Ethiopian Airlines Review: 787 Business Class, Lounge & Skylight Hotel
In this Ethiopian Airlines Review, I’ll cover the Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 business class on their 787 Dreamliner, plus their new business class lounge and the new Skylight transit hotel in Addis Ababa. The hotel is property of Ethiopian Airlines and built to house their overnight transit passengers. Cloud 9 is the name of Ethiopian Airlines’ business class. Along with the drastically-expanded terminal at Addis Ababa Bolé airport, there’s a new business class lounge. We’ll review all of these as part of an Ethiopian Airlines Review: 787 business class on the Dreamliner, transit hotel, and lounge. Bottom line up front: I consider the lounge & hotel awesome. The flight product was the most uncomfortable long-haul business class flight I’ve taken.
I flew Ethiopian Airlines on their 787 Dreamliner from São Paulo GRU to Addis Ababa ADD. Arriving at night in ADD meant I had an overnight connection, which meant staying for free at their new Skylight Transit Hotel. The next morning, I flew on a 737-800 from Addis Ababa ADD to Lomé LFW, which isn’t included in this review of Ethiopian Airlines business class products.
All of that was part of 1 booking, which I made via Singapore Airlines. I booked these flights less than 24 hours in advance, due to not being able to fly the day before. The cost was 50,000 KrisFlyer miles + $32.82 in taxes & fees. I was happy to use my KrisFlyer miles, since I had a bunch of miles sitting in there after our trip to the Olympics was canceled earlier this year. This South America to Africa route using KrisFlyer miles is one of the best sweet spots around.
I also paid $84 for a positioning flight to São Paulo, which is double what I usually pay. Booking last minute, I wasn’t too surprised by this.
Ethiopian Airlines Review: 787 Business Class
When flying, there is the soft product and the hard product. The hard product is composed of things you touch: the plane, the seat, etc. The soft product is the other stuff: service, staff attitudes, etc.
While this is a 787 Dreamliner, it’s an older model for sure. This was a 787-8, which is what Ethiopian Airlines flies on most of their long-haul flights and some super popular routes within Africa. Its business class cabin is configured 2-2-2. The seats have seen a lot of use, and it was clear. They had a very “worn in” feeling from years of use.
Personal Entertainment System
The personal entertainment system worked and had a decent selection. However, it was mediocre at best. Many economy flights within the US have better entertainment systems than this. There is a remote, which works well and is user friendly. The system is well designed, it just needs overhauled.
The bed. It’s not totally lie flat. It goes almost flat, but not quite. In fact, I found it had enough of an angle that I kept sliding down into the foot well. Several times, I woke up from the fact I had slid down really far, waking up from discomfort. This could be from a combination of the angle and the “worn in” bed that wasn’t very comfortable (causing me to move around seeking a better position).
Additionally, there is this weird, solid metal footrest that can fold out from the bottom of the seat. This solid, cold piece of metal is exactly where your feet go, so I found it really uncomfortable. This picture is from standing in front of my seat looking at it in the ‘sitting position’, so you can see the metal footrest.
The combination of these things made it really difficult to sleep. I woke up numerous times and then finally gave up out of frustration. I would have slept better going to one of the empty rows in economy and stretching out that way, if I’m perfectly honest.
The amenity kit was full of stuff. I was impressed with how much they’d managed to fit in the kit, considering its smaller size. Along with your standard toothbrush & toothpaste, there were socks and a comb. There was also hand sanitizer. Lots off stuff packed into a small space. This is a good kit, and I like the fact it has a hanger to hang in your bathroom.
This part of my Ethiopian Airlines review of the 787 business class will cover service, meals, and staff.
Boarding was filled with friendly smiles, as I’ve come to expect with Ethiopian Airlines. However, there was a strange moment where I arrived at my seat and found a flight attendant sitting in it. I offered to move to another seat (there were plenty of empty spots), but the cabin manager insisted I shouldn’t be displaced. The flight attendant moved to the other side (I had the right side window, seat L). Their response was that they didn’t know which seats were occupied and had some staff catching a ride back to Ethiopia. I chuckled at that, thinking, “You’re the airline. You don’t know which seats are free?”
The cabin manager apologized a bunch of times, and I feel like it would have been easier for me to just move back from row 3 to 4. Less going on for everyone. The staff was friendly, but I felt like they were making more commotion than needed. It’s not that big of a deal.
Throughout the flight, the staff members were really friendly. They allowed everyone to eat whenever they wanted, rather than a seat meal service happening at once. I liked this, because I could a) try to sleep whenever I wanted, not follow their schedule, and b) eat at a time when the fewest (or no) people had their masks off.
I worried that I wouldn’t get the vegan meals I requested, since I booked the flights less than 24 hours in advance. However, I did get them, which I was happy about. However, my 2 meals were exactly the same thing. I have never seen that before. Also, while the main meal itself was vegan, it came with a ton off side dishes that weren’t. 25% of the tray wasn’t suited to the special meal request, and I find this to be a problem with tons of airlines—not just Ethiopian. Plus, the meal lacked…flavor. That’s a good summary.
Staff were friendly while reminding people to wear their masks, which was a big question mark going into the trip. On a 12-hour flight, how will they approach this? People will take off masks to eat and drink, but how will the flight attendants respond if people are “hanging out” without masks? They were friendly and only needed to do this once to remind someone to put his mask back on after the meal. I don’t know how this worked in economy, obviously. There was also this big sign on the bulkhead stating that masks are to be worn at all times.
Overall Flight Impressions
I’ve flown on Ethiopian Airlines a bunch of times around Africa. I was excited to try their Cloud 9 Dreamliner business class product. As you see from my Ethiopian Airlines review, though, I find their long-haul business class product on the 787 lacking. The planes are well worn (all the others I’ve been on passing through business to economy look the same) and need updates. This will provide better comfort during sitting & sleeping.
The service is friendly and helpful. The main dish was good but repeated in both meals, though I’m not sure how much control they have over that. The soft product definitely outperforms the hard product. Without considering any other business class flights I’ve taken, this one would be considered mediocre. However, if I’d compare it to others like Swiss, QSuites, or Lufthansa, I’d say Ethiopian Airlines has the most uncomfortable business class product on long-haul flights. Rough, but it’s true.
Review: New Skylight Transit Hotel
I previously wrote about this awesome perk when flying with Ethiopian Airlines. If you have an overnight transit stop in Addis Ababa ADD airport, they will give you a free hotel room for the night. Even though most people need a visa to visit Ethiopia (you can apply online), the visa is waived if you’re just on an overnight transit. Previously, they used a patchwork approach via tons of locally-owned, non-chain hotels for this benefit.
Last year, the Skylight Hotel opened. This is owned by Ethiopian Airlines and is just blocks away from the airport. This makes a lot of sense logistically for the airline. It’s easier to get people to/from the airport, requiring less fuel and less vans. They own the hotel and don’t need to pay other companies for housing their passengers. The experience is also controlled, allowing them to own the entire process of customer experience from start to finish of the journey.
There is a business class tower and economy tower in the hotel. At check-in, the desk agents assign you a room based on your voucher from the airline and your boarding pass. The business class wing was much more than I’d expected. Information online considers this a 4-star hotel, and I’d say that’s fair.
Everything like new
Given that the hotel is new as of last year, everything is also in great condition. No signs of wear & tear. Everything working perfectly. My transit voucher mentioned that dinner & breakfast were included. Due to the pandemic, the 2 restaurants in the hotel were closed. There’s a Chinese restaurant & traditional Ethiopian restaurant. Instead, only room service was operating. Call, place your order from the menu in the room, and the food comes in 30-40 minutes.
I asked what traditional Ethiopian food they had and got much more food than I’d expected. I couldn’t finish it all, especially since I’d eaten only 4-5 hours ago on the plane.
There are multiple ATMs in the hotel, but they surprisingly don’t do currency exchange. I was told there’s a new law in Ethiopia that only the central bank is allowed to trade BACK to foreign currencies. Thus, the hotel isn’t allowed to give you something that isn’t Ethiopian Birr. Bear that in mind if visiting: if you show up at the airport with their money, you aren’t changing it to something else.
I found the hotel impressive. It’s a smart move for Ethiopian Airlines to own their own transit hotel. However, they didn’t just go halfway on it. The hotel is a good hotel, worthy of a stay. I found the layout, design & features of the business class wing really nice. It’s worthy of its 4-star rating and provides a good night’s sleep. If this weren’t a transit hotel, and instead a hotel I could book on points, I’d stay there again. Bottom line on my Ethiopian Airlines transit hotel review: excellent from start to finish.
Ethiopian Airlines New Lounge Review
ADD airport in Addis Ababa suffered from being too small for a long time. Not enough chairs, so people sitting in the walkways, creating traffic jams. Far too few gates. With the massive expansion of the terminal last year, it’s a great airport now. This is the 2nd time I’ve passed through the new terminal, and it’s still not 100% finished. However, one of the first things Ethiopian Airlines wanted to resolve was its dark, cramped, unwelcoming business class lounge.
It continues to blow my mind that one of the busiest airports in all of Africa has no Priority Pass lounge. However, the new business class lounge is excellent. There’s one lounge for business class passengers. There’s another for people who are Star Alliance Gold & above. Here’s my Ethiopian Airlines business class lounge review.
Inside the lounge
First, it’s spacious. There is a lot of space for continued expansion without feeling cramped. That was the major issue at the old lounge. It’s also full of natural lighting, fixing the major complaint about the old lounge being dark and unwelcoming.
Because the new lounge is so big, it also had a lot of space to meet social distancing requirements for the chairs and tables. Buffets were operating and were self-service, which surprised me. Hand sanitizer was everywhere. No one was working the drink station, so people just went behind the counter and helped themselves.
Given that it was breakfast time, one buffet had breakfast foods. Fruit salad, French toast, sausages, and similar. Orange juice and famous (strong) Ethiopia coffee. The other buffet in the larger seating area had lunch/dinner foods. Samosas, rice & chicken, a bean dish. Ethiopian injera bread. I ate at this buffet and found the food good. It was prepared well, was fresh, and the other guests were using tongs, cleaning their hands, etc.
Good amenities & space
Wifi in the lounge is good and strong, running a separate network from the main airport wifi. The new terminal also finally got wifi down to the last gate. Last time I passed through the new terminal, the wifi only worked in the first half. Now, it’s everywhere and strong.
This lounge is what I expect of a business class lounge. There’s ample seating. Buffets aren’t out of multiple items at the same time (I understand when something runs out, but a buffet that looks like it’s run out of everything isn’t cool). Options for different rooms and different types of seating. Boarding/gate information easy to find. Bright lighting & readily-available wifi. Bottom line on my Ethiopian Airlines business class lounge review: no complaints, great quality.
I was excited to finally fly the Cloud 9 Dreamliner product from Ethiopian Airlines. From reading through my Ethiopian Airlines review of business class on the 787, you’ll see it didn’t match my expectations. I am a big fan of Ethiopian Airlines, because I can book their flights around Africa using Star Alliance partners. I find their on-board crew to be super friendly, and I love Ethiopian food in general. However, the planes need updating to the present in terms of layout, product, and comfort. I found the bed to be the most uncomfortable long-haul bed I’ve tried in business class. A good sign of how much Ethiopian Airlines needs to update its flight products is that the safety video still tells you not to use Gameboys or printers for your laptop.
That being said, the new Ethiopian Airlines business class lounge and Skylight transit hotel are top-notch products. The service and product on both are excellent. They overcome previous complaints from numerous passengers by owning the experience from start to finish via the hotel and an updated lounge. The lounge is everything I expect from a business class lounge, and it looks like there is more to come when they are able to operate at full capacity post-pandemic. The hotel is a great product that I found equivalent to hotels I’ve booked on points. And the value I got from my booking can’t be understated (free hotel room, crossing an ocean for just 50,000 points in business class), despite the other parts that need improvements.
The Skylight transit hotel and new business class lounge at Addis Ababa airport put the actual business class flight product to shame in my Ethiopian Airlines review. Maybe the plane cabins will get the updated treatment next and escape my ‘most uncomfortable’ ranking.