For a few days there is an alternative to Austrian Airlines and Ryanair on the Vienna-Copenhagen-Vienna route at least four times a week with Ethiopian Airlines. While the two European providers rely on medium-haul jets, the Ethiopian provider uses Boeing 787 long-haul aircraft. The onboard products differ significantly.
The low-cost airline Ryanair is one of the pioneers in the field of low-cost flights. For many years, customers of this carrier have been used to the fact that the price of the flight does not include anything and that they have to pay extra for checked baggage, snacks and drinks, for example. Over the years, Austrian Airlines has gradually evolved from a full-service carrier to a provider that tends to charge higher ticket prices, but does not offer significantly more service than its low-cost competitors. At least this is the case on the European route network. In contrast to Ryanair, Vienna-Copenhagen-Vienna has a business class, but only free side seats are offered, while Ethiopian Airlines can provide real C-seats.
Comparing the products of the three providers on this route is therefore relatively easy, because Ethiopian Airlines is the only player that also includes checked baggage, snacks and drinks in economy class. Furthermore, free headphones for the on-board entertainment system as well as blankets and cushions are offered on board. These services are independent of whether you are traveling in economy or business class. The first includes two pieces of luggage, each with a maximum of 23 kilograms, and the "C" correspondingly more. Also, the selection of food and beverages in the Business, which is referred to as Cloud Nine, is considerably larger than in the rear of the cabin.
Classic full service vs. European zero service
At least as far as economy class is concerned, passengers on the Copenhagen route can choose between the modular service concepts from Austrian Airlines and Ryanair and the full-service product from Ethiopian Airlines. Due to the flight schedule, day trips are also possible with the African carrier, because you fly from Vienna to Copenhagen in the morning and return in the evening. In terms of price, you can keep up with the competition and undercut them at least in part – taking into account those services for which Austrian Airlines and Ryanair charge extra. Round trips on the fifth freedom route are available from around 90 euros in economy class. Another route that Ethiopian Airlines offers from Vienna within Europe is the Brussels route. These are also served by Boeing 787s.
Of course, you don't get the full service that the Ethiopian carrier offers on long-haul flights on the short fifth-freedom flights within Europe. The flight time is simply too short to be able to serve all the meals that are available between Addis Ababa and Vienna, for example. In economy class, for example, you are handed a sandwich and a drink of your choice. If you are thirsty, reordering is also free. If you get bored otherwise, you can use the on-board entertainment system that is available in every Boeing 787 eco seat. Free headphones in the original packaging are available in the seat pockets for free removal. Blankets and upholstery await passengers when they board their seats. The seat pitch is noticeably larger than that offered by Ryanair and Austrian Airlines. But that's not particularly surprising, because Ethiopian uses long-haul aircraft and does not use the maximum capacity of the Boeing 787. Austrian Airlines also offers eco-travellers more legroom on their long-haul flights than on the short- and medium-haul aircraft.
Economy class Ethiopian seating is 3-3-3. This does not deviate from the usual standard used by most Boeing 787 operators. The seats have fabric upholstery and the design is reminiscent of the national colors of Ethiopia. Incidentally, the uniforms of the cabin crew are also based on the traditional clothing of the African country and therefore stand out positively from those used by competitors.
"Cloud Nine": Good, but exaggerated product description
Ethiopian Airlines business class is of course the high-end product on the Vienna-Copenhagen-Vienna route and on the Brussels route, which Ryanair and Austrian Airlines cannot compete with. The Irish provider operates pure economy flights and therefore has no C on board at all, and Austrian Airlines does not consider it necessary to offer well-paying passengers real business class seats, but leaves it with the free next-door economy seat . This is of course completely different on AUA's long-haul devices, but these are not usually used for Copenhagen or Brussels. With Ethiopian Airlines, Vienna is only a stopover for boarding and disembarking on both routes. Since you come from Ethiopia with a Boeing 787 or fly there again on the way back, you can offer a real business class on the two fifth-freedom routes in the front area of the cabin.
Thus, travelers who want to travel from Vienna to Copenhagen or Brussels can enjoy seats that convert flat into a bed. You can also show off with large individual screens and the usual comfort of C-seats in the Boeing 787 machine type. However, apart from significantly larger screens, the IFES system in business class has nothing more to offer than in economy. The "content" is one-to-one identical and doesn't offer much in direct comparison with providers such as Emirates or Qatar Airways. There are a few films, games and information, but that's about it. So you shouldn't have particularly high expectations of Ethiopian Airlines' IFES in either class.
On a positive note, the carrier keeps blankets and cushions available in business class, which appear to be of a higher quality than those in economy class. Better headphones are also available for well-paying passengers. Incidentally, USB sockets for charging smartphones are available in both travel classes.
The business class seat that Ethiopian Airlines offers is not a huge hit, but a solid product that travelers might already be familiar with from other airlines. At the moment it is the international standard and nothing more and nothing less. The carrier itself is exaggerating, because in the description of the "Cloud Nine" one writes, among other things, that it would be a mixture of business and first class. In terms of the seat used, one is very far removed from first class, which is available, for example, from Emirates and/or Etihad Airways.
Crew service oriented and hardworking as bees
However, the on-board service offered by the crew comes very close to the care in a First, because this is extremely service-oriented, friendly and on the ball. The selection of drinks - both alcoholic and non-alcoholic - is very large, because even on the short Fifth Freedom flights, C-passengers can choose from the entire range that is available on board. With catering, on the other hand, only a small dish is served. In the morning there is breakfast and in the evening a small warm or cold meal. On the test flight you could choose between a large and richly filled roll and a chicken skewer with vegetable side dishes. There was also an alternative for vegetarians.
Even before heading towards the runway, the flight attendants in Business Class hand out a bottle of water. Orange juice and champagne are offered afterwards. The stewardesses then take orders for the food to be served during the flight. We also ask that the first round of drinks be ordered at the same time. This has the advantage that both are then served together, beautifully arranged. You can reorder at any time during the trip, with the crew regularly asking if anything else can be served.
There are no welcome drinks in economy class on Fifth Freedom flights. Passengers who are very thirsty can get free water on request. The actual on-board service then takes place above the clouds and is much smaller than at the front in business class. For example, there are packed sandwiches with drinks of your choice. If you are thirsty, you can order more from the crew at any time and of course at no extra charge.
Conclusion: A welcome alternative to the zero euro service
On the two fifth-freedom routes from Vienna to Brussels and Copenhagen, Ethiopian Airlines offers a product that has almost been forgotten within Europe. If you consider that there are two providers active in economy class in Denmark, for example, who charge extra for drinks and snacks and the check-in of luggage, a full-service alternative that can even be more interesting in price is a welcome one Alternative. Due to the membership in the Star Alliance, the flights of Austrian Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines can be combined with each other if necessary.
The Fifth Freedom flights offer an interesting glimpse of what Ethiopian Airlines can offer on the long haul routes. However, passengers should not be disappointed that due to the short flight duration within Europe, you cannot get the "full program" with several hot meals served during the journey. But that is in the nature of things: the flight time is simply not enough. In both economy and business class, travelers still get a great product with plenty of space and services for which Ryanair and Austrian Airlines would have to pull out their credit cards.
However, there is a striking difference to the two European providers: Austrian Airlines and Ryanair handle their flights within the Schengen region in the Schengen areas of the respective airports. Ethiopian Airlines cannot and must not do this due to the fact that it is a fifth-freedom flight that comes from (or flies to) a non-Schengen region. As a result, you have to go through the official passport control at both the departure and destination points and you should take this into account if you are in a hurry, because especially during the main travel season there can always be waiting times in front of the police checkpoints come. However, this small "limitation" is compensated for by the included services and the positive experience of flying within the EU with a Dreamliner instead of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.