Ethiopian Airlines (inter-Europe)
by Luigi Vallero
Airline: Ethiopian Airlines
Sector: Stockholm-Arlanda (IATA: ARN/ICAO: ESSA), Sweden, to Rome [Roma]-Fiumicino (FCO/LIRF), Italy
Equipment: Boeing 767-300
Flying between the capitals of Sweden and Italy is not as easy and convenient as you might imagine. Alitalia, KLM, Lufthansa, and Swiss all provide scheduled one-stop service on this long inter-European sector, but not on a daily basis, and at relatively inconvenient times.
Another—perhaps surprising—option is to fly nonstop in a little more than three hours with Ethiopian Airlines, which not only offers better times but also the possibility for an Italian traveller to make a (long) day trip.
Ethiopian operates the thrice-weekly fifth freedom service as an intermediate leg of the Addis Ababa to Stockholm route, using Boeing 757s or 767s depending on passenger and cargo demand.
The process of ticketing, a few days before my departure, was an extremely straightforward affair. Ethiopian uses Sabre’s 'Virtually There', and once the courteous telephone agent had my credit card details almost immediately an electronic ticket was delivered to my email inbox.
On the day of departure I checked-in at Arlanda’s Terminal 5 as soon as check-in desks had opened, two and a half hours before the scheduled departure time of 2100.
Having strolled around ARN’s duty free, by 2015 I headed to Gate 17. This being an intercontinental flight, passport control was required before being admitted to the boarding area, where the less than 40 passengers booked on the flight had already gathered.
Travellers were an almost even mix of Africans and Swedes, 50% of them local traffic stopping in Rome, with only 20 going on to Addis and possibly beyond.
Boarding began at 2025 and upon entering I was welcomed by Ethiopian's purser, wearing traditional dress. The smart cabin of the former Hainan Airlines 767-300 (ET-AMF) looked remarkably spotless and clean. Dark blue carpets and leather-covered seats gave a business-like feeling to the interior.
On each seat a pillow and blanket were placed. Seating was comfortable, with an acceptable pitch, but there were no footrests.
Boarding completed, headsets were distributed, immediately followed by a selection of newspapers. Traditional Ethiopian music added an exotic touch. In the economy section there is no individual IFE (in-flight entertainment), which is provided in the form of eight music channels and large overhead monitors. No in-flight magazines were available in the seat pockets, and my request for one to a cabin attendant proved they had not been loaded.
Pushback was at 2104, and we were on our way to the threshold of Runway 19R six minutes later. A quick taxi meant we were airborne by 2117, heading southward under a moonlit sky.
As soon as we had reached cruising altitude, a full feature film started, followed at 2135 by an aperitif service. This consisted of a savoury snack and choice of drink. A very informative captain kept us informed on the flight's progress over southern Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Headwinds of up to 90mph (145kph) were forecast, delaying our arrival in Rome by 15 minutes.
A full dinner service was offered at 2210. It featured a cold pappardelle pasta salad with olives and artichokes, a choice of beef or chicken main dish—I chose the flavourful beef steak with potato rosti and broccoli, cream cheese and crackers, and a delicious orange vanilla cheesecake. Portions were very generous, and a reminder of by-gone catering days for coach flyers. A reasonable French Syrah red wine was offered as well as soft drinks.
Descent into FCO began at 2345, shortly after having left the sights of Florence [Firenze] to the right of the aircraft.
A long approach pattern to avoid a line of thunderstorms added some extra minutes to the leg, and we were finally on the ground at 0008, blocking at the C Terminal at 0014, 19 minutes behind STA. Passengers in transit to Addis were invited to remain onboard, while those leaving were given a warm farewell by the crew.
Although its product is a bit old-fashioned, Ethiopian Airlines provides a very good overall level of service with the bonus of an experience of another continent while remaining in Europe. Combined with attractive fares, this should be reason enough for travellers to pick Ethiopian between the two cities.
(For an intercontinental Ethiopian Coach Flyer report, see the October 2009 issue of Airways.)
ALL PHOTOS BY LUIGI VALLERO
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