Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airline, offering a significant amount of both short haul and long haul capacity. While the Star Alliance carrier is generally pretty well regarded, Ethiopian does have quite the variety of business class seats.
In the near future I’m planning a trip on Ethiopian, so I’ve been researching the variety of business class seats that Ethiopian operates. I wanted to take a closer look at that in this post, for anyone else who might be interested. After all, you’ll want to make sure you’re in a comfortable seat, given that Ethiopian operates some 16+ hour flights to the United States (with a refueling stop in Rome).
While I initially covered this a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to provide an update in light of Ethiopian’s recent Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 orders, plus the carrier’s plans to retrofit existing planes with new cabins.
In this post:
Ethiopian Airlines business class seats by aircraft type
Ethiopian Airlines’ long haul fleet currently consists of 59 wide body aircraft, including Airbus A350s, Boeing 777s, and Boeing 787s. Across those aircraft, the airline has five different kinds of business class seats, so that’s quite the variety (and the airline will soon introduce a sixth).
Let’s take a look at the business class seats that you can expect on Ethiopian, broken down by aircraft type (thanks to this great FlyerTalk wiki for breaking down details by tail number — and in particular, Sean M. has added a lot to that).
Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350 business class seats
Ethiopian Airlines has a fleet of 20 Airbus A350-900 aircraft, which are viewed by many as the best planes in Ethiopian’s fleet. The good news is that all Ethiopian A350 feature flat beds and Wi-Fi. However, there are two different kind of business class seats.
14 of Ethiopian’s A350s feature Collins Aerospace Diamond seats, which are fully flat and in a 2-2-2 configuration (seat map here). This isn’t a particularly spacious product, but at least it’s fully flat. This product uses space very efficiently because the footwell for each seat is located to the side of the seat in front.
Ethiopian Airlines’ six newest Airbus A350s feature Safran Optima seats, which are fully flat and have direct aisle access, in a 1-2-1 configuration (seat map here). This is among Ethiopian’s best business class products, so if you can get on one of these aircraft, you’re in for a treat.
Ethiopian Airlines has an additional 15 A350s on order, including 11 A350-900s and four A350-1000s. The airline hasn’t yet announced which cabins it will install on these jets, though I think it’s likely that the airline might finally go for a bit of consistency, and keep installing the Safran Optima seats.
Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777 business class seats
Ethiopian Airlines has a fleet of 10 Boeing 777s, comprised of six 777-200LRs and four 777-300ERs. These are the most consistent planes in Ethiopian’s fleet, as they all feature the same fully flat beds and Wi-Fi. However, this is otherwise not much to get excited about.
These planes have fully flat Zodiac Aura Lite seats, which are in a 2-3-2 configuration (777-200LR seat map here, 777-300ER seat map here). These are also the only planes in Ethiopian’s fleet to have middle seats in business class. At least you know exactly what to expect when flying Ethiopian’s 777 business class.
Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 business class seats
Ethiopian Airlines has a fleet of 29 Boeing 787s, comprised of 19 787-8s and 10 787-9s. Unfortunately these are the worst planes in Ethiopian’s long haul fleet when it comes to consistency of business class seating and availability of Wi-Fi.
Let’s start with Ethiopian’s Boeing 787-8s. 10 of these feature angled Zodiac Aura Lite seats, which are in a 2-2-2 configuration (seat map here). These are the only Ethiopian long haul jets without fully flat beds. As you can tell based on the name, this is the same seat type you’ll find on 777s, except there’s more pitch on the 777s, so the seats are fully flat. These are the Ethiopian planes you’ll want to avoid if possible.
The other nine 787-8s feature Collins Aerospace Diamond seats, which are fully flat and in a 2-2-2 configuration (seat map here), and they’re the same seats you’ll find on most A350s. This isn’t a particularly spacious product, but at least it’s fully flat.
Now let’s talk about Ethiopian’s Boeing 787-9s. Six of these feature Collins Aerospace Diamond seats, which are in a 2-2-2 configuration (seat map here), just as you’ll find on some A350s and 787-8s. These planes also have Wi-Fi.
Last but not least, the other four Boeing 787-9s feature Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seats, which are fully flat and in a 1-2-1 configuration (seat map here). These planes also have Wi-Fi.
Ethiopian Airlines has an additional 11 Boeing 787s on order, consisting entirely of the 787-9 variant. On top of that, Ethiopian plans to reconfigure 787s with new cabins, starting with the 787-8s that currently feature angled seats.
The airline is partnering with Boeing joint venture partner Adient Aerospace on these cabins. While it hasn’t been formally announced, I think it’s most likely that the airline selects the Adient Ascent product, which features fully flat beds with direct aisle access, and will probably also have doors. This is the same product you’ll find on Qatar Airways’ 787-9s, and on upcoming American Airlines 787-9s and Hawaiian Airlines 787-9s.
The timeline for these retrofits remains to be seen, so I’ll provide an update once we know more.
Best Ethiopian Airlines business class strategy
If you’re thinking of booking Ethiopian Airlines business class, what’s the best strategy to get as good of an experience as possible?
The first thing to understand is that Ethiopian is notorious for aircraft swaps, so you can never really know what you’re going to get when booking in advance. That’s true to some extent between totally different aircraft types (like swapping an A350 for a 787), but it’s particularly true between variants of the same aircraft type (like swapping a 787-8 for a 787-9).
So to manage your expectations with Ethiopian, don’t ever assume that you’ll be guaranteed the aircraft type that you see at the time of booking.
Also note that Ethiopian doesn’t guarantee the new configuration on any particular routes. However, the airline does try to prioritize it on some routes. For example, Ethiopian’s A350s with new business class seats most frequently fly to London and Toronto.
If booking, how would I prioritize Ethiopian aircraft to get the all-around best business class experience?
- The Airbus A350 would probably be my first choice, as you’re guaranteed flat beds and Wi-Fi, and you even have decent odds of getting on a plane with Ethiopian’s new business class
- The Boeing 777 would be my second choice, because the planes have fully flat business class seats and Wi-Fi, and you also know exactly what you’re going to get, so there’s no guessing game
- My third choice would be the Boeing 787-9s, all of which have fully flat beds and Wi-Fi; the only catch is that aircraft swaps between 787-8s and 787-9s are common
- My last choice would be the 787-8s, as most of them have angled seats without Wi-Fi, which is not a great business class experience
To North America, Ethiopian typically flies Airbus A350s to Toronto and Boeing 777s to Washington, while the other routes are typically operated by Boeing 787s.
Of course the above advice could change as Ethiopian starts taking delivery of additional new jets, and starts retrofitting Boeing 787s.
Ethiopian Airlines has quite the varied fleet, as the airline has five different kinds of business class seats on its Airbus A350s, Boeing 777s, and Boeing 787s, with a sixth product coming soon. Amazingly enough, this is already an improvement over Ethiopian’s old fleet, as the airline used to have way more seating variants.
If you’re going to fly Ethiopian in business class, I’d recommend booking the Airbus A350 or Boeing 777, as those planes are guaranteed to have flat beds and Wi-Fi. Meanwhile the Boeing 787s are more of a mixed bag, due to a majority of 787-8s not having flat beds.
What has your experience been with Ethiopian’s long haul business class?