Air Sinai: The Airline Flying Unmarked A220s Between Egypt & Israel

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Several readers forwarded me the link to an Atlas Obscura story last week about Air Sinai, one of the most mysterious airlines out there. While I was familiar with the airline, I realized I’ve never written about it before, and also didn’t realize some of the changes that have been made to the airline recently.

Let’s take a closer look at the airline in this post, which is now on my post-COVID-19 avgeek bucket list.

What is Air Sinai?

Air Sinai has been flying since 1982, exclusively operating flights between Cairo, Egypt, and Tel Aviv, Israel. That’s right, the airline only flies a single ~245 mile route.

In reality this is only a paper-airline, in the sense that they operate a fleet of two Airbus A220s, which actually belong to EgyptAir. Air Sinai operates on a wet lease basis, which is to say that the planes and crews are both provided by EgyptAir.

The airline still has their own code and flight numbers, though — rather than using the “MS” designator for EgyptAir, Air Sinai instead uses “4D” as the airline code.

One thing that makes these A220s interesting is that they’re unmarked. They don’t have the typical EgyptAir livery, but rather are all white, and the planes just have registration codes visible (SU-GFA and SU-GFD).

Air Sinai A220 (image courtesy Anna Zvereva)

The airline has operated all kinds of planes over time — when it first launched they flew a 737-200, while prior to 2020 they flew two Embraer 170s.

The original Air Sinai 737-200 (image courtesy Guido Allieri)

What’s the history of Air Sinai?

In 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a historic peace treaty, and one condition of that was that the two countries had to introduce an active civil aviation route within three years. That’s how Air Sinai was born in 1982.

However, the treaty between the countries wasn’t otherwise popular in the Arab world, so EgyptAir didn’t want to fly these routes in an “obvious” way, which is why Air Sinai was created. This way the route could be operated by EgyptAir planes and by EgyptAir crews, without the association being so obvious.

For a long time Air Sinai didn’t have a website or make it easy to book, because Egypt didn’t necessarily want to make it easy for people to book this flight. After all, this route was being operated mainly to fulfill an aspect of the peace treaty. You could book through a travel agency or email, but not directly online, and not even on EgyptAir’s website.

There is now an Air Sinai website

New as of 2020, flyairsinai.com is a website that allows you to book Air Sinai tickets online with a credit card. Funny enough, there’s even mystery associated with the website — Air Sinai refuses to confirm that they run this website. The website lists a UK address, and it makes it clear that they “act as agent only.”

However, the website is legitimate, so it sure seems like the connection between the site and airline might be closer than some would assume. The website also published this super high budget promotional video for the airline.

The fares sure aren’t cheap, though. The website lists “special promotions” online, with fares of 549EUR roundtrip in economy, or 995EUR roundtrip in business class. That’s right, that’s for roundtrip travel on a sub-250 mile flight.

While that pricing is high, in fairness, they have a pretty captive audience. Those needing to travel between Tel Aviv and Cairo don’t have many other practical options. The next most direct options are on Royal Jordanian through Amman, or on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul.

Bottom line

Air Sinai has existed for nearly 40 years due to a peace agreement. The airline only exists on paper, as they now fly unmarked EgyptAir A220s on a wet lease basis between Cairo and Tel Aviv.

The most interesting development here is that until recently it wasn’t possible to book a ticket online, while that has now changed. While you still won’t find Air Sinai through most online travel agencies, you can book them through flyairsinai.com.

The relationship between that website and the airline is yet another mystery…

Has anyone flown Air Sinai, or have anything else interesting to add about the airline?

Comments
  1. I believe the aircraft are operated by Egyptair, just marketed as Air Sinai.

    There’s a very pretty one (SU-GCX) in quasi-Egyptair colours.

  2. I actually flew one of these two planes between Aswan (Egypt) & Cairo in NOV 2019. Now understanding why the plane was unmarked.

  3. I flew them years ago, in the late 1990s. 4D is indeed a specialty item. I don’t know if things have changed, but back then, the crazy thing was that you asked to show up 3-4 hours in advance for security. On top of that, it *never* departed on time. I think the best I ever had it was 2 hours late. My record was 5 hours late. And of course these flights invariably departed at 2am or something ungodly like that. So basically you were looking at 5-9 hours of waiting around for a 30 minute flight. But really, the only way you can appreciate this flight is if you’ve done the Cairo-Tel Aviv route by bus. Almost as bad as a it gets.

    One of the other reasons for flying, even if you were willing to endure the 12 hour bus ride, is that flying allowed you to enter/depart Israel without getting a stamp. If you crossed the Israeli border at Rafah/Taba, you got an Egyptian stamp that constituted evidence of visiting Israel even if you could convince the Israelis not to stamp your passport. Again, that was then; no idea what it’s like now.

  4. I flew TLV-CAI on EL-AL when they (briefly, apparently) operated the route. Wish I would have flown Air Sinai instead…

  5. We flew Air Sinai way back in 1996. The aircraft was solid white and completely unmarked as shown, although inside everything had Egypt Air on it. At the time, El Al flew the route once a day as well – always departing in the middle of the night at about 2am.

  6. Not sure how legit this website flyairsinai.com is, but you should be able to purchase tickets thru any travel agent

  7. @lucky, to clarify, I am assuming this route has been postponed during COVID-19 is that correct? Also what was the frequency this route operated with in normal times and do these planes operate regular Egypt air flights when they are not flying to Israel?

  8. I flew Air Sinai back in summer of 2007 between TLV-CAI-TLV. I’m pretty sure I booked online possibly through EL-AL. I remember it was a 737 (I think -300 or -500) and was unmarked. Probably have some photos somewhere. Otherwise, it was a fairly normal flight. I had a ton of security when I got back to TLV and was connecting separately back to to JFK; not surprised.

  9. 4D were ground-handled at TLV by LY ground staff for many years.
    LY operated the TLV-CAI route alongside 4D for a lot of years.
    LY operations were always subject to security issues and in the 2010’s (when I worked for LY) could only be described as “seasonal”, at best.
    I think LY finally gave up the route after the Arab Spring.

  10. This is such an interesting story!

    Tel Aviv is an amazing place. Beautiful airport, very modern, efficient and safe with double daily service from Newark on United

  11. @ Al

    I tried to book this flight back in 2015 because I had to go from CAI to TLV. Frequency was not great, I think it only operated 3-4 times a week. My dates weren’t flexible so I ended up having to book CAI-AMM-TLV on RJ, which took far too long for such a short distance. The ~20 min flight between AMM and TLV was interesting at least, flying over Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

  12. I flew this flight TLV-CAI in 1998. After hours of security in TLV, when you get on the plane there’s Egyptian security on board doing the entire thing all over again. I think it had EgyptAir livery but it was a long time ago so don’t really remember.

  13. Sounds like Mossad front cover for covert operations when El Al is too obvious to smuggle Nazi leaders. Make it like it is Egyptian owned while it is actually infiltrated by Mossad. Could be used for signal intelligence over Gaza too.

  14. I flew on one of these A220 back in January (SU-GFA) on flight MS751 from CAI to BUD. It is a really nice plane I would say. When I board on the plane, I did find it interesting there’s no logo whatsoever on the plane.

  15. Air Sinai really is just bizarre. I find it really interesting though the difference between Royal Jordanian and Air Sinai (in reality Egypt Air). Both Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel and from what I have gathered both the populations of Jordan and Egypt do not have positive feelings toward Israel. However, Royal Jordanian doesn’t fly to Tel Aviv on a “paper airline” but just uses mainline Royal Jordanian. On top of that, Royal Jordanian’s website not only mentions they fly to Tel Aviv, Israel but even gives lists of attractions inside Israel. I know a number of Israelis and Americans that use RJ to travel because of cheaper prices and because it is Oneworld. Really wonder if EgyptAir could replicate the same thing through Star Alliance.

    https://www.rj.com/landingPages/output/Detail_Jordan_AMM_tlv_en.html

  16. Add me to the list of those who have flown Air Sinai, from Tel Aviv to Cairo.

    It was around 1985 and I was a flight attendant for a charter airline. My crew worked a commercial charter into Israel, and then another for the U.S. military, a few days later, from Egypt. It seemed like a normal enough flight. The only thing I clearly remember about that day was seeing a half-dozen cages of baby oryx’s being loaded into the 737’s belly as we deplaned via air-stairs at Cairo.

  17. Flew them in 1983 or 1984! At the time they surely had more than one plane in the air Sinai livery … because a quite vivid memory was landing in Cairo and seeing some prop planes painted as air Sinai. I was quite relieved when we arrived at CAI and found a 737. The flight was not announced at the airport, not on the departures board, nothing. The boarding pass was a printed card with a handwritten seat number. I’ll post a pic of the boarding pass and baggage tag on Facebook.

  18. I flew them in 2009. Was maybe $350 for the flight. We were in a group of 8 who spent a week in Israel after our ‘birthright’ trip. Some chose a cheaper flight (that was 7 hours w a connection in Istanbul) while others went overland and involved ~16 hours on buses.

    There were signs for Air Sinai at TLV and honestly only now was I made aware this wasn’t actually an “Air Sinai” flight. It was at 615am and i was beyond asleep so maybe I just wasnt paying attention.

  19. I’ve booked them a few times for clients of my travel agency. I can make the reservation in my GDS, but as of last year, there was no way to issue the ticket. After much research I found the only way to get a ticket was getting them at their offices in Tel Aviv or Cairo (which can be done through a local travel agent in Israel or Egypt). Egypt Air would only confirm the reservations I made but would not issue a ticket. I’m hoping the website is legit, there are a lot of people who want to explore both countries and connections don’t make sense for such a short trip.

  20. Last year I flew on Air Sinai to see the Giza pyramids. I called the NYC office of EgyptAir to book tickets. The EgyptAir logos are everywhere inside the cabin. The EgyptAir lounge at the Cairo airport let me in with a SA Gold status and a coach boarding pass to TLV.

  21. Interestingly, this flight won’t show up on OTAs if you try to search TLV – CAI, but searching TLV – BKK or TLV – BKK, you’ll sometimes find a routing via Cairo with Air Sinai and Egyptair for pretty cheap rates. I’ve seen 1,300$ rt biz TLV – JFK – TLV.

  22. One aspect not covered – it’s important to know if the crews seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs while pouring champagne at the seat 😉

  23. “Arabs and Israelis are crazy people.”

    I think you are misunderstanding the story. Israel would love to be able to fly normally and have normal relations with its surrounding Arab neighbors. But many of those countries do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Its unilateral, not bilateral. Its not like Israel would have any issue with planes from UAE, or Egypt or Kuwait to be landing in Tel Aviv. In fact, its something they would deeply desire. But those countries do not do so for political reasons.

  24. Had the pleasure of being on the unmarked WHITE aircraft for a flight from Cairo to sharm el sheikh. It was a fairly quick flight of under 2 hours and uneventful , from boarding and security to landing and deplaning. Coffee and pastries were offered and there were about 12 of us on the plane – my group of friends (8) and another group of Egypt Air employees on jump flight for brief holiday. Quite a fun group and lots of chit chat about the country and the air business.

  25. My wife and I flew Air Sinai from Cairo to Tel Aviv in 1983 as part of a trip we took with a TWA tour in Egypt followed by a week on our own in Jerusalem including the Shavuot holiday. We were originally booked on an El Al flight for that route on a Thursday evening, but because of a multiple hour delay on an EgyptAir flight we were on from Luxor to Cairo, we missed the connection in Cairo for El Al. EgyptAir rebooked us for the Air Sinai flight the next morning (and paid for our overnighting at an airport hotel).

    It was fairly obvious that both EgyptAir and the local authorities went to great lengths to totally disguise the airline and this flight. There was no Air Sinai check-in stand. It was done hush-hush at EgyptAir. Although the airline code (but not its name) and flight number appeared on the old-style flight boards, there was no destination city mentioned.

    At the gate, there was a table of armed Egyptian soldiers (some of whom were napping with their heads on the table) who we assumed were part of the pre-flight security. Nope, that wasn’t the case. When it came close to boarding time, a bus marked SwissAir pulled up to the gate and security guards wearing SwissAir uniforms entered the gate area. They certainly didn’t look either Swiss or Egyptian and they spoke Hebrew as well as Arabic and English! Our best guess was that they were really re-uniformed El Al security.

    Boarding was very efficient and quick. The relatively flight flew close to its schedule IIRC with no incidents whatsoever on a 737 with Air Sinai livery. No amenities (food, drinks, etc.)!

    We were glad to be in Israel after our week in Egypt touring (having also contracted bad cases of “Ramse’s Revenge” at the Mena House Hotel at the Ginza Pyramids).

    For better or for worse, it would be next to impossible to take that type of trip today (forgetting Covid-19). In 1983, the Egyptians in the hospitality and travel business at least pretended to like or tolerate and be cordial to Americans and especially Jewish-Americans. The milieu there today isn’t quite as hospitable from what I understand from others.

    But we will never forget our Air Sinai flight and how Cairo Airport and/or EgyptAir were so cagey about its existance.

  26. Flew Luxor-Cairo-TLV fall 2018 booked via priceline which was not an issue. In Luxor Egyptair was not able to give us boarding pass so we had to do so in Cairo, where checkin was combined with several other Egyptair destinations. We had only 90min connection in Cairo which was pretty tight as we could not use the transit and had to exit and reenter the terminal. Passengers who checked luggage had to identify it again next to the plane. Flight left on time in morning and no special checks when entering Israel. Overall an ok experience, but next time I would pay for Fast Track assistance as airport personal in Cairo is rude and inefficient.

  27. I flew this route last year. At that time, plane was 737 and was painted EgyptAir. I booked flight by calling the US 800# for Egyptair. Prices were cheaper than via agents. My itinerary was SFO-JFK-CAI (with SFO-JFK a JetBlue co-marketing arrangement) and then a flight CAI-TLV on “Air Sinai” a week later (one way). They booked it as a one-way SFO-TLV with stop in CAI and it only added about $100. I also booked a round-trip for my daughter TLV-CAI-TLV and that was about $400. YMMV

  28. May be a bit off the subject. I have flown many times, KUL DOH AMM TLV using AAAdvantage miles in Bz Class. Wonderful way to get to Israel from KUL . Malaysia is one of those countries that do not allow their citizens to visit Israel but I have never had any problems getting boarding passes all the way to TLV, I have enjoyed these flights and. it is a good use of AA miles. Occasionally on TLV-KUL via AMM and DOH, at the security they are curious about your route. No big problem. QR was selling CMB-TLV tickets. As someone else mentioned earlier when it comes to aviation, Israel is not the problem. I look forward to QR flights DOH-TLV. soon..

  29. Would it be too much to ask the silly leaders of the Arab world to just grow up and have a normal flight between two countries be just that? Or must I endure booking through a site owned by no one to fly on a plane owned by no one?

  30. They are all Semitics, similar DNA but different religions.
    You can turn blood brothers apart by stupid religions.
    That’s really dumb ass.

  31. @Sudah You look forward to QR DOH-TLV? That will be awhile and with my ~40 years left on this planet I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

  32. I get Egypt trying to keep it on the down low when it first started in the 80’s, but I don’t get why they care now?

    I would hope and think most level headed Egyptians would not care if it was discovered today. Why go to such lengths in 2020? It can’t be security related because you can’t even book these tickets easily. Jordanians do not care RJ flies AMM-TLV.

  33. Dov,

    I’m not sure who you speak to, but I’m Jewish-American, I go to Egypt about once a year and haven’t had any issues. People are generally very pleasant and gracious.

  34. @Carter

    It is unilateral, not bilateral maybe because it was seized from Palestine? Driving Arabs from their home isn’t just political reasons to them, it is an invasion.
    Or the whole war and the state is just a big political agenda (bully) from their powerful allies of both sides.

    But the whole situation evolved far beyond who shot first that it doesn’t matter anymore. Both sides are debatable, but (unfortunately) can never coexist.

  35. We were in Jordan almost exactly a year ago and were looking at Air Sinai as an option to get to Egypt after visiting Israel, but the booking process was way too difficult. We ended up going by land to Jerusalem (not simple, but not nearly as difficult as booking Air Sinai!), then back to Amman and flying to Cairo from there.

    Israel did not stamp passports, so if you are worried about this, don’t be. RJ from AMM to CAI was a short flight but it also happened late at night and was delayed for a ridiculous amount of time. By comparison, the MS flight from CAI to DXB was very pleasant.

  36. Air Cairo aircraft were regularly deployed by EgyptAir on their standard commercial routes throughout the 1990s. When MS flew to Australia at the time I’d often connect via Cairo to places like Malta or Rome on Air Cairo metal which was basically EgyptAir sans the livery. It did feel weird but now we know the full story – thanks Lucky!

  37. Flew CAI-TLV in Dec 2018. The plane had Egypt Air livery. Saw an unmarked, white plane on the tarmac in CAI, but our flight was a standard Egypt Air plane, just like the ones we were on for domestic flights within Egypt.

  38. Egypt and Israel have what you might call a “cold peace.” Although there are full diplomatic relations and plenty of cooperation at the government/military/security intelligence levels, travel is highly regulated (although many Israeli tourists come to Egypt, usually by road to South Sinai) and any acknowledgement of anything Israeli in Egypt is frowned upon. From the Egyptian perspective, having the national airline fly openly to Tel Aviv is not just unpalatable, but also a security concern. Having an unmarked aircraft operate the flight from a random remote gate in
    CAI Terminal 3 (you also have to look hard for the check-in desks, as the flight wouldn’t normally be listed on the departure screens) makes perfect sense.

  39. Elal operated the route for many many years but stopped after the Arab spring and a failed attempt of taking over the the Israeli embassy in Cairo by demonstrators.
    I flew on Air Sinai between Tel Aviv and Sharm El Sheikh in the late 90s. Was short and uneventful.

  40. It says in the disclaimer: “FlyAirSinai.com is a travel agency and passenger sales agent for Air Sinai. We are not Air Sinai or one of it’s appointed GSA’s.”

    My guess is that once a reservation is made on this website, there is a manual process done by the agency for the actual booking. The details of the actual booking are then entered manually into the system. It’s most likely not connected to the Egypt Air reservation system.

  41. If anybody is wondering why EgyptAir has a callsign of MS, it’s because in Arab, Malay and Indonesian, Egypt is pronounced Mesir. Taking the 4D flight is far less time consuming than the border crossing.

  42. Any travel agent with Amadeus GDS can issue 4D tickets for far less than their Web fares.

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