Sunday, April 8, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Airlines and Airports

Taken in CAI: "The people of Egypt are the greatest people on earth; and they deserve the Nobel Prize for Peace." The irony.
What happens when an Egyptian loses it on a flight bound to Cairo?

It’s been awhile since the last entry, but after 1.5 years, I went back to the US. Upon my return on an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai (DBX) to Cairo (CAI), I was jolted awake by what could be perceived as a mad man shouting at the top of his lungs. Considering the fact that I’d hardly slept on my 16-hour leg because I was chattering away with the person next to me, I would like to think I was pretty dead to the world on the final stint of my flight itinerary.

So I woke up discombobulated to see a man two rows over, two rows back standing in his seat yelling all sorts of profanities in Arabic. I’m unsure how long this had been going on, but if I woke up with my iPod playing at top volume – it must have been pretty serious. Another American near my row called a flight attendant over saying, “Are you going to get someone to take care of this?”

Then three Emiratis (the equivalent to air marshals) came from first class rubbing their eyes since obviously they’d also been asleep. They listen to the man who continues to yell toward the back bathroom and then look at one another and instantly giggle. Oh how different this is compared to what would have happened on a US flight (or any Western flight for that matter like KLM, Air France, Delta, etc). The flight attendants remained calm although you could tell a couple were frazzled and after about 10 more minutes, the man was placed in a holding area where you could still hear screams periodically.

When we landed, police circled our aircraft and all the passengers had to wait until the man was removed and detained.  Apparently the man, under the influence of some substance (which another Egyptian said was alcohol, but I don’t believe) and began hitting other passengers near him. An Egyptian passenger told me while waiting in line at customs that, “This is exactly why I don’t believe alcohol should be served on the aircraft.” I said, “We had only been in the air for 30 minutes and no drinks had been handed out by that time. Furthermore, if you don’t want alcohol served on your aircraft, might I suggest you take Egypt Air.”

So excited to go home and see my family, I took pics throughout the flight :)
So that leads me to giving a couple of suggestions regarding airlines and airports. First of all, the worst airline I’ve ever taken would have to be Egypt Air. True there’s no alcohol on board, but that doesn’t bother me as I rarely drink when traveling. The problem with Egypt Air is as such:

  • Unless you book through Expedia, the airline does not allow you to book via its website.
  • If in Egypt, you must go to an Egypt Air office (in Cairo, it’s located in Nasr City), get a number, wait in line and go through an enormously lengthy battle just to secure a ticket. It’s like when a foreigner asks for directions from a local: right, left, second left. When an Egyptian or just an Arabic speaker asks another Egyptian for directions, it takes 20 minutes. I mean, are they describing the bowabs and shrubs in front of each turn? Same thing at Egypt Air offices – why it takes 45+ minutes once speaking to a representative to actually book your flight, I’ll never know.
  • The food is wretched and you can go ahead and anticipate tummy issues. Can someone please let Egypt Air know that there are other breakfast items that could possibly be included rather than some old egg with a dried out beef frank that seems like it’s been in circulation since Mohamed’s days on earth?
  • Customer service is horrendous. You better hope that you don’t get dehydrated while up in the air because that call button is apparently just for decoration – no member of the flight crew will ever attend to your needs. Oh and good luck finding them.
  • I am a card holder for the airline, but it took me two years to get my official card because of office error on the Egypt Air’s part. Even though I have my physical card, it’s amazing how miles are never placed on my account and I never receive any kickbacks for how often I’ve flown the airline.
One positive note, however, is the luggage. Even if you’re overweight slightly, just flash a smile to the man and sweet talk him – voila! The flipside to that is how many carry-ons other passengers may bring which ultimately screw over your overhead space. Oh and there’s always a funny story with what Egyptians bring back to the motherland. A friend once told me he saw another Egyptian bringing a car motor back – lol. I’ve seen mattresses personally and the list could go on.

Delta is also bad (and coincidentally was previously Egypt Air’s domestic partner in the US), but since it is no longer flying in Egypt – no need to detail its negative attributes.

Flying to other third world countries, you have to know that you’re not going to have the best carrier; however, I didn’t mind Ethiopian Air. I thought the service was good and again, I was flying to another third world country – I can’t expect optimal luxury.

I think KLM and Air France are just okay. It depends on the airports really and with KLM, if you have a long layover in Amsterdam, the airport is easy to navigate, full of storage lockers and easy access to the train taking you into the heart of the city. I am not a fan of France’s Charles De Gaulle airport, but I think that it’s because I was in the new extension which didn’t offer a lot.

Now onto my favorites:

Turkish Airlines:
  • Good service
  • Decent Food
  • Airport can be boring with a 10 hour layover, but there’s an outside smoke room and I always love the people I meet in airports. In fact, I still email with someone who had a slightly longer layover than mine. It was fun swapping stories and hearing/seeing pictures from Iran.

And my top favorite:

Emirates Airlines:
  • Wonderful customer service
  • Excellent food selection with three choices per meal
  • Various movies/tv shows in multiple languages offered
  • In-flight crew working around the clock to ensure a pleasant journey
*Side Note – DBX has a new Winston smoking room which has great filtration and lovely lounge seating (much better than the one in Abu Dhabi which can make a female smoker feel a bit awkward with the all-men, mostly Arab smokers staring away).

Pointers about CAI’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 3:
Terminal 3 is the newest addition to Cairo International Airport (CAI). It is cleaner and more organized, but it is also more stringent on bags and checking in. The staff also has chips on their shoulders so get ready to have a lovely time (sarcasm) paying that expired visa fee…

Terminal 1 has more pleasant staff, more lax, the guys working the upstairs bar are pretty fun. Getting through security was a breeze and paying a fine was met with jokes inside the office with the staff. In with that, there are negatives about this terminal too. It’s not clean and you have a lot of “Gulfies” in the terminal.
*Side Note – for  female smokers: go to the upstairs bar. Do NOT go into the smoke room because with so many “Gulfies” present, the probability of getting grabbed/groped is high.


  1. When was the last time you booked on or flew with EgyptAir? Or have I always just been lucky? I have used their website many, many times over the past 5-6 years to book flights online. I have flown with them from Europe to Egypt and sometimes on to Asia and many times on the short flights from CAI to HRG. All of my experiences with EgyptAir have been very positive. The food was not as good as the one served on Lufthansa, but not worse than on most other airlines. The planes usually were fairly new. They are part of an alliance with Lufthansa, United, etc. since a few years. I would have no problem flying with them again and again.

    1. Hi Sabrina, thanks for your comment.

      I actually fly Egypt Air each year for work when traveling to the UAE. How are you booking your flights? Is it through the Egypt Air/Europe website? That might be the reason for the difference; however, even when booking my flight while present in the US, it was impossible to book via the website three years ago (naturally I’m now booking via its Egypt-English website which doesn’t allow credit cards).

      The airline does have newer planes, but that’s only just been in the past 1.5 years and after joining Star Alliance. I hear First Class is great, but I would expect any airline to have great service in First Class. And unfortunately despite my wishes, I’m not flying First Class.

      I understand that food is mostly derived from the airport of take-off, but international travel differs so I’m not abreast as to how the menus are chosen. I stand by the fact that the food is horrid, but that’s my opinion.

      Another note worth mentioning is that post-revolution, many problems are happening within the company and airport (ie strikes).

      All of that said, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your experience with the airline and offer readers a different viewpoint. I think that my last flight was one of the best I’ve had and I could tell that Egypt Air is attempting to improve its services, but after flying Emirates Air, I have to say that unless Egypt Air costs a lot less, no comparison to the wonderful everything that Emirates offered.

    2. I've never flown with Emirates, but heard lots of good things about them.

      Have you tried for booking? I always start there and after choosing country and language, they forward you to the actual website when you can book flights. You can choose any country no matter from where you book by the way. I have chosen Egypt as a location before and it worked. I have found some really good deals there and it works well for me as they are part of my main frequent flyer program. Yeah miles! Other than that, I wouldn't be more loyal to them than any other major airlines I can get a decent deal on.

      I hear you on the food. It might just be that my airplane food standards are very low. Never had stomach problems after though - that would quickly make me very grumpy about an airline's food for a long time.

      First class? A dream :) I'm always stuck in economy unless they upgrade us which seems to happen once every ten years...

      I can only imagine the added problems post-revolution. We passed through this past December/January and I was concerned about possible problems, but luckily there were no added delays.

  2. Great post- I've flown Egypt Air to-from Munich, Kuwait, and Dubai- mainly 'business' class which is still not even close to Emirates economy class but all were smooth flights other than I did get sick from the meal on Egypt Air- don't even know what I was thinking as I rarely eat airline food, will never make that mistake again. Emirates just upped their flight schedule via Cairo- Dubai to 18 fights a week. I hope it stays that way through the summer, still have not returned to Cairo since December- waiting until after Ramadan.

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