Because they thought Ethiopian was a LCC carrier or because it is an African carrier?
Specifically because it's an Ethiopian carrier - Ethiopia has a strong perception of being a starving country thanks to the whole Bob Geldof thing.
Right, so the carrier can afford a $200m aircraft but can't afford to include a $5 meal as part of the fare? Not discounting the conversation you had with the flight attendant, but "large proportion" may have been an exaggeration.
But I don't think ET's main aim is AUS-Europe traffic, its very much about AUS-Africa traffic. Going via BKK/CAN is a no brainer as they currently capture a large proportion of the Asia-Africa market out of these two ports.
I've actually had the conversation with multiple flight attendants & a corporate travel agent (as well as everyone made stupid jokes about it in the office every time I had to fly them - Have you ever tried Ethiopian food? Neither have they
). For me it's just amusing bordering on annoying, but the perception is there. Not sure if it's a big deal or not, I was just mentioning it as an aside because I don't think it would be a problem to anyone who is specifically travelling to Africa, but to those who might be booking through to Europe and just after the cheapest fare - which I completely agree with you in that I don't think that is the market ET is aiming for - but I don't think the African to Australia market is sizeable enough to warrant a direct flight, I would say there needs to be an intermediate stop.
While ET carries significant traffic between Asia & Africa, for the Australian leg, they have partners in TG and SQ who offer better products, good prices & established brand presence so I see little compelling reason for them to operate the flight on their own metal unless they actually think they can capture a healthy slice of the MEL-Asia market (and hey, the market might be big enough for another player) but they have to compete against Qantas, Jetstar, Thai, Singapore, Scoot etc. Every demographic is covered, so there would be no point-of-difference for ET in my point of view.
Via Seychelles makes more sense to me is all - they'd be exclusive operating a route that could appeal to both low and high-end traffic, still provide the most convenient routing to Africa & have high loads on both the MEL to SEZ and SEZ to ADD flights.
No matter which way they go, I'm sure they'll have done their research and have a solid business case, and I'll be very happy if they announce MEL-BKK-ADD!