Go West, Ethiopian
An East African airline is making moves to turn one of Africa’s smallest and least-known countries into a major gateway to West Africa. More than a dozen nations — and a lot of international travelers — could benefit.
When folks ask me where to go for their first taste of Africa, I often recommend West Africa. Not only does it have a bit of everything in terms of natural beauty, vibrant cultures and friendly people, but its geography means you can reach the region on flights of fewer than ten hours.
But if you want to fly from the US to West African destinations, or fly between West African countries, you have limited options. Especially if you want to use African airlines.
How bad can it be? Across Africa, when people want to fly to neighboring countries, they often find it easier to fly to Europe first and then back.
South African Airways and Nigeria’s Arik Air have had this region pretty much to themselves, in competition with European carriers, but their footprint in West Africa doesn’t always allow much flexibility for the traveler.
Now, Ethiopian Airlines, which already flies to more African destinations than any other carrier, is turning Lomé, the capital of Togo, to become its West African hub.
That could make travel within West Africa a lot easier, and make Togo a much bigger destination for international tourists.
(NOTE: Togo isn’t just one of Africa’s smallest nations on a map of the Mother Continent. At just over 6 million, the country’s entire population is roughly equal to that of Rio de Janeiro.)
At the heart of this plan is Ethiopian’s affiliate airline ASKY, based in Togo, and the Boeing 737-800.
The 737-800 is a stretched version of the original 737, which first flew in the late 1960s. You see them just about everywhere. Reliable, cheap to operate, no frills. It’s the Greyhound bus of the airline industry.
And these new -800 models have longer range, pushing 3,100 miles fully loaded.
On this side of the Atlantic, that’s enough to get you from JFK to LAX with fuel to spare. But from Lomé, it puts the whole of West Africa — 14 countries — within easy reach.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian also plans to make Lomé the destination for new international flights from Newark (EWR) and is already flying from there from São Paulo, Brazil.
An Ethiopian Air hub in West Africa should make it easier for people to travel within the region. For international travelers, that makes reaching West Africa faster and likely cheaper.
What makes me think it will be cheaper than flying to West Africa via Europe? Well, Ethiopian already offers round-trip flights from LAX to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for less than $900. On brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, at that.
Add to that to the rest of Ethiopian’s Africa route map, plus the fact that Ethiopian is the only African airline that connect the Mother Continent to both US coasts, and a continent full of great travel destinations comes into sharper focus.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.