Ethiopian Airlines - Business Class - LAX-ADD
Airlines on the African continent often get a bad rap for poor service, atrocious punctuality and ill-maintained aircraft. But with the emergence of change makers such as Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South Africa Airways, travellers are discovering a new era in air travel in Africa.
We recently flew one of Ethiopian's longest routes - LAX to Addis Ababa, via Dublin. The airline uses A Boeing 787 Dreamliners for the route with a Business configuration of 2-2-2. We were pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and fresh, spacious appearance of the cabin.
For this flight we purchased a last-minute upgrade at LAX which put us back US$600 - more than we would have bid online but justifiable given the length of the journey of 18 hours (as we were transiting overnight to an onward destination on Ethiopian we were also given a voucher for the Hilton Hotel in Addis). It's also possible to purchase the LAX-Dublin sector separately - a nice alternative to competing US carriers.
The life-flat seats are comfortable and extremely easy to operate - though storage space could be improved. There are many options for lighting from the overhead and personal light sources. Tech junkies have in-set power outlets and USB ports. Flight announcements were kept to a minimum though we found the inclusion of French-language announcements on this route rather odd. There's only one Business Class washroom, just behind the cockpit, and we found it extremely cramped and lacking some essential amenities. The inflight amenity kit is badly in need of an upgrade.
Ditto for the inflight-entertainment system. We appreciated the library of current drama shows, including House of Cards. The interactive inflight map allows wanderers to follow the flight in real time and to zoom into countries of interest. Our only complaint is that subtitles were showing up in German even though we'd chosen English as our main screen language. A major minus is that the cheap, no-name headphones are uncomfortable and are not noise-cancelling.
The departure from LAX was about 45mins late but we had an on-time arrive in Addis. We would have liked to deplane during the one hour stop in Dublin but were told this was not possible. Nonetheless a helpful Ethiopian Airlines ground staff allowed us to use his wifi hotspot during the stop (unfortunately there is no inflight Wifi on Ethiopian flights).
Ethiopian offers four meal services for this journey: two main meals and two snacks. We found the portions to be large - nothing extraordinary but with plenty of greens. The Grilled Beef Fillet with sauce, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables hit the spot with us. Champagne, juices and water were offered before take-off in both LAX and Dublin. We enjoyed an addictive South African red blend as well as a satisfying Ethiopian lager. Our glasses were refilled regularly and with decent portions.
If Ethiopian could do anything to improve the cabin experience for Business Class travellers it would be to better curtain off the cabin from the economy section. We observed during peak periods that the line-up for the lavatories backed up into the Business cabin. And as Addis is its base, given its rapid growth, it needs to work with airport and government authorities to decongest the arrivals area. Premium passengers face a wait of up to 45 minutes to reach immigration and all others much more! (A new terminal is under construction by Chinese contractors and hopefully this will bring some badly-needed relief).
Overall we give Ethiopian a well-deserved 7 out of 10 grade on this journey - with high marks to the ground and inflight staff for courteousness and professionalism. Ethiopian, a member of Star Alliance, is one of the fastest-growing airlines in Africa. It now has four North American destinations and has introduced the state-of-the-art Airbus A350-900XWB, the first airline in Africa to do so. The aircraft operates the daily Addis-London Heathrow route.