Stuck in Cairo, January 9 - 10, 2017
|This is how we should have flown
home on January 9, 2017.
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Paris, France (CDG) to New York, USA (JFK) - Air France
New York, USA (JFK) to Washington D.C., USA, Reagan Airport (DCA) - Delta Airlines
We woke up at 4 AM for a 7:20 AM flight, and got ready for our flights home. Based on when we knew we had to be there, per the Air France tickets (they said that luggage drop closed 60 minutes before the flight and we had no bags to check) and our transit through Cairo on the way to Thailand on December 28,2016, we arrived at the terminal about an hour before our plane was scheduled to leave. We had transited through Cairo on December 28, on our way from Vienna to Thailand. We had found that once the flight began boarding at 60 minutes before the flight was to depart, there was a single line to get into the gate for the flight. This line was another security screening line, and went very slowly, taking another 60+ minutes. We had finally made it through this line, only to find that business and first class passengers board the airplane last at Cairo Airport terminal 1, so we waited again for another 15 minutes before the transfer bus showed up to take us to the airplane. Terminal 1 does not have boarding bridges – all passengers ride buses to the plane, and then climb the stairs onto the plane out on the tarmac. That plane eventually left about 45 minutes late on December 28.
We already had our boarding documents, and we had no luggage to check, so all we had to pass through was the immigration line to leave Egypt. That immigration station takes about 30 seconds, plus any wait time in its line. We figured we would end up still having to wait 30+ minutes to board the business class bus that would take us to the airplane. The business class bus from terminal 1 to the airplane leaves last, after all other passengers have boarded; Cairo airport personnel must have decided it is easier to get all business class and first class passengers together and take them at one time to the plane in a single bus. We had already passed through the first level of security to get on the airport grounds. Once we arrived at terminal 1, we next passed an outside checkpoint staffed by armed personnel, including a Air France staff member who told the armed guards to let us pass because we were flying Air France; they only had one Air France flight out of Cairo per day so they were checking passengers for valid flights before even letting them proceed to the building. After getting past this outside guard station, we then passed through another security station at the entrance to the building with a metal detector and x-ray machine.
We were now inside the terminal with 50 minutes before our flight, with only immigration left to pass before we would join another security line to actually get into the individual gate for our flight; terminal 1 at Cairo has a final screening at each individual gate, and this final line only opens at 60 minutes before the flight. That line had taken well over an hour to finish on our transit to Thailand, so we knew it was going to be in place for at least an hour more at this point. Here is where we ran into trouble.
There was another level of security inside the door security point, but before the immigration line. The guards at this station would not let us pass; they said the Air France ticket office and baggage drop had closed at one hour before the flight. The truth was that the Air France ticket desk was still open, but only the baggage drop was closed; we could actually see the ticket desk behind them. It really did not matter, as we already had our boarding documents and were not checking baggage. We actually showed them the boarding documents on Chris' phone, and told them we were not checking bags, but they refused to let us pass. We argued but they denied us entrance beyond this point. They told us to move to some seats and wait for someone to come assist us. No one showed up for 15 minutes, and when someone finally arrived, they were not from Air Franc, but just another Cairo Airport rep. This person also refused to do anything, even though we knew the final security line at the gate was still moving slowly and we could easily still have made it onto the flight. This person disappeared again for a while at this point. We were not the only ones who were refused entrance; at least four other passengers for that same Air France flight were also trying to get past this level of security at the same time we were, but they too were refused entry.
The airport rep finally re-appeared much later and told us that he had rebooked us on the next Air France flight out, the following morning. We had never asked him to do any of this, he just did it. There was a problem with this rebooking though, as he told us we would have to pay change fees to get on that next flight, and the Air France ticketing office in terminal 1 was closed. We took this photo of that ticket office in terminal 1 after security denied us entry and we had been waiting for a while; this photo was taken at 7:12 AM local time. The office was closed, even though it said it was open from 7 AM to 3 PM.
We found out later that Air France was moving from terminal 1 to terminal 2, and the flight we were supposed to be on was the last Air France flight out of terminal 1. Air France was moving to terminal 2, but had no yet opened the ticket office in terminal 2. We had no way locally to pay for any of the change charges we were getting saddled with. The airport rep told us that the only way for us to pay was to travel into downtown Cairo and pay at the main Air France ticket office there, since the airport ticket office was closed. To really rub it in, the flight we were supposed to be on was still listed as "Check-In" on the main status board at this time, right behind the guards who would not let us pass. We pointed that out, and were told that it did not matter. It was obvious they were not going to let us pass, so we finally gave up and and headed back to our hotel to work from there to revise our flights home. We found out later that the flight we were supposed to be on was delayed 35 minutes, not actually leaving until 7:55 AM, based on this report from FlightView, which tracks flight's actual departure and arrival times. Go figure - that last security line checkpoint was still screening people, just as we had expected. Having been waiting for 40+ minutes at this point, we actually could still have made it onto the flight if they had just let us pass.
We took the hotel shuttle back to our hotel, and checked back into our same room. We logged into our Air France account to see that we indeed had been booked into the next available Air France flight to Paris, but it did not leave 24 hours later (the next morning) from terminal 1. Instead, it was leaving from terminal 2 at 1:35 AM. By coincidence, we found an article in the hotel magazine about this change - Air France was initiating a new airplane service from Cairo to Paris, on a different type of aircraft, on a different schedule, and the first day of service was supposed to on January 10. We were still scheduled to fly from Paris to New York to Washington D.C. on the same connecting flights 24 hours later, so that meant we would be spending about 7 hours at CDG Airport, Paris. We still had to somehow pay the change fees, and no offices anywhere were yet open. Once the Air France office in Cairo opened, we called them to verify if we could pay via credit card or had to come into the office. We were placed on hold, and then the call was dropped at their end. The Air France international customer service number would not connect, and the Air France customer service number in the US told us via a recording that they were closed. We headed downstairs to see if the hotel staff could help, as we may have been using the local dialing numbers wrong. The staff at Le Meridien was incredible and helped us far beyond what you would expect from a hotel. They called the local Air France office in Cairo, and after holding for a while they did manage to get through to customer service. The Air France ticket office service rep in Cairo told us (via the hotel staff translating) that they could not help us pay for the change fees in any method, in person or on the phone. They told us that we would have to go to the Air France ticket office at terminal 1. We told them that office was closed, and no one was there. This escalated up the service desk chain of command, until finally the Air France hotline supervisor "Ms. Amina" got on the line and assured us that the Air France terminal 1 ticket office was open until 3 PM, and someone would be there to help us.
At this point, we began a lengthy process to get back to terminal 1 to see if the office had miraculously re-opened. The hotel staff offered a ride over in the hotel shuttle, which we should have used. Instead, we decided to use the airport people mover, an elevated monorail train, which would allow us to travel on our own schedule and learn a bit about the airport. We walked the connecting tunnel from the hotel to terminal 3, and tried to get to the train. It turned out that the connection from terminal 3 to terminal 2 (where the train station was) had not been completed yet - it was closed off with "Under Construction" signs. We split up and tried to find the best way to get to terminal 1; the race was on. Tami found the airport shuttle bus and Chris found a path to terminal 2 via the surface roads, and then finally the train station after some searching. Tami won by a lot - she was patiently waiting inside terminal 1 when Chris arrived. As we feared, the Air France ticket office in terminal 1 was closed permanently; they had even changed the sign in the few hours we were gone to say "The office is closed in terminal 1 ..." These two photos were taken at 12:43 PM local time on January 9, 2017.
We took the airport shuttle bus back to our hotel. Once there, we checked again on our Air France account to verify we were still booked for the flight out that evening, only to find that our seats had been cancelled. However, it was only the leg from Cairo to Paris that was cancelled; we were still booked from Paris to New York to Washington D.C. We had no idea why how we could possibly get to Paris to make those connections, and Air France obviously did not care. We told the hotel staff of our problems, and they again were a great help. They began calling their contacts all over the airport to see what they could do, only to find that even the Cairo Airport management did not know where the new Air France ticket office in terminal 2 was going to be physically, or even when it was going to be open. We already had been told explicitly by the Air France ticket office in Cairo that they could not help us, so at this point we were completely stranded.
We headed up stairs to our room and waited for a couple hours for the Air France customer service office in the US to open. How hard is it to exit Cairo? It turns out that it is very hard. We finally connected to the US office which has just opened, and the first rep was helpful until we got disconnected. We had told our story, and this rep had begun the process of looking for a flight home. When she put us on hold to contact the main ticketing office, we were disconnected. We began the process over again, this time getting another service rep who was able to find that the reason our new seats out this evening had been cancelled; the entire flight had been cancelled, not just our seats. According to her data, Air France had cancelled the new service out of terminal 2 from Cairo to Paris for this, the very first flight of the new service. She began the process of booking us on the next available flight she could find, which was going to be an Egypt Air flight from Cairo to New York, leaving three days later, on Thursday, January 12. As she was talking to us, this call too was disconnected. We then called the American Express concierge travel desk to see if they could find a flight, but Tami had already been able to find flights better that what they found, so that was a dead-end. As Tami searched for flights, she checked the Air France account; it confirmed that we had been booked on the Egypt Air flight on January 12. That meant we would be waiting in Cairo for three more nights before we could get out, if we took what Air France/Delta was offering. However, as a short time later, we received an email from Egypt Air saying that flight too had been cancelled. Again, we were stranded. Tami continued to search for flights, seeing that available seats were disappearing as she searched. The cancellation of the Air France flight that evening meant that people were jumping to wherever they could get a flight. We eventually settled on a Qatar Airways flight from Cairo to Doha to Washington D.C., leaving the next day, January 10, at 7 PM.
|This is how we actually flew home,
leaving on January 10 and arriving home late on
January 11, 2017.
Cairo, Egypt (CAI) to Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Washington D.C, USA, Dulles Airport (IAD) - Qatar Airways