Long haul flights was not a part of my vocabulary until summer of last year.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d find myself travelling on the other side of the world too soon. I mean, I’ve always wanted to travel to Nepal, to Ireland and other European cities. That’s the farthest I’ve dreamt of exploring. But an unexpected seat sale sealed my fate, which made me cross 2 continents and 2 oceans to visit a country I never thought of going immediately.
It was actually funny if I were to recall how this trip came to be. My friend M wanted to go to Nepal so we were on the look out for cheap airfares from Manila to Kathmandu. When I told him and another friend, R, that Morocco should be on our bucket list too, M’s priorities changed the moment he saw the mesmerising hues of Morocco’s famous Chefchaouen city. The hunt for cheap airfares began. It was only a matter of which airline offers the cheapest.
Nepal or Morocco. Those were the options.
It was around 14k to travel to Nepal, if my memory’s right. That’s from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu alone. it was too expensive, M thought. Then Morocco showed up with cheap fares at 36k, I think. That was quite cheap already considering where this country is located.
Then out of the blue a promo fare showed up.
Not to Nepal nor Morocco. But to somewhere even farther.
And at that instant, the travel gods sealed our fate.
The cheap round trip airfares were too irresistible to resist. Our impulsive nature won us over. And throwing caution to the wind, M and I booked that ‘cheap’ roundtrip ticket to Brazil to embark on a journey to the other side of the world. R bailed out despite agreeing to join us beforehand.
That was January. The flight was for April. We had 4 months!
It was probably the longest 4 months of my life. What do you do when you travel on the other side of the world? What do you need to consider?
Well, aside from preparing money, we also had to consider the places we needed to visit to maximise our time. The accommodations and tours had to be arranged beforehand to ensure we had everything covered to save on impromptu bookings. And as usual, I didn’t do much in the planning stage. I guess I’ve had enough of those planning in the past where I usually take charge of everything. I got tired of it and would rather leave the planning to someone else if possible. I was too busy being busy that I never really paid any attention on the itinerary of this trip.
To be honest, I had no idea what to feel or think. I couldn’t explain what I was feeling. It was a mixture of being excited but at the same time trying to be cool and calm all throughout the trip. Add clueless to that feeling too.
They say Brazil is a dangerous country.
My old self would have read forums or other blogs for precautionary measures. But the old me was still zoning out somewhere. So without knowing anything about Brazil except for common knowledge like they’re good at soccer and this is the home of the famous Havaianas, I embarked on this journey as if it were just a random Southeast Asian trip. Heck, I didn’t even know the country had safety issues during the 2016 Summer Olympics. I was that clueless.
But I’m not here to talk about that.
This article starts my narrative about my journey to Brazil. If you’ve been following or reading past articles here, you most likely know the few things that happened to us in Brasil. For now, let me share with you my journey to South America, or Brazil rather. 😉
To start off, here’s sharing my Ethiopian Airlines flight experience and what happens on a long haul flight from Manila to Brazil.
Let these photos tell the story…
(P.S. This is a 3,738-word article. Please brace yourself.)
Ethiopian Airlines Flight Experience – Manila to Sao Paulo
It was my first time to fly with Ethiopian Airlines. Our flight was scheduled to leave Manila at 2200H via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1. I arrived at the airport early and our check in counter was not open yet.
The departure hall of NAIA T1 was packed. The sad thing about this airport is that there are no seats available in this massive empty hall. If there were, it’s not enough to seat the whole universe.
With the thick crowd before me, I couldn’t help but compare it to a shopping market where everybody converges with their shopping hauls.
Check-in Experience with Ethiopian Airlines Manila to Sao Paulo Flight
I decided to hang out at the airport’s cafe to work on last minute deadlines while waiting for M. I only left the cafe once the check in counters opened. That was a mistake.
I miscalculated this bit and when I reached the check-in counter, there was already a long line. I wanted to kick myself for failing to foresee this. So I just looked for the end of the snake line and claimed my spot. More passengers lined up after me. It was past 1800H. M was still on his way coming off from his office.
At this point, the line was moving a turtle’s pace. I normally worry when things like this happens. News of people getting stuck at the Immigration counters broke out a few weeks before because of manpower problems. I worried that with the check-in counter’s pace and the possible long line at the immigration counter, we might be late for our flight. We already checked-in online but I didn’t see any special line for that.
What I liked about this experience though was how proactive the staff of Ethiopian Airlines were. They approached passengers and gave out a Sheba Miles Application Form, which they say was needed once we get to the check in counter.
On top of that, they were also adding the appropriate tags to our check-in luggage. Their presence was a great help to ensure a seamless check-in process once we reach the counter.
After verifying with the staff supervising the check-in line, I learned that the ‘Transfer at ADD’ tag they added to my luggage meant that after I’m done with the check in, I will only get to see that big box once we reach Sao Paulo. I no longer had to worry about it during our 3-hr layover in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. So I bid farewell to Elmo and prayed it will reach Sao Paulo safely. 🙂
It felt like waiting in line for ages at that time until it was our turn to check in.
After checking in, we were given our boarding pass. We immediately headed to the final boarding gate since it was already past 2100H if my memory serves me right. Take note, there were still more passengers waiting for their turn to check in. I guess it was safe to say at that point that our aircraft won’t leave unless the staff finishes the check-in procedures.
As for the Immigration counter, it was a surprise to see that there were no lines. That was a good thing. It would have been a disaster if we end up having to line up again to get past Immigration.
Thankfully, the immigration officer who stamped my passport didn’t ask me any questions. Probably because my current passport have stamps for travels in Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Once we reached the boarding gate, we decided to grab quick snacks from the coffee shop nearby. We thought we still had time but within 20 minutes, they already announced our boarding.
That was it. We’re really heading to Brazil, I thought. Yay!!!
The Ethiopan Airlines Aircraft bound for Addis Ababa
This was my first time to ride an aircraft with working TV monitors. I was trying hard not to have an ihas moment, that moment where you’re so naive and uncultured you’d just stare at things in awe and wanted to touch and take photos of everything you see.
Since M already checked in online, we get to choose our seats. But all the window seats were already reserved so we had to make do with what’s available. I was assigned an aisle seat while M took the center seat. The trade off was that I get the aisle seat on this leg and I could have the window seat on the journey back. No one was sitting on the window seat on our row. The flight attendant mentioned they will pick up more passengers in Thailand, and the empty seats will be filled.
As much as I would love a window seat on each plane ride, I realized that an aisle seat is the perfect choice especially for long haul flights. Unless of course you’re seated in the business class or at emergency exits.
You see, on a long haul flight like this, we were stuck inside the plane for 13 hours before transferring to another aircraft and enduring another 13 hours more. That’s 13 hours of convincing yourselft whether you should bother your seatmates each time you want to go to the toilet or whether you’d just sulk in your seat and see how far you can hold nature’s call. So if you were to ride a long haul flight that doesn’t read business class or emergency exit rows, or wide leg room seats, carefully think whether you’d want that window seat or not.
Once you get to your seat, a plastic sealed blanket will be waiting for you along with a tiny and almost flat pillow.
You will also get an earphone to be able to use the airline’s in-flight entertainment.
If you’re thinking you can take home the earphones, you better not because it’s pretty much useless, unless you buy an earphone adaptor. The end jack have 2 input plugs and it’s not compatible to what’s normally used.
Once boarding was completed, the pilot announced our take off. You shouldn’t worry about failing to get a decent meal after going through that long check in procedure at the NAIA airport. An hour or two after we left Manila, the cabin crew of Ethiopian Airlines started serving us meals.
This was our first in-flight meal. The first among the many we will be eating on our flight to Brazil. There were two choices for our airline food and I chose this shrimp noodle pasta. I liked it so much. Since we were headed to Thailand, the food that was served was Thai-inspired. Potato salad and cake was also served along with a bun, crackers, cream cheese and butter. Beverages were offered too. You get to choose from different juices – apple, orange, pineapple – and then sodas, water and alcoholic beverages. Coffee and tea were served too.
After dinner, I tried to get some sleep.
Stopover in Bangkok
It was late at night that we flew to Bangkok, our first scheduled stop for refuelling and to board passengers headed for Ethiopia.
The airport personnel from Bangkok entered our cabin and started checking our boarding pass while the plane was getting refuelled. When the refuelling was done, more passengers boarded the plane. When the boarding was completed, the aircraft took off and started heading for Addis Ababa.
As soon as the captain cleared the seat belt sign, the flight attendants started serving our second meal.
For our second in-flight meal, I chose this noodle thingy with veggies and chicken. It was still tasty and I love it. The meal came with beans and veggie cold cuts, a mousse-based strawberry dessert, some crackers, cheese and a bun. I paired this meal with apple juice.
To be honest, the meals Ethiopian Airlines were serving us was more than I could handle. But I happily ate almost all away. Except for that veggie cold cuts with beans.
As soon as servicing of meals was complete, the cabin lights were dimmed and the flight attendants started to distribute our sleeping kit.
Our sleeping kit contains a sleeping mask, a toothbrush set, and long socks. I didn’t bother using the mask and the long socks. I thought the pair of socks was a small towel to wash one’s face. I only realized it was a pair of socks when M pointed it out after seeing one of the passengers wear it.
I wasn’t sleepy yet after the nap I took so I decided to watch a movie. I have not seen Moana in the big screen and was happy to see that it was one of the movies at Ethiopia Airlines’ in-flight entertainment. After the movie, I decided to sleep.
The faint scuffling of the flight attendants woke me up. I was probably one of the few passengers that was awake so the flight attendant gave me a moist pack of wet tissue to refresh my face. It smelled so good and the cold tissue surely woke me up.
When it was time, they started lighting the entire cabin. It was time for our third meal. I think it was 4am at this point. (The change in time zones and the lack of wi-fi made it difficult for me to recall our meal intervals.)
We were almost near Addis Ababa and the cabin crew had to feed us a mini breakfast before we land. It was sort of a carb overload for this meal since we got served a croissant and a bun together with cheese and strawberry jam. Fruit cuts were served for dessert.
The Layover in Addis Ababa
An airport layover was a first for me. Filipinos are required to get a visa to enter Ethiopia. However, if it’s just a short layover where you don’t leave the airport, a visa isn’t necessary. In our case, the layover only lasted for three hours and thirty minutes. We were to be transferred to a different aircraft, thus the stopover.
We were scheduled to arrive in Addis Ababa at 6am. By this time, I no longer know which time zone we were following. The sun was just rising when we reached the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
Upon disembarking from the plane, an airport bus was waiting for us to take us to the airport.
I’m guessing that most of the passengers of this flight were overseas Filipino workers and on their way to their respective country of destination.
I didn’t know that Ethiopia is referred to as the ‘Land of Timeless Appeal’ and it’s quite a privilege to step foot in their country. I hope someday I could explore Ethiopia too.
The Addis Ababa Bole International Airport was a surprise. The place was packed.
If there was one thing I would suggest, it would be to increase the seats at the main departure hall since it wasn’t enough.
We were lucky we found a vacant lounge chair and were also allowed to stay inside the final boarding area early. But the same was not the case on the return trip.
On our way back home, there was a huge crowd of passengers and no one was allowed to get inside the final boarding area unless the plane is boarding. It seemed like the boarding gates are servicing multiple flights at the same time so you need to pay full attention to the airport personnel who mans the gates for the final security check as your gates might change. Despite the chaos, the airport personnel were super professional and efficient in assisting with the boarding process.
This airport does not offer free wifi. You either need to activate your data roaming or bring a pocket wifi with you if you can’t resist going online. There are restaurants in the area that offer wifi when you dine in but we were too stingy. Facebook is also banned in Ethiopia so prepare those proxy sites if you want to update your family back home. I failed to login to FB despite using a proxy site while we were here so I simply sent my folks a text message to update them of my whereabouts.
Addis Ababa to Lomé
Finally, the time has come for us to board the plane.
We were to take off at 9:30am.
After the boarding procedure was complete, our aircraft took off.
The flight crew started to serve us some snacks.
An hour after, lunch was served.
We were to stopover at Lome to refuel. There were also aircraft cleaners who went on board to clean the plane and get rid of the trash. I no longer remember if passengers boarded or disembarked at Lome.
Stopover at Lomé
During the stopover, airport personnel came in to check our boarding pass.
Once the refuelling was finished, we took off for Brasil!
Lomé to Sao Paulo
A few hours after take off, we were served food again.
The meals were tasty, I must say. And they were filling too.
For the last leg of our journey, we basically formed a routine inside the plane.
Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Or in some cases, eat, watch a movie, sleep and then wake up when it’s time to eat again. Then repeat.
I know I didn’t have to eat everything that was served to us but being a food lover, I definitely wanted to taste everything. We also took with us some of the crackers we failed to consume.
For the whole duration of this Manila to Brasil flight, we got served 7 meals, including the snacks. I no longer included the times we got served coffee or tea after each meal. If there was one thing I didn’t expect on this plane experience it is about Ethiopian Airlines exceeding my expectations in terms of their inflight meals. It was fun getting spoiled with food.
Other nationalities might have a different opinion with how the inflight meals taste or how the food was prepared but for us Filipinos, or me in particular, I enjoyed every moment of it. And with the promo fare we got, this flight experience with Ethiopian Airlines was such a great steal.
We also met fellow Pinoys who availed the promo fare too and like us, will explore Brazil. Those guys who were at the check in counter in Manila were just seated a row apart from us on the second leg of our journey and we got the chance to chat with them on board. We also met a solo Pinoy backpacker while waiting at the Addis Ababa boarding gate.
Finally, after more than 27 hours, we made it safe and sound to Sao Paulo.
It was already night time when we arrived.
Getting past the Immigration counter was a breeze. As soon as we claimed our luggage, we decided to find the nearest ATM to withdraw money.
The thing with currency exchanges at the airport in Brazil is that they add a service fee when you exchange your money. So the best option is to get money from your ATM. The only downside is that you might have a problem finding a machine that accepts ATMs with 6-digit pins.
Once done with our money woes, we said our goodbyes to the Pinoys we met. We were supposed to take the public bus to reach our home in Sao Paulo but for some reason, we ended up riding the Airport Bus Service. We paid BRL48.80 or approximately PHP775.00 / USD16.00 per head for that bus service.
The good thing about this bus is that since we arrived at night, there were less passengers and we were dropped off right at the doorstep of our hotel. The driver doesn’t speak any English but after saying our hotel’s name and address, he knew exactly where to drop us off.
My Ethiopian Airlines flight experience was so wonderful and it was worth every penny. The state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner was one of the aircraft we used and it was a joy to ride this beast. The landing and take-off was super smooth. The flight crew were friendly and professional too and if given the chance, I’d fly again with Ethiopian Airlines.
To those curious how much is the regular airfare from Manila to Brazil via Ethiopian Airlines, please refer to this:
Want to know where we stayed in Sao Paulo? Check this out: