And the best airline is… Ethiopian?

Ethiopian_Airlines_Boeing_787-8_ET-AOS_FRA_2012-10-28There are few airline success stories from the continent of Africa. The wreckage of national carrier after carrier is strewn across the landscape. For example, Nigeria where I lived, has had a revolving door of carriers. South African Airways, once the strongest African carrier is bleeding cash as it limps along with an ageing fleet. Kenya Airlines announced a massive deficit and is facing an uncertain future.

I have been following closely 70 year old Ethiopian Airlines. I noted their joining of the Star Alliance in 2011 and their status as one the 787 launch customers in 2013.

The airline has been recognised as being one of the most reliable, safe and profitable airlines in Africa despite going through war, hijackings and droughts. They have been heavily expanding into the Asian market, hiring Chinese nationals as cabin crew. 

Strategic plans are normally dull affairs but Ethiopian’s is significant in that they aim to become the single largest African airline by 2025 with:

  • 100 aircraft
  • $US10 billion in annual revenue
  • a four star Skytrax ranking (it is currently a three star carrier).

Ethiopian currently sits in third place in Africa by passenger numbers ferrying  over six million passengers last year to over 110  destinations. Number one spots currently sits with Star Alliance partner Egyptair who carried almost 12 million passengers. At second place is fellow Star Alliance partner South African Airways with just over nine million.

images.duckduckgo.comThis week, CAPA (the Centre for Aviation) gave Ethiopian a huge vote of confidence when they named them Airline of the Year for their leadership in the African market. The eight judges noted the airline’s growth, consistent profitability and stability.

Seems to me, they just need to work on its product consistency and get that customer rating up. Skytrax Passenger reviews currently rate the airline at 5 out of ten and have some very critical comments about luggage, entertainment, customer service and aeroplane age.

I have not yet flown Ethiopian! I aim to rectify this in 2016. Have you flown them? What did you think?

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  1. I have flown Ethiopian many times and they do well. They are very close to supplanting SAA as number one in my mind. All three top airlines are Star Alliance (Egypt is too) which is why Star rules for inter-Africa travel.

    For Ethiopian to reach top status, they must upgrade their hub airport. Addis Ababa is a bit chaotic, the lounges are sub standard, and you cannot buy a bottle of water with a credit card (this may have changed).

    Star redemptions on Ethiopian inter Africa are a sweet spot. 35k for some tickets which can exceed $1000. Although United silently pulled them from online booking recently and plays dumb when asked, they can be booked via phone.

    As for onboard product, safety, and general reliability I have been pleased. I still choose other Star carriers on long haul flights, but the gap is closing.

  2. Recently flew them to get to Johannesburg in biz class, and it was a great experience. They put flat beds in their 777s and it made the difference. Took SAA on the way back, and Ethiopian was far superior.

  3. a pretty decent airline and a notch above domestic US carriers in Y for 4-6hr flights. Their limitation is the upfront experience, no flat beds and sometimes 7-across in Biz, and their hub airport is atrocious. The economy experience is too much of a glorified Greyhound experience, much like US domestic flying. When you put that together its why I prefer SAA with all its problems whenever there is a choice.

    Like most other African service businesses, the challenge is in the people serving and the fact they are not sufficiently empowered and there is not enough embarassing of technology. Until liberal aviation policy like SE Asia is adopted, even the best in Africa will be about choosing the least bad. Ethiopian has an advantage of decent location for a hub over SAA, better management, and a growing economy, they just need to up their game a bit and get a new terminal.

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