Navigating Addis Ababa Airport, the prime gateway to Ethiopia and much of Africa, brings one of my mottos to mind. You never know unless you ask (…or try.) For instance many small items have no price tags. Water is only $2 at one small souvenir shop (better than the cafe). Cokes are $5 at the internet cafe but only $3 at the small electronic shop (with watches and remote control cars). And if you have a long layover in Ethiopia, there are these great lounge chairs that sleep maybe a little too well. Those in the know make bee-line from their flights to get these as they fill quickly after 6pm.
The toilets are at both ends, but the ones near the smoking room get more traffic and thus are not as clean. (The smoking room is on the top of the H across from Gate 1). The cleaner toilet near Gate 8 is on the bottom of the H made by two long halls with shops in the center.
The best shop for souvenirs in the airport is the Book & Gift store near Gate 8. The keeper’s small key chains (metal Ethiopian crosses) were half as much, his local paintings on sheep skin were also about 1/3 less. His English paperbacks were outrageous–used and $10 each–but I gave him the novel I’d finished and he gave me a small item.
Flight changes must be paid for in dollars or euro. When the exchange bank/booth situated between shops is closed, there is still the one downstairs at immigration which is open 24 hours a day. You are allowed to use it, bypassing the duty stand–just tell them shy you bypassed the Ebola/temperature station. The window on the right can only give you Ethiopian birr–head to the one of the left (just past the ATM) for international exchange. They don’t take Turkish bills but will break or exchange dollars and euros. A cash advance on your credit card will only get you birr, though, and won’t help if you’re needing the funds to pay for a flight change.
My unexpectedly long layover (36 hours due to a missed connection) gave me ample time to make notes about the airport. In the early morning I walked by the Star Alliance lounge and saw they were serving breakfast. There was no worker to ask (& I am an alliance member–but maybe that area requires a certain level?). With no one to ask, I got some eggs and a roll–grateful to eat as my cash for returning home was running lower than I’d liked.
With extra time, I decided to splurge on the internet cafe to catch up on my email and see my commitments back home for the rest of the week. The sign there said “If you don’t receive a receipt, you don’t pay.” In other words, if you aren’t asked to pay before you start, no payment is required. I only realized this after I’d been online for an hour and looked around to see that everyone else had a paper receipt laid out near their mouse. Again, no cost to me, so I let my one hour run to another.
Two men and a woman who also missed a flight invited me to sit and talk. The were from Sudan and taught me a few words of Arabic as well as giving me an insider’s view of the war, split of their country and future hopes (more here). They also bought me a water.
All in all, Ethiopia’s primary airport is not a bad place to spend a few extra hours, but I recommend making your connecting flight whenever possible.
Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.