Like the opening scene in the Mel Brooks comedy, High Anxiety, where all the passengers on the airplane have their faces plastered to the windows so they can look at the scene below, I too, kept my eyes outward on my flight on Thursday on Ethiopian Airlines. I was flying from the capital, Addis Ababa to Harare in Zimbabwe. This would be my first time visiting sub Saharan Africa so I was very excited, very eager to get an eyeful ASAP. Unfortunately, the view of Africa from 37,000 feet doesn’t look that much different from the 37,000 foot view over other continents. Still, my Ethiopian experience, started before I boarded the plane in Addis Ababa.
Call me old fashioned, but I love climbing the stairs to get onto the airplane. It evokes the glory days of air travel. I noticed a number of my fellow passengers were in a cheery mood as we walked from the bus across the apron stopping to take photos before boarding the 767. One Zimbabwe-born, American volunteered to take my picture in front of the airport tower.
Ethiopian was founded in 1946. It is about to become part of the Star Alliance, the largest of the three airline alliances that have knit individual carriers into something approximating a global airline. This will add Ethiopia’s 60 destinations to the offerings of the twenty-seven other Star Alliance members but Ethiopian hasn’t gone all uptown. It retains its native charm.
I noticed this starting with the flight attendant who sat next to me for takeoff. She was proud of her country and proud of her airline telling me, unprompted, “You know we have the best pilots here at Ethiopian.”
I’m always happy to know that the pilots are superlative and I’m charmed by the little things like snack crackers shaped like tiny airliners, or the detail with which the flight attendants described the selection of stews they were serving for lunch. The “Taste of Ethiopian” included my choice of chicken, lamb, dried beef, vegetables or lentil ladled on top of the bubbly injera bread rolled up like tiny carpets and placed on my plate.
This was an appetizer that left no room for the entrée, but I did feel the need to wash it all down with Ethiopian coffee.
Shortly, I’ll be landing and I will have a ground’s eye view of sub Saharan Africa. Then, on Sunday I’ll be returning to Addis Ababa for a close-up, behind-the-scenes tour of Ethiopian Airlines as it celebrates its arrival at the Star Alliance. Based on my first impression, the alliance has something to celebrate too, proof it can create something larger than the sum of its parts, and maintain the cultural characteristics that make an airline unique.