Unscheduled stop-over at Kilimanjaro starts a chain of events that turns into a nightmare
A disgruntled expat living and working in Windhoek has vowed never again to fly Ethiopian Airlines after his year-end vacation turned into a nightmare of missed connecting flights, unforeseen hotel bills, lost luggage and airline chaos.
Speaking to the Economist, award-winning creative director at advertising agency, Advantage Y&R, Toufic Beyhum said he and his family used Ethiopian Airlines to fly to Addis Ababa where they would have connected to Cairo before taking the home-stretch to Beirut. The trip from Windhoek to Addis was supposed to be a non-stop direct flight.
Pinning it down to the point where their ordeal started, Beyhum said “When we boarded the flight on 10 December 2017, the pilot announced that we would be stopping at Kilimanjaro. Everyone on the plane looked confused, including the air hostesses. We started stressing that we would miss our connecting flight to Cairo but were placated by the air hostess who said that the plane to Cairo would wait for us.”
This turned out to be false.
“After a short stop in Kilimanjaro, we arrived at Addis to a chaotic airport where, of course, we missed the connecting flight by 15 minutes. The plane to Cairo did not wait for us,” he said. Beyhum was travelling with his wife and three children aged 3 to 8, and by now the strain was taking its toll on the children.
In Addis, the Ethiopian help desk was in chaos, and the staff, according to Beyhum, clueless and unhelpful. “We were eventually booked onto an Egypt Air flight at 5am and told to wait in a cold room where our children were not provided with blankets. In the morning, we were told that we could not get on the Egypt Air flight, no reason given, and that we would be put in a hotel till the following evening for the next Ethiopian Airline flight to Cairo. We were given our boarding cards for that flight.”
But this was not the end yet, as Beyhum related the second phase of their torture. “We had no access to our luggage so we arrived at the hotel with no clean clothes or toiletries. My children were exhausted and getting sick by that stage. We spent a day in Addis buying items like underwear and toiletries. Beyond that, the food at the hotel was disgusting, so we had to spend more money to eat at restaurants.”
“We also missed a 1-night stay at our Cairo hotel for which Ethiopian Airlines is not willing to compensate us. I have sent them the receipt,” he said adding that they refused to refund any of their expenses including the night they missed in Cairo which they had to pay for before leaving Windhoek. The prepaid money for the Cairo taxi was also forfeited.
“They tried to offer us discount on the next Ethiopian airline trip but I specifically told them we will never fly their airline again so why would we want a discount?
But the family had not reached Cairo yet and getting there turned out to be another major obstacle. “The next evening, we went to board our flight to Cairo only to find that our names were not on the system! We had to make a big scene to get on that plane.”
The return to Windhoek at the end of their vacation almost turned into another ordeal.
Beyhum recalled how difficult it was to make contact with the Ethiopian Airlines office in Beirut to confirm their return flight.
“I tried several times to confirm our tickets in Beirut by calling the local office but no-one picked up. When we got to the airport our names were once again not in the system! After a lot of stress, we managed to get on the plane and come home,” he said.
“It was our first time flying Ethiopian Airlines and believe me it will be our last. A simple Google search shows their consistently low ratings which reveals that we are not alone in feeling this way.”
Caption: Total chaos reigned at the Ethiopian Airlines office at the international airport in Addis Ababa as hundreds of airline passengers were left in the lurch by the airline, many of them missing their connecting flights and forced to pay for their own lodgings at hotels in the city. (Photograph by Toufic Beyhum)
Since raising the issue with Ethiopian Airlines, a company representative has met Mr Beyhum and agreed to refund him for the additional expenses for lodgings. For the airline’s official response, see the article below under Extra.