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Cairo Airport In Chaos, And That Was Before The Recent Crisis

by Jason Steele

Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Cairo, Egypt.    At the end of a trip to Israel, I hopped on the short El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo, itself a tangible symbol of the 1979 Camp David accords that brought between Egypt and Israel.   My arrival in Cairo was one of the most chaotic airport experiences of my life that did not have to do with United Airlines.    Departing the flight, I descended into a haphazard arrivals hall with no real indication of where I needed to go or what I needed to do.   Fortunately, I had a guide meeting me who was able to help me navigate the arrivals process.   Somehow this person was able to make it to the gate, get my passport stamped, and help me retrieve my bags.   The entire procedure was filled with people from all nationalities shouting and walking in every direction.   At regular intervals, someone would attempt to bulldozer me out of the way with a large, fully loaded luggage cart.    As I emerged from the exit, I was again greeted by an overwhelming crowd that spilled over the sidewalk and into the street.    I longed for the obnoxious police that patrol American airports, moving everyone along whether they were causing a problem or not.

What To Do If You Are Caught Up In A Political Crisis

However bad the airport in Cairo was ten years ago, it is undoubtedly worse now.    The pictures I have seen show a much more modern terminal than I saw in 2000, but the eyewitness accounts of the situation there are disturbing.    People talk of long lines and chaotic attempts to check in.    Because of the difficulty getting to the airport, there are likely many no-shows, further adding to the confusion.    In situations like this, aircraft often depart half empty while crowds wait to check in.

Since I have never really visited a country during a popular uprising, I can’t offer any authoritative advice.  I can merely share what I would do in a similar situation.    First, I would remain in my hotel as long as I felt it was safe.  The last place I want to spend a few days is on the floor of a crowded international airport.   A decent hotel catering to foreigners will offer food, shelter, and security,while the airport might only offer the latter.   From the hotel, I would do my best to find a confirmed seat on any flight out of there.    Going to the airport without a confirmed seat for a specific flight would only be my last resort if I felt that my hotel was in danger.   When trying to secure a seat, I would investigate the recent track record of the operating airline.  Have they been canceling flights or operating irregularly?     If so, I would probably keep looking for a backup reservation.

Staying in touch with your embassy will also be a good idea.   The United States Embassy has been working on charter flights to get their citizens out of Cairo.  Another option might be to proceed to an alternative airport outside of Cairo.   I saw a story about a reporter who flew into Sharm-El Sheik airport on a flight filled with tourists!   You would be taking a chance by traveling overland, but if that was the quickest way to get home, I would jump at it.

Above all, I would try to utilize resources back home who have better access to the phones and the Internet.    This is the time to have a good travel agent or at the very least, a very travel savvy friend or relative.   They can contact the various airlines still servicing Egypt and try to confirm outbound seats.

When you finally head out to the airport, I would try to leave as early as possible, and discretely bring as much food as you could.  You never know when you might have to spend an extra day or two in a terminal before you are able to get out.

Being stuck in the middle of a revolution must be incredibly exciting and scary at the same time.  So far, violence has been relatively minimal in Egypt, and I hope this crisis is resolved in a peaceful manner.

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