departure, I couldn't do anything but to check in on the day of departure. For Ethiopian Airlines in Singapore, early- check-in privilege does not apply, so you have to wait for the check-in counters to open and that is 2.5 hours before departure time.

If you are booking your flight to Ethiopian, you would need a visa to visit the country. Check out this website for more information, click here.

One advantage about flying this airline is the seat assignment is free regardless of booking class type. My booking class was probably the lowest but still, I manage to select my seats for all flights without extra payment.

You can use the mobile app to check whether you are eligible to qualify for the airline's free hotel voucher. This applies for stop-over with this airline for flights for more than 8 hours. As my flight stop-over was more than that, I was issued the hotel vouchers. 

I needed to seek help to find the option to check if I was eligible for the hotel voucher. Thanks to the Ethiopian ground staff, he assisted me. However, it took him a while to figure it out as he was more familiar with the android version. 

To get to the hotel voucher eligibility page, go to settings. 

From there, click on check-in.

You will come across this page (below), add in the 6-digit PNR code of your booking.

I like to see the airline improving on the interface because I don't think I am the only one struggle to figure out how this works.

I booked my air ticket 2 months before the scheduled departure. It is considered quite late to do the booking as cheap airfare is usually gone by then. Singapore to London is one of the most popular routes and even the stop-overs, depending on airlines, are also good options. 

On the day of departure 

I did a check on what aircraft I was flying on, was hoping for ET-ATG as that aircraft features the Star Alliance livery. I got myself ET-AOQ, 6-years-old 787. On some occasions, the 787-9 aircraft are spotted on this route, depending on load factor I believe. 

This aircraft was to fly into Singapore, then fly on to Kuala Lumpur before flying back to Changi and then I would fly on the last sector back to its home base, ADD. 

Look at the amount of traffic in Malaysia! Thanks to the existence of Low-Cost Carriers.

I took the bus to the airport terminal 3, walked over to terminal 2 via an underpass. Once there, I spotted passengers queueing up at the counter. There was a vacant web check-in counter but I couldn't use. 

This would be my historic day as it would be my first time flying to Africa. 

Only the Economy Class had waiting passengers 

The check-in counter opened on time and the process for my check-in took longer than usual as the ground staff wasn't sure of the procedures for transit passengers. After some consultation with his supervisor, I was good to go. He advised me to ask for the hotel voucher at the departure gate. No one including myself knew that I could use the mobile app to get the hotel voucher at that point of time. 

My boarding pass for both sectors, so that means my baggage would go all the way to LHR. For my long stayover at ADD, I would have to enjoy the hotel stay without a change of clothing.

As my aircraft was parked at F31, it means I was able to see it coming in from the central apron.

After that, I made my way to the gate. 

The excitement has arrived! I expected this to be a full flight, with most passengers from Kuala Lumpur. That was the case when I was on board. 

My ride: ET-AOQ (Africa First)

Aircraft type: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

Delivered in August 2012

Configuration: C24 Y246

49th Boeing 787

Born in Everett 

Flight route: SIN-ADD

Miles: 4,516 

Date of Departure: 5 December 2019
Airline: Ethiopian Airlines
Flight: ET639
Route: SIN-ADD
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Registration: ET-AOQ
Gate: F31
Seat: 25L
Departure time: 0200
Boarding time: 0100
Duration: 8 hours 25 mins
FL: 350
Pushed back: 0158
Take off: 0212
Load: 90% Y class
Scheduled arrival: 0610
Actual arrival: 0538
Departure runway: 02C
Arrival runway: 07R

Boarding the aircraft took place early and the boarding procedure was enforced. I was one of the last to board the aircraft as I was told to wait around for a while to receive my hotel voucher but it seemed that the staff were not sure about it. Finally, an Ethiopian representative approached me and told me to check the app. It seems he was the only one who knew what was going on. After a short while and understood what was going on, I got onto the aircraft with many had already settled down.  I would have preferred to be on board early to snap some photos and ensure that I have space to place my bag on the overhead compartment. Fortunately for me, my seatmates were not there which allowed me to take some photos.

The cabin crew were African, whether they are Ethiopian or from other places, I have no idea but they settled us down early and soon we departed on time. Looking around the cabin, what caught my eye was the poor condition of the aircraft such as the stains of the carpet, scratches on the IFE system, the button to manage the window shade was peeling off and other small minor issues. 

3rd time onboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight! Did Ethiopian Airlines live up to its reputation for being the best African Airline in 2019? Read on to find out.

Do note that this airline offers only 2 classes, Cloud 9 (Business Class) and Economy Class
  • Cabin shot of Business Class (Cloud 9)
These photos were photographed on arrival. This is the standard 2-2-2 configuration Business Class product, nothing to shout about. I forgot to mention earlier that the airline offered me to upgrade to Cloud 9 product by making a bid. This means one thing, the business class on my flight had seat availability. I decided not to go ahead with the bidding as I prefer to save the cash for other stuff.

I flew on this product before with Royal Product and it's a decent product. The legroom space is definitely adequate for this 8 hours plus flight.

Cabin shot of Economy Class

Most of the passengers were Africans, flying back home. I can tell you it is certainly not fun flying on a fully loaded 787. 

This is my seat 

Legroom space is around 31' inch, quite tight, especially with the seats beside mine, were taken. 

IFE system is basic with limited choices of movies on offer

At least there is a drink holder and also the USB port to charge your electronic device. 

The colours of the seats are the same as the older Boeing 767-300ER seats.

Every Economy Class passenger receives a blanket, a small pillow and an amenity kit. This is a plus point for this airline.

More photos of my seat 

Seat pitch is tight for my legs. Somehow I managed to deal with it for this 8 hours flight. Comparing this experience to my United's 77W 8 hours flight? Both are similar in terms of comfort. Any flight time longer, I would have chosen the aisle seat.

As the seats are narrow, there are bound to have seatmates placing their elbow on the hand accidentally trigger the light or crew call buttons.

Drink holder - this is useful especially when one prefers to take his or her time to enjoy his drink. However, when there is heavy turbulence, there is still a good chance of the drink spilling out. 

What's provided for this flight? 

Amenity Kit 



What's inside the seat pocket?

In-flight magazine 

Duty-Free Shopping Magazine 

Safety Card

Poor quality earplug - my ears feel sore after some time

In-Fight Entertainment System

A limited number of entertainment programs - one may feel bored after a while especially if the contents have been watched before.

Somehow I wasn't able to set it to automatic mode, that is to view not only the map, also the information of the flight. 

This was my first 787 ETOPS flight. I used to be sceptical about flying twin jets over water for many hours, but for this flight and the SFO-NRT-SFO sectors, I have no issues. 

 My in-flight experience

Cabin crew did their mandatory checks and this flight, the lights were dimmed off for take-off. If you have read my previous trip reports, I experienced flights that take-off and land at night without switching the lights off. The question here is does this compromise safety? I read a vlog on a trip report on a popular YouTuber trip reporter, and he mentioned about safety issues with a Japanese Airlines but it is not just that airline, ANA and a few U.S airlines I flew on also didn't follow the window shade up for daytime landing/take-off and lights off for nighttime landing/take-off drill. I would suggest seeking clarification with the respective countries' safety board, rather than questioning the safety practice of the airline. 

The service of the crew was ok. They didn't go out of their way to check the passengers during the flight or serve drinks during then. There were crew calls but they were seldom answered by the crew. The flight had turbulence especially flying over Somalia. Nothing major and this set of the flight crew were relaxed about the turbulence as the seat belt was only turned on when the aircraft started descending. As Addis Ababa has an elevation of 7,625 feet above sea level, landing at the airport was faster than usual. We landed safely at the airport early and parked at the remote parking lot. Both front and rear doors were opened, so disembarkment happened quickly. Passing by the crew, I received a warm farewell and before exiting the aircraft, I checked out the business class. Finally, in 2019, 0600 hours, I step foot on African soil for the first time! It was 12 degrees cold but I enjoyed it very much. 

In-flight meals

This is the chicken set. I had a choice between this or pasta. This meal took place about 2 hours after departure from Singapore. The chicken was dry, 

This is breakfast, it is standard for everyone. The crew came and just handed it to us without any choice given. I would have gone for this anyway.

Thank you for the ride, ET-AOQ! 

This aircraft rested for a while before doing a regional route 3 hours away from here

The interior of the airport is old but at least it has something that most travellers need, that is the airport Wi-Fi. It is available without condition.

The walk towards customs took around 10 minutes from the drop-off point of the shuttle bus at the terminal. 

As you can see, part of the terminal is undergoing renovation

As this was my first time here, I wasn't sure about the procedures of obtaining the transit visa. I asked around but the folks directed me around, from A to B, after a short discussion with his colleague, I was told to find C but C couldn't help, so he asked me to look for D. D wasn't particularly helpful but finally, I got the help I needed. I received the transit visa from the airline and after passing through immigration, I was officially in Ethiopia! They need to improve on the ground communication, that's for sure. 

For those with hotel stay by the airline

The terminal is small so you should not have any issues finding your way around. Go outside, turn right, head towards the hotel shuttle and there is where I boarded the shuttle bus which took me to the hotel via a few stops along the way. Once at the hotel, just show your boarding pass to the check-in staff and you get your hotel room card straight away. Meals are provided for free. You are not required to show your passport to anyone, in fact, the staff didn't ask for my passport. Tips to the shuttle bus driver - is up to you. They accept U.S$. 

The outside of the terminal

Lovely morning at Addis Abba. This way for the hotel shuttle service.

I was the only passenger on the mini-bus.

The interior of the hotel room (Debere Damo Hotel)

The hotel is old and some minor fixing going on at the hotel rooms. There is noise from the traffic but I was able to catch some sleep. 

I will post more photos in my next trip report.

My rating: 

Mobile App Experience: 5/10
Changi Airport Terminal 2: 7/10
On-ground service: 7/10
In-flight service: 6/10
Cabin interior: 7/10
Cleanliness: 4/10
Aircraft condition: 4/10
Punctuality: 10/10
In-flight meal: 6/10
Seat comfort: 6/10
Overall rating: 62/100


The best deal of this trip is the hotel stay at ADD provided by the airline. The airline may be far from perfect at least got me to my destination safely. With the airfare I paid, I can't complain much. The experience I went through is definitely an eye-opener and is something that makes me want to travel more especially to exotic places like Ethiopia. While the airline may offer out of the ordinary privileges for Economy Class passengers such as the hotel layover (usually for the other airlines, only the Gold members of the airline's mileage program and business/first-class passengers get such privileges), the airline could do more to improve the soft and hard products. I would focus on the products in my next trip report which makes sense as the A350 (next trip report) offers a different hard product to the 787. What I can tell you now is after flying 4 sectors, the airline needs to work on keeping their aircraft in tip-top condition, doing more maintenance check if necessary to ensure the aircraft is good to go. 

For part 2, click here
For part 3, click here
For part 4, click here

Thanks for reading!

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