Why I May Never Fly Ethiopian Airlines Again

(In these days of TikTok and Instagram reels and transient tweets, are there people who still read blogs? The original social media? Remember forums and chat groups? Ah, the golden days of the internet.)

I spent the latter half of 2021 on maternity leave in Kenya. By the end of January 2022, it was clear to me that I needed to return to Japan because my plans of leaving Japan forever had not materialized. Damn the pandemic. My maternity leave, which had started a month before Kai was born, will end on his 1st birthday (March 25th). So I am due back to work on April 1st. At the same time, he will be starting daycare. In order to prepare for this, I needed to be back in Tokyo by February. I have to participate in the daycare orientation, do a health checkup of the baby, and this and that. Taking into account the 6 days of hotel quarantine required at the time, plus 8 days at home, we would be free to move about by mid-Feb.

It was with this in mind that I began looking for flights from Nairobi to Tokyo. There aren’t many travellers along this route, so there have never been any direct flights. The best airlines to fly with are Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad. At the time of booking, Dubai had suspended flights from Nairobi because of fake negative covid certificates. Emirates was therefore out. Etihad had no flights available at all; I don’t know when they stopped this route. Qatar Airways had a 34hr flight and cost Ksh. 170,000 (approx US$1,500) one way. Ethiopian Airlines had a 16hr flight and cost Ksh 90,000 one way (approx US $800). I immediately booked a flight for 1st February and began shopping and mentally packing. (I have to mentally pack before I do the actual packing!)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A few days before my flight, I got an email that our (Kai and I) flight had been rescheduled to the 5th. I figured that they probably didn’t have enough passengers from Addis Ababa to Tokyo so they were consolidating flights. It makes sense in these pandemic times and I got a few extra days to spend with Jeremy and my parents in Nairobi. On the 5th, we got to the airport in time with as little luggage as possible. The luggage was two medium suitcases with my clothes, documents and some food items (ugali flour included, of course), one small suitcase with Kai’s clothes, and a baby stroller. For hand luggage, I had only one bag which had 24hrs’ worth of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes for Kai, his bottle and some food including two packets of instant cereal (Cerelac), a couple of small packets of milk, my laptop and our travel documents.

How did a 16-hour journey turn into a 5-day nightmare?

Trouble started when we had taxied out to the take-off runway at 6pm. The pause at the beginning of the runway before the rumble of engines gets louder and the plane accelerates turned into several minutes of waiting. We waited for 20 minutes or longer just sitting there on the tarmac until the captain announced that something technical was wrong, we had to go back to the terminal for them to check it out. That took two hours of us just sitting in the plane drinking water and juice, but luckily Kai was asleep.

However, those two hours were our connecting time. We arrived in Addis Ababa at 11pm, half an hour after the flight to Tokyo had taken off. They hadn’t waited for us.

It was chaotic at the airport as a lot of people had missed their connecting flights. A group of Arabs flying to Oman I think it was, were aggressively yelling at Ethiopian staff demanding to go home that very night. A Nairobi man was throwing F-bombs around. I was feeling superiorly calm at the time with a “this things happen” attitude and “could you please calm down” vibes. Hah! I was to lose it myself a few days later!

I walked to the desk and asked to cut the line, on account of a sleeping baby in my arms, and luckily everyone understood and let me through. The staff explained to me that they would put us up in a hotel that night and they were trying to reroute us through Dubai that Monday, which was the earliest time out. That meant spending Saturday night and all of Sunday in a hotel at the airline’s expense. The Nairobi man said he didn’t want to spend a night in no f**king hotel and said this delay was costing him a lot of money but in the end, we all rode in the same van to the said hotel.

The view from our room at Ambassador Hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa

The hotel room was okay and spacious enough for Kai to walk around. The TV was this old school low-resolution flat screen so we never watched it.

The following day was a Sunday, and we had been told that there were no flights that day to our destination. Even though I had requested for my checked-in luggage to be sent to the hotel, they never did so. I had to handwash our clothes in the bathroom sink but luckily the weather was sunny and the air very dry, so the clothes dried very fast. In the afternoon, we took a taxi to go buy diapers and some baby food from the supermarket and decided to do a short tour of the city while we were at it.

At the Lion of Judah Statue in Addis Ababa City, Ethiopia

Back at the hotel, I had the front desk call the airline and the guy I spoke with told me that yes, my ticket was confirmed. That morning when I had called, the lady had told me that she was still waiting to hear from Emirates, apparently, the flight might have been full. However, when I went online to book, I could see they were still selling tickets on that Monday 7th flight to Dubai , followed by a connecting flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo. So I was very glad that the man told me that our flight was confirmed.

Day 3: Monday 7th

We had breakfast, packed our one bag and took the 9am hotel van to the airport. We went to the ticket desk hoping to get our boarding passes. We were then to take covid tests because ours had already ‘expired’, having been done on the 4th in Nairibi. However, at the ticketing desk, all hell broke loose because they sent me to the supervisor, who asked me, “who told you to come to the airport?”

I was shocked.

“Excuse me! You guys told me I’m getting on the Emirates flight this afternoon.”

“But madam, your ticket is not confirmed.”

“What do you mean IT IS NOT CONFIRMED?”

“It shows right here that it is not confirmed. Emirates hasn’t confirmed this ticket.”

“BUT THE GUY I CALLED SAYS IT IS CONFIRMED.” I was starting to panic. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t getting on that flight. I’d already mentally checked out of Ethiopia.

“Which guy? What’s his name?”

How was I supposed to remember the name? It hadn’t even registered. It was the guy who had been answered the phone on Sunday afternoon. I was so angry. Why had the guy misinformed me? Was I supposed to just go back to the hotel and wait for whenever the mighty Emirates felt they could confirm the Ethiopian request?

I tweeted angrily that I will never fly Ethiopian again.

I showed them the online booking I had made on Emirates, but hadn’t paid, and asked if they could pay for it but they said no, they couldn’t. I considered paying for the flight and just forgetting Ethiopian Airlines, but it was already 11am and we wouldn’t have been able to do COVID tests and get the results in time for that flight.

Finally, feeling so defeated, I sat down like they told me and listened to them ask me if they could reroute me through Europe, as long as I had any transit visas. I don’t. They said they were looking for airlines all around the world where they could reroute me, as their next flight to Narita would be the following Saturday. They told me to wait around while they checked.

I went to the restaurant at the airport and had lunch there, while the waitress played with Kai. I found Ethiopians very friendly (yeah even the Ethiopian Airlines staff – even though the itself airline is nasty). They wanted to hold and play with Kai and I was just thinking um.. COVID anyone? But I also needed the break from constantly watching him. So I had lunch while the waitress chased Kai around; and the lady at the next table remarked, “It’s hard taking care of a baby, isn’t it?”. Yeah, you don’t know that half of it, I thought and nodded. But that’s a blog post for another day.

After lunch, I was back at the ticketing desk and they told me that they had found a flight to Narita via Bangkok. However, I needed to have my covid vaccine certificate, travel insurance worth US $50,000, and a negative covid cert in order to travel. Luckily, I’m vaccinated and could download the certificate from the portal. I also purchased travel insurance online for about $14. I’m not sure how legit that insurer was, but I was counting on making it through transit in one piece. Thai Airways confirmed me on the flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, finally! However, the flight would be at midnight on Tuesday (actually, early Wednesday morning).

We had to go back to the hotel for another night and day. My mother video called and lamented about Kai’s flat stomach. He’s losing weight, she said. He hadn’t eaten ugali in days. How can you survive without ugali? I assured her that his baby tummy was still there, it’s just the angle. It’s the angle mum.

Day 4: Tuesday 8th

We had the entire day free as we were to leave the hotel at 9pm. That morning, we went to do our COVID tests that the airline paid for. They sent us to the testing center, where they send their staff. After lunch, we decided to do another tour of the city. We visited the National Museum of Ethiopia. I never thought I could have fun at the museum but it was so interesting just seeing the history of early man, the skeletons of our possible ancestors, the tools they may have used, and a lot of the Ethiopian history on display. I felt pulled back in time. If I get the chance I’m definitely going back. Our taxi driver and guide carried Kai throughout so I could enjoy peering at the artefacts in peace. We saw Lucy. She is a very big deal!

Thus the day went by quickly and we were finally back at the airport for our flight. I asked about our luggage and was told we would find it in Narita. We met a very nice mother-daughter pair travelling back to Australia, and they helped me carry my bags in the airport, into the bus and up the stairs into the plane – my hand luggage had increased to two pieces.

That night, Kai slept on the seats (the plane was mostly empty) while I stayed up, keeping watch lest he fell. He’s now rolling over a lot in his sleep and airplane seats are nothing if not narrow.

Day 5: Wednesday 9th. Bangkok Airport.

We arrived at around noon Bangkok time, and had 8 hours until our next flight! That airport is huge. We walked around and got our bearings. We had breakfast. We checked the information desk. Kai took a nap. We had lunch at the Japanese restaurant where another kind Australian paid for our meal as he was leaving. I live-tweeted everything. We went to the Oman lounge where we paid about $65 for 3 hours. Took a shower. Ate some food. Thought Kai would sleep but no, he played the entire 3hrs. The Oman Air lounge was really great: great food, the best of fruits and desserts, bottomless drinks, kind hosts, nice atmosphere. We left at 10pm to go get our boarding passes at the gate. We had to walk for 20 minutes to get to our gate.

Drinks at the Oman Lounge. Too bad I’m not drinking at the moment, what with the breastfeeding and all.

At the gate, the Thai Airways staff checked our luggage tags and told us they will find the bags. I didn’t think much of it. We boarded and went straight to sleep, me half-sleeping upright with one hand feeling for Kai in case he turned over and fell.

When we woke up, the sun was grazing the horizon on the sea of clouds. It was beautiful. The magic of flight.

For me, this is probably the best part of flying.

Day 6, Thursday 10th: Narita Airport, but where is our luggage?

5 days later than the original planned date, we finally landed at Narita on a rainy morning. It is weird times now with the airport looking like a scene from a pandemic movie. Many parts of the airport were shut off. We were received by a Thai Airways (or was it Narita Airport) staff, who got me a baby stroller with space for hand luaggage. I filled out all the forms. We did the covid tests. I downloaded and installed the required quarantine apps. While we waited for the results, the staff informed me that NONE of my checked-in luggage had arrived. They had no idea where it was and they were in the process of tracing it. They would send it to me at the quarantine hotel or to my home address as soon as they found it.

I took it in stride. This was a typical end to this journey. I tweeted again that I will never fly Ethiopian Airlines.

In the end, they found that the luggage had been rerouted through Dubai. So Emirates took our luggage but not us?

One suitcase arrived dented and with a pair of wheels missing. I have been trying to contact Ethiopian Airlines for a replacement to no avail. I’ve called their line at Narita Airport several times but it goes unanswered.

Somehow, we managed to spend 6 days at a small hotel room in Tokyo. I shall blog about that later.

Finally, almost two weeks after we left home, we checked into our tiny apartment in Tokyo.

Will I ever fly Ethiopian again? If you are keen you will have noticed that the title of this blog post has the word “may” in it. That’s because I have accumulated enough mileage from my previous trips with Ethiopian Airlines to warrant a free flight someday. I’m probably sadist enough to one day fly with them again, but never I’m traveling with a baby.

Update:

I called the baggage handling contact again, knowing that there should be a flight arriving today (Sunday). The man I spoke to was rather rude, I thought, but that is besides the point. He said that they don’t pay for any damage to the outside of the suitcase. As long as the contents of the suitcase arrived intact, there was nothing they could do for me.

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9 Responses to Why I May Never Fly Ethiopian Airlines Again

  1. princelySid says:

    Just so you know we still read blogs. We never stopped. Also I’m so sorry about what you had to go through.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. EK13 says:

    I restared my blog when I saw that what I was doing on socials, I could do it on my own platform with more detail and clickable links.

    Anywhooo….what a journey. I was literally getting tired on your behalf reading this. Glad that you and Kai got back to Japan safe and I do pray that I will visit you before you leave for good. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • SK says:

      Thanks, please do plan a visit. I’ll let you know once the country opens up for tourism, but I hear “visiting a friend” can get you a visa.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. YSK says:

    You seriously needs to turn this story into a movie script.πŸ˜… Excellent blog – horrible experience! I must admit… the word “may” in the title did throw me off a little, especially after following the play-by-play on Twitter. Now I totally understand!

    Like

    • SK says:

      I have since learned that I can use my miles in other ways – not just for flights. So I will@ “probably never” fly Ethiopian again. πŸ˜€

      Like

  4. That is a bad experience. So sorry Harriet. We definitely still read blogs.

    Like

  5. Pingback: The Life Update Post You’ve Been Waiting For | Savvy Kenya in Japan

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