Two Surprisingly Easy And Pleasant Experiences At Cairo Airport

Hello from Egypt!

I’m finishing up a week in Egypt — this is my first time visiting the country. Cairo airport is famous in frequent flyer circles for several things — having very cheap premium fares, and having some very unusual passenger experiences, which can be either wonderful or terrible depending on your luck.

I have transited Cairo only once before, flying EgyptAir from Addis Ababa to London (via Cairo). Even within the same terminal, with my onward boarding pass in hand, the transfer experience was a horrible mess — I had a three hour transfer, flying business class and still barely made my flight.

They funneled every transit passenger through a single transit security lane which resulted in several lines from different parts of the terminal trying to merge into one with thousands of people all trying to make their flights. People were arguing and physically fighting within the lines and when I finally reached the security checkpoint they weren’t even checking anything!

So I was nervous about actually entering the country given both my previous experience, and the crazy stories I have read from Ben and others.

But I was also excited because I was hoping it would at least be an entertaining story to share with you guys.

I’ve used Cairo airport twice in the last week or so, arriving internationally, and then departing domestically.

So what happened?

Well, both times the airport was a pleasure to use, and I wasn’t even using the new terminal 2.

Arriving internationally into Terminal 3

I flew from Tunis to Cairo on EgyptAir and shared my experience of checking in when the name of the booking did not match the name on my passport.

We landed on time and deplaned at a remote bus gate, which was the only unpleasant part of the experience. The bus took us to the terminal. I had arranged a hotel transfer with the tour company I was starting the tour with the following day, and had provided them with my flight number.

When we walked into the terminal, something I had never experience before happened. Before we reached immigration (and just after we entered the terminal building), I saw my tour representative waiting in the corridor.

I did a double take wondering if he had been on our flight or something. He hadn’t, he was waiting for us, and privately walked us through the rest of the arrival experience, from organising our visa, to immigration to the baggage hall where we bought a local sim so I would avoid the problems I experienced in Morocco.

He asked me why I was looking so confused to which I asked him how he was able to pick up passengers before immigration — he just replied ‘that’s how we do things here.’ I know that for people who pay for a special VIP arrival service that they are met often at the plane door.

But we had not paid for any special treatment — we had just booked a standard hotel/tour transfer.

I was also very pleased to be escorted into an almost deserted T3 immigration hall at 4pm on a Saturday. There was no queue there, or at the visa counters, so we were downstairs and out the door within minutes.

I’m not sure if we were just lucky with the time of day/week, but the arrival experience (even without the escort) was a breeze, and though the terminal was dated it was a very pleasant, calm and I would even say perfectly organised experience.

Departing domestically from Terminal 1

As I wrote about separately, I booked a last minute economy flight on Nile Air from Cairo to Sharm El Sheik. Our Uber driver had some trouble even finding Terminal 1 (we had to go into the paid airport parking and then out again before we even reached the terminal), and once we were there it was clear that it was not the terminal that premium airlines used.

There was a really interesting collection of airlines in the terminal that I had never heard of like Nasair, Buraq and Wataniya Airlines.

We headed to the domestic check in area, which required two initial security checks. At the second one, we must have been looking a bit lost/confused as the friendly security officer said to us:

‘Are you going to Sharm El Sheik? On Nile Air? Right this way!’

I hadn’t even heard of some of the other domestic destinations other domestic flights were departing to, so I guess most foreign tourists departing Cairo Terminal 1 are heading to Sharm!

Nile Air does not offer online check in. When we reached check in, again there was no queue and the check in agent was extremely friendly, asking us how we had enjoyed out time in Cairo and even offering some additional history about some of the sights we had visited.

Now admittedly Terminal 1 Domestic is very small and very sparse. There was no Priority Pass lounge, and only one tiny cafe so for the first time in a very long time we just sat in the terminal area.

When our flight was ready for boarding a Nile Air staff member came to collect us personally (as terminal announcements were not in English). We were through security in only a few minutes, on to the plane and had a pleasant and quick 40 minute flight on Nile Air, where we were even served a substantial snack, and arrived early.

The terminal was small and very dated but very efficient (we arrived two hours before our flight left and spent at least an hour sitting around once we had checked in). Every staff member we interacted with was very pleasant and efficient.

Bottom line

I’m using Cairo airport two more times on this trip — arriving internationally into Terminal 1, and then departing internationally from Terminal 3.

I’ll be amazed and impressed if these experiences are as smooth as my first two. After mentally preparing myself for an awful experience, so far this trip it has been one of my favourite airports!

What has been your experience at Cairo Airport?

Comments

  1. Are you sure this was not a dream during one of your stays? That’s not luck, that’s sounds just like a non achievable dream. Glad for you!

  2. If memory serves, there is an airtrain between terminal 1 and 3 outside security to expedite your connection.

  3. I didnt realise there was a domestic part to terminal 1 (All Egyptair is T3 ) personally I think T1 is the worst and dread using it for International flights . I dont mind T2 or T3 but Im kind of used to them

  4. Our experience at ASW, ABS, CAI and LUX in Egypt this past month was also good. Our experience at IST, however, was all rush and run.

  5. @James

    I think the reason you didn’t recognize or even find Gabal Azzait on a map is because usually in English at least its written as Asyut or Assiut. Also gabal or jabal in Arabic means mountain.

  6. My CAI experiences have not been as pleasant. Though international arrivals have improved with the advance e-Visa process vs the previous line up at the only one of three currency exchange kiosks (with just one of its three windows staffed while a half dozen other staff linger in the back room) to purchase a single entry visa in US$s only, then get into the snaking immigration line. (Yes, hotel/tour greeters did line up at the entry of the hall to help speed you through but even they had to deal with the visa purchase line before ushering through a clear diplomatic immigration channel.

    And don’t arrive too early for your flight, even if you have a boarding pass and are in business class. Even in the Egyptair terminal using the STAR fast track lane I was not permitted airside until 2-hours prior to my flight!

    And if flying out of the non-Egyptair international terminal, once through the 3rd of 5 security screenings, the business lounge is atrocious! If flying BA we not only passed through security screening at the terminal entrance, going airside, then going into the business lounge area, and once more when leaving that area back into the gate area! But wait, one more screening at the gate!

  7. I am planning to travel to Egypt next year, and curious which group tour company you use? Are you going over to Jordan after Egypt?

  8. I’m hoping my trip through CAI goes just as smoothly! I have a 1 hour and 10 minute connection there in January, arriving internationally connecting domestically, both in T3 on Egypt Air.

  9. “so far this trip it has been one of my favourite airports”

    Granted, I’m not sure what competition it’s up against.

  10. During my Venice trip this year I arranged an airport transfer through the JW Marriott (highly suggest it). I was greeted on the jetbridge at VCE after arriving from EWR.

  11. This calms me down a bit. Im planning an Egypt trip with various flights, including Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Cairo to Aswan, and then Aswan back to Cairo. Was getting worried as Im ending up having to fly in Egypt way more than I thought I’d have to, but this article has calmed me down a bit.

    Anyone else flown these routes/ have any tips or reasurrances?

  12. I also recently flew in/out/through Cairo. My arrival from Amman in the early evening went quite smoothly. Even if you’re transiting it’s likely much better to fork out the $25 for a visa than to deal with the transit arrangement. I had an overnight at a nearby hotel, then an early morning Nile Air flight to Aswan from the sparse Terminal 1 space that James describes.

    My return flight to Cairo on EgyptAir was uneventful arriving in Terminal 3. From there the Uber meeting point in the closeby parking lot made for a quick trip into the city. For my departure, I stayed at the Meridien, which is attached to Terminal 3 by an enclosed walkway. The PP lounge there is small but adequate; departed on Lufthansa.

  13. Tip: Make sure you have a printed boarding pass as they will sometimes look for proof that you’re flying before they let you into the airport. If you were planning to get your ticket at the check-in counter, you’re going to have extra hassle.

    Comment: On my domestic flights at CAI there always seemed to be REALLY long taxis to a super-remote bus stand. Is that the usual experience for everyone else?

  14. I have 7 hour layover in June and I want to hire a driver to take me to Giza, take a selfie and then go back to the airport. Seems doable but also scary because of all the horror stories about this Airport.

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