Time to talk about a part of the world we don’t get to write about often: Africa! European and Asian airlines handle the lion’s share of the continent’s long-haul air traffic. But recently we’ve seen Africa’s own carriers make impressive strides. Royal Air Maroc is using its Dreamliner fleet to operate long thin routes to multiple continents. Kenya Airways recently inaugurated direct service to New York. South African Airlines may be dealing with financial struggles, but remains a juggernaut of the region.

Ethiopian Boeing 787 Dreamliner (ET-AOQ) taken in July 2012 by Moonm.

Ethiopian Boeing 787 Dreamliner (ET-AOQ) taken in July 2012 by Moonm

But among the large African carriers, arguably none had a year as big last year as Ethiopian Airlines. Its fleet has been growing by leaps and bounds, and includes fresh faces like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350. The airline has been launching new long-haul routes to destinations like Manchester and Chicago, and this just week it announced it’s bumping up frequencies to Washington DC and Chicago and adding service to Houston, though it’s cutting its LAX route. Despite the airline’s growth and transformation, it’s continued to do well in ratings (at least those from sites like Skytrax) and in showcasing the culture and food of its home country.

Read on for an update on Ethiopian Airlines’ major expansion and why the airline is relevant to you, even if you live in the US.

A lot of you — especially our readers based in the Americas — may not have had many chances to fly Ethiopian Airlines. But it’s a major airline worth knowing about, with an extensive domestic, regional, and intercontinental route network. Its primary hub is Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and it operates a number of fifth freedom routes from cities like Hong Kong and Dublin.

Adding to the fun, Ethiopian owns significant stakes in other African carriers like Eritrean Airlines, Malawian Airlines, and Togo’s ASKY Airlines. Some of those airlines were partnerships in which Ethiopian contributed expertise to help African countries get flag carriers off the ground. Considering the Ethiopian Airlines group as a whole, it recently became the largest carrier in Africa, carrying 10 million passengers in a single year for the first time.

Ethiopian is a member of the Star Alliance, and if you book a trip into Africa via another Star Alliance partner, you could easily find yourself on an Ethiopian-operated flight.

United's Star Alliance membership means access to 27 other airlines. - Photo: JL Johnson

Photo: JL Johnson

A Young Fleet Getting Younger

Over the past few years, Ethiopian Airlines has picked up plenty of new planes to support its growth and save on fuel costs. Its fleet includes ultra-modern models like Boeing’s 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliner and Airbus’ A350-900 for long-haul operations. It still has a sizable fleet of 777 aircraft to help with long-haul loads.

An Ethiopian Airlines 787 on a test flight at Paine Field – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

For its shorter routes, Ethiopian recently started taking delivery of Boeing 737 MAX planes to add to its 737NG fleet.

BONUS: Ethiopian Airlines Takes Delivery of Their First Boeing 787 Dreamliner (2012)

New Routes to Europe and the United States

Last year saw plenty of updates to Ethiopian’s long-haul route network.

Earlier in the year, Ethiopian inaugurated service to Chicago O’Hare, with the westbound leg stopping in Dublin but the eastbound leg flying direct to Addis Ababa. In December, the airline launched service to Manchester in the U.K. on the wings of the Dreamliner.

Airline leadership inaugurates Ethiopian’s service to Manchester – Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

BONUS: Ethiopian Airlines Inaugurates Flights Between Los Angeles and Dublin (2015)

This this week, Ethiopian announced some big changes to its US network. Its flight to LAX — which is the airport’s only direct connection to Africa — is being cancelled. But in its place, Ethiopian will begin serving Houston with a 787, becoming Houston’s only direct connection to Africa. Washington DC will go from 7x weekly to 10x weekly flights, and Chicago will go from 3x weekly to 5x weekly. The net result from all the changes is that Ethiopian will serve the same number of US airports as before, but with more total frequencies to the US.

Skytrax Honors

At last year’s Skytrax awards, Ethiopian came away with some nice wins, including a four-star overall rating and the Best in Africa award. There’s always a bit of controversy about Skytrax ratings, and of course any rating is very subjective. The last time we flew Ethiopian ourselves was many years back. Below you can find links to our coverage from those flights.

Flight Review – Ethiopian Airlines Economy Class

Guest Review – Ethiopian Airlines Business Class, Flying on Cloud Nine

Bear in mind that the onboard product has been updated significantly since we wrote those stories. Though the emphasis on showcasing Ethiopian food and culture as part of the onboard experience is still alive and well.

Ethiopian's Cloud Nine (Business Class) cabin on the 787. Image from Ethiopian Airlines.

Ethiopian’s Cloud Nine (Business Class) cabin on the 787 – Image: Ethiopian Airlines

In short, it’s an exciting time for Ethiopian Airlines! It’s been growing like crazy and driving the overall expansion of African commercial aviation. We’d love to hear from those of you who have flown the airline recently — share your thoughts in the comments section below.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.

Ultimate Livery Challenge: The Answers – How Did You Do?
Alfred Assan

Make a round trip from Accra to Toronto. Great airline and excellent service. Minimal transit time. Enjoyed the fun. In all there were four legs. There was only minor issue of malfunctioning taps in one of the legs, otherwise it was an awesome experience.

Loved it. They have hard working and beautiful hostesses and female capitains. You will enjoy the experience.

amit sharma

I have been flying ET with family since 4 years,they have been improving there services which is quite evident each time I fly with them .This time,while going from Abuja Nigeria to New delhi , I tried a longer transit time flight ,for which they made us stay at Addis Ababa in a 3 star hotel with free transit visa and food coupons.I liked the scheme,as I got time to rest as well as see there capital Addis the next morning ,( this was on my own expensws though ) which happens to be the 3 rd highest capitol in the world,enjoyed there local food and went to see “LUCY “,who is the first hominid to walk on earth some 3.2 million years back.They have some exception collection of fossilized beings in there national museum which is really interesting .In the evening I could catch the flight from Addis to delhi ,the process was very smooth .I could see plenty passengers from different countries who had stayed overnight in Addis to catch there connecting flights.Overall it was an experience to remember.
The only thing I dislike about Ethiopian is the way some pilots make the landing which is never smooth and this has been a constant affair each time I travel with them.I think it may be there lack of expertise in flying bigger jets or there hastiness to reach the destination.Whatever may be the reason ,but I am not gonna fly them for next couple of years till they mature on this front.

Carlos Riviere

Your Ethiopian dream airlinervis nothing but a scam: Pilots are under pressure from management to violate CAA rules such as flying time limitations as well as duty time limitations; users like you and other innocent passengers do not know that Ethiopian managers are corrupted like most in Africa, they omit important regulations from their own ECAA, which is subdued by ETH as they both are governmental entities related, I worked over five years in Africa from Angola to South Africa, Lybia and Nigeria, they are ALL the same shit hole countries, Ethiopian is an unsafe airline, I have tonnes of proof from present and former employee’s.

In September, Quartz Africa revealed its annual list of 30 of Africa”s leading innovators  identifying some of the most ambitious and imaginative minds on the continent. The 30 movers and thinkers on the list ranged across fields from the arts and science to technology and entrepreneurship and beyond. But more acknowledgement was in the offing as five African startups were named alongside global brands like Netflix, Nike, Airbnb and Spotify in Time magazine”s  inaugural list of Genius Companies .

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