Ethiopian Airlines Review Business Class B737 MAX Antananarivo, Madagascar (TNR) to Addis Abeba (ADD)
Ethiopian Airlines has been toying with their Antananarivo service for some time – it went from a daily 737 to a five weekly 787 and now it is run by a 737 MAX, five times a week (I had booked a 787 but oh well.) Just a day before my Boeing 737MAX flight the manufacturer had issued a safety bulletin after the devastating crash of the B737 Max operated by Lion Air.
Traffic in Antananarivo is often chaotic so I left 4 hours early from the hotel and to my surprise, I was at the airport in just 40 minutes. The Ethiopian Airlines check-in was just about to open – not so bad!
There was a clear hierarchy between the Ethiopian Airlines full-time staff that ran the operation with an iron fist (as they usually do) and the local temps. My check-in took a while and I realized that asking the local agents about pre-clearance in Dublin was a hopeless endeavor.
Immigration and Security went in seconds (there are no other flights during that time) and I made my way to the lounge. I had kept my expectations low, but the lounge managed to disappoint me anyway. It was a dark ‘dungeon’ with a few sofas and chairs. There was no self-service beyond a few soft drinks. The available snacks would be pulled out of a nasty fridge near the reception and drinks, and it needed to be ordered well in advance.
There was plenty of local airport staff having a good time but no guests initially. The Internet would work somewhat fast for a while and then slow down to a crawl when a few more guests arrive. There were power outlets, but after a few minutes, I had more mosquito bites than I did with my entire time in the city. What a crappy lounge!
I left and toured the steamy departure hall instead. It wasn’t noisy there. At least and the Internet was just as fast (or slow). Ethiopian airlines isn’t exactly a haven for lounge connoisseurs.
The inbound flight arrived on time and just 20 minutes later, boarding would start. There are no jet bridges at Antananarivo Airport – you simply walk to your plane (which was organized quite well).
You could see how new this plane was (it had just been delivered a few weeks ago). Everything seemed in perfect condition – no stains no scraped edges. Unfortunately, Ethiopian has decided against lie-flat Business Class for their 737 MAX (many airlines have added them.) The new Business Class is just a small, incremental improvement to their old 737 outfits with modernized entertainment systems and bigger displays.
The Economy section of the plane looked ‘spartan’ in typical Ethiopian fashion with no IFE screens.
Ethiopian Airlines is using the Thales inflight entertainment system that provides (just a few) movies and shows on your tablet. There is no satellite WiFi installed (yet).
The Business Class flight attendants spoke fluent English – something that is usually a rarity with Ethiopian flights. Departure drinks were served when we were taking off – a little late, but there is plenty to do to get an on-time departure. The Economy section was 100% full with just about 40% of the Business Class full.
We departed in an Easterly direction and took off surprisingly slow (despite Antananarivo at 4,500 feet of elevation) and almost immediately took a sharp turn to align it to our journey at a mostly westerly direction. My anxiety over the low altitude climb issues with Lion Air did not help – I can tell you that!
To my surprise, the appetizers and entrees were actually pretty good – not as good as South African catering but very close. After the meal service, the flight attendant served coffee – maybe it is the Ethiopian coffee making art or that this was a new plan – the coffee was delicious. It was perhaps the best airplane coffee I ever had.
We continued northward and circled around the forming thunderstorms over the Indian Ocean and we hit the African mainland onto Somali shores, just south of Mogadishu.
I was surprised at how good the catering and service was on this flight. I would have wished for a lie-flat seat but for four hours, that’s always a stretch. The lounge was the worst in the world, but there was only so much Ethiopian can do at an outstation (many other airlines use that same lounge).