I have been in and out of Cairo airport SO many times over he last year- and I only just realised that it really is worth a blog entry of its own!
Cairo International airport has 2 terminals- 1 and 2. So far not confusing at all. HOWEVER, Terminal 2 is the new one and terminal 1 the old. Still- makes sense. BUT terminal 1 was refurbished within the last couple of years and is stunning… mosaics, clean, wi-fi, etc. In fact- New looking. Whereas terminal 2 – the 'new' one- looks, well, old! They are beginning the refurbishment of terminal 2 now as well- so once competed that should make things a lot less complicated!
On the way into to Cairo- if you haven't purchased your visa before you arrive (and you don’t need to if you have a British passport, then you can line up at any of the windows which are small banks and exchange money and buy your visa. This option is much cheaper than buying the visa in the UK so it's what I normally do. Then the queue for passport control. I have to say that this year so far I haven't had any problems so far up to this stage… the problem before that is the queue itself!! Some how- I don’t know how… even if I sprint off the plane and run to the bank to get the visa and choose the shortest queue- STILL I am one of the last through (how come?!!!) I thought I had really cracked it the last time- I was literally about the 5th person through- Hurray- I had learned to crack the system………… BUT then my suitcase didn't arrive- so I had to wait until all the bags were through then stand in- you guessed it- another queues to fill in forms re where they could send my bag. Grr!!!
The other thing about queuing in Egypt is that – well they just don’t do it….. at the airport they kind of have to- so it's not SO bad. You just need to watch the traffic in the sharia (street) for 2mins to realise that the Egyptian way of 'queuing' is to wheedle your way to the front by which ever means possible….. waiting your turn is almost unheard off. I do think that this system works really well on the roads- if there was that much traffic on a road in UK then it would be at a standstill for hours- here however slow you are going- you are very rarely at a standstill!!! Unfortunately for me this system works best for you if you are well practiced in it- and not too polite- so from Brits abroad it is definitely one of the challenges!!
Anyway- back to the airport…. You have the same occurrences as you have in most countries where jobs are scare and labour is cheap…. You get out your bus/taxi whatever and porter rush to grab your bags- anxious for a tip…. Then once you are through security a different porter tries to do the same thing……….fine if you have a lot of small change on you!!! The of course there are the toilet attendants who are after a tip for handing you some toilet paper (this is common all over Cairo – not just reserved for the airport!)
And the shops…. Not a place to buy your favourite perfume- well not terminal 2 anyway (the terminal which deals with British Airways) the selection is sparse! And duty free is very good- on your way into Cairo…. You can bring in whatever the actual allowance is (most books say 1litre spirits) but then you can go with your boarding card to a shop at the airport itself and buy up to 4 more litres! Worth knowing if you have people to influence with presents here- or plan on staying a while since outside of the duty free shops you can only buy Egyptian brands- hmm. Anyway- the shops. Most of the things you can by in the bizarre at Khan el Khalili you can buy here…. But if it is likely to cost you 5le at the souk it'll set you back at least $5 at the airport- however still worth it if your bags are heavy and you are prepared to carry your onyx or whatever on as hand luggage as you have already passed the weighing in stage by this point! (I have a couple of lovely alabaster candle holders at home which I brought back via this method without incurring extra baggage costs!)
Otherwise- an airport is an airport……….. and Cairo seems to function as efficiently as any other. The only major problems I have discovered is if you come from certain countries- even if you hold a British passport….. One girl in a group with me once was held for over 3 hours on arrival (very scary!) because although she was British and born and lived there all her life, both her parents were from Pakistan, no other reason. I guess it's always, in this political climate, better to be safe than sorry. But it is really no fun at all if you are the person who is stopped. Khalid was stopped too (Moroccan passport) for no reason….. and I was worried sick- you hear such stories…. But they let him through eventually!!! Since there doesn't seem to be a way round this problem then I recommend if you have any qualms about coming into Cairo, come in to terminal 1, not 2 (ie not British Airways) since all the main info re passport control seems to be held at terminal 1 and that was the reason we were given both times for the 3 hour delay at terminal 2!!!
The worst thing to happen at Cairo airport (after those waits) is getting to the wrong terminal! I did this one time in error with a group of mine- what a nightmare- I felt so stupid! Thankfully we realised before the bus went off and left us stranded. But you can imagine- 12 women- heavily laden with Cairo shopping, unloading from the bus- then having to reload in order to drive to the other terminal!!! Daft so and so that I felt!! Oh – and now at terminal 2 you have to park in a car park miles away and get the free bus to the terminal if you are collecting anyone (taxi's can still drop off at departures).
And of course there is all the stories about carrying sticks back…. And coin belts and drums- the usual bellydancer stuff….. the security staff got really quite agitated one time when I had stuffed a tabla full of cygats and coin belts to bring home…… looked very dodgy seemingly- we had quite a laugh in the end though when they realised what it all was!
Anyway……….. I have been typing this as I sit in departures……. And we'll be boarding any second now…. So unless I think of any more stories about Cairo airport to add at Heathrow… then that’s it for now! (el hamdu lelah I hear you say!!!)
P.S- word of advice….. it is NOT a good idea to sit in the café and type whilst listening to your ipod……although it does make the time fly by much quicker- too quick in fact!……….. this is a very good way of missing the boarding call- and having the pleasure of eventually hearing your name called out over the tannoy- oops!!!