Ethiopian Airlines is buying aircraft like other airlines buy pretzels. The airline has leased fourteen 787’s and has more on order. It also has bought thirteen A350’s to modernize its fleet and retire older planes that would have needed maintenance.
I flew the 787 Dreamliner with Ethiopian Airlines in economy class as part of a United MileagePlus award from Accra in Ghana and Doaula in Cameroon via Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa. Since this is a brand new airplane, my expectations were high at boarding. Ethiopian Airlines has installed a new business class with a huge plasma screens.
Economy class has gotten huge screens as well as a full IFE, but the seats are from old 757/767 planes (or at least they look that way after just a few weeks in service).
The plane came late into Accra but boarding was fast, with the plane just about 70% full; a typical Ethiopian Airlines flight is never full! Boarding at Accra Airport is quite organized but your boarding pass is still checked excruciatingly often. These boarding passes were color-coded, which was a novelty for me.
The IFE in economy is quite nice and Ethiopian Airlines has really shown it’s able to manage technology. There were two dozen new movies and a good number of TV shows on offer and the flight map was one of the best I have ever seen; you can zoom, turn the view and see all kinds in-flight information on the big screen.
The seat pitch felt like 32 inches and given the good recline (and a less than full plane) it felt more like British Airways Premium Economy. My electric window shade on the plane was already broken, though, and I wasn’t able to adjust it, so it stayed open.
I had ordered a Hindu meal; the food served by this airline usually isn’t the best, but my meal was an excellent chicken curry and a decent salad. It was pretty good airline food.
We landed 45 minutes late into Addis and I made my way to immigration. There were just 5 people in line, so I was delighted. However, my happiness was premature; given that you now need to speak to 3 different people there (who in this case were all too busy serving customers buying $50 visas), it took almost 45 minutes to process us all. Oh well.
The flight to Doaula was very similar to the flight from Accra, although the flight attendants excelled at hiding (after the meal service anyways). Since this flight was also just 70% full, I found an empty row in the back and decided to sleep in the 3-3-3 config in a full row, although this time I wished there had been a 2-4-2.
In conclusion, Ethiopian Airlines has a great product but does not make the most of it. However, there is almost zero competition in Africa and Ethiopian is the only airline that gets you (almost) everywhere in Africa on good planes with modern equipment, with an experienced crew and edible food. For now, that’s enough to give this airline a huge head start compared to any competitor in the region.