Tried & Tested

Ethiopian Airlines A350XWB business class

15 Aug 2016 by Tom Otley
Ethiopian-airlines-a350-ext

Background

Ethiopian has a modern fleet including the B787, B777-300ER, B777-200LR, B777-200 Freighter, and the Bombardier Q-400, with an average fleet age of five years.

It flies to 92 international destinations across five continents and has 14 A350 aircraft on order of which the first is now on the London to Addis Ababa route. It is a member of Star Alliance.

The A350XWB has an airframe made of advanced materials combining composites (53%), titanium and modern aluminium alloys. The aircraft is more fuel-efficient and also has passenger benefits such as good cabin air quality (air exchange every two to three minutes, advanced air conditioning technology and control of humidity levels, as well as an advanced flight control system which constantly adapts to minimise gust induced wing loading.

First impressions

I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 2 at 1815 for my 2100 departure on ET701 Ethiopian Airlines departure to Addis Ababa, a flight of six hours and 50 minutes.

There was no queue at the business class check in which is in Zone D, behind the main rank of desks. I had no checked baggage, so checked in, received my boarding pass and an invitation to the business class lounge, which I was told was the United Lounge, and then using the fast track facility was quickly through security and airside.

The lounge

The United lounge is excellent, and was reviewed recently by Business Traveller.

Boarding

There are no calls for boarding from the Star Alliance lounges, though there seem to be reminders when passengers forget to board, or even leave a phone charging unattended. We boarded at Gate 44 where there was no queue, the economy passengers already having boarded.

Ethiopian-Airlines-A350-Business class

The seat

Ethiopian Airlines’ first A350 XWB (named “Simien Mountains”) has 313 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration in economy with a 32-inch seat pitch and an 18-inch width.

The IFE system has a 12-inch screen in economy class and no bulky under-seat control boxes to block legroom. The aircraft’s 221-inch fuselage cross-section from sidewall to sidewall is wider than Boeing’s B787 and is the “extra” that makes the difference – at least in terms of marketing (hence the A350XWB), allowing for a standard 18-inch wide seat.

In business class, which is called ‘Cloud 9’, there are 30 business class seats (BCE diamond seats) which convert to a 78” fully lie-flat bed in a 2-2-2 configuration.  The seats are in a deep red.

I was in seat 1J, an aisle seat in the front row. At the seat was a pair of noise cancelling headphones and a yellow amenity bag with various toiletry items including toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, pen, earplugs, eye mask and lip salve. We were offered a choice of water, orange or Champagne (Duchene).

The business class seat has power (UK, EU and US plug), though this did not work at first, but once I had asked the flight attendants it was turned on. There is also USB charging by the armrest, and a handset for controlling the IFE screen. There is a small adjustable reading lamp (also good for working) and a series of pre-set options to which you can set your seat from relaxing to take off and landing or fully flat.

There is no wifi, but I was told that this is planned, though no reason was given for it not being installed for this first delivery.

The table comes out of the centre arm rest and is a good size and easily strong enough to work on a laptop or dine with comfort. The seat extends into a fully flatbed using the small footstool fixed into the seat in front under the IFE screen.

Best seat

The business class cabin is in five rows of six seats. It’s best to avoid row 1 and 5 because of noise from the galleys, although some of this might have been because the flight attendants were still getting used to the new galley of a new aircraft.

If you are in a window seat you will have to step over the person on the aisle The centre seats have no overhead compartments, so you have plenty of headroom. If you want to sleep and be undisturbed on a night flight (in which case I’d choose a window seat), I’d go for a centre seat with direct access to the aisle and no one stepping over you.

The flight

We pushed back on time, but then queued for our place at Heathrow and took off at 2140. The captain came on with a very loud announcement in two languages around 2215 but after that the cabin was quiet. He warned of some bumps and an arrival of an 0625 local time, slightly ahead of schedule, but as it happened the flight was very smooth.

Food and drink

Menus weren’t given out until 2230 but there were no details of the drinks on offer, which seemed a shame since there was a choice of both white and red wine, and certainly for the white wine there was an Ethiopian one from the Rift Valley. Red wines were from Spain and South Africa as far as I could tell.

Dinner

  • Fresh seasonal salad
  • Chicken Caesar salad

Main

  • Pressed short rib of beef with braised liquor, pickled red cabbage, sugar snap peas and dauphinoise salad
  • Fish pie with a mashed potato, fennel seed and parmesan topping
  • Pan fried gnocchi with green beans, roasted butternut squash and cherry tomato
  • Roast red pepper with classic ratatouille, served with fragrant bulgur wheat and broccoli

Dessert

Lemon meringue, choc and raspberry Mogador, fruit tart

  • Assorted fruit
  • Assorted cheese

I had the starter but by then it was nearly 0100 Ethiopian time (2300 UK time) so I reclined my seat and slept for about four hours. The seat goes fully flat, and Ethiopian has now also retrofitted this fully flat seat on its B777 and B787 Dreamliner aircraft. I was told it is retiring its B757 and B767 aircraft this year (these have angled lie flat seats in business class).

The seat was spacious, though a regular on the flight said that he thought the seat was thinner than the one on the B787.

Shortly after I woke breakfast was served with was a choice of a main course along with fruit and cereals

  • Baked eggs with mushrooms
  • Belgian waffles with mixed berry marmalade

I watched the IFE as we came into land – there’s a good 3D map so you can watch your progress on the journey.

Arrival

We landed on time, and were disembarked down some stairs onto a bus. We had no luggage, so after completing forms for a visa on arrival we passed through and went to find our bus.

Verdict

It’s good that Ethiopian is continuing with its new deliveries, and for long haul having the new A350 on this service is a real boost. Service was friendly, and I look forward to making more of the food and drink on board on the day flight back.

It was very enjoyable. You can read the review by clicking the below

Ethiopian Airlines A350XWB Business Class

 

ethiopianairlines.com

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