Review: Cairo Airport VIP Lounge

Filed Under: Qatar

First of all, I apologize for the picture quality in this installment. I didn’t really feel comfortable taking pictures in Cairo Airport, so used my phone. Not only that, but I tried to make my “snaps” quick and subtle — so my apologies again.


My Qatar Airways flight was scheduled to departure Cairo at 1:15PM, so I decided to head to the airport at 10:30AM, which I realize was way early. From what I’ve heard the lounge in Cairo Airport is fascinating, so I didn’t want to miss out on any of the fun.

The hotel dropped me off at Terminal 1, which has a unique exterior design.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 exterior

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 exterior

As is the case at many airports in the region, you need to show an e-ticket receipt in order to enter the terminal. Not only that, but each airline actually had a specific entrance.

I quickly found the Qatar check-in door, which was shared with Etihad and Delta.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 signage

When I arrived at the door I showed the security officer my e-ticket, and he said “too soon, wait 30 minutes please.” I guess airlines typically only open check-in less than two hours before departure here.

A porter saw me and grabbed my bags, said a few words to the security officer, and then walked me straight through to check-in. Not only did he walk me through the entrance, but my bags weren’t even screened.

He gestured for me to sit down in a row of seats across from Qatar Airways’ check-in counter. I gave him a few bucks proactively (ultimately I was grateful not to have to stand in the heat for half an hour), and he seemed delighted by that (not that he shouldn’t be, but often the porters get greedy and ask for more).

Qatar Airways check-in opened at roughly 11:15AM, and I was fairly quickly checked in. There were no premium lines or anything, but rather just a handful of queues to individual agents without any sort of signage.

Something that was a bit odd by my standards was that the dude behind me in line didn’t actually stand behind me, but rather stood right next to me with his arm on the counter while my check-in was being processed. Like, he was standing so close to me that he was touching me. And the same was true for the guy behind him. So while I realize us Americans often take personal space to an extreme, this was the other extreme.

Cairo Airport Qatar Airways check-in

Cairo Airport arrivals board

With my boarding pass, departure card, and lounge invitation in hand I proceeded through the departures hall towards immigration. I passed the check-in desks from a few other airlines, including Emirates.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 check-in hall

The queue for immigration took about 15 minutes, and while in line I filled out the departure form I was given at check-in, which I had to hand to the immigration agent.

There wasn’t really queuing for immigration, but rather everyone just pushing and shoving. I did what I could to hold my own, or I would have stood there all day.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 check-in hall

I’m not sure what was most interesting right past immigration — the collection of odd furniture, or the fact that another immigration officer was checking everyone’s passports after immigration, which had a bit of a bottleneck effect.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

There was an information desk just behind immigration, so I asked them where the lounge was. They directed me up the escalator to the second level.

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

The architecture on the second level was certainly a bit nicer than on the first level. Most interesting had to be the coffee, which had signage from… EgyptAir?! Watch out, Starbucks!

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 airside

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 tarmac

Cairo Airport Terminal 1 tarmac

The lounge was actually on the third floor, so after arriving on the second floor I turned right, and then could either take the elevator or stairs up to the second level.

At the top of the stairs was a lady just sort of randomly sitting on a chair chatting with someone. I didn’t realize until I tried to walk past her that she was actually the lounge agent. She admitted me once I handed her my invitation.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge stairs Terminal 1

Anyway, this is the contract lounge shared by a vast majority of airlines flying out of Terminal 1, and there are a couple other options if you have a credit card with lounge access. As far as I know the only airline with their own lounge is Air France. And hilariously this contract lounge is “themed.” This mega-lounge complex consists of the following themed areas:

  • The American Lounge
  • The English Lounge
  • The Egyptian Lounge
  • The Italian Lounge

Based on the pictures below, I’ll let you guys tell me which area belongs with which theme.

So immediately upon getting to the top of the stairs is the area of the lounge overlooking the concourse and tarmac. It featured what was quite possibly the nastiest green carpet I’ve ever seen.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

I also don’t think I’ve ever seen so much mis-matched furniture in my life.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

The food selection consisted of four types of bread.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge food Terminal 1

And they even had hot food…

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge food Terminal 1

… or whatever you’d call that. It was even less appetizing looking than what was served in the GOL Smiles Lounge Sao Paulo Airport.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge food Terminal 1

Then there was a small cooler with soda, and a microwave on top of that.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge drinks & microwave Terminal 1

Then there was a rather random hallway which lead into another “themed” area of the lounge.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

This seemed to be the most popular area of the lounge, and was also the only part that didn’t look like a storage closet.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge Terminal 1

There was a modest buffet consisting of several types of bread, soda, juice, water, and several types of cake.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge buffet Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge buffet Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge buffet Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge drinks Terminal 1

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge food Terminal 1

I’m not sure if this is somehow lost in translation for me or what, but one thing I found interesting is that no one took just one or two croissants. Instead, there wasn’t a single person that left the buffet with fewer than a handful of croissants, and in some cases a dozen croissants. Many of these people were traveling alone, and as I watched they didn’t actually eat all of them, but rather the croissants just sat on their plates. I haven’t seen that before anywhere else.

Anyway, at the buffet there was also a barista (or someone) on duty, who made me a cappuccino. It was served in an “EgyptAir In-Flight Services” cup.

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge cappuccino Terminal 1

The Wi-Fi in the lounge was slow and only borderline usable.

Since the lounge wasn’t all that exciting I headed to the gate at around 12:15PM, which was an hour before departure. I was departing from Gate 7, which was maybe a five minute walk away.

Security at Cairo Airport is at the individual gates, and to my surprise there wasn’t really much of a queue.

Cairo Airport Qatar Airways departure gate

My bags were quickly screened, and as soon I cleared security I realized I was missing a duty free bag. I didn’t actually have duty free items in it, but on my Etihad flight they gave me a duty free bag to store all my pajamas and amenity kits, since I had run out of room.

I told the security officer, and he told me “Asian man take.” I couldn’t find the guy in the gate area initially, though after looking around for a couple of minutes I found him. As it turned out, he just had a ton of duty free bags, and assumed mine was his as well.

Anyway, shortly after 12:30PM boarding began. There wasn’t even a boarding call, but rather they just started letting people on the buses. There was yet another passport check when entering the buses. It wasn’t the picture page of the passport they were interested in, but rather your Egyptian immigration arrival stamp. That seemed odd to me. I’m leaving the country, why are they looking for that now?

Cairo Airport Qatar Airways departure gate

Cairo Airport buses to remote stand

The ride to the tarmac featured some pretty interesting traffic, including a Saudi Arabian 747.

Being bussed to remote stand at Cairo Airport

Being bussed to remote stand at Cairo Airport

Saudi Arabian 747 Cairo Airport

After a maybe five minute ride we pulled up to our Qatar Airways A330, which would be taking us to Doha.

Qatar Airways A330 Cairo Airport

Qatar Airways A330 Cairo Airport

Boarding was through both the front and the rear of the aircraft, so the process seemed to be pretty efficient.

Qatar Airways A330 Cairo Airport

Qatar Airways A330 Cairo Airport

Cairo Airport VIP Lounge bottom line

I’ve been to some unique airports around the world, though this was certainly among the uniquest.

And while there are many lounges that I think are worth arriving early for, this isn’t one of them.

Have you ever transited Cairo Airport, and if so, how was your experience?

  1. The Terminal 1 lounge looks actually quite good compared to the so-called “First Class Lounge” in Terminal 3, which is the Star Alliance and Priority Pass one.

    Had a similar fridge of soda, although ours was broken, and only a choice of a couple of sandwiches and some birthday cake!

  2. I used Cairo airport earlier in March this year after spent 2 months living in Egypt so, there isn’t many surprises in what I saw, however, impress me WHY they don’t allow passengers to make online check-in, instead, they check your name in a huge printed spreadsheet.

    But I have to said, Terminal 1 was better than my expectations, since I am from Brazil and only now Sao Paulo Guarulhos has a decent airport.

    But about the arrival sector, is better not even start…

    PS: I flew with Air France.

  3. Do you mind labeling which was the American, Italian, English and Egyptian lounge? The outdoor lounge was the Italian one, but I can’t seem to name the others.

  4. Additionally, the 5th picture is the arrivals board, not the departures board. (The departures board wouldn’t have the belt, and QR 1303 is DOH – CAI and not CAI – DOH.)

  5. I live in Cairo and, having tried all 4 lounges in T3 and the “lounge complex” of T1, I can tell you that the difference is quite drastic.
    I hate T1 in general and, being the Star Alliance guy I am, always prefer T3. T3 lounges look the same as most Star Alliance lounges all over the world. If you think your experience with this lounge was bad, you should rethink when I tell you about how I entered this particular lounge at 3am and found out that I was stuck with no wi-fi, no food (except for 2 croissants) and exactly 4 bottles of water in that fridge. When they ran out of water, I asked the lounge attendant for one and she actually went to Starbucks and bought me one. If you find yourself in CAI again, make sure to take the people-mover to T3 and try the Al-Gienah Lounge (it’s awesome)
    As for taking pics in the airport, it is completely safe and acceptable to do so, I even sometimes take pics of the tarmac using my DSLR and face absolutely no problems (although I have gone through trouble when I went spotting behind RWY05C)

  6. @ Alvin — Sharp eye! And as far as the lounges go, I really have no clue which area is supposed to be which theme.

  7. Flew EgyptAir between JNB and ATH in 2002 and got stuck in the CAI airport for about 8 hours. I knew quite a bit less about airports then than I do now, but I am pretty sure there was only one terminal and departures area and it was small and dark and smelled heavily like perfume. Coming back from LHR to JNB through CAI they let us off the plane but did not let us in the airport and just kept us in a glass cage and provided horrid (WET!!!) sandwiches while we waited the 2/3 hours for the next flight to depart. I’ve avoided it at all cost since then but it is interesting to see changes compared to my unpleasant memories of CAI airport.

  8. @lucky you would be surprised a lot of countries have immigration when you leave as you had there and I guess they are double checking to make sure no one who came in illegally got to slip through…somehow

  9. Oh man, I lived in Egypt for about a year more than 10 years ago, and man do some of these pictures make me laugh out loud. Especially the pictures of the random furniture. That is a classic. Two revolutions since I’ve last been there and it looks like not much has changed at all! Oh, and that less-than-appetizing looking food is called “ful.” It’s the Egyptian national dish!

  10. 1 or 2 Croissant? Look at Turkish IST Lounge. People pile up food on their plates and many do not consume all the way as if they were at a free buffet restaurant. Worse yet, they also leave their plates on other peoples tables. My 2 cents.

    My experience at CAI was not the best either although it was 6 year ago. It seems that they haven’t changed much.

  11. One of your more interesting – and intriguing – reports Lucky. The lounge certainly is… fascinating.

    Does anyone know which other airports permit only travelling passengers entry and will screen you at the terminal entrance? Is this done for extra security? I suppose such airports are no longer technically public spaces.

  12. Ahh, that brings back memories from a trip to Egypt last year. I remember the microwave and carpet well..

    It is a shame you didn’t get to see EgyptAir’s domestic business class lounge at Cairo airport! It was about 6 metres x 3 metres, jammed with chairs, incredibly weak wi-fi and some soggy sandwiches… Was a blast!

  13. That food is full, an Egyptian delicacy. Curious that you visit a country and haven’t experienced a staple dish.

  14. I have been to Egypt on several occasions and I have to say that Cairo Airport looks first class when compared to Sharm El Sheikh Airport which is a complete shambles, it always makes me laugh how often they check your passport in Egyptian Airports.

  15. I was based in CAI for many years and your report brought back good memories (that’s not sarcasm — Egypt is a lovely place to live, current situation notwithstanding!).

    As some commenters already noted, the lounges in Terminal 3 are much nicer (the entire terminal is more modern) and generally conform to *A standards, at least in terms of decor. They are “dry,” of course, so that’s one difference, but all of CAI airport is dry. The country itself is not, of course, and alcohol can be had at most hotels and some restaurants and there are even liquor stores in the cities (mostly beer — hard liquor is generally only sold in duty free stores).

    Terminal 2 (which used to house everyone prior to T3 opening) is now being renovated (I think it’s in one of your pictures) and will also be the same modern design as T3. I think that eventually this T1 will either close or be used for domestic flights — not sure.

    As for that brown mush that looks like vomit, it is clearly a very poor rendition of a national dish called “ful” (pronounced more like “fool”) that’s had mostly at breakfast (as this was an early time of day). It is boiled fava beans and should look better when the proper spices and condiments are added to it. It actually tastes quite good, though it’s heavy. No different than having beans for breakfast at a Mexican or Tex-Mex place, though. Ful goes hand-in-hand with falafel in Egypt.

    One last thing: there actually is a Business/First check-in area, but the entrance is on the other side of the terminal. Not generally worth it unless there are huge lines where you were.

  16. @ Lucky — by now, are you used to the fact that no matter what location/airline you write about, there are a ton of readers who live(d) or work(ed) there? Egypt isn’t all that surprising, I suppose, but I was rather intrigued that when you wrote about Air Koryo awhile back, so many people chimed in with personal experiences of flying to/from North Korea.

  17. You brought back very unpleasant memory. Stuck in transit lounge 8 hours JNB/CDG
    Air conditioning numbingly cold
    Tried to hole up in empty Vip room
    thrown out by vicious manager
    The Egypt Air staff only slightly less miserable
    So fool me once your fault
    I will not visit Egypt even to change planes
    As for the up close and personal I tell them I have a severe psoriasis and my Dr says people should avoid contact

  18. The whole country of Egypt is a dump. Why should the airport be any different? I’ll never set foot in that Sh*tH*le again. The corruption, stupidity, yelling, pushing, shoving, screaming, harassment, theft and stench are enough to cause someone to think they may be better off just Burning It All.

  19. I’ve lived in Egypt for a while and tried one of the lounges at T3 and it was certainly nothing to write home about . Just to correct an above comment .The lounges are indeed dry but the airport isn’t and alcohol can be bought at bars,restaurants and kiosks in Terminal 3

  20. I had a twelve hour stopover in Cairo during the riots in 2013. When I booked the trip (it was multi-city) I saw the long gap as an opportunity to see a few sights, but the riots left me waiting in Terminal 3 the entire time. The airport was mostly empty, there were only a few touts offering tours that were not too difficult to avoid. I am used to travel in the Middle East, but this airport as a single woman was just creepy. Women were uncomfortable in the smoking lounge, so they were smoking in the toilets and while I didn’t like that when I was the smoking lounge window, I understood.

    The lounge would not allow me in until six hours before the flight, even though it was completely empty and I explained the the current situation I was rudely refused. When I finally got in, these pictures make the business lounge of Egypt Air look luxurious. There was one tray of bread, some bottles of juice and sandwiches that looked like they were there since the Old Kingdom. Wifi was acceptable, but there was a maximum of four people in the lounge. Also, Egypt Air is dry, so there is no alcohol on the plane or the lounge but there is a bar in the terminal with the friendliest (meaning passable) service.

    Doha, Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are all much better choices to transit, this airport, lounge and service is so awful it’s not even close. Never again!

  21. Ah, memories of Cairo Airport ‘First Class and Business Lounge’. It is terrible. The airport itself is not the worst I have even been in. It’s an experience if you are not used to Egypt. The food is stale. Bread looks like it has been left out for days and feels like it. I normally bring a breakfast box from the hotel and simply have a cup of tea and a fresh croissant. I make tea myself as staff seem incapable of doing that basic task. The food is stone cold. From scrambled eggs to the traditional Egyptian breakfast dish – ful – all cold. Hence the need for the microwave. British airways haven’t flown First Class into Cairo for years now. I’d not waste money on first class on this flight due to the lounge and length of journey to London. Out of Egypt, I choose Club World. Good news is that the grotty old British Airways planes flying out of Egypt are being replaced with a Boeing 787s (No first class on this version anyway). This has to be better than the last Club World experience I had with BA – Cairo to London. They had the nerve to serve flat champagne, warm, previously opened. The food was dreadful. Snack range a joke and champagne on a bucket on the floor. Lovely. BA is inconsistent and careless too often.

  22. @lucky – you haven’t had to depart from Saudi as of yet; an immigration officer checks your exit stamp just before you get on the bus. I would be willing to bet you that this process in Saudi comes from Egypt since a lot of the processes currently in place in Saudi – whether the Saudis admit it or not – have come from Egypt from back in the 50s-60s when Egypt was, believe it or not, very civilized and they were sending teachers by the hundreds to educated the gulf countries.

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