Review: I fly Ethiopian Airlines business class between London and Addis Ababa
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This is our review of Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 (business class), flying between Addis Ababa and London Heathrow.
After trying out Ethiopian Airlines on a fifth freedom route between Manchester and Geneva last year, the team invited me back to try out their full long-haul transit experience to Zanzibar, via Addis Ababa.
I’ll be covering different parts of this great trip during the week. You will get reviews of two of Ethiopian’s transit lounges in Addis, plus a review of the brand new Skylight in-terminal hotel. I will also cover the Marriott hotel I used in Zanzibar.
Ethiopian Airlines is a Star Alliance carrier which means you can earn and spend miles from other Star Alliance airlines such as United, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, ANA, Air Canada etc.
Ethiopian Airlines is now the largest African airline following the collapse of South African Airways’ long-haul operations. It operates a surprisingly extensive network, not just in Africa but also to Asia and Europe, partly through a variety of fifth-freedom routings.
According to the Ethiopian Airlines website, it operates to 68 African cities, almost all of which are sub-Saharan, 26 cities in Europe and the Americas and 29 in the Middle East and Asia. You can see the full network below (click to enlarge):
This year, Ethiopian Airlines is celebrating 50 years of flying to the UK. Ethiopian flies to London Heathrow directly, and operates to Manchester via a stopover in Geneva. From Heathrow, the flights in both directions clock in at around 7:30 hours, with London – Addis operating overnight whilst the return is a day flight.
Checking in at Heathrow Airport
In this review I’ll be reviewing the day flight back as overnight flights rarely feature a full service.
Just to confuse you, the first section – about check-in – is from the outbound flight at Heathrow. Because I was in transit for the return at the airside hotel I did not experience check in at Addis. The details below about the bedding are also from the outbound flight.
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 2 (the Star Alliance terminal) about three hours before departure and was probably one of the first passengers to check in. There were no queues for the economy or business class check in desks.
I walked straight up and was seen immediately by the staff. One oddity about Ethiopian is that they ask you to check in online first. I hadn’t, so one of the staff members popped out an iPad and checked me in, as the desk staff don’t seem to be able to do so on their terminals! Once that was done she could print my boarding passes and check my bag.
Ethiopian lets you use fast track security at Heathrow Terminal 2 if you are flying Business Class. These days, however, I’m not sure how much faster it is, with just two out of three belts in operation. One of the staff did open the door to the ‘normal’ security queue where we were invited to trial the new 3D CT scanners which meant I could leave my liquids and laptops in my bags.
(As an aside, I don’t know why they don’t just trial this exclusively in the fast track section given that most people with fast track will be experienced travellers.)
Once through security I could use any of the Star Alliance lounges in the terminal. Your options include the Lufthansa lounge (review here), Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge (review here), Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge (review here) or the United Club. All of the lounges bar Lufthansa are in the satellite terminal, a 10 minute walk away, from where most of the long-haul flights depart.
Note that not all lounges are open at the same time. The United Club, for example, was closing. I was a bit peckish so I decided to go to the SilverKris lounge which I know has better food than the Maple Leaf lounge, although it was very busy thanks to the two evening Singapore Airlines flights. I had a quick bite before retiring to the Maple Leaf lounge – my favourite in terms of design and calmness (although not for food!).
It seems that Ethiopian Airlines likes to start boarding exceptionally early – over an hour before departure. The flight was fully boarded about 30 minutes before take off, although according to my boarding pass the gate does not close until 15 minutes prior.
Business Class on Ethiopian’s A350s
Ethiopian operates a variety of different business class seats and I was lucky enough to get the new Safran Optima seat introduced in 2020 on its later A350 deliveries.
These seem to used on the longer flights including to Manchester and Heathrow. The older A350s usually operate some high-capacity short haul flights such as my connection to Zanzibar.
This is a staggered product in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access for all:
Thanks to the stagger, even numbered seats are closer to the window whilst odd numbered seats are closer to the aisle.
As it happens, I was on the exact same aircraft, and seat, as my recent review flight from Manchester, 2A:
Most of the seat is in ‘airline grey’ although it does sport a shock of bright red and green, Ethiopian’s signature colours. Whilst it’s not going to win any design awards the Safran Optima is a comfortable seat.
There’s a good sized IFE screen and tray table:
…. plus a large storage cupboard with a mirror and additional handset, with charging ports underneath:
…. and whilst the seat doesn’t have a door it’s still pretty private. Here is what I could see when sitting back – you can’t really see anyone else:
There’s also a small privacy door that slides out about a foot, up to the end of the console table.
You get plenty of legroom, although the seat does feature the standard foot coffin:
I found it quite comfortable to sit on, with the shape of seat and the opening at knee level giving me plenty of wiggle room as a side sleeper:
Unfortunately I have bad news for fans of individual air nozzles, as Ethiopian (much like British Airways) has opted out of installing these:
There are no overhead bins in the central section which creates more space but does mean the lockers get full. This wasn’t a problem on my flight, with about half the cabin occupied.
Waiting at my seat was a small bottle of water, headphones, an amenity kit plus a pillow and blanket:
The amenity kit is a squarish design made from polyester. They come in three colours – or at least I think so, based on the fact that I got a green and a yellow one on my flights. Together with red, these are the colours of the Ethiopian Airlines logo.
The contents are slightly different to the norm. You get a pen, hairbrush, dental kit (with a decent sized toothpaste, for once), eye mask, face mask, socks, lip balm, ear plugs and hand sanitiser. It is pretty packed.
Food and service on Ethiopian Airlines
After getting settled down in my seat the crew came round with a pre-departure drink, either champagne or orange juice. I obviously went for the champagne! Champagne Lombard is served throughout the flight.
The crew also delivered a printed menu:
On the return day flight from Addis Ababa the main meal service was lunch. I was quite relieved by this as, despite departing at 9am, breakfast is never particularly exciting on an aircraft. This was followed by a selection of hot canapes just before landing.
After take off a hot towel was offered and my meal and drinks order taken.
As I noted on my previous Ethiopian flight review from Manchester to Geneva, there is an entertaining pre-recorded message when cruise altitude is reached that announces “you may now turn on your electronic devices, including calculators, CD players and laptop computers.”
Lunch on Ethiopian Airlines – business class
Ethiopian appears to serve a five-course meal as standard. To start, I had a choice between prawn sweet chilli or vegetable spring rolls, which was served with a salad. I went for the former, which was delicious:
You had a course which comprised a choice of Ethiopian national dishes. This was the highlight of my meal – you could choose from five different items or have any combination. Very helpfully, this was served from a trolley so you could see what you were getting before you decided:
Options included Doro Wot, Menchet Abesh, Tibs Firfir, Ater Alecha Wot and Atkilet Wot. I had a bit of everything, including Injera, a pancakey sort of bread. Despite all looking like mush in various shades of brown it was very tasty:
In fact, I enjoyed the local food course far more than my main, which I thought was average. I had grilled chicken from a choice that also included lamb goulash and fish meuniere:
It was fine, but definitely not as good as the Ethiopian dishes.
One thing’s for sure, though: you definitely won’t be hungry. Once you’ve finished your main you also get a choice of dessert, fruit or cheese. This is also brought round on a trolley if you’re on the fence between what you’d like. I went for the black forest cake which was, frankly, a pretty boring traybake:
The dessert on my outbound flight was much better, a sort of deconstructed creme brulee:
Afternoon snack on Ethiopian Airlines – business class
Just before landing a hot snack was offered, with a choice between a selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian canapes. I went for the non-veg, which included BBQ chicken on sesame toast, smoked salmon rosset, BBQ sauce and picked onion and gherkin. It was a bit disappointing to be honest, in both presentation, size and flavour:
In-flight entertainment on Ethiopian Airlines
After dinner I made the most of the in-flight entertainment and decided to watch a film. The selection is fairly good, although the catalogue has fewer recent releases and more films from the past five years or so. There is a surprisingly good selection of Disney and Marvel films.
I did try the headphones provided but wasn’t impressed and switched to my noise-cancelling Sennheisers.
I tried Ethiopian’s in-flight wifi. Three packages were available: 1 hour for $5, 2 hours for $9 and the whole flight for $25. The ‘whole flight’ option is good, because it can also be used for any connecting flights.
As I wanted to get some work done I went for the $25 whole flight option. It was surprisingly good – by far some of the best in-flight wifi I have used. There’s only one restriction – it can only be used on one device at a time, so I found myself swapping from laptop to phone a couple of times.
Having already flown Ethiopian short haul (on a long haul aircraft) I knew what to expect, and I was not disappointed. It does deserve its reputation as a quality airline.
The cabin and seat – at least on the newest A350s – are comfortable and competitive with other global airlines. The cabin crew are friendly and attentive, making sure I was consistently topped up with champagne to the point I had to ask them to stop!
The food offering isn’t quite as good, although still totally acceptable. There is plenty of choice and you won’t be going hungry. I particularly enjoyed the Ethiopian dishes and actually would have preferred more rather than the a la carte main meal.
At the end of the day, Ethiopian Airlines offers excellent connections throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa and is probably one of the easiest ways to travel to less accessible African destinations, such as Zanzibar (as I did), Kilimanjaro etc. I’d definitely recommend it if heading to this part of the world.
Current cash prices start at £2,600 return in business class. As Ethiopian is a Star Alliance carrier it is also possible to book redemptions with United MileagePlus, Lufthansa Miles & More etc. A return flight from London to Addis Ababa in Business Class is 115,500 miles + £273 in taxes with United MileagePlus miles.
You can find out more on the Ethiopian Airlines website here. Thanks to the Ethiopian Airlines team for arranging my trip.
Coming up are reviews of two of Ethiopian’s lounges in Addis, the Skylight in-terminal hotel plus my Zanzibar hotel.
Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.