Ethiopian Airlines, London Gatwick – Johannesburg

A Tuesday morning flight from Gatwick to Joburg via Addis Ababa on Africa’s leading airline with an excellent app, a simple check-in process, generous baggage allowance and warm, welcoming flight attendants.

South Africa is celebrating 30 years of democracy in this month (April) with interest in visiting the Rainbow Nation very high post pandemic.

Demand for airlift to Africa in general has also soared in the past year, so it was welcome news for the trade when Ethiopian Airlines announced it would be offering a new thrice weekly service out of London Gatwick to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia from 21 November 2023, to supplement its daily flights from London Heathrow and five flights per week out of Manchester. Addis Ababa is a vibrant and busy hub thanks to its convenient connectivity to more than 60 African destinations, including Johannesburg and Cape Town – as well as the Far East & Asia.

THE FLIGHT:

I flew in Economy of an Airbus A350-900 on Ethiopian Airlines’ flight ET719 from London Gatwick Airport (LGW) to O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on 21 November 2023. The flight time was 13 hours total with a 3.5 hour layover.

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THE CHECK-IN:

I downloaded their app onto my phone and checked in online 72 hours before travel. Their reservations team emailed me a few reminders in the lead up to my trip and I was given the option of bidding for an upgrade, to reserve extra legroom or to book an empty seat beside me ($90), which I declined.

Ethiopian Airlines’ flights depart from London Gatwick’s North Terminal at 10h10 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. I dropped my bag off three hours ahead of my flight. Having a generous baggage allowance of two bags weighing up to 23kg each meant I could take home some lovely gifts for family and indulge in some shopping on my travels.

The BOARDING:

I had plenty of time to spare so I visited the Plaza Premium Lounge at North Terminal Departures, near my departure gate. Because it was the inaugural Ethiopian flight out of Gatwick, they gave us a bit of a send-off at the gates, doing a raffle for a free flight and a free Upgrade to Business Class, which certainly caused a bit of a buzz in the departure lounge. Their team gave a couple of short speeches, and we all got a delicious slice of celebratory cake and an iced aeroplane biscuit before boarding. We departed at 10h10 in the morning which I really enjoyed as there is no pressure to sleep on a day flight.

Ethiopian send off at Gatwick

THE SEAT:

My window seat (26L) in the Economy cabin was clean and comfortable and I ended up having three seats to myself, so I was able to stretch out. Layout in economy was in a 3-3-3 configuration, a width of 18 inches and a 32-inch pitch, with very reasonable legroom. We were given pillows, blankets and headsets. On the second leg from Addis to Johannesburg I was in 15D on the middle aisle. On my return journey the flights were much busier, and I sat in seats 21A and 18L.

THE SERVICE:

The crew were attentive and friendly. I’m not generally a big fan of eating on flights – but the curry and rice was delicious. Food and drinks were included. The highlight of my journey was the warm African hospitality from start to finish.

The ENTERTAINMENT:

There was a good selection of classic and new movies plus a variety of TV series on the inflight entertainment as well as music, all on demand and in various languages. Screens were in seat, with 12-inch monitors. There was also a USB port available. My screen didn’t work on the return journey, but I took the chance to read a book from cover to cover (a rare treat for me), so it was not a problem. Onboard Wi-Fi was available at an additional charge.

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The Lounge

This was my second time traveling via Bole, and I was pleasantly surprised at all the upgrades since I was last there about a decade ago.

The Sheba Cloud Nine C9 Business Lounge is opposite gate A13. It is absolutely huge so seats a lot of people and they have a hot buffet available until late. I tried out some local delicacies, caught up on my emails and used the facilities. They have a special children’s room which looked handy for families, and you can even take part in a traditional Ethiopian Coffee ceremony as you walk in.

If you are not traveling in Business Class, I’d recommend getting a Priority Pass which will give you access to the Plaza Premium Lounge – and many others around the world. The airport is very busy so finding a space to sit and relax is great. Alternatively, The Gold Lounge is available to Sheba Miles & Star Alliance members.

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THE VERDICT:

Flying with Ethiopian Airlines proved a convenient, comfortable and affordable option. The flying time from Gatwick to Addis (3,651 miles) was seven and a half hours and then it was an additional five and a half hours to Joburg – all in all 13 hours in the seat (a direct flight to Joburg would take 11 hours).

At the time of my trip, they were running a launch special of around £527 including taxes but of course these prices fluctuate with demand. A lovely benefit of travelling with Ethiopian is you get 2 x 23 kgs of luggage as standard! Be sure to sign up to their Sheba loyalty scheme to clock up your air miles.

ethiopianairlines.com