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“Disappointing and extremely average experience”
Review of Ethiopian Airlines


Reviewed 18 August 2017

I’m not a fussy traveler (the bulk of my leisure travels consist of backpack and shoestring travel) and I'm aware of the fact that “affordable” often means “basic” and you get what you pay for. With this in mind, I booked a return trip on Ethiopian Airlines in March for travel in July: Johannesburg ORT to Rome FUM. The main selling point was an incredibly low airfare and a number of not-so-bad reviews of the airline. Being the eternal optimist, I reluctantly noted some really negative online reviews and decided not to dismiss an emerging, fast growing “local” (i.e. African – I’m South African) airline before experiencing it for myself. I’m going to summarize my flight experience before making a call on this carrier:

- Two days after I made my booking in March (and 3 months before departure), I over-enthusiastically logged into my booking on the Ethiopian website only to notice that my return flight out of Rome was changed from the Tuesday 12 July to Sunday 10 July with a 23 hour layover in Addis Ababa, without my knowledge. By that time I had already made bookings in Rome and there was no way I could return earlier, but more disturbing was the fact that the changes were made without my consent, and without informing me. A very pricy international call and some hard words to an operator who could hardly speak English rectified the problem, but only after I was told that my original departure date was moved since the flight was “overbooked” (3 months prior to departure!?!). Anyways.

- On the day of departure, check in in Johannesburg literally took 2 hours. Apparently there was a problem on their system, but there was no communication to passengers. Being a bit of an aviation geek I was really disappointed to find out that they had changed the aircraft for this sector from one of the new EA Airbus A350’s to a Boeing 777. Don’t laugh, but this was one of the reasons why I booked this flight – to experience the A350!

- Once airborne and heading to Addis Ababa, the cabin crew literally disappeared for an hour and a half. Literally. Passengers called for water / drinks with no response. After about 90 minutes the in-flight service commenced; the food was reasonable but portions were small and, where other airlines almost force feed you and pest you with more food and drinks, refreshments and meals on Ethiopian were not at all enough (how can you run out of Coke halfway through the service on an international flight?). In-flight entertainment was good with a proper selection of movies, series and audio.

- Then, Bole. Aijajaijajai. I had read some horror stories about Bole international Airport and, having transited through the likes of Lungi International Airport (Sierra Leone), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenia) and Kotoka International Airport in Ghana, I really thought these doomsayers were exaggerating; which they were, and weren’t. Bole is not horrendously terrible. But it’s dirty, chaotic and not at all sufficient for the volumes of passengers who transit through here. Passengers stand, sit and sleep everywhere and toilets are tangibly dirty in the poorly lit, half-dark terminal building. Passing through the security gates took about an hour and a large amount of passengers had already waited at the boarding gate in the lines of different zones when I got there. Boarding time came and went with not a single EA worker in sight. At some point, a few passengers joined us and told us that they were headed to Paris and we were standing at the boarding gates for the Paris flight, even though the notice board displayed our flight number and destination. Next thing, the display changed to the Paris flight number and destination and we had no idea where to go. At the end, all the Rome passengers had to walk from boarding gate to boarding gate looking for our flight. Again no communication. When we finally found the boarding gate to our flight, a very annoyed attendant informed us (we are talking hundreds of passengers) that we were late and the flight was about to close. A rushed and chaotic boarding procedure followed.

- The flight from Addis to Rome was good and I was amazed at the comfort of the newish 787 Dreamliner which carried us to Italy.

- The waiting game started again when I headed back to South Africa after my Italy trip. For some reason, staff at the Ethiopian check-in counters at Rome Fiumicino International airport only arrived at check-in 1 ½ hours before departure. By that time, rows of passengers were trailing across the entire terminal building with some really irritated customers and very unfriendly staff. Check-in was a tedious rush with no time to spare in duty-free as we had to take the hike directly for boarding after check-in. At the boarding gates, again a problem with the Ethiopian system and passenger boarding passes could not be verified – resulting in an excruciatingly slow process of manually checking each passenger against the plane seat plan on the computer. The flight departed an hour late.

- After departure in a remarkably untidy 787, the cabin crew yet again disappeared for close to 2 hours. There were no ear-phones at my seat and about half an hour into the flight I pressed the call button to ask for a pair. Next to me was seated a hardly mobile lady with a sleeping baby and I did not want to trouble her by getting up to fetch earphones. Long story short – after calling the attendants for about 40 minutes (and about an hour and a half into the flight) I squeezed past the lady next to me to find the attendants in the back gallery chatting away while slowly preparing meal service. I asked for a pair of headphones and one attendant pointed to a used pair lying in the isle, saying “sure use that one”. I lost it and demanded a sealed pair. Food was served halfway into the 6 hour flight at about 2am, which is peculiar because most other operators would serve dinner as soon as possible on night flights to enable passengers to get some rest during the bulk of the flight.

- On the return trip, Bole International airport was much of the same, and I spent my entire transit time of 2 and a half hours moving trough the security gates and boarding immediately thereafter. The flight back to Johannesburg was good but I arrived in Johannesburg hungry, tired and frustrated.

And that’s it; some of the above may be nit-picking but that was my Ethiopian Airlines experience. Would I recommend this airline to my friends or family? Probably not. Would I in future fork out the additional USD150 to fly the (mostly Middle Eastern) competition where I know the level and quality of service? Probably...

Thing is…you do not want to arrive at your (in my case holiday) destination tired, stressed and irritated and you do not want to return from your (in my case holiday) trip tired, stressed and irritated. And, even though we all know that cheap flight prices will probably buy you a more basic and less sophisticated flight experience, very few people would actually pay for an UNPLEASANT experience. Unfortunately, that is what a ticket on Ethiopian gets you…your flight turns out to be 24hours of waiting in queues, running around to find boarding gates and having to tolerate unfriendly and rude crew members.

In my opinion, this can be attributed to two things: an incomprehensible ignorance towards client service, on and off the aircraft, and a truly problematic airline transit “hub”. EA will have to carefully strategize and, for the time being perhaps stop buying new aircraft, and rather tear the entire Bole down and start from scratch...and on this; quite a few online reviewers disqualify EA based on their experience of Bole airport and initially I thought this was unfair, since I felt you have to separate the carrier from any airport they service. Not so, unfortunately. If you’re gonna fly EA you’re gonna transit through Addis Ababa, and Bole is sure to ruin your experience of an otherwise OK airline. Apparently, EA has ambitions to become Africa’s largest operator with Addis their hub (much like Emirates and Dubai) but that is an almost laughable prospect if you walk through the dark crowded and dirty Bole terminal building.

To finish off...if you are really cash strapped and you are willing to endure hours of waiting in queues, running around a nightmarish airport in search of boarding gates and someone to assist, and a mediocre flight experience EK is your bet. Otherwise, avoid and pay a bit more, even if it is just for the peace of mind...

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    • Check-in and Boarding (e.g. efficiency, service at gate)
4  Thank nkruger2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 18 August 2017

A very good experience throughout on this morning flight from Stockholm to Oslo. First of all, check-in was fast and efficient, and boarding started on time and was swift. Because the flight originated from Addis Ababa, we had to go through passport control before entering the gate area for our flight, but it wasn't really a hassle, especially as there were only a few people. Our aircraft was a Boeing 787-8 (registration ET-AOQ) with a 3-3-3 configuration in Economy class. The seats, which had nice colors, were comfortable with great legroom, though they were quite worn considering the aircraft was relatively young. Each seat had a power plug as well as a personal IFE-system which was activated despite the short flight, although the touch screen didn't function very well. This wasn't an issue on a 1h long flight, although I think it would be a problem on a long-haul flight. I was surprised to see how empty the flight was; many rows were either empty or had only one or two passengers, so there was lots of space. The inflight service consisted of only beverages (served from a tray), to which I chose fruit juice. It was fine for a 1h long flight, though a small snack would've been appreciated. Nevertheless, service was efficient, and the crew was friendly. We arrived some 15 minutes ahead of schedule; at 08:30 instead of the scheduled 08:45, which was appreciated. We had to go through passport control before entering the baggage claim area. Once again, it wasn't really a problem, and the bags arrived pretty fast. My only real complaint about Ethiopian Airlines, is that the cabin was really dirty, with garbage and used pillows, blankets and headphones everywhere. I totally understand the fact that the aircraft had arrived from a long-haul flight and only had a 1h long turnaround time. Still, a little cleanup would be nice in order to make the cabin look more appealing to the new passengers. I haven't flown with them on a long-haul flight, so I can't really say how they perform on these kinds of flights, but I would definitely recommend them on 5th freedom flights. Even if the flight was full, the 787 would still be significantly more comfortable than the 737s usually used on the Stockholm-Oslo routes (or vice versa).

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Thank chrd00
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 August 2017

Overall experience of Ethiopian Airline was wonderful. Very good gesture of flight attendants and always ready to help. It was a dreamliner so it was all the more very good journey. Food was very nice and suitable for Indian to have :-).

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Thank Zulkernain K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 August 2017

Ethiopian AIrlines is one of the best and most cost effective airline in Africa. I first flew it to Lusaka in 2014 for a conference, then for a family vacation to Los Angeles in 2015 and now for a family vacation to Dubai.

Even though we departed a few minutes late from Lagos we got to Addis Ababa on time to make the connecting flight to Dubai arriving Dubai at the scheduled time. Flight was smooth, service on board was good, but my daughters didn't like the food onboard but they have never been fans of airline food.

The only issue we had on this flight was that our bags were sent on an earlier connecting flight from Addis Ababa to Dubai. AFter waiting at the designated flight carousel in Dubai without seeing any of our bags, we found them laying on the floor down the hall beside the carousel of the earlier flight. No Ethiopian airline staff was on ground to advice us or direct us.

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    • In-flight entertainment (WiFi, TV, films)
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Thank SiddonLook
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 17 August 2017 via mobile

Our flight departed 1 hour delayed without any announcement or information. Staff at the gate answered only boarding will be started in 10 minutes but nothing happen for 1 hour.

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    • Customer service (e.g. attitude, care, helpfulness)
    • Legroom
    • In-flight entertainment (WiFi, TV, films)
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Thank Muchchim
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC