Dubai Consumer Mirror

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Airports you'll love to hate

At work, I cover the Middle East region and bits of Africa. So, you can safely assume that I’ve flown almost every airline to every airport in the region. In the coming few days, I will list the top Airport but hate to fly through. I will start with the most annoying one:
Cairo International Airport.

I LOVE Egypt. I know Cairo inside out and some of my best friends live there. And having lived in Egypt for about 5 years, I know things about having fun in that country, tourists could never find in a million travel guides. Traveling in and out of Egypt, however, is another story.

Flying in:
Terminal 2 (AKA the New Airport) is now quite old and a new terminal is currently being built for international carriers. If you fly through that one, prepare yourself to get jabbed in a bottle-neck type passport control. Sometimes it takes a good hour to clear the passports control area there.

If you are flying Egypt Air, then you will arrive to Building 2 (Arrivals building) of Terminal 1. Its relativly new and is well looked after. The only problem is, there is never enough passport control officers to accomodate the huge flow of travelers sometime.

Once you clear all that, its time to pick up your bags. Taking for granted ur bags arrive ALL in one piece, you will move out to customs area. I have to be fair here. In Cairo Airport, customs people were really REALLY annoying. But in the past few years, they have lightenned up a bit.

They would only check you up if you were alone, pushing 2 trollies with a dozen bags on each.

So, you've cleared customes and moving out. Now the fun part begins.

If you are planning to stay in a hotel, make sure you have transportation arranged. If not, then do whatever you can to have a pre-arranged pickup. Because finding a cab in Cairo International Airport, though easy in theory, can be an aggravating 10 minutes task.

You see, signage in Cairo Airport is not very .. umm.. directive. And once you are spotted, even remotely thinking about looking for an "AIRPORT TAXI" neon sign, tens of guys will pop up out of no where, walk up to you in a small-time-drug-pusher or a pimp-working-his-corner approach a and whisper the words "Taxi ya Basha?", seasoned with the I-have-a-great-deal-for-you wink.

Move along..

Now that you've dodged the shabby cabbies, stay vigilant against the evil virtual bag handlers. I call them virtual because (1) they are not employed by the airport. they just hang around there. (2) in most cases, they don't carry anything. They barely touch your bag for split seconds.

These guys are one of a kind species. Usually, they are lurkers around exit points of the arrivals hall. The minute you step outside, they jump in your path, try to snatch your bag - not to steal it, but to presumably carry it for you. And if you, God-forbid, demonstrate any kind of resistance, you will end up creating an awkward looking formation of you dragging your bags, and a handler tagging along with his hand or two on your luggage, like they were divine objects of heavenly pleasures.

After about 15 seconds, when you and your pick up reach your car. The handler stands next to you expecting you to happily handover a hundred Egyptian pounds note or something.
I honestly don't mind help when I need it. But here is my problem - i ALWAYS travel with one cabin sized bag. But somehow, someone thinks that i will not have the power to take that small 60cm by 40 cm across the street.

And just when you think you are done with all THAT and in the comfort of the backseat of your airport pickup, your driver pulls over at an awkwardly randomly located security booth at the exit point of the airport parking lot. An officer walks up to your window, taps it with his pen and asks for your name and destination. Then he starts repeating the magic words: "Kol Sana wenta tayeb" and for those who don't know, thats Egyptian code word for "pay up" - especially when said in times other than any publically known holiday such as Christmas, Eid or any notional holiday in Cairo.

Flying Out:

Flying out of Cairo International Airport varies from one nationality to another. Egyptians, so I’ve been told, don't have to deal with a lot. Westerners, on the other hand, are treated in most cases like celebrities. Now, if you are a non-Arab Egyptian then brace yourself to hear the "Kol Sana wenta tayeb" phrase at least a couple of dozen times.

It all starts when you enter the Check in area. You get a guy standing in front of the metal detector, frisks you lightly, glimpse over your passport to determine his "kol sana wenta tayeb" strategy. And holds on the your passport and tickets and starts repeating his "Kol Sana wenta tayeb." Occasionally, he would add "don't you have anything for your friends", "Anything in that bag for us?"

Most tickets today are E-tickets. And in most cases, I show the check in counter my reference on my mobile phone. But never in Egypt and not with me, at least. It happened a couple of times when I try to explain to the security guy at the metal detector that my ticket is electronic. I ended up having to why i didn't have a ticket print out to at least 3 officers. Since then, I always make 3 print outs of my e-ticket.

On my last trip to Egypt just a couple of days ago – One of the guys had a novel approach. It was the final check counter before the boarding gate. While frisking me, though the metal detector didn’t beep or anything, he felt my side pocket and asked:
- "is that Egyptian money?"
- "It’s a mix of Emarati and Egyptian."
- "Then you leave me the Egyptian money and Keep the Emarati"

Knowing, deep in my gut, that he wasn't really joking, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and burst into the most authentic-looking fake laugh. It worked and he reacted back with an eyebrow-less laugh himself and let me pass.

Can't blame a brother for trying I guess.


  • Thanks for the heads up :D

    *cancels any future Egypt-bound holidays*

    I think you need to carry Lebanese pounds with you. Flash a 50K in front of them and let them marvel at it awestruck and you run like there's no tomorrow to the nearest entry to the plane!

    Alternatively instead of the cabin size bag, carry a back pack. At least you'd look hip. (no I am not implying anything here *cough*)

    PS: shu mshan se3r el rez!

    By Blogger KJ, at July 6, 2008 at 4:02 PM  

  • I lived in Cairo, too, and I'll agree w/ you on this, mory. I can't believe that a country that relies upon tourism doesn't invest more in their airport. I always feel for people first arriving to Cairo and feel obliged to provide a long list of instructions. 1) Should someone shout out "hello!" to you in the airport, do not look. THis man does not know you, and he simply wants to sell his service. 2)...

    By Blogger Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo, at July 6, 2008 at 6:34 PM  

  • A wonderful and insightful commentary on Cairo airport. I admit to dreading everytime I have to go through it.

    By Blogger Aaron, at July 7, 2008 at 8:46 PM  

  • omg! I read this post about 5 minutes ago - still trying to recover LMAO!! It's hilarious and so very truuuuuuuuuuue!

    I love Egypt, at the sametime, as you say, you've got to be careful. If you get into a mess, it's gonna cost....

    Love the rich culture, the energy, the dirt, the crazy crowded roads and zero traffic laws, driving. There is a strong sense of identity, a rich culture and history in all that mess :)

    By Blogger rosh, at July 9, 2008 at 5:45 AM  

  • KJ - you shouldn't cancel any trips to cairo - just brace yourself when u go thru its airpot :)

    Don't get the part on the price of rice thing :)

    By Blogger moryarti, at July 10, 2008 at 5:43 PM  

  • dailyphoto .. will be waiting for the rest of that list :)

    By Blogger moryarti, at July 10, 2008 at 5:44 PM  

  • aaron.. thank you for dropping by and ur comment mate.. :)

    By Blogger moryarti, at July 10, 2008 at 5:45 PM  

  • Rosh - I visit Egypt at least once every 2 months, sometimes more than that ... unlike many people I know, i feel very comfortable walking around its streets. I enjoy the way many Egyptians find it surprising how a non-Egyptian like myself knows so much about their culture and country :)

    By Blogger moryarti, at July 10, 2008 at 5:48 PM  

  • hahaha Hillarious and not something to look forward to at the same time!

    By Blogger Harsha, at July 13, 2008 at 10:37 AM  

  • I've been to both terminals a few times over the years, and this post made me recall a lot of these confused moments where I try to pull my passport out of the security guy's hands while perplexed why he's not letting go of it... oh those youngster days!

    Nonetheless, I hate cairo. It's a very depressing city, to me anyway.

    By Blogger Yazan, at July 14, 2008 at 5:39 PM  

  • I have been to Egypt , we arrived at midnight , so i guess we did not have that kind of crowd .
    the whole article sounds like Morocco or Algeria . Almost the same . I Love to visit Mom and family in Algeria but the Aiport gives me a kind of Phobia . (it is getting better the last trip was no hassle . i did Not have anyone waiting for me as i wanted to suprise them , and when i wanted a cab (mini cabs as no taxi had a proper taxi sign) many were fighting each other , arguing who had been waiting there the earliest . I felt sorry for them. I surprised the old guy but refusing the change which was almost the same as the Bill , but converted to Pounds it was nothing )

    By Anonymous fatima, at July 19, 2008 at 4:21 PM  

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