THE FLIGHT: I flew business class from Heathrow with Ethiopian Airlines to Malawi, via Addis Ababa, on A350 Airbus. Business Class travellers have access to the Lufthansa lounge in Terminal Two, which offers plenty of space and pre-flight tranquillity along with a tempting snack station, a wholesome hot buffet and wet bar.
PRE-BOARDING: Terminal Two was busy but not crammed on the Saturday afternoon. Masked passengers formed orderly lines and there was a palpable sense of excitement at the prospect of travelling. Maybe in part this was because the UK Government has put several African countries including South Africa, my ultimate destination after Malawi, on its Red List a couple of days earlier. It felt like we were all pulling off a great escape!
THE CHECK-IN: The efficient ground crew team made brisk work of checking in passengers. My negative RT-PCR certificate was cross-referenced with my passport, my boarding pass issued and bag tagged. My pre-travel stress evaporated with the words ‘Have a good flight Mrs Hartridge, fast track through security and you are good to go’.
THE SEAT: I was welcomed onboard with a smile and directed left, into the Business Class cabin, by crew draped in beautiful Habsha, the traditional Ethiopian attire comprising flowing feminine swathes of cotton. I was in seat 3L, which is extremely comfortable with wide arm rests that allowed a deep recline. The wrap-around desk surface space is very generous and I was able to work productively, without feeling in any way cramped. After dinner and a movie I morphed the seat into a comfy lie-flat bed.
THE SERVICE: Onboard service was satisfyingly classic and I opted to start with a hand-poured mimosa. Dinner comprised an antipasto salad starter and a succulent steak cloaked in a grainy mustard and honey dressing, accompanied by a robust Ethiopian Rift Valley cabernet sauvignon.
After forty winks I woke to sunrise peeking through the windows and wafts of strong Ethiopian coffee. I made use of the well-considered travel safely kit: surgical mask, hand-sanitiser and sanitizing wipes, plus personal grooming paraphernalia.
TRANSIT AND CONNECTING FLIGHT: During the short (less than three hours) transit in Addis Ababa I stepped onto the airline’s version of the red carpet and accessed the calm and cool pace of the new Sheba Gold lounge. My rehydration was sorted with an invigorating power shower and ice-cold bottles of water. Refreshed, I boarded the B737-800 for a three-hour regional hop from Addis Ababa to Lilongwe. I was seated in a wide business class seat with ample leg room and another mimosa welcome. Lunch service was a choice of chicken, beef, vegetarian and a traditional Ethiopian platter followed by a dessert trolley with confectionary, cakes, fruit and cheese. Port, wine and bar service was followed with army-strong Ethiopian coffee and liqueurs.
THE VERDICT: 2021 is a banner year for Ethiopian Airlines, which is celebrating 75 years of operations. The airline has been the recipient of multiple Skytrax awards including Best Cabin Crew, Best Business and Best Economy Class in 2021. It serves 127 international destinations and over 60 destinations in Africa with its modern fleet of 131 Aircraft (and with 50 more on order). The crew were lovely and attentive throughout and I can see why Ethiopian Airlines picked up a fourth and perhaps most prestigious award of all this year – for Africa’s Best Airline.
THE DETAILS: Return fares start from around £650 in Economy and £2,100 in Business.
Reviewed by Renette Hartridge, December 2021