This past holiday season I lost a dear cousin Engineer Castro G. Oranika (May His Soul Rest in Peace).He was flown to California for treatment from Nigeria. Unfortunately he passed away here in the United States and funeral arrangements were being made in our beloved hometown Abatete many of us call Abanna in Idemili Local Government Area of Anambra State.This report is dedicated to the memory of Castro G. Within the little time I had left, I began planning my journey back to Nigeria because I knew I had to be a part of my cousin's funeral. The other thing I knew for sure is that I must travel on Ethiopian Airlines since it is the only international airline which flies directly to Enugu in South Eastern Nigeria from Dulles airport in Washington D.C. with a stopover in Adis Ababa Ethiopia. Many of the Southeasterners residing in the Diaspora welcomed the upgrading of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, thanks to the petition originated by Prof. Umez in the United States. President Jonathan, Princess Oduah, Governor Chime, Senator Ekwerenmadu and many others helped to make the airport a reality. Folks I take pride in signing the petition as well. Princess Oduah the Aviation Minister was very instrumental in actualizing the international status for the Akanu Ibiam airport, and for this she would be remembered for breaking the de facto economic strangulation of the South East imposed since the end of the Biafra war. Since this accomplishment, she has been ferociously attacked by those who may hold ulterior motives. Are these attacks related to her progressive work in the Aviation ministry by ensuring that all political zones in the Country have airport facilities to help alleviate travel problems for citizens? I don't fully have the answer to this question but I can tell you that previous Nigerian leaders had no desire to build an international airport in the Southeast. Some hold the view that the South East is not entitled to an international airport despite the fact that overwhelming percentage of the Nigerian travelers come from the Southeast. Folks all politics are local, it took a president from the East and an aviation minister from the Southeast for this project to be accomplished.
So my search for Ethiopian Airlines flights to Enugu began, I went online to Ethiopian Airlines website and checked prices for the Dulles-Addis Ababa-Enugu round trip ticket and the price quoted was about $1900. I checked other airlines and the quotes vary but range from $1800-$2200. Mind you this was in December which is high season for air travel. I decided to check the discount travel agencies around, and my favorite is CheapoAir.com. I found Dulles-Addis Ababa-Enugu round trip ticket for $1777 the lowest price so far so I quickly booked that schedule and paid for the ticket and obtained my confirmation number.
The problem now was that the Dulles-Addis Ababa flight departs at 10.15 am and checking in starts at 7am. Mind you that I live in Atlanta so I have to find ways to be in Washington D.C. about 7-8am on Dec 8, the flight date. Few airlines have early morning flights to Dulles that would arrive at about 8-9 am but the prices were too high. Some of the tickets were priced between $400-500 one way and $700 for round trip for few tickets still available. What are my options I asked myself?
I made plans to rent a car one way and drop it off at Dulles airport before departure. This plan worked and the rental cost was $160 plus $65 gas cost for a total of $225. I drove to Washington D.C. and planned to be at the airport at 6am on Dec 8. I made it to the airport at 6.45 am and dropped the car rental and proceeded to the Ethiopian airlines counter. The checking in process was smooth and the trip was about to commence. Unfortunately Mother Nature had different plans and it soon began snowing and our flight was delayed for about 2 ½ hours.
The captain soon announced that the plane was heading to the De-icing area for the aircraft to be de-iced. That process took about 30 minutes and we were cleared for takeoff. At that point my concern was meeting the next flight schedule from Adis Ababa to Enugu because the layover time at Adis-, Ababa was about 2 ½ hours. The flight soon took off from Dulles; it was a brand new Boeing 777 aircraft with passenger capacity of 321. Once on board I gathered so much information about the size, magnitude and services of Ethiopian Airlines. The airline has about 62 airplanes, including 5 of the state of art Dreamliner 787, 9 Boeing 777-200ER, 12, Boeing 767-300ER, 7 Boeing 757-200ER, 14 Boeing 737-200ER, 13 Bombadier Q400, and many others. Ethiopian Airlines flies to most major cities in all continents. Folks it dawned on me how incredibly lucky to be able to fly out of Enugu to almost all of the world's major cities.
The food served was excellent including rice with beef, rice with chicken, joolof rice, Pasta and much more served by young and beautiful Ethiopian flight attendants, highly mannered and very professional. From Washington DC to Adis Ababa (about 13 ½ hours flight) we were served 4 major meals, Heineken, White and Red Wine was served upon request, no limits. In fact there was a sort of open bar at the back where all sorts of soft drinks, apple juice, orange juice, pine apple juices and others were placed, and all one has to do is just go there and help yourself. Folks I have traveled extensively on the Trans Atlantic to African schedule and have used most major airlines in the world. None of these airlines offer better services than Ethiopian airlines in my humble opinion and folks don't take my word for it, fly them and make your own conclusions.
The 777 plane offers personalized movie choices, and there were American films, Asian Films and African film choices. Overwhelming majority of the African movers offered were Nollywood movies. Among the Nollywood movie choices there were two Igbo language films, and you bet I watched the two Igbo Language films, and felt at home and very relaxed.
I had few hours of nap as well. Soon the captain announced he was beginning a descend to Adis Ababa. As we landed my concern had shifted to the connecting flight to Enugu since we were already 2 ½ hours late which was equal to the layover time at Adis Ababa. Folks if you had any doubts on the efficiency of this airline what happened next will clear any doubts on your mind. If we miss the next flight to Enugu several non desirable options remain which is flying on the next available flight to Lagos or Abuja or waiting for 24 hours or more for the next flight to Enugu.
As soon as we landed and disembarked from the aircraft there were Ethiopian staff workers all armed with walkie-talkies and soon three buses pulled up. One for Lagos the second one for Abuja and the third one was for Enugu. At that point I realized that late departure from Washington had affected all the Nigerian departures. The staff quickly loaded us into the Enugu bus and within few minutes we were on board the Enugu bound flight. From landing to take off at Adis Ababa took no more than 15 minutes. The Flight to Akanu Ibiam Airport had commenced. It was a Boeing 737 with passenger capacity of 125. Inside the plane was a very jubilant group of passengers with smiling faces connecting from all over the world. Behind our seat I overheard one passenger say "Igbo Kwenu" and few guys replied "Ya" and everybody began laughing. One passenger said for the rest of his life he would never again set foot in Lagos. The guy sat across from me on the isle so I asked him what was responsible for the extreme position he took. He told me that he had no freedom in his travelling plans. That every time he travels in and out of Nigeria he was forced against his will to travel either through Lagos or Abuja. He told me he now has options and feels like he was liberated or set free. Other passenger conversations focused on how Ethiopia, a very small country with limited resources was able to put together this first class operation while Nigeria with its abundant resources could not manage an airline company. The flight to Enugu was full, no single seat was empty. Food services were excellent and were consistent with the previous flight services from Washington D.C. Over 90% of the passengers were South Easterners, one passenger was heading to Bayelsa via Port Harcourt and another passenger was heading to Benue State. 3 passengers were possibly Europeans and another passenger looked Chinese.
The pilot soon announced he is descending towards Enugu; a very incredible panoramic view of the city and its mountains was unfolding. About twenty minutes later the Ethiopian airlines Boeing 737 roared to the ground on a very smooth landing as happy and jubilant passengers applaud. A brand new Fire truck which looked like a New York Fire truck pulled to about 100 ft making its presence known, I said to myself this is good wow!! This is new for a Nigerian airport. As we exited the airplane I knew it was a historical day for me being my first landing at Akanu Ibiam International airport from an international flight. It was about 12.30 pm on this glorious day with bright sunshine and somewhat cool Harmattan temperature synonymous with the season when our flight landed just about 4 ½ hours from take off at Adis Ababa.
I began thinking what may have been the plight of my two checked baggage, understanding that in many airlines companies particularly those in the United States it would be very difficult for your baggage to make the connecting flight within 15 minutes short interval. But folks I was pleasantly surprised to find my two baggages on the conveyor belt at Enugu. If this is not one more indication of better service on the part of the Ethiopian airlines crew and staff, I don't know what is.
My younger brother Ebele was waiting for me as I emerged from the airport and 12 minutes later I arrived at my elder sister's house at Trans Ekulu Layout Enugu marking an end to this relaxing and pleasant journey. My hometown Abatete is just 45 minutes away!! What a great experience it was for me.
The return trip back to the States was very pleasant as well, it took 45 minutes to drive from home to the airport and two hours later we took off to Adis Ababa. Ethiopian Airlines management recognizes the promises of the Enugu connection, and brought a Boeing 757 a much bigger airplane for the return trip dismissing the widely circulated rumors that the airport could only handle smaller aircraft. Again the 757 was full with about 175 passengers aboard. Folks Southeasterners have embraced this whole idea by putting their money where their mouth. They are replacing the stopovers at Lagos and Abuja with Adis Ababa; my questions to some people on the Enugu flight on where they were coming from shows that some of the passengers connecting flights at Adis Ababa were travelling from Asia, Russia, Australia, Europe, North America including the United States and Canada, South America, Israel and South Africa.
Next week I shall complete part two of this report focusing on services at Akanu Ibiam airport which I can describe right now as work in progress. Much has been accomplished and much work remains to be done. Don't miss the second part of my report.
Paul Okechukwu Oranika
Author of many books, most recent book titled "Stock Market Trading: Beginner's Guide for Profitable investing" is available worldwide.
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