Addis Ababa Bole International Airport is small. You arrive downstairs, walk a tiny bit and go up an escalator to upstairs. from whence you depart through a rustic little security zone. Here the roller belts are narrow so that bags tend to fall off the sides, staff randomly heap piles of trays up on the floor and passengers mill around in crowds rather than queues. The entire length of the terminal is a walk of perhaps a minute.
When we booked, we were offered flights with a transfer time of 20 minutes between arrival from Cape Town off one aircraft and and departure to London on another, and I believe we could have made it. As we arrived through the doors, we were met by a group of ground staff yelling ‘Toronto? Kigali? Some Eastern City Whose Name I Forget?’ We would have been met by a shouting person who could have hurried us on, through the milling crowds, to our correct flight. However, we opted not to take such a risk. 20 minutes? Crazy! We chose to take a more leisurely break of two hours between flights but this meant we had an extra flight added to our return journey. We could no longer fly direct to Dublin but had to reroute through London Heathrow.
In our case though, once we were upstairs we discovered our flight was delayed by a further two hours. Which meant we then had to organise a bit of rescheduling for our later flight.
At Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, if your flights are delayed and you need to make alternative travel arrangements, you can’t alert your family/hotel/connecting flight via WIFI as there is none. You can either hope for the best, or stand in a queue at the customer service desk for three hours. I chose the latter. There is a sloth in the Zootopia/Zootropolis film who serves customers faster than I was helped last Friday night. I stood, then sat, then wanted to lie down and die in the queue from 23:15 to 2:30am.
It was not a long queue, there were only 3 people in front of me so I felt mostly calm for the first hour. But in those three hours of queuing I went from patient to bored to annoyed to depressed. Then I got a bit silly, at one point three of us standing there were wearing white shirts with tiny black dots on them so I told the rest of the people that this queue was only for those in white shirts with black dots. They just stared back – I don’t think they got/appreciated my humour.
After about two hours the angry man from Burkina Faso behind me started yelling at the assistant about missing his conference the following day. Apparently he missed his flight as no announcement was made. He was very tall and intimidating and I’m sure his pals back home could hear his complaining. Then the man from Italy at the back started yelling at Burkina Faso Man, his needs were more urgent as his departure more imminent. It took the petite Italian female passenger in the middle to calm the two of them down.
In the meantime, because three international flights are delayed simultaneously, the airport became VERY cozy. The few seats and reclining chairs looked very comfortable from the vantage point the rest of my family had on the floor. (It helps to keep a blanket or two just in case your children need to lie down to sleep in the early hours of the morning). Then we were called into the lounge area and given spicy chicken and rice which I recognised as being EXACTLY the same as the meal I’d just had on the aeroplane, just not on a tiny tray.
Eventually our flight started to board which was a good excuse to run away from the angry queuing mob. I managed to grab the printouts that served as boarding passes from the assistant that reappeared finally, at the last minute, from where ever it was she had gone to print them. It seems their internet or printer or something was also broken, apart from there being ‘technical difficulties’ with our aeroplanes. As the nice Italian lady said, if there are technical difficulties with all of our delayed aircraft, we don’t actually want to hear about it.
Unfortunately the Air Ethiopia Assistant had not only booked us on the wrong flight from London to Dublin but she had also succeeded in moving us out of our grouped seating arrangement on our London flight and split our family up so that our children were scattered all over the aircraft. Even more unfortunately it was too late to do anything, our flight would not wait another 3 hours for us to correct her mistakes.
On the aeroplane, I was not too happy when a female passenger came along and kicked my child out of her seat so that she was separated from her siblings. I was also not happy about my little girls having to sleep sandwiched between male strangers. It was 3am and I was blinking back tears until my determined husband stood up and declared that the aircraft would not be departing until our family was reunited. The staff then made a plan so that we could eventually all sit together.
We finally arrived in London but with no idea which terminal our flight to Dublin and the final leg of our journey was to be departing from. All we knew was that it was a BA flight. We found the BA help desk, it was in my opinion, Help Desk Heaven. There were about ten members of staff in a lovely glassy row, all with computers that worked with amazing speed and efficiency! I still don’t know where the Air Ethiopia help desk is at Heathrow, it’s not an airline desk I’d like to revisit anyway.
Now to be fair, our outward flights from Dublin to Cape Town via Addis were fine. That is if you don’t mind stewardesses who may or may not bring a blanket or meal for your kids. Also if you don’t mind being woken at 1am for breakfast after eating your dinner just three hours earlier.
BUT, you have give the stewardesses huge credit for being gorgeous:
Helpful Tip One: When flying with more than one child, make sure you position your children in the seats closest to the aisle. Then you will more likely be able to see whether they have been served a meal or not before the steward moves on. This is particularly for the centre three seats section of the aircraft where there is an aisle on either side and you are trying to keep an eye on both sides.
Helpful Tip Two: bring your own blanket and snacks for your kids, otherwise make a nuisance or yourself and keep climbing out of your seat to ask.
Helpful Tip Three: NEVER book a connecting flight on another airline within at least two hours of your arrival at the airport. If you miss the flight, it will be at your own expense to reboook and may cost a small fortune at the last minute.
Helpful Tip Four: Encourage the airline to also add insult to injury by losing your luggage. They will then deliver your bags to your home a day later so that you do not need to lug it through the airport and squish it into your car. That also allows a day’s grace to rest before having to tackle all the holiday laundry. That’s if your washing machine hasn’t packed up.
Now I think I need a holiday.