A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained

Ethiopian Airlines has five passenger routes to North America this year, all operating via Dublin or Lome outbound, with the B787-8 the most-used aircraft. The airline was the third-largest between North America and Africa in 2019, with some 595,000 passengers, behind Delta Air Lines and Royal Air Maroc. Now, in 2021, it has the highest capacity planned to date.

A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained
Ethiopian Airlines serves five US and Canada airports this year, down from seven in 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

Ethiopian Airlines has five routes to North America this year, involving four US and one Canadian airport, with to Star Alliance hubs for important feed. Outbound from Addis Ababa, they route as follows:

  1. Addis Ababa-Dublin-Toronto
  2. Addis Ababa-Dublin-Chicago O’Hare
  3. Addis Ababa-Dublin-Washington Dulles
  4. Addis Ababa-Lome-New York JFK (via Abidjan in 2019 and part of 2020)
  5. Addis Ababa-Lome-Newark (via Abidjan in 2019 and part of 2020)

Inbound to Addis, it’s different. Toronto, Chicago, and Washington are all non-stop, as we see below, while JFK and Newark route via Lome in both directions.

While aircraft varies, Washington is mainly by the B777-300ER, owing to the large concentration of Ethiopian Americans around D.C., while it’s the A350-900 for Toronto. Meanwhile, Chicago, JFK, and Newark primarily use the carrier’s smallest widebody: the B787-8.

A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained
All routes stop westbound, while only JFK and Newark stop en route eastbound. Image: GCMap

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Why via Dublin?

Ethiopian Airlines’ outbound services need to stop en route to North America to refuel. This is because of Addis Ababa’s high elevation – the airport is at 7,657 feet and more than a mile high – which limits aircraft performance on takeoff. The problem doesn’t exist into Addis, so non-stop and more cost-effective and competitive non-stop services are operated.

They began to operate via Dublin in 2015. Before that, they stopped at Rome Fiumicino, helped by Italian diaspora from historic Italian East Africa.

A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained
The Boeing 787-8 is the carrier’s main aircraft to North America, followed by the B777-300ER. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Dublin timings

The Star Alliance airline’s departures to Chicago, Toronto, and Dulles via Dublin all leave Addis late at night. This is so that they’re fed by flights from all across Africa, providing essential passenger volume. In March, Simple Flying examined the success of Ethiopian Airlines, which is Africa’s largest airline and twice the size of number-two.

On a typical day this summer, these three routes depart Addis as follows:

  1. Chicago: 22:40, arriving Dublin 05:00, leaving 06:00, arriving 08:00
  2. Washington: 22:40, arriving Dublin 05:00, leaving 05:45, arriving Dulles at 08:40
  3. Toronto: 22:50, 05:10, 05:55, and arriving Toronto at 08:10

They all arrive back in Addis on day three between 07:10 and 07:40, so feeding Africa-wide departures.

A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained
Chicago, Toronto, and Washington are timed to be fed by the largest number of destinations. JFK and Newark, meanwhile, depart during the morning and are fed by a smaller selection. Photo: Getty Images.

No more Los Angeles or Houston

Ethiopian Airlines has grown strongly to North America over the years, as shown below. It had just one destination in 2011, Dulles, with Toronto coming in 2012 and Los Angeles in 2015. Next came Newark in 2016, Chicago in 2018, and both Houston and JFK in 2019.

A Stop En-Route: Ethiopian Airlines’ North America Services Explained
More capacity to JFK and Chicago explains why 2021 seats are up despite the number of destinations reducing. JFK was only added in 2019. Note: airports relate to passenger service only. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Los Angeles, which was operated virtually exclusively by the B787-8, was served via Dublin in both directions from its launch until 2018. It then changed to operating via Lome, Togo, until the routing ended in February 2019. This alternation meant its schedule changed to a daytime service to the US, losing large amounts of two-way Africa connections.

Houston, another Star hub, began in December 2019. It operated via Lome in both directions using B787-8s, but it ended in May 2020.

Have you flown Ethiopian Airlines across the Atlantic? Comment below!