Lounge Review: Ethiopian Airlines Star Alliance Gold Lounge, Addis Ababa
Last week, I flew Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Washington, Dulles (IAD). This was a work related flight, so I was on a paid fare in economy. Ethiopian normally operates its new 787 Dreamliner on this route, however, the week I was traveling, the airline was operating its older 777s. The flight is considered direct, but does make an approximately 1 hour fuel stop in Dublin on the way to DC.
I arrived at the airport several hours early for the 11pm flight since I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get checked in and make it through security. I arrived around 7pm, and used the Star Alliance Gold line to check in. Immediately, there were problems. I had selected my seat online, 14D, an aisle seat near the front of the economy section. However, when the agent went to print my boarding pass, there was someone else assigned to the seat for the second part of the flight from Dublin to DC (but I was apparently supposed to be in the seat from Addis to Dublin according to the computer). However, this did not make any sense, since no passengers actually board in Dublin. I was informed that there were only middle seats available unless I wanted to wait for a supervisor to call to Dublin and get things sorted out. Not surprisingly, I chose to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally, after over an hour, the supervisor came and gave me a new boarding pass for an aisle, bulkhead seat, 26D. The good thing about this seat is that it provided me with a little extra leg room. The bad thing about this seat was that it was right behind the very busy bathrooms. More on that later.
After clearing customs and immigration, I headed towards the terminal to look for the lounge. The security checks are done at the gates at Addis Ababa, Bole International Airport, so I would not go through security until later.
The lounge was not well marked, and not terribly easy to find. I actually found the Star Alliance Silver lounge first, which looked like just a typical waiting area behind glass–not a lounge by any stretch of the imagination. After a little more searching I found the entrance to the Star Alliance Gold Lounge. This lounge was available to any Ethiopian Airlines business class passenger or Star Alliance Gold member.
I showed my boarding pass and Star Alliance Gold card and entered the lounge. The first thing I noticed was that the lounge was oddly dark and had was modeled after what I imagine a Soviet-era waiting room would have looked like in 1974. It had obviously not been updated in quite a while. Even some brighter lights would have markedly improved the look of the lounge–or perhaps just highlighted the dinginess more?
I found a seat after walking around the place on the grand tour. There was some food and drinks available, some televisions with news playing, and very few power outlets. Food selections included salad, pasta, fish, and some sort of curry, displayed in a cafeteria style stainless steel buffet which certainly didn’t add to the atmosphere or presentation.
I tried the pasta dish, which was ok. The lounge had local beer available in bottles, and a small selection of wine and liquors. Additionally, juice and sodas were available.
Since I still had a couple hours before boarding, I sat down and started to type out this review and then watched a little bit of Fargo, Season 1. Since I did not have access to a power outlet, I didn’t want to totally drain my battery, so I only stayed on my computer for about an hour.
Now, before I sound like I am whining too much, let me say that the lounge was certainly better than the waiting areas at the gate. The food was ok, and it was nice to have a complimentary beverage before dealing with security and the boarding process. So, I can’t complain too much.
Since I had the “SSSS” designation on my boarding pass, I knew that I was in for the “enhanced” security screening when I got to the gate–likely due to my one-way ticket. Because I knew that this security screening was not going to be the highlight of my trip, I decided to leave the lounge early and go to the gate to process through. I immediately missed the lounge.
I went through a TSA-style security check and then was treated to my “enhanced” screening where the security agent removed everything from my carry-on bag, tried to break my laptop and other personal items by dropping them, and then actually tried to shove stuff back in to my bag crushing the items already back in there. Not a very fun experience. At least nothing was confiscated.
As you can see from the picture above, the gate area was chaos–and to top it off, the airline announced that the flight was delayed at least 30 minutes. Oh how I was missing the dingy old lounge!
To summarize, the airport experience in Addis Ababa is not exactly world-class, but I don’t think anyone really has very lofty expectations for it anyway. The lounge could use some better signage and a little bit of updating, but the food was ok, the internet was useable, and it was a lot nicer than sitting at the gate.
The flight itself was long and because of my proximity to the bathroom, not a lot of fun either. But, I arrived back in Washington safely and without any incidents just in time for the holidays!