Review: Ethiopian Airlines Business Class A350-900 (JNB-ADD)

a row of red and grey seats on an airplane

While returning from a recent trip to South Africa, I had the chance to travel aboard Ethiopian Airlines’ A350 in business class from the busiest airport in Africa, Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport, back to Chicago O’Hare International. This review covers the first and shorter leg of that journey, a 5:15 flight from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa. Overall, the flight was good: the outdated 2-2-2 layout was made up for with comfortable seats, good IFE, good food, and friendly, attentive service.

This post was co-authored by David Woldenburg, a friend, fellow points junkie, and head of engineering at my favorite travel rewards card startup, Taekus!

How I booked my Ethiopian Airlines business class ticket

I booked this flight using Avianca’s frequent flyer program, Lifemiles, as part of a JNB-ORD itinerary. The whole itinerary cost 78,000 points and $68.08, though if I had bought this leg separately it would’ve cost me 33,000 points and $28.89.

Lifemiles is among my very favorite frequent flyer programs because of its great redemption rates (just 87,000 miles for a first class Lufthansa ticket!), frequent awards and points sales, and many transfer partners. I transferred American Express Membership Reward points to pay for this trip, but you could use points from any major award program other than Chase. Considering the fact that these programs often run transfer bonuses, you could easily get the points cost of this itinerary 20% lower than I paid.

My ticket details were as follows:

  • Ethiopian Airlines 808
  • Johannesburg (JNB) – Addis Ababa (ADD)
  • Departure: 2:25 PM
  • Arrival: 8:40 PM
  • Flight Time: 5h 15m
  • Business Class, Seat 1A

Shongolo Premium Lounge in Johannesburg

I arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport at around 10 AM after a short flight on the budget airline Safair from Cape Town. I quickly exited the domestic terminal and entered the international terminal, checked in at the Ethiopian Airlines premium check-in desk, and cleared airport security and exit immigration. I then began making my way to the Shongolo lounge, turning left after immigration towards Gates A7-A18. After passing the Air France Lounge, I took the escalator up one floor and turned left into the lounge.

a group of people in a shopping mall

The Shongolo lounge is accessible to Priority Pass member between 6:00 AM and 11 PM daily. It’s definitely one of the better Priority Pass lounges out there: clean, plenty of quiet areas, comfortable seating, and outlets for charging.

a room with chairs and tables

The lounge’s selection of cold and hot foods was impressive, and I especially liked the grab-and-go sandwiches and snacks available for passengers to take on their onward journeys.

shelves of food on shelves
a buffet table with plates of food
a buffet line with food on it

The lounge also served alcohol, free of charge, and had decent espresso drinks.

a man standing behind a counter with food on it

After three productive hours, the lounge became quite busy, so I decided to leave and make my way toward our boarding gate.

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class boarding

Boarding started on schedule, about 40 minutes before departure. After my ticket was scanned, I walked down the transparent jet bridge and got a good glimpse of the A350-900 that would be carrying us about 2,500 miles from South Africa to Ethiopia.

a long hallway with windows

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class cabin and seats

My initial impression of Ethiopian Airlines’ A350 business class cabin was mixed. The first thing I noticed was the color scheme. I understand that red, yellow, and green make up the Ethiopian flag–I actually think the aircraft’s livery featuring the flag looks really good–but decorating the interior in these colors makes the whole thing feel cheap and a bit like flying in a large Winnebago from the late ’90s.

a row of seats on an airplane

What I immediately like about this cabin is its airiness. Partly because there are no overhead compartments through the middle of the cabin and partly because these seats lack the pod-like design of more modern ones, the space felt light-filled and open.

I also really like the seats. This is perhaps my most controversial opinion, because it’s all about privacy in today’s business class cabins, but this 2-2-2 configuration just seems to provide so much more room than the typical 1-2-1 you find in the most modern business class cabins. Look at the size of the foot cubby in the picture below–it’s far larger than almost any I’ve seen flying business in the past five years. Also, notice that you get three windows in the window seat. That’s pretty much unheard of in today’s 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configurations.

a seat and a monitor in an airplane
Obviously, the roominess of these seats comes at a cost–namely, minimal privacy and lack of direct aisle access when sitting in a window seat–but I do think they have a lot going for them.

The seat has 65 inches of pitch and is a fairly standard 22 inches wide. On the right side of seat 1A is a sizable privacy divider that makes seeing your neighbor pretty difficult. There’s also a moveable reading light, as well as a storage area containing headphones, and, on the right armrest, are seat controls. On the left side of the seat are entertainment controls, conveniently placed USB and universal outlet charge points, and a small amount of additional storage space. All this storage in addition to the space under the foot cubby makes the amount of storage offered in Ethiopia’s 787-8 business class seem tiny.

a seat with a pillow and a bag on it

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class amenities

Hiding to the left of my seat when I boarded was Ethiopian Airlines’ bright business class amenity kit, housed in a plastic-wrapped and extremely yellow case. These cases come in–you guessed it–yellow, red, or green, and which color case passengers receive seems pretty much random.

a yellow bag and a bottle of water on a table

Inside the case were a dental kit, comb, hand sanitizer, eye mask, lip balm, socks, earplugs, branded pen, and a face mask. The sheer number of mustard yellow items in here was impressive.

a yellow bag with items in it

Last but not least, a pair of cheap, plastic headphones, was provided. They weren’t noise-canceling and their sound quality was poor.

a plastic bag with a couple of round objects in it

Moments after I sat down, a flight attendant offered me champagne or orange juice. It was early, so I opted for the OJ. I didn’t get a picture of it, but a stewardess also walked down the aisle with a wicker basket of hot towels–a really sweet touch.

a glass of orange juice on a napkin

Ethiopian Airlines A350 entertainment & Wi-Fi

My seat’s IFE screen was big, beautiful, and responsive. It had a great selection of movies and TV shows and was generally one of the better IFEs I’ve used.

a screen on the side of a plane

Onboard wi-fi was offered through Ethiopian’s ShebaSkyConnect service. I purchased the one-hour pass to test it out, but speeds were pretty poor so I shut my laptop soon after connecting. The wi-fi was priced as follows:

a screenshot of a wi-fi package

Ethiopian Airlines business class lunch service

The lunch service on this flight was good. I’m a big fan of Ethiopian food, so I was pretty excited when I saw the menu, but was disappointed to learn that I’d have to choose from the “Incoming” section of the menu, which didn’t offer traditional Ethiopian fare. In the end, I got my Ethiopian food fix at the Ethiopian Airlines Cloud Nine Business Class Lounge in Addis Ababa, so no harm, no foul. If you’re interested in reading about that lounge, I discuss it here.

a book open to a recipe
a menu open to the side
a menu of a restaurant

I started with the herb and cream cheese chicken roulade, which looked horrific but tasted fine, and a salad which was fresh and tasty.

a plate of food on a table

For my main course, I ordered the beef fillet with a wild mushroom sauce which, again, tasted far better than it looked.

a plate of food with a glass of water and a glass of liquid

The dessert, which wasn’t listed on the menu, was some sort of strawberry cake. The cake itself was nice, though the whipped cream and maraschino were pretty ghastly.

a plate of dessert with a cherry on top

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class bed

After lunch, the cabin was dimmed and I decided to lay down for an afternoon nap. Though the seat’s pitch is 65 inches, when fully flat, the bed measures a comfortable 78 inches. The seat itself is well-padded, so the bed was very comfortable–significantly more than those in Ethiopian Airlines’ 787-8 business class. This, in addition to the plush blanket and pillows, helped me sleep soundly for several hours in my sloppily-made bed.

a sleeping bag on a bed

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class lavatories

Before landing, I checked out the lavatories, which were clean and stocked with hand cream but generally pretty ordinarily. There are four lavatories for 30 business class seats, so I never noticed a line to get in.

a sink and soap dispenser in a bathroom

Ethiopian Airlines A350 business class service

From the moment I stepped aboard, the flight attendants made sure I was comfortable and looked after throughout the flight. They were super responsive to passenger requests, friendly, and professional. Their top-notch service was the highlight of the flight.

Here’s a heartwarming example of the excellent staff on this flight. There was a family seated near me in business class, whose antsy toddler was running up and down in the aisle. A flight attendant walked by and stopped in front of the boy, where I expected her to tell him to return to his parents. Instead, she knelt down and began playing peek-a-boo with the boy who started laughing with delight. After a few minutes, she picked him up by the armpits and spun him around to return him to his mom, who was at this point giggling along with her son.


Although its 2-2-2 configuration is outdated, there was lots to like about this flight. My seat’s roominess and padding made up for its lack of privacy and direct aisle access. The food was by and large good and the service offered by our superb flight attendants was consistently excellent. And though I probably wouldn’t fly Ethiopian over the likes of Qatar when I next visit Africa, the product certainly held its own.

This first leg was certainly the more pleasant of my two flights back to Chicago, the second of which you can read about here.

1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *