Flight Review: JRO to ORD on Ethiopian Economy and United Polaris
Cabin: Ethiopian Economy, United Polaris Business
After a magical safari of the Serengeti, Tarangire and Ngorongoro we were heading back to the USA for a few weddings in Chicago. We initially had a ridiculous award ticket with 3 layovers totaling over 40 hours (JRO-->ADD-->IST-->VIE-->ORD), which we opted to cancel for a full refund with 1K status, and booked a paid O/W fare on Ethiopian and United from JRO-->ADD-->FRA-->ORD, with the final leg upgraded using a Global Premier Upgrade for around $1,200 USD. This itinerary saved us about 14 hours, and seemed like a decent value considering we could confirm ourselves in Polaris for the longest leg of the journey.
Check-In: We were the only ones in the Star Alliance Gold line for Ethiopian at JRO. Check-in was quick and painless and took all of 3 minutes. The next step at Kiliminjaro Airport was Immigration, which seemed quite lackadaisical. I saw atleast one person walk by the counter without getting his passport stamped, or anyone stopping him! Just passed the immigration counters are a few shops and a stairway up to the contract "Tanzanite Lounge." Security checks are conducted at the gate.
The Lounge: The bathrooms were clean, wifi was working, the drinks were cold and there was a small selection of snacks like samosas, small savory pies and potato chips. Basically what you'd expect for a small outstation lounge. The staff weren't present the entire time we were there, and a few folks wandered in without getting their boarding passes checked. Priority Pass members can also enter this lounge. There was ample seating in the lounge before our flight; couches were arranged in squares around a coffee table. At one end of the lounge there are large windows that lookout onto the tarmac. The one thing that could have made it better is that there is no ice, so my gin and club soda had to be served at room temperature. We weren't complaining after 6 days in the wild!
Flight: ET814 / UA7209
Date: June 26, 2017
Departure Time: 17:35
Upon booking, our reservation had noted that an A350-900 would be operating the flight from JRO to ADD, which we were really excited for - it would have been our first time on the aircraft. When we arrived at the Tanzanite Lounge we noticed an Ethiopian 737 on the tarmac which would obviously be operating our flight. Apparently Ethiopian swaps aircrafts really often based on demand. After boarding we made our way to our seats - 24A and 24B. The plane was really full, but the seats were comfortable enough, padded well, although a bit worn. There was no working IFE for the flight.
There were amazing views of Kiliminjaro shortly after takeoff.
Beverage service started about a half hour later, which included wine and beer. A meal followed shortly, and the flight attendants were very warm and respectful. They were able to accommodate Sari's request for a vegetarian meal, which we appreciated. The flight was smooth and we landed in Addis Abbaba about 10 minutes late.
ADD Airport: We had heard a lot about the sad state of affairs in ADD, so were prepared for the worst. Even our Safari guide had said that the airport "needed some work." With the low expectations, we were pleasantly surprised. We headed to the Star Gold Lounge which it is separate from the Business Class Lounge. While it was not a "destination lounge" by any means, it was fine. The drinks were cold, there were big bottles of water which I loved, there was plenty of seating and there were outlets to charge our devices. The food was quite gross, but we were expecting that. It looked like an assortment of food from the frozen section of middle America - Spaghetti with tomato sauce, steamed carrots and green beans, and some sort of chicken that looked like mystery meat. It was a perfectly adequate place to spend a few hours.
Flight: ET 706
Date: June 26, 2017
Departure Time: 23:10
There were two priority lines at the gate in ADD, one for Business Class passengers and one for Star Gold and Ethiopian elites. We boarded through the middle gates, so didn't pass the through the business class cabin. This 777 is setup in a 3x3x3 configuration and it didn't feel cramped at all. The seats were outfitted with a pillow and blanket. We were seated in the "rear" of the two economy sections in seats 35A & 35C. We had hoped nobody would chose the middle seat or we would switch with them, and sure enough it was left vacant. The economy cabin was empty on this Monday evening. The in-flight entertainment was selection was mediocre, and had a small selection of movies, TV shows and games, although the quality of the screen was subpar. We fell asleep shortly after takeoff, so can't say much about the food, though I'm sure we didn't miss an amazing meal! We woke up shortly after decent had begun into Frankfurt, and the flight arrived at the gate in FRA a few minutes early.
FRA Airport: After arriving in Frankfurt and going through passport control, we made our way to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge close to gate Z50 which is one of my favorite lounges in the world. While nothing spectacular, I just find the lounge to be really functional. It has an airy, open design, the food is always relatively healthy, and the showers are always clean. Did I mention the delicious pretzels and "pour your own" German draught beer? Yeah we love the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at FRA.
Flight: UA 945
Date: June 27, 2017
Departure Time: 08:10
Cabin: Polaris Business Class
We arrived at the gate with only a few minutes to spare. After a quick passport check at the gate, we were probably the last Polaris Business Class passenger to board. While we always dread flying the United 777's that are 8 across in business class, it definitely beats flying in economy. I find the seats to be comfortable when fully flat, and sitting in the sections closer to the wing with a partner alleviates the privacy issue. We were seated in the last row in seats 10A and 10B. Our seats were loaded with blankets, pillows and amenity kits for the 10 hour journey. We chose to have a quick welcome drink of champagne before taking off, UA was serving Drappier Brut on this day.
The service as a whole on the flight was exceptional. While not always the case on United, this group took a lot of pride in their work. The thing we really liked about the experience was that the flight attendants provided really great service, but it felt like they were our friends rather than them were "serving" us. We struck up some great conversation about travel and about life in the suburbs of Chicago (where I grew up). It was much more casual than service on say Qatar or Singapore, but I actually might prefer it that way.
Before breakfast was served, a mimosa and Bloody Mary cart went through the cabin. We both had really delicious spicy Bloody Marys with warm nuts. About a half hour later, breakfast began with an appetizer of couscous and smoked salmon, along with a kiwi and greens salad. For the main course, I went for the Spinach Quiche and Sari went with the French Toast. Both were quite rich for our tastes, full of butter, cream and sugar, but delicious nonetheless. I do wish United made a more concentrated effort to have one healthy option on the menu for each flight. Desert and coffee / tea was served after the meal, which we decided to skip in lieu of some rest. Before we began our descent into Chicago, there was a snack which we also decided to skip out on. Throughout the flight there was an array of snacks and water bottles available to grab in the galley which we really appreciated. We arrived at our gate at O'hare only about 10 minutes after our scheduled arrival at 10:20 AM.
Tsunami Says: I was really happy with the last-minute flight deal we got from JRO to ORD. There were cheaper option in economy on Qatar and Emirates, but for $1,229 we were able to secure a decent flight from Tanzania to Chicago with the longest leg in business class. In addition, as a 1K member who booked this flight through ua.com, I earned 13,519 miles which I value at $203. In addition, by booking with the Chase Sapphire Reserve I earned 3,687 Ultimate Rewards points. All in all, I found this itinerary a great balance of time, money and experience.