I am a big fan of London’s Gatwick airport. It is not the most convenient airport to get to but once there, has a fraction of the stress that the busier Heathrow airport induces. I was unaware that Ethiopian Airlines had launched a new route (ET719) between Gatwick and Addis Ababa on 21 November 2023. Africa’s leading carrier now flies from London’s second biggest airport three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. This new development only came to light when I decided to fly to Côte d’Ivoire to watch the Africa Cup of Nations.
I have been flying Ethiopian Airlines from London Heathrow to Lusaka for the past two years. Read my first review, Ethiopian Airlines is bridging Africa to the world. After accumulating hundreds of thousands of points with Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer programme, I discovered that Star Alliance redemptions were the smartest way to save over £4,000 on business class tickets to Africa. I was assigned London Gatwick - Addis Ababa - Abidjan when I redeemed points for my current trip and took what I got. Here is my review of this service:
Ethiopian Airlines leaves London Gatwick at 10:10 in the morning compared to the 20:15 evening departure from London Heathrow. This has advantages and disadvantages. I had to leave Oxford before 5am to ensure that I was at Gatwick by 8am, which is too early. On the flip side, I do not sleep well on planes and much prefer day flights to overnight flights.
I have now gotten so used to the hectic check-in at Heathrow Terminal 2, that I was mentally unprepared for the tranquillity and calm of Gatwick. Ethiopian Airlines check-in counters are located in Zone C, away from the busier TUI counters and right opposite Emirates, which I flew out of Gatwick several times.
There were only three people in the economy class line and no one in the business class line - two hours before departure. Never the case at Heathrow. The check-in procedures were done in less than five minutes by the pleasant ground staff. I went through the quiet premium lane at security and was airside 10 minutes after entering the airport. Wow!
Ethiopian Airlines premium passengers have access to the Premium Plaza lounge on the fourth floor. The ground staff mistakenly directed me to the Club Rooms on the first floor, which looked very nice. Emirates is the only airline with its own lounge, which I have used before. Premium Plaza is spacious, has a decent bar, and a small, adequate food service. I only stayed long enough to down a hot toddy before noticing that my flight was boarding.
Ethiopian Airlines uses an Airbus A350-900 plane on this route. It is much older than the A350 used on the London Heathrow route and has my least favourite seat configuration 2-2-2. The business class seats 30 passengers and there are 313 seats in economy.
This flight carried four passengers in business and about 90 in economy - far below capacity. The crew pointed out that the flight from Addis Ababa to London Gatwick is usually full but the return flight has consistently operated with fewer passengers. How will this route be profitable?
I have noted before that Ethiopian Airlines’ crew are inconsistent when it comes to how they engage with passengers. They are not particularly friendly like Emirates or attentive like Singapore Airlines. I actually found the Economy crew on this flight friendly and chatted with them as passengers boarded. When I was thirsty and in need of a drink midway through the flight, I went to see them and was sent back to business, which I found rather amusing.
The food on Ethiopian Airlines is usually good and filling. They are also generous with their wide selection of alcoholic drinks.
Unlike my flight in December, which was so balmy that I had to change clothes mid-flight, the flight cold. I was grateful to be wearing winter clothes.
ET719 landed in Addis Ababa before 21:00 local time and my connecting flight to Abidjan was at 10:35 the following morning. Under normal circumstances, Ethiopian Airlines will make arrangements for business class passengers to stay at the Skylight hotel, which is located 5 mins away from the airport. The advantage of this is that you are given a free transit visa and can take advantage of the chance to see some of Addis Ababa.
As a Singapore Airlines passenger, Ethiopian Airlines said they were under no obligation to accommodate me. Singapore Airlines said I was not flying their plane or via their airport so they would not accommodate me either. Thankfully, I was made aware of this dilemma shortly after I booked my flight and made my own arrangements to sleep at the Skylight In-Terminal hotel. I chose the room-only option for $100 for seven to 12 hours. I declined the dinner and breakfast add-ons because I had access to the Sheba lounge.
The hotel is located on the opposite side of the airport to the Sheba Lounge - so I skipped dinner. The in-terminal hotel has one long corridor with king-size bedrooms. The view from the room looked like an unused parts of the terminal. The beds and pillows were comfortable and I slept from 10pm until 6am the following day. The rooms also come with toiletries and a toothbrush but no slippers.
I was so grateful that I slept early. As I tried to force myself to sleep some more until my 9am check-out, the Bole airport announcements commenced at 6.32am and were non-stop. The stress induced by Heathrow pales in comparison to Bole, which is my least favourite airport. If you ever stay at this hotel, ask for the rooms at the opposite end of the entrance.
Would I recommend the Ethiopian Airlines London Gatwick to Addis Ababa route? Only if my destination was Addis Ababa or I was able to leave the airport in transit. Otherwise, there is no real advantage.