Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination

This year, Ethiopian Airlines serves five airports in North America on a passenger basis: Chicago O’Hare, JFK, Newark, Toronto, and Washington Dulles. All but one is a strong Star Alliance hub, crucial for more passengers. Looking back to 2019, we explore the carrier’s #1 North American destination: Dulles. How many passengers were carried, and where exactly did they go?

Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination
The B777, both the -200LR (as shown here) and -300ER, are crucial to Ethiopian Airlines’ Washington Dulles operations. Photo: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia.

Ethiopian Airlines launched Washington Dulles via Rome in 2005 using the B767-300ER. This is because D.C. has the largest Ethiopian population of any metro area in the US. African diaspora is a fundamental target for the carrier.

Dulles was the sole destination until 2012 when it was joined by Toronto, followed by Los Angeles in 2015. Next came Newark in 2016, Chicago in 2018, and both Houston and JFK in 2019. We previously looked at the need for Ethiopian Airlines to stop en route to North America. Not all routes have survived, but one thing is certain. Dulles is by far the largest and most important market.

Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination
Ethiopian launched Dulles in 2005. Photo: Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia.

Dulles had an 84% seat load factor

In 2019, Ethiopian Airlines’ Dulles service had 247,000 round-trip seats, OAG data shows. This was well over twice the volume of the second-largest market, Newark. This was helped by the Washington-area airport being primarily served by higher-gauge B777-300ERs and B777-200LRs rather than B787-8s common at other US airports.

Ethiopian had approximately 208,000 Dulles passengers, according to booking data obtained via OAG Traffic Analyzer. When related to seats, the market had about an 84% seat load factor (SLF). This says little of fares or overall performance, but it is one indication.

The USA’s Department of Transportation’s T-100 data, for international services, shows that Dulles had by far the highest SLF in 2019:

  • Dulles: 84% SLF
  • Houston: 75%
  • Chicago: 75%
  • Newark: 63%
  • JFK: 61% (as it launched that year)
  • Los Angeles: 47% (was cut that year)
Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination
Newark, where this photo was taken, had Ethiopian’s second-highest number of seats in 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

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208,000 Dulles passengers

As Dulles is a Star Alliance hub, where passengers go is even more intriguing than usual. In 2019, Ethiopian’s ~208,000 passengers can be approximately broken down as:

  • ~68,000 flew Dulles-Addis Ababa-Dulles, so were point-to-point only
  • ~57,000 connected over Addis Ababa to/from Dulles
  • ~46,000 flew XYZ over Dulles to Addis Ababa, with United Airlines key here; Seattle-Addis was the biggest origin and destination (O&D), helped by the large Ethiopian population in Seattle
  • ~37,000 ‘bridged’ both Dulles and Addis Ababa, with United key here too; Columbus to Hargeisa, Somaliland, was the largest. Columbus has the second-biggest Somali population in the US
Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination
More people connected from Dulles to Nigeria than any other country. Photo: PlanespotterA320 via Wikimedia.

Nigeria was the top country from Dulles

As you would expect, connections over Addis Ababa are vital to Ethiopian Airlines. It’s no different to Qatar Airways and Doha or Panama City and Copa. While ‘only’ about 27% of Ethiopian’s total Dulles passengers connected over Addis, it rose to nearly half (45%) when bridging passengers are included.

Given such a big detour, it is Perhaps surprising that Dulles-Nigeria was the largest country O&D, helped by five Nigerian cities served by the carrier. The top-10 country markets to/from Dulles were:

  1. Nigeria
  2. Tanzania
  3. Kenya
  4. Ethiopia (not including Addis)
  5. South Africa
  6. Eritrea
  7. Malawi
  8. Congo (DR)
  9. Zimbabwe
  10. Uganda
Dulles Domination: Washington Is Ethiopian’s Top US Destination
Here are Ethiopian’s top-10 O&Ds to/from Dulles in 2019. Some, such as Lagos, require a lot of backtracking. Outbound, a passenger would have routed Lagos-Addis Ababa-Dublin-Dulles. Inbound: Lagos-Addis-Lagos. Image: GCMap.

Nairobi was the #1 destination

Dulles to Nairobi was Ethiopian Airlines’ top O&D, as shown below. However, Dulles-Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, wasn’t far behind on account of the Eritrean diaspora in the D.C. area. After an absence of two decades, Ethiopian Airlines resumed serving the Eritrean capital in 2018.

  1. Dulles over Addis Ababa to Nairobi
  2. Dulles-Asmara
  3. Dulles-Kilimanjaro
  4. Dulles-Entebbe
  5. Dulles-Lagos
  6. Dulles-Lilongwe
  7. Dulles-Lusaka
  8. Dulles-Abuja
  9. Dulles-Harare
  10. Dulles-Kinshasa

Have you flown Ethiopian from Dulles or any other US airport? Let us know in the comments.