Travellers show confidence in Ethiopian Airlines: tour operators

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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The hotel lobbies in Addis Ababa are bustling with Ethiopian Airlines travellers on transit, almost a week after Sunday’s crash that left 157 people from more than 30 nationalities dead.

The accident appears not to have put off travellers from choosing to fly with the continent’s largest airline by profit and revenue.

Three days after the deadly disaster, Veronica Mwangi flew with the airline from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi to Addis Ababa to attend a forum.

“People close to me were very concerned. They were anxious,” Mwangi, a lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

“There is always fear and worry as to what to expect following such horrific accident. But the reaction by Ethiopian Airlines and the safety measures they put in place reassured me,” she added.

A frequent traveller, Mwangi has been using the airline for the past four years.

“I’m a loyal Ethiopian Airlines traveller. What happened last week has not affected my view of the airline. Its reputation is well known across the world. Their safety and security is very good, as records show. And that is why I will not stop flying with them,” Mwangi said.

Most traveller Al Jazeera spoke with said the action the airline took soon after flight ET 302 came down about 50km outside Addis Ababa six minutes after takeoff, has reassured them.

“I was very happy with the move by Ethiopian Airlines to ground the specific aircraft model, Boeing 737 MAX 8,” Mwangi said.

Hours after the accident the airline grounded four aircraft of the same model as the one that crashed for “safety precaution”.

In Addis Ababa’s Signal area, on the upper floor of a four storey office block, Zablon Beyene, a tour operator of more than 10 years, was busy responding to requests from customers.

When he first saw the news of the crash on television he was worried about the effect it may have on his business.

“Surprisingly we have seen more interest and more bookings since last Sunday. We have not seen a single cancellation. Everyone is talking about Ethiopia and that has led to many people wanting to visit our country,” Zablon, owner of Zab Tours Ethiopia, said.

Many of the new bookings are made by fellow African, according to Zablon.

“What happened is horrific but it seems to have brought people, especially Africans, closer. There is a strong solidarity. This is an African airline and Africans are very proud of it,” Zablon, who employs ten people, adds.

The state-owned carrier owns stakes in other African airlines.

Last year, Ethiopian Airlines acquired a 45 percent stake in Zambia Airways. It also operates and manages Malawi Airlines after signing an agreement in 2013.

The carrier, which was established in 1945 as a joint venture with now-defunct US carrier Trans World Airlines (TWA), is also in the process of creating a new airline in Mozambique that it will fully own.

Ethiopian Airlines is also holding talks with Chad, neighbouring Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea to set up carriers through joint ventures.

According to economists the airline will continue to be leader on the continent despite the fatal crash.

“It is the airline of the African continent. They control the skies and fly to more destinations than anybody else. I don’t think their position is under threat,” Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based economist told Al Jazeera.

“They are an efficient organisation and have kind of a military approach to running an airline which is obviously the right way to go,” Satchu added.

Weak competitors

While its main competitors, Kenya Airways and South Africa Airlines, make losses every year, Ethiopian Airways posts profits year on year.

After years of aggressive expansion it also travels to most destination compared to all its competitors. From its hub in Addis Ababa, the carrier serves 107 international destinations.

Mwangi who is travelling back to her home country of Kenya on Thursday said the decision to continue flying with the airline was simple, and said she wanted others to do the same.

“I would encourage people to use Ethiopian Airlines. They have the best service on the continent and go almost everywhere. They are efficient, too,” she said.