Ethiopia Pt III: ET 626 ADD-BKK-SIN

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The ride home

Lucy Guest House provided us with a free ride to the airport but they could only drop us at the carpark instead of right at the terminal.

There was a security check at the entrance.

Pre-check in security

We joined the queue at the economy check-in for all Ethiopian flights.

Economy check-in

You will indeed love Africa

787 model – too bad we weren’t able to fly in that

There wasn’t much at the sterile area after immigration; there were a few lounges which neither of us qualify to visit and some duty shops with less than inspiring products.

ADD air-side

One of the duty-free shops

The other one

Lounge chairs

Proceed to gate

When we got to Gate 4 (a bus gate), the passenger profile didn’t seem to fit a flight which was heading to Asia. We were surrounded by Europeans and we asked around if this was the flight to Singapore. Turned out that the gate was changed without notice and the flight was ET 724 to Vienna/Stockholm.

We ended up waiting for quite a bit more before boarding was called. The terminal had emptied out by then.

Zone 5 for us

Our plane

Flight: Ethiopian Airlines ET 626
Depart: Addis Ababa (ADD) – 12:40
Arrive: Bangkok (BKK) – 13:15
Duration: 8h35m
Distance: 4,204 miles (6,766 km)
Aircraft: Boeing B767-300ER
Registration: ET-AMF
Seat: 12L

I settled down at 12L, my coffin seat for the next 8 hours or so.

View from 12L

Crumpled safety instruction

Awful seat pitch

There was no personal TV and IFE was the pathetic screen in front.

Still on the ground

Departing ADD

The crew came around with the amenity kit which consisted of eye mask, socks and toothbrush and toothpaste. Better than what I had with Swiss (which was nothing).

Amenity kit

I pecked a bit on the supper whose main was chicken pasta.

Chicken pasta

No idea what they put inside but I was knocked out and didn’t wake up until around two hours out of Bangkok.

Some random movie

And then breakfast was served. Just a bun and a muffin.

Breakfast

Almost there

Where our rice came from

DMK in a distance

Our flying route

BKK

Until we meet again

More than half of the passengers got off at Bangkok and less than five joined us continuing to Singapore. Not surprising since so many carriers fly between SIN and BKK.

While on the ground, the cleaners came on the plane to do some simple cleaning and the food for the BKK-SIN (and quite possibly SIN-BKK as well) were loaded.

Resupply

Cargo

Patrick amused us with his resourcefulness with the eye mask.

Swing

Parachute

Surfboard

Did some spotting while waiting for the last leg of the journey.

Kenya’s Boeing 763

Thai’s A346 (since retired)

Jet B737

Flight: Ethiopian Airlines ET 626
Depart: Bangkok (BKK) – 14:25
Arrive: Singapore (SIN) – 18:15
Duration: 2h50m
Distance: 882 miles (1,419 km)
Aircraft: Boeing B767-300ER
Registration: ET-AMF
Seat: 12L

Took off

Ying and I moved to the bulkhead seats 11K and 11L after confirming that there weren’t any passengers. It was definitely more spacious.

Wear and tear

A hot meal was served on the short flight.

Fish or…

… chicken?

Since IFE was non-existent, I just stared out of the window for the remainder of the flight.

One of the Thai islands in the gulf

Anyone can identify this island

Barelang Bridge

Pulau Ubin

Five weeks since we last saw this

9 countries and 4 continents and one round around the world, we were back home.

Waiting for the bags

Brazil Pt XIII: ET 507: GRU-LFW-ADD

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We found the check-in counters for Ethiopian and discovered that a long queue had already formed. We would spend more than almost 40 minutes in it.

Long queue to check-in

Flags of the countries participating in World Cup

All you need is Ecuador

With so much time waiting in the queue, I checked out the other co-passengers in the queue. It seemed that people of African descent made up around a third to half of the people on the flights and there were plenty of Asians and Caucasians around. Africa does have the potential to be hub for travel between South America and Asia.

Where we belonged

Sorry for the blur pic – security on Segway

There were several entrepreneurial Brazilian girls who went around the long queue to sell World Cup-themed keychains and surprisingly quite a few tourists bought from them.

Pretty brisk sales

The check-in agent clearly had a tough day but he still tried his best to do his job. He seemed surprised that we would spend a few days in Addis Ababa before continuing our journey back to Singapore.

After going through the immigration, we still had some time before boarding and headed to Proair Sala VIP lounge, a Priority Pass lounge.

Proair VIP Lounge

The staff wasn’t really happy when she made a mistake by charging both entries to Ying’s card but she remedied it on the spot. The WiFi was also broken during our time of visit.

Limited food on offer

We were famished since we only had some light snacks at GIG and both of us were glad that we had some free food before the flight.

Our dinner

Sitting area

Coffee machine – out of order

Surprised to find Sunday Times half the world away

We left the lounge half an hour before departure time.

Departures from GRU

Boarding pass

I was little sad that the scheduled 788 flight was replaced by a 772. It was probably due to the higher demand during the World Cup season.

ET-ANN bringing us to ADD

The boarding took really long due to the extra security. Before we could board the plane, we were made to line up in a single file and leave our bags on the floor. Then the security guys would bring a dog to sniff through our belongings before giving us the all-clear to board. We overheard a passenger of African background remarked to the Brazilian couple in front him about how rude the security guys were and the Brazilians agreed with him.

Flight: Ethiopian ET 507
Depart: São Paulo–Guarulhos (GRU) – 00:05
Arrive: Lome (LFW) – 10:50
Duration: 7h20m
Distance: 3,818 miles (6,145 km)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200LR
Registration: ET-ANN (The Blue Nile)
Seat: 14A

View from 14A

Welcome screen

Seat control

In-flight magazine and safety information card

Goodbye South America

Message from CEO

ET route map

What’s on

There was a full meal served after taking off and we chose chicken with rice.

Full meal

Both Ying and I were amazed with the rudeness of the crew. No one smiled and when Ying informed the crew about her choice of drinks, she was met with a pair of rolling eyes and a firm ‘no’. Apparently the SOP was to serve the food first before taking drink orders. We were terrified of the crew and didn’t dare to make any request the entire flight.

The Brazilian guy in front got it worse; his special meal wasn’t loaded and after looking through the manifest, the crew sternly told him to remember to order it next time. To the passenger’s credit, he just shrugged and went back to sleep.

It would be a looooong flight

I fall asleep after the meal and woke up when there was daylight outside.

Daylight

I couldn’t tell where I was because the flight data was unavailable.

Flight data unavailable

Breakfast was served while the IFE was being fixed. The crew’s attitude didn’t improve at all.

The scary crew serving our aisle

Breakfast – potato, mushroom and tomatoes

We are back in GRU?! Shucks

Not exactly. We were flying along the coast of Africa.

Africa

Ethiopian Eats for our time in Addis Ababa

Some West African coastal city

Low clouds

Forest

Lome seemed dusty from the sky.

Abandoned planes?

Hangars

An Ethiopian Cargo 737

Left to decay

Making sure that the plane was properly parked

Terminal

New terminal a few hundred meters away

Stairs

Bus for passengers

Only passengers whose boarding passes indicated Lome as their destination could disembark and there were quite a few of them. It wasn’t surprising as LFW is the hub of ASKY, a Ethiopian Airlines’ subsidiary. I believed that quite a number of them would be connecting to other destinations in West Africa.

Passengers finally disembarking

A guy who was supposed to travel to Addis Ababa decided that he wanted to get off at Lome and caused some commotion. Took quite a while to placate him and he was eventually allowed to go after making some payment. It was all very strange.

ASKY’s 734 – all of its aircraft are leased from ET

Passengers joining us from Lome to Addis Ababa

Another ASKY’s plane

Another inconsiderate passenger

A positive aspect of this layover was that the set of crew from hell were replaced by a much more pleasant set. Another long flight with them would be quite unbearable.

Flight: Ethiopian ET 507
Depart: Lome (LFW) – 12:00
Arrive: Lome (LFW) – 20:35
Duration: 5h35m
Distance: 2,581 miles (4,154 km)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200LR
Registration: ET-ANN (The Blue Nile)
Seat: 14A

Got a few shots of Lome during the ascent.

Lome

Lome beach

Port

The new set of crew came along with some snacks.

Airplane-themed snakcs

Cool

The 5.5 hour flight time allowed me to finish two movies and I watched Out of Inferno and Kai Po Che. Quite interesting to watch Mandarin and Hindi movies on an African airline.

Out of Inferno

Kai Po Che

Dinner was served pretty early and I chose to have fish.

Dinner – Fish I think

While waiting for the washroom after the meal, I noticed that some young Brazilian boys were chatting up a very friendly crew. The boys were heading to Sweden for a football tournament and it seemed that Ethiopian was the cheapest option. The difference between the first set and the second set of crew was really heaven and hell.

Almost there

Ying and I decided to visit the washroom before landing and we struck up a conversation with a friendly male crew. He told us that he had flown to Singapore once and was really impressed with the city. He was very happy to find out that we would be spending some time in Addis Ababa and gave us some useful tips for the city.

We got a remote gate and had to disembark through stairs. After around 14 hours on the plane, we were glad to be on ground again. We were also excited to be in Africa for the first time.

~14 hours after leaving Brazil

The bus brought us to the terminal and we had to make a long walk to the immigration. Midway through, we were asked to show our boarding pass to the security personnels.

There was a long queue at the immigration as there were quite a few flights arriving at around the same time. I spotted some really exotic passports (Niger, Mauritania and Sudan etc) while in the queue. While it took some time for me to get stamped in, interestingly the immigration official didn’t ask for my yellow fever certificate.

Waiting for our bags

Sao Paulo is probably the least exotic destination

While Ying waited at for the bags, I went to the moneychangers to get some Ethiopian Birrs (ETB). 100 USD got us 1955 ETB and we would change another 50 USD later on during the stay.

When passing through the customs, a security person was there to make sure that our bags’ tags matched the receipts. It would take almost an hour after landing before we got out of the airport.

Pre-Trip Pt III: Planning – Route & Air Tickets

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We are going around the world!

Ying and I discussed at length on how long we could be away for and where we would like to go. In the end, based on our budget, we reckoned that we could get away for five weeks from end-May onwards.

It made sense for us to put Rio de Janeiro (and the World Cup Match) as the final stop of our trip. Brazil is going to be expensive and I wouldn’t want to overspend there and then be forced to live on a tight budget for the rest of South America. We had an idea of where we wanted to go and started to put the flights in place.

Flights that we bought in chronological order:-

1. IGU-GIG TAM Y

Iguazu Falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border seemed to be a must-go for every visitor to South America and it wasn’t hard to convince us to include it into our itinerary.

Soon after the draw was made, we decided to purchase our air tickets between Foz do Iguaçu (IGU) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on TAM (USD 139.49 each) as I feared that the domestic air ticket prices would shoot through the roof during World Cup. My fear came true; the cheapest ticket on the same flight is USD 306.62 now (29 April 2014).

IGU-GIG (USD 139.49)

2. GIG-ADD-SIN ET Y

The next ticket that we purchased was our flight back to Singapore from Rio de Janeiro. The cheapest option was on Ethiopian Airlines which was at least USD 400 cheaper than the next alternative.

Both Ying and I haven’t been to Africa before and we decided to break the long trip between Brazil and Singapore with a 3-day stay in Addis Ababa.

The original route

The ticket cost USD 915.80 each (slightly cheaper if there is no stopover at ADD) and earns 100% miles on most Star Alliance frequent flyer programs.

Sometime in February, Ying received an e-mail (I didn’t) that there was a change in schedule in our itinerary. I logged in to find this screen:-

This is not good

Apparently ET has canceled its service to GIG and only flies to GRU. Our flight would start in GRU, not GIG. It took me a week and several e-mails before ET changed to our desired flight. In their defense, the ET reservation team was very responsive and I was glad that they resolved the issue to my satisfaction in the end.

GIG-GRU-LFW-ADD-BKK-SIN (USD 915.80)

3. LAX-ATL-LIM DL Y

I found a really great deal departing from Los Angeles for Lima on Delta (via Atlanta) for USD 281.20.

It didn’t take me very long to realize that the price was very good for the distance covered. Furthermore this presented us the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca on this trip.

We jumped on the offer after securing our ticket from SIN to Los Angeles (see below).

LAX-ATL-LIM (USD 281.20)

4. SIN-HND, NRT-LAX SQ J

After learning about the Delta deal, I started to research on how to get to Los Angeles from Singapore. As I hadn’t been to US before, we thought that three days around LA would be nice.

We also realized that we were sitting on some credit card points which could be converted to sufficient Krisflyer miles for two business-class SQ tickets to Los Angeles. The flights to LAX seemed available on the days that we wanted.

However, by the time our Krisflyer miles were banked in, there was no longer any availability on the SIN-NRT sector on SQ 12. Luckily, there were seats available on the previous day’s SQ 634 and we would have a 20-hour stopover in Tokyo. We are certainly not complaining!

SIN-HND, NRT-LAX (68,000 Krisflyer miles + SGD 409.20 taxes and surcharges + SGD 50 miles conversion fee)

5. SLA-AEP-IGR

With the long-haul flights settled, I started to research on the short-haul ones within South America. From Cusco, we plan to travel overland to Argentina (via Bolivia and Chile). We will enter Argentina on the northwestern side (Salta) and exit through the northeastern side (Puerto Iguazu). Due to the large distance involved and the limited time we have, we decided to fly instead of taking 20 to 30 hours of bus ride each way.

It was a straight choice between Aerolíneas Argentinas and LAN. Both are equally expensive but LAN has slightly better reviews from the wise people on Flyertalk.

It seemed that there are cheaper fares available but those fares can only be bought by Argentine residents. Apparently there are checks at the airport and reports of passengers being denied boarding are not unknown. We wouldn’t want to chance it

My friend who recently returned from a trip to Argentina gave me a useful tip on checking out the prices on OTA instead of the airlines’ website. Indeed it was USD 80 cheaper on Orbitz!

SLA-AEP-IGR (USD 315.60)

Addendum 19 May 2014: Orbitz sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago to inform me that my flight reservation was changed. I logged on to see and found that we were put on LA 4113 for the SLA-AEP sector. It departs SLA at 1510 and arrives at AEP at 1714. I wasn’t happy at all with the change but there was no earlier LAN flight. A thumbs down for LAN even before flying with them.

6. LIM-CUZ

Our flight from US would reach Lima late at night. We decided to slum it at LIM and would take an early flight to Cusco. There are four operators on this route: LAN, TACA, Peruvian and Star Peru.

LAN and TACA are the two biggest carriers in the country and they practice discriminatory pricing against non-residents on the major tourist routes. While Peruvian residents pay USD 125 for a LIM-CUZ ticket, non-residents have to cough up USD 185 to be on the same flight.

Then I discovered British Airways Avios. Redemption on British Airways’ frequent flyer program is distance-based and the number of Avios needed to redeem a ticket between Lima and Cusco (~360 miles) is only 4500.

Avios Award Chart – Source: The Points Guy

I just renewed my Citibank Premier Miles Visa for SGD 192.60 and received 10,000 bonus premier miles. British Airways is one of Citibank’s partners and premier miles could be converted to Avios for redemption (another SGD 25 for miles transfer). The total cost per person summed up to be SGD 112.37, cheaper than any revenue fares from the four airlines.

LIM-CUZ [4,500 Avios (SGD 86.67) + SGD 13.20 (Taxes) + SGD 12.50 (Conversion fee shared between two people) = SGD 112.37]

7. LPB-UYU

We would be traveling from Cusco to La Paz (via Lake Titicaca) overland. From La Paz we would head to Uyuni, the starting point of the tour to Salar de Uyuni. The bus ride would take 10 to 12 hours while a plane ride takes between 45 and 60 minutes.

To save time, we chose to fly. Only Amaszonas offers two daily flights and online booking. Although kinda pricey at 130 USD, it saved us 10 hours of bumpy ride across Bolivia.

LPB-UYU (~133 USD)

From Salar de Uyuni, we would travel to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile before taking the bus across the Andes to Salta. More details would be shared in the later posts.

Summary

SIN-HND, NRT-LAX, LAX-ATL-LIM, LIM-CUZ, LPB-UYU, SLA-AEP, AEP-IGR, IGU-GIG, GIG-GRU-LFW-ADD, ADD-BKK-SIN

21 May
SQ 637 SIN – HND

22 May
SQ 12 NRT – LAX

25 May
DL 2155 LAX – ATL
DL 151 ATL – LIM

26 May
LA 2025 LIM – CUZ

3 June
Z8 300 LPB – UYU

12 June
LA 4111 SLA – AEP
LA 4113 SLA – AEP

17 June
LA 4022 AEP – IGR

19 June
JJ 3186 IGU – GIG

23 June
JJ 3687 GIG – GRU

24 June
ET 507 GRU – LFW – ADD

28 June
ET 626 ADD – BKK – SIN

Total distance traveled: 27220 miles

I’m excited as I will be going around the world for the first time!