Ethiopian Airlines Launching Houston Flights (For Real This Time?!)

Filed Under: Ethiopian

Ethiopian Airlines has today put a new flight to Houston on sale. However, they’re doing this for the third time in the past several weeks, as they ended up pulling the flight the previous two times.

But this time I think it’s actually happening — let me explain why.

Ethiopian Airlines’ US Network Changes

In late January I wrote about some significant changes that Ethiopian Airlines was supposed to make to their US route network. The airline announced that as of summer 2019 they’d discontinue flights to Los Angeles, and would instead add flights to Houston.

The airline has been flying to Los Angeles since summer 2015, and just couldn’t make the flight work. First they operated the route via Dublin, and then recently they switched up the route to instead operate via Lome, Togo, but I guess even that didn’t help much.

Ethiopian Airlines’ Houston Flip-Flopping

Ethiopian Airlines planned to fly to Houston instead of Los Angeles, continuing their trend of primarily operating to North American destinations that are also Star Alliance hubs. Unfortunately this launch hasn’t gone very smoothly:

  • Originally Ethiopian Airlines was supposed to launch 3x weekly flights to Houston as of June 23, 2019
  • The flight went on sale as of early April, though by early May the airline pulled availability, making it seem like they were canceling the route before it even launched
  • Then in mid-August Ethiopian Airlines once again put the flight on sale for travel as of December 15, 2019
  • Then days later they once again pulled inventory

As of today the airline has once again put the flight on sale, and they’ve even posted about it on their social media (which they didn’t in the past — they just quietly put the flights on sale).

Ethiopian Airlines will launch 3x weekly flights between Addis Ababa and Houston as of December 16, 2019. The route will operate via Lome, Togo, using a Boeing 787-8, with the following schedule:

ET518 Addis Ababa to Lome departing 8:30AM arriving 11:20AM
ET518 Lome to Houston departing 12:40PM arriving 8:20PM
ET519 Houston to Lome departing 4:00PM arriving 11:20AM (+1 day)
ET519 Lome to Addis Ababa departing 1:05PM arriving 9:30PM

A flight between Addis Ababa and Lome covers a distance of ~2,600 miles, while a flight between Lome and Houston covers a distance of ~6,600 miles.

This route will once again make Houston an airport with service to six continents (meanwhile Los Angeles lost that title when Ethiopian Airlines cut flights).

This Route Has Horrible Aircraft Utilization

As you can see, this route has terrible aircraft utilization. The 787 will sit on the ground in Houston for about 20 hours with each rotation. But that’s also why I’m confident that they’re serious about the route this time around.

This also sheds some light on why they put the flight on sale and then pulled it several times, as they used radically different schedules each time.

As a point of comparison, here’s what the schedule looked like the last time the route was on sale:

ET518 Addis Ababa to Lome departing 9:30PM arriving 12:05AM (+1 day)
ET518 Lome to Houston departing 1:15AM arriving 8:40AM
ET519 Houston to Lome departing 11:00AM arriving 5:00AM (+1 day)
ET519 Lome to Addis Ababa departing 6:00AM arriving 2:30PM

Based on the schedule it sure seems to me like Ethiopian Airlines’ focus is on connections in West Africa via Lome, as the airline has a partnership with ASKY. In a way that’s surprising, because in the process they’ve also limited connection opportunities in both Houston and Addis Ababa, all while having bad aircraft utilization. I’m sure they did the math on it, though…

Award Availability Wide Open

The route has plenty of award availability, in both economy and business class. So this is a great option for getting between Houston and Africa with miles.

Ethiopian Houston Flight Summary

Ethiopian Airlines has gone back and forth on this route quite a bit, and this is the third time the flight is going on sale. This time they officially announced the route on social media and have also gone with a radically different schedule, so I suspect it will stick.

Their priority here is clearly connection opportunities in West Africa on ASKY, rather than connection opportunities in Houston or Addis Ababa. It sure seems to me like they’re making a gamble here, especially with the plane being on the ground for about 20 hours in Houston with each rotation.

What do you make of Ethiopian Airlines’ new flight to Houston?

  1. These flight timings in LFW are suicidal – it doesn’t feed any of the ASKY banks in Lome and the Houston-Lome O&D is approximately negative three pax per week.

    The flight will need to survive on the back of India and East Africa connections from the afternoon bank in Addis, which is iffy at best. Alternatively, they can un-bank the Lome hub which they just spent 3 months rebanking after the LAX disaster.

    Lunacy – the art of doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Good luck to them.

  2. @Sean M: I’m thinking of stopping over in Addis Ababa for a week or ten days on my way to India this fall. Any advice?

  3. 6 out 33 continents is not bad šŸ˜‰

    Congrats to ET! I flew them the other day, it was quite nice.

  4. @LarryInNYC – 10 days in Addis is probably 8 days too many. You can easily spend 7-10 days around the country though. There is a well established tourist route through places like Lalibela, Gondar, etc… and ET provides convenient domestic flight options as well for the tourists.

  5. Flew them to JFK-LFW last year and it was totally fine. I am curious, and I’m sure @SeanM knows, why do they choose LFW for this stop? Why not Accra, Lagos, Ouagadougou (I really just wanted to type that one out…), etc. Does the new airport have anything to do with it?

  6. @Sean M — sorry, didn’t mean to imply I’d actually be in Addis for more than a night. My request was about seeing as much if the country as possible in a relatively short amount of time.

  7. I was planning on flying to Addis on Ethiopian from LAX, so I was sad when I heard the news that they stopped flying from here. On the other hand, I decided to book a flight on Qatar’s Qsuites to get me there which I’m really excited about. It wont be until May 2020, so I’m waiting ever so patiently until then.

  8. @Peter – don’t get me wrong. Lome would be the right gateway for this flight because of the ASKY hub. However, the timings are all wrong if they want to make the flight work to this hub. It has to run parallel to the Newark flight which has excellent feed. That means horrendous aircraft utility as the tradeoff (think 17 hours overnight in Houston), which ET simply can’t afford right now.

    As a result, they are gambling on an untested concept – viz. the flight being a longhaul feeder to the experimental afternoon bank in Addis and effectively abandoning a strong West African feed in Lome. They may experiment again with a Dash 8 feed from Lagos or Accra in the middle of the night (tried and failed before), but other than that they can’t do much other than rely on the HF feed from Abidjan without completely changing up that hub. The two-way Addis feed meanwhile will be restricted to Hargeisa, Mombasa, Asmara, Entebbe, Djibouti and Nairobi. You can’t build this route based on those markets.

    This WILL fail in its current avatar. No if or but about it. ET is losing its schedule discipline in the quest for higher utility and that is the exact opposite of the principles that has made them so successful over the last decade.

    As for routing this flight instead via Lagos or Accra, I cannot comment publicly. However, I presume the Ouaga suggestion was more for the amusement value of the name than any real commercial justification.

  9. @LarryinNYC, Sean is spot on, 2 days in Addis is plenty but do go to Ethiopia and visit Lalibela, Axum, Harar via Diri Dawa, Gondar… Would add that if you fly to Addis on Ethiopian, they will give you a big discount (about 50% as I recall) on domestic flights. Doesn’t have to be any kind of advance booking, just show your international arrival boarding pass at an Ethiopian ticket office or the airport and you get the discount

  10. While I appreciate the West African hub that Ethiopian has developed in Lome and is developing the partnership with ASKY, in my opinion they need to coordinate better. When I took the flight last year, Ethiopian was late departing Newark (they always seem to be generally late) but that made our arrival into Lome late. About half the plane was deplaning in Lome and connecting to various ASKY departures. Even though all the flights were booked on one ticket, we could not get our boarding pass until we landed in Lome. The ground staff were good in that they met the plane with the printed boarding passes, but due to the delay most passengers only had 30 minutes to make their connecting flight – this meant only 30 minutes to get in line to get your boarding pass, go through transfer security in Lome where ALL liquids were removed, go upstairs and wait for the ASKY flight. And even though passengers made the flight, none of our luggage made it with us – so again if they are going to continue to use ASKY and Lome as a hub, they just need to get better coordination. Also, there is a DRASTIC difference in terms of on board service and quality between Ethiopian and ASKY

  11. @Sean M. I don’t get it why you said the timing is bad because all international flights in Addis takeoff after 2300 and flights deep in the night are normal?!

  12. The abandonment of the unworkable schedule is not a surprise for the various reasons I outlined above. It just ran too far against every core scheduling principle that ET has established over the years.

    I wouldn’t actually be surprised to see them try it again with timings that run parallel to Newark, despite the atrocious utility. Maybe not during the first part of W19, but sometime in early 2020 when they are less constrained by fleet and crewing pressures.

  13. Hello all,

    Do not forget that, if Ethiopian is THE success story on a continent which has very few working airlines, ASKY has become far from what Ethiopian hoped when they launched it.

    The “Africanities” which ended up killing Air Afrique (another relative success at the time thanks to the then UTA) have not ended and, if anything, gotten worse. I mean being held for 3 hours transiting on the same plane from somewhere else in Lome (or was it Cotonou) because some local Minister planning to take the flight was running late, THEN being downgraded to Y on a full B727 (Air Afrique, not Asky) because the Minister had decided that he needed the entire F cabin, some 10 Y passengers being dumped when already on board to make space for the F passengers sent to the back. This is still common in the region. My company’s policy at the time was to do Brazzaville – Abidjan (1500 miles) on UTA via Paris (6800 miles).

    This is by the way not particular to Asky. You ran a story some months ago that on country had voided the traffic rights between 2 places because the airline had downgraded the equipment to a regional jet without Business Class. C’est la vie… but do not be surprised by the consequences.

  14. @0504Traveller: would you have the name & contact info for the ET agent for service in the US? ET failed to delivery my bag to NDJ and has refused any/all commo regarding my lost bag claim. Want to take ET to small claims court. Thanks.

  15. This sounds exactly like Emirates in Panama. Similar to that experience in booking Emirates’ flight, I doubt this will every launch as there clearly isn’t any demand to sustain a route like this

  16. Iā€™m glad dodge a bullet here was going to go jro to ord through Houston Bc of availability but needed up with different routing very glad to hear this

  17. @Pierre – Air Afrique has been gone nearly 20 years. It was a government owned airline that made constant losses. On the other hand ASKY is a private sector airline, run relatively professionally with a significant chunk of management seconded from Ethiopian, and which has made sporadic profits. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges.

    ASKY isn’t anything fancy (I flew them last month on a milk run from Accra to Johannesburg via Lome, Lagos and Libreville and swore I would never subject myself to that again) but it is safe and reliable. The business model is handicapped a little by its location in Togo, where the O&D is infinitesimal relative to the nearby markets of Ghana, Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire – but given those constraints it would be difficult for them to do much better than they have. Genuinely curious as to what you think they could have done better?

  18. Even IF they start the IAH-ADD route ultimately, why would anybody subject themselves to the ADD airport even just for a transfer? Most Americans will have a horrible time there. Unlike DXB, DOH, FRA, LHR or even SAO. There are so many better ways to get to Africa than with Ethiopean

  19. There is something goofy going on here. Is it possible it is all just a glitch? The IAH-ADD flights have all disappeared from the GDS. However, the ADD-IAH ones remain. (For instance, look at Jan 3 ADD-IAH, which is bookable on ET’s own site as well as Priceline, etc). I am booked on the flight that day. If it is canceled, it will be interesting to see how they reaccommodate.

  20. @ Sean M

    That’s an easy one…. On a Q 400 scheduled flight, not replace the Q 400 with a 737 every time a government high ranking member or crony is scheduled to fly, simply because the Q 400 is not “Good enough”, and this even though their Q 400’s have been costly refurbished to include a completely separate forward Business Class, the ONLY bi-class Q400s in the world. Irony is that these planes are leased from ET which operates a large enough fleet (single class) and that when they switch the plane to a 737 (havoc rippling through the fleet scheduling), they try to conceal the reason from ET by invoking “Operational reasons”. Contrary to what you seem to believe, nothing much has changed from the times of RK (even though, yes, it’s been almost 20 years) and ego/status/privileges/entitlement still run high in that part of the world.

  21. @Pierre,

    The airline you’re thinking of is JamboJet (KQ’s low cost subsidiary) that was trying to get an operating license to fly into Bujumbura, Burundi. The license was not granted due to Burundi’s Government (I lived there for several years earlier in the decade) complaining that the lack of J on Jambojet didn’t provide the officials with the prestige and status their positions demand. These are public officials of a country that is a perpetual resident in the bottom 10 of the Human Development Index lists and where hunger and malnutrition remains a major problem for the majority of the populace, so one could ask whether J is really something BU tax payers (such as there are) or international donors should be springing for.

    @Sean M,

    Any thoughts on the impending launch of Air Uganda on Wednesday? I’m really struggling to see a regional need for yet another government owned airline in the EAC skies.

  22. @Pierre – ET operates plenty of dual class Dash 8s themselves. As do their subsidiaries in Mozambique and Malawi, in addition to ASKY.

    Honestly, I can’t argue this much more here because of certain conflicts of interest with my day job. However, suffice to say that in my fairly extensive experience of dealing with both state-owned and private sector carriers in West Africa, there is no comparison on either strategic or operational level between Air Afrique and the other “national” behemoths on one hand, and ASKY in particular on the other.

  23. @John – The “need” is rarely a driving factor in the case of “national airlines” or indeed for any kind of vanity project. Tanzania expanded their national airline, so how can Uganda not have one??? Notwithstanding the fact that the last one (Air Uganda) was shut down to save political skins at UCAA rather than for any insurmountable operational or commercial reason.

  24. @ Sean M.

    It’s rather to bad Air Tanzania now seems to have expensive dreams of glory. I travel to a couple of smaller cities in TZ on occasion and they were great at undercutting Auric on a few routes (Iringa springs to mine). The way the Government shived Fastjet on the Kigoma route and then nationally was pretty disgraceful to the point where I would actively avoid handing money to them in the future unless an absolute need arose. But I suppose that is Magfuli’s Tanzania now.

    One thing I’ve always been a curious about and whether you know anymore is whether Rwandair’s knock on effects (always cited when someone gets actual evidence about how loss making the airline is) actually are a net economic benefit to the country? As much as I’m blase on KQ and sort of locked into them as my regional airline of “choice”, I feel like at least there’s some accountability to market forces, at least before nationalization kicks in, which Rwandair seem to wholly lack.

  25. @John – Rwandair provides the bulk of the connectivity to the country. There wouldn’t be non-stop flights to Kigali from London or Johannesburg or Mumbai or Dubai if it wasn’t for Rwandair’s existence. Does that warrant the EUR 100m+ subsidy the airline received in the last financial year? Well, thats something for the Rwandan taxpayer to be the judge of, but there is a case to be made.

    The situation in Uganda, and definitely so in Tanzania, is different. Both have reasonably good connectivity to the outside world even without a national airline. They also have regimes where dissent is not encouraged, so sycophants seeking patronage appointments can easily build up a dodgy business case for a state owned airline.

    Finally, Fastjet is not a victim of anything other than their own hubris and naivete. Their model was flawed and arguably never intended to succeed.

  26. @Lucky – This is the only schedule that could make the flight work. The Houston side connectivity is poor, but this feeds to/from the overnight bank at Addis which has a growing network to East Africa and India. Lome connectivity is excellent as it parallels the Newark flight.

    It’s not perfect, but it gives them a chance. The other schedule drafts didn’t even do that.

  27. ET’s aicraft utilisation esp on European routes is as horrible as well but makes for good connections. All flights arrive in Europe early in the morning, spend the whole day on the ground and return to ADD at night. This is for the same reasons EU airlines spend the whole day on the ground in South Africa – to allow for maximum connections at their respective hubs.

  28. Where are you seeing this schedule? In June of 2020, I see ET 518 departing ADD at 8:30 AM and arriving Houston at 9:20 PM

  29. @Sean M

    I am also suspecting that by sitting the plane on ground at IAH for 20hrs, ET could easily make the same group of crew do turnaround on the second day (which is common for many African and South Asian airlines to do), saving the cost significantly by not having 2 sets of crew for IAH.

  30. The flight into Houston arrives so late it limits the amount of connections with United. Maybe a Las Vegas or LAX flight, but that’s about it. I give it 6 months before it’s dead.

  31. A shame about Ethiopian pulling out of LAX. These days, if I want to fly from ADD to LAX I have to transit IAD and get on a dirty United B737-900 codeshare flight.

    What a come down from what Iā€™m sure is top notch cabin service on Ethiopian. Anything to not have to fly with the burned out grandmas, or the young and pretty but indifferent millenials, that crew the United flights.

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