I’m currently hovering approximately 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean en route to Nairobi, Kenya. My digs are a first class seat Ethiopian Airlines graciously provided as a thanks for past business. My travel companion is Kathryn Kingsbury, my communications assistant. It’s been 25 years since I flew first class (that was an upgrade and not related to business) and it is pretty swanky – right down to the menu. For lunch I started with sesame seared Ahi tuna, followed by a traditional Ethiopian course, and a main course of wild mushroom ravioli with grilled asparagus, roasted peppers, tomato and béchamel sauce. Yum!
Other than the first class food, one might wonder why travel Ethiopian Airlines. There are several considerations:
• Cost: An Ethiopian Airlines coach ticket costs $200-400 less on average than Delta/KLM (its major U.S. competition for flights to East Africa). Business/first class is usually $2,000-4,000 less.
• Arrival time: When arriving to East Africa via Ethiopian, you typically arrive in the early to late afternoon, while Delta/KLM arrives in the evening. Depending on where you’re staying the first night, a KLM arrival usually means about a 10 p.m. check-in. Tomorrow we arrive at 1 p.m. to Nairobi, which gives us a little time to acclimate to the new time zone and recover from the long flight. The downside of departing the U.S. on Ethiopian is that there is just one flight a day at 11:00 a.m. from Washington-Dulles; unless you live in the eastern part of the U.S., you’ll need to arrive the night before and overnight near the airport. This does break up an otherwise long itinerary and also reduces the likelihood that a delay or cancellation in your domestic flight will cause you to miss the international leg.
• Departure time: Ethiopian flights depart East Africa in the late afternoon, whereas KLM flights leave in the late evening. The nice thing about this is you arrive back to the U.S. a little earlier.
• The service: From check-in through the flight itself, we’ve found the personnel to be friendly, attentive and patient. They help make a 13-hour flight a lot more enjoyable.
• Ethiopian is a partner in the Star Alliance, which has 27 affiliated airlines, including United and US Airways. This opens up domestic flight options to connect to Washington-Dulles. The only other departure point in the Northern Hemisphere where Ethiopian also operates out of is Toronto, making its partnership with Air Canada another option for travel.