Previously I shared a review of Ethiopian Airline’s Cloud Nine Business class, written by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren for NYCAviation.com. This is his second review, which looks at Ethopian’s economy class. Here is his review in his own words…
WASHINGTON DC: Four flights, forty-four hours of flying, and one day trip to Ethiopian Airlines headquarters in Addis Ababa later, NYCAviation (NYCA) has one good story ready to roll. Over the course of the next month, NYCA will be debuting a three part series focusing on the Ethiopian carrier; their in-flight service, their history, and their future. We hope you’ll join us for the adventure!
The first in the three part series, NYCA reviews the in-flight experience in the economy cabin on board Jo’Burg to Addis and Addis Ababa to Dulles flights. Both flights were inaugurated during the mid to late 1990s as part of an aggressive expansion of their international service surrounding their 50 year anniversary (1996 and 1998, respectively). Ethiopian provided the flights to NYCA at no charge, flying both legs in September 2011.
Part I Jo’Burg to Addis
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 808 Service to Addis Ababa from Johannesburg
Boeing 757-200 ET-AMT or AMU
Dep: 1438/SAST Arr: 2030/EAT
Seat 15A: Economy Class
Having been dropped off from a previous flight in the domestic terminal in Johannesburg, finding the international check in desks was a bit of a chore. Once located, the line had built up to a forty minute wait, despite not having a bag to check.
Once ticketed, customs and security were both very straightforward and easy. The inbound flight from Addis was running late, and I spotted an Ethiopian Boeing 757, not the listed Boeing 767, rolling to a stop on the runway about twenty minutes prior to boarding time. Nevertheless, boarding began only eight minutes late at 1348 local time, and I settled into 15A for the five hour flight north to Addis Ababa. My carry-on has no problem finding a home, and the camera comes out for departure. The 757 being the performer that it is, we rocket nicely out of Johannesburg about 32 minutes behind schedule.
Considering the 757’s are some of the older aircraft in a fleet that is otherwise unusually young, the quality of the cabin is remarkably good. All the economy seats are (p)leather clad and comfortable enough for economy. They recline a workable 32 degrees of pitch and feature a built in remote in the armrest for selections of music or movies. However, it was odd that the armrest did not lie flush with the seat when not reclined. It stuck out a healthy amount, enough so that if you were lucky enough to have a seat vacant next to you (as I did) it becomes hard to stretch out without getting poked by it.
This particular aircraft was not outfitted with personal TV’s but did have the screens that are fixed to the cabin ceiling. The programming began about 45 minutes in with the smaller shows through dinner culminating to the movie about three hours in.
A meal & drink service began about an hour into the flight presenting options of chicken or fish. The meal consisted of chicken breast with a tomato sauce, rice and carrots. A roll with butter, crackers & block of cheddar cheese, salad with Greek dressing, and packaged desert of coconut cheesecake with berry sauce complimented the main dish. Overall it was a serious step up from anything you’d get domestically in the US nowadays, but it was not ultra fantastic either. It was satisfying, filling, warm & good. The meal was followed up by traditional post meal coffee and tea service. Trays were cleared about an hour following dinner, which appeared problematic for many of the other passengers, since most were done within twenty minutes.
While not watching the movie most of the flight was spent sleeping or talking up the staff in the rear galley. Speaking of the staff, there were some noteworthy exchanges. For the first, I attempted to inform a flight attendant, who throughout the whole flight never gave the impression that she was thrilled to be on board, that one of the lavatories had an issue needing attention ’“ I never received a response. On the flip side, I had some questions about how customs and the process in general worked once arriving in Addis. I inquired in the rear galley and all three flight attendants were extremely helpful in answering each and every question in addition to pouring me a few drinks. The one attendant aside, the staff met or exceeded expectations for friendliness and professionalism. I wish I had more pictures from this flight, but unfortunately the vibe was not right for it, so the camera stayed put away through most of it.
Despite the late departure we made up the time in the air and ended up landing ten minutes early; a nice surprise. After waiting for Cloud Nine business class passengers to vacate, we de-boarded via the air stairs and onto large busses that took us the short distance to the terminal.
Part II Addis to Washington Dulles ’“ Via Rome
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 500 Service to Washington Dulles from Addis Ababa via Rome
Boeing 777-200LR ET-ANO
Dep: 2227/EAT Arr: 0300/CEST // Dep: 0801 Arr: 1117
Seat 23A: Economy Class
Arriving at the ticket counter around seven at night after a long day, it was relieving to see a ticket counter dedicated solely to the flight. Check-in was smooth and fast, with customs and security following the pattern. At 2130 the flight begins to board, and twenty minutes later I settle into 23A for seventeen hours aboard the brand-spanking new Boeing 777-200LR (ET-ANO). Despite a scheduled departure of 2205, we did not end up pushing from the gate until 2216, with wheels up for Rome at 2227. Twenty minutes is not the end of the world though, and we predictably made it up en route while trekking over Sudan, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.
Much like the prior flight from Addis to Jo’berg, the first meal service promptly began about an hour in. We were offered choices of chicken, beef, or fish. I chose chicken. It was bathed in a cream sauce along with rice and carrots. A side salad, crackers & cheese, and a roll with butter were also provided. The meal was of average quality and filling. It might have been better – or I might have been a better judge – had I not had a nasty head cold that developed from the day before. As a result, my sense of taste was not in its best form.
While waiting for the dinner tray to be cleared I spent some time playing BlackJack on the 777’s seat back entertainment system. It was clear that Lady Luck was not with me, as I burned through my 1000 in fake money in what may have been a new airline record. Shortly after, while starting a movie, the entertainment system froze and then shut down completely. My seatmate had the same problem, and flagged down a flight attendant who attempted to rectify the problem. About thirty minutes later the system restarts and is fine for the remainder of the flight. Most of the rest of the first leg is spent asleep.
We touched down in Rome almost twenty-five minutes ahead of schedule at 0300. A short taxi later we’re in position on a remote ramp for a refuel. Most of the cabin is asleep, watching a movie or reading a book, and no one seems to notice that the hour scheduled stop has come and gone. About ninety minutes into the stop the pilot announces that we’re still taking on fuel and it’ll be another hour: plus some tires have ’œlow pressure’ and need to be replaced. Frankly this sounds fishy to me, low pressure in the tires does not normally require replacement unless they were totally flat, but maintenance is what it is and at this point complaining is not going to get me off any faster. Another hour later the jack for the tires arrives and it is not large enough. The correct one does not arrive for another ninety minutes or so. By the time the plane has been refueled (twice by the pilot’s record) and fixed up with new tires the stop in Rome lasts just over five hours: No fun.
That being said, the airline and the flight crew did a great job of making an unfortunate situation tolerable. Consider: the plane was kept cool, powered, and the entertainment functional the entire five hours. The crew completed a meal service (I’m told it was breakfast, feeling pretty awful I slept through it), and offered drinks the whole time. And they kept smiling to boot ’“ impressive. We finally set off for Rome four hours behind schedule, with wheels up at 0801 local time.
Cutting to the product itself, the seat-back entertainment is quite nice. The on-demand offerings ranged from TV to games, flight maps to movies. The screen can be operated by touch or by a remote built into the armrest. The seat reclines to 32’ of pitch, and also pushes out to decrease the amount of recline into the person behind you’s space. The plus side is the passenger in front of you takes up less of your space’¦the downside is you reduce your leg room by pushing the seat out. The trade-off seems worthwhile to me.
The airplane being new (the average age of the 777 fleet is under one year), the cabin is predictably in great shape and the newness of the airplane impresses a lot of travelers. The 3-3-3 setup feels reasonably spacious, despite the cabin being full to the brim (287 folks on board).
The remaining nine and some change hours en route from Rome were largely spent sleeping and catching a few movies. Still feeling rather ill, I declined brunch except for a ginger ale, though the food of my seatmate appeared to be similar in nature to the late night dinner we had some twelve hours earlier.
We greased the runway at Dulles at 1117 local time and pulled up to the gate quickly. Deboarding was a bit chaotic, but with a little planning I ended up being first off those annoying Dulles customs shuttles, allowing for a quick sprint through customs and back into the good ole U S of A.
Part III The Bottom Line
Regarding Flight 808 to Addis, it was a slightly above average economy experience. The service and staff were generally friendly and fast, the food was good, and the seat on par for an economy experience. Personal entertainment systems, like a seat back system, would have been a bonus, but the five hour flight is not terribly long: bring a book or an e-reader if you need some help passing time or utilize the in-flight entertainment. When compared against most US domestic economy sections, this flight comes out looking good. With the variance on plane types for the flight, you might even be treated to an oversized Boeing 767.
Moving on to Flight 500, let’s cut right to it: seventeen hours on an aluminum tube in coach is never going to be a picnic no matter the carrier. And even worse when an unexpected delay pushes it to twenty-one straight hours.
Addressing the delay, a five hour ground stop for fueling and tire replacement seemed excessive, but this is also a moment that forces an airline and a crew to show their true colors. In this respect Ethiopian met or exceeded expectations: they kept the plane powered & cool and the PTV’s running, they completed a food service, and they kept drinks available through the entire stopover; with a smile. What could have been a nightmare worth writing home over instead turned into an opportunity to show off the airline and crews ability to manage a stressful situation and make the best out of it.
The vast majority of the time, however, the flight will not experience a similar delay and by and large customers will find an enjoyable economy experience. Friendly service, plentiful & decent hot meals, and a well stocked entertainment system help the scheduled seventeen hour flight go by fast.
Overall, while other reviews online are not especially positive, this traveler had a markedly pleasant experience on both economy flights even with the five hour delay in Rome factored in. When you consider prices that the carrier has recently offering on the flights, it is an option that is hard to pass up. This author feels that most travelers will find themselves pleasantly surprised and that coach travelers can rest assured that they will be kept comfortable and well fed on board Ethiopian economy.