Torsten has asked me to post this on behalf of him.
During my trip inside Africa, I recently completed four sectors on Ethiopian Airlines in economy class. Here are my impressions.
I had booked my flights just a day before departure, as my original flights needed to be canceled since I temporarily had no valid travel documents because of the robbery in Kampala.
For the short sectors Entebbe to Mombasa and Mombasa to Dar es Salaam, the best prices came out to $400 – steep, but it was literally last minute. Most fares in Africa are more dependent on city pairs and vary little by time of purchase or demand.
Planes tend to be just 50-70% full with those high fares. For most city pairs in Africa you only have 3 choices – Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and, to a smaller extent, South African Airways. The routings can often be comical, so for a 50-mile trip that is too dangerous to drive, you will fly 4,000 miles up and then down again across the continent.
The lounge experience in all departure airports in Africa and Addis itself isn’t great by international standards, but pretty good by African. Given the low standards in Africa, the airlines go to great length to provide something extra for business class passengers. You can read my review of the Business Class Lounge at Addis Ababa Airport here.
I had initially booked an afternoon connecting flight from Addis to Mombasa. I did not really check my second boarding pass in Entebbe and only realized when airborne that I had been given a boarding pass for the next day. Upon landing I inquired and the flight I’d booked just a day before never actually took off – it was just a ghost flight Ethiopian uses to test demand. While I assume many airlines do that, it was annoying on such short notice.
Ethiopian is rather nice in providing a free transfer hotel and a free transit visa. You can read more about that in my post about the free transit hotel and visa in Addis with Ethiopian Airlines.
I was on a 737 for 3 segments – the same tail number actually and always in seat 17L. When asked, Ethiopian usually assigns exit row seats to Star Alliance Gold members at no extra charge.
The emergency exit row seats have lots of legroom and while the window seat is slightly smaller, it’s better than on the Malaysian Airlines 737 that I flew recently.
Ethiopia has a fantastic cuisine and you would think some injera and some veggies would make perfect and cheap in-flight catering? Dream on! There was a meal, but it was some odd-smelling chicken and pasta, so I did not dare!
Ethiopian serves alcoholic drinks in economy class and the wine is decent. Some of the new planes have USB outlets but the one used for my sectors didn’t. There are LCD screens with some basic entertainment that flip out after take-off.
Given the standards of Africa, Ethiopian is an excellent airline, but for global standards it’s just OK. It’s stuck somewhere between a comfortable full-service carrier and a no-frills airline. In Africa they are far ahead of everyone; internationally that’s not enough, though.
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