Having arrived to Jeddah just 9 days earlier from Canada (http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/trip_reports/read.main/173822/ ), I finished all the errands I had here, saw some good old friends, and took advantage of Jeddah’s excellent shopping, it was time to go Egypt: The main attraction of the summer. I would stay in Egypt for 5 weeks, then come back for another stop in Jeddah for 3 weeks, before heading back home to Canada.
Now, having been an Egyptian Expat for nearly all my life, there are 2 days of the year which are predefined for me. The best day of the year, is the day I go to Egypt for my summer vacation. The worst day of the year, is the day I leave Egypt. And now that I was all away in Canada, I was missing Egypt more than ever. I was so excited, that I couldn’t sleep at night.
We had originally booked MS both ways, we’ve been using them on this leg ever since MS joined Star Alliance, so we can earn miles on our Diamond Club Card. We got the opportunity to go to Egypt 4 days earlier, but it would mean we’d have to fly SV. I wanted to avoid that, but I was so desperate to go to Egypt, that I took the opportunity and now I was booked on a SV 2362 4 days earlier than my original MS flight.
When I received the flight number, I realised it was 4 digits, not the usual 3 digits of SV 3XX flights that do the JED-CAI. I learned it was also an Airbus A300, which is strange because this route is usually operated by the B747-300 or the B777-200. Strange. I would later discover that I was booked on one of the dreaded Saudia, Onur Air-leased Airbus A300 hajj flights. Also, the flight was never shown on flightstats.com , and it wasn’t on the FIDS, because it was not a scheduled flight.
Now, there’s something you have to understand about Jeddah-Cairo flights. On average, MS and SV combined, there are 20 flights operating daily on the JED-CAI route. And they are almost always 100% full. Now, in a normal season, this flight would be full of Egyptian expats in the Kingdom going home, or Saudi Tourists going to Egypt. In this case, there are your usual inconveniences found in this part of the world such as people talking on cell phones, people taking seats which were not assigned to them, people getting up and getting their bags the second the wheels touch the runway etc.
But what’s even worse this time, is that it was high season for pilgrims. This flight would be full of mainly elderly pilgrims from remote villages in Egypt, most of whom had never flown before. As you will see, it will turn out to be quite an experience.
But it wont be anything new really, I’ve flown this route around 18 times in the past 15 years on a combination of both SV and MS. For JED-CAI, I’ve seen it all.
Departure Airport: Jeddah, King Abdul Azziz Int’l Airport (JED) – South Terminal
Arrival Airport: Cairo International Airport (CAI) – Terminal 1
Date: 9th of July 2010.
Scheduled Departure Time: 3:45 am
Actual Departure Time: 5:15 am
Scheduled Arrival Time: 6:00 am
Actual Arrival Time: 7:30 am
Flight Number: SV 2362
Equipment: Airbus A300 (Leased from Onur Air)
Load Factor: All Economy, 100%
Photo © Stéphane Mutzenberg
Photo © Irfan Caliskan - AirTeamImages
Photo © Fatih Caliskan
Photo © Frank Doering
At the Airport
First of all, I’d like to say it was extremely difficult taking photos in this airport, since airports, government buildings etc. in this part of the world usually prohibit photography. But I did my best, and I hope its good enough.
I have used this facility over 25 times in the past 15 years, and not only has it not changed one bit, but it maintains its title as the worst airport facility I have EVER used. I’ve done the JED rant in my other TRs involving JED, and I wont go through it all again. But this is a summary: An airport straight out of the 80s, disorganized, dirty, chaotic, crowded, unhygienic, and no decent amenities whatsoever.
We arrived at the airport at 1:00am, and headed inside the terminal.
The check-in counters were at the far end of the hall, and there was only one way to get them. Look carefully at the following pics:
As you can see, in the far distance you can see the check-in counters at the back of the hall. To get to them, there was one line (the line the shot is taken from) all the way from the terminal entrance, which is on the other side of the hall, till the check-in area, where it feeds into several check in counters. Except everyone was cutting lines, and the check-in counter was one big cluster of people, not knowing where to go.
Eventually, we reached the check-in area, and found ourselves engulfed in a crowd of pax. We saw an airport employee walking around with a really loud walkie-talkie, and asked him which counter to check in from. He lead us to a check-in counter on the far right, and directed us to the Business Class Counter for Saudi 021 to New York JFK. We ended up checking in for our Cairo flight, in the Business Class Check-in counter for Saudia 021 to New York JFK! Other Cairo bound passengers were seen checking in at Milan, Dhaka counters and at the same time, other pax not going to Cairo where checking in at the Cairo counters. I found this very strange to say the least, but as long as we were checking-in fine, then I didn’t really care.
It’s now 2am, and we have cleared passport control, and security and we are heading into the departure hall area.
FIDS (our flight, being unscheduled, was not on there ofcourse)
The Departure hall consists of a hall, smaller than the size of a football field, with rows of seats, and a small cafeteria with round tables and chairs at one end. The Cafeteria prices were ridiculous, and the food looked stale. Also, several people left their plates and uneaten food on tables, without bothering to clean up. Oh, and the departure hall was packed.
To their credit however, the Departure Hall looked a bit newer than the other parts of the Terminal (check-in, baggage area etc.), and there were 3 or 4 computers available for use, and Wifi Access (not free though). But it was still way too small. It was completely packed.
I managed to sneak some shots:
Took this one through the hole design in the seat! :
The Cafeteria in the distance, and you can see the table in front of us, with left over litter and food from the last people who sat there:
In a blur, SV birds parked in the distance:
Boarding began at 3:15, lined up in a queue, an official check our boarding passes, passports, and then we took some escalators down to a lower level, where busses were waiting for us to take us to the aircraft.
It was along ride, since our bird was parked at the Hajj Terminal. It took about 12 mins to get from the South Terminal to the Hajj Terminal where our aircraft was parked.
Got off the bus, climbed up the stairs, and the first thing I noticed was that the aircraft was in an all-economy layout. We were greeted by 2, young Egyptian male FAs. I showed him my boarding pass, but he told me: “Oh no sir, this flight has free seating, you can sit wherever you want”. So I headed towards the mid-section of the plane, and chose a window seat.
Even if there were assigned seats, you would end up having people taking seats which don’t belong to them anyways since that happens alot here, so why bother from the start?
I noticed Arabic, English and Turkish Signage inside the aircraft, and I soon realised this was an Onur Air leased A300. As for the crew, there were those 2 Egyptian males I mentioned, along with a female FA, who I think composed the SV share of the crew. Meanwhile there were 2 other, older female Turkish FAs (Does Onur Air include cabin crew in the lease or were they just SV FAs of Turkish nationality?)
The seats were very small, and weren’t comfortable at all. My seat in particular was torn, and had a metal spring sticking out of it, which left a mark on my behind.
My torn seat and the metal spring:
All the other seats were quickly taken, and I was left with this seat, and the metal spring that would be jabbing me in the rear for the rest of the flight.
It was now 3:45 am. We should be departing now, but we weren’t. 4:00am, still on the ground. The Air Con was not working for some reason, and the outside temperature was 38 degrees Celsius. 4:15am still on the ground. It was now getting really hot, sticky and cramped in the plane, I was beginning to sweat. People began asking questions, the crew just shrugged their shoulders and walked off.
4:25 am, the captain comes on “welcoming” us onboard, and saying we were delayed because they were waiting for all the luggage to be loaded onto the aircraft. Ofcourse, the geniuses at Saudia parked the plane in the Hajj Terminal, a good 15 mins away from the South Terminal. The Captain then said that we should be leaving in 10 mins.
4:45 am. I am now pouring with sweat, using the safety card to fan myself. The captain’s 10 min promise was never kept. At this point I was really, really angry and frustrated, and the only thing that kept me from snapping completely was the fact that in a couple of hours I would finally be back in Egypt. That really was the only thing that kept me going.
At 4:50 am, the captain came on, and said: “I can assure you there is only 10 mins left from now.” This was met by a simultaneous, sarcastic laugh and sarcastic remarks by the passengers, since this wasn’t the first time he said there was 10 mins left, he said that half an hour ago!
So I was killing time by listening to my iPod. Holding myself back, knowing that hopefully, in a matter of hours I will be in Egypt.
We ended up departing at 5:15 am. One hour and a half later than scheduled departure time. 55 mins after the Captain’s first 10 min promise, and 25 mins after his second 10 min promise. And finally, as the aircraft started its taxi, the AC turned on, much to the relief of the sweltering pax in the 38 degree Celsius cabin.
Take-off from Jeddah:
As we reached our cruising altitude, I wanted to find some form of entertainment other than my iPod. There were no PTVs, which wasn’t a big deal its a 2 hour flight after all. I look around, there doesn’t seem to be an overhead screen. I look in the seat pocket, there isn’t even an inflight magazine! Nothing! No Entertainment! The only thing in the seat pocket was the safety card (the one I used as a fan), and a sickness bag.
It’s now 6:30 am, and the FA’s come around with the meal service. The Options: Chicken or Beef. I was surprised for a second, it was 6:30 am after all. WHO EATS CHICKEN OR BEEF WITH RICE FOR BREAKFAST?!!? I was expecting some kind of breakfast meal to be served or something!
Chicken served with rice, and string beans. There was a bun and salad on the side with butter, as well as apple juice. Food was okay, nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either, chicken a bit bland. But the Rice Pudding desert was delicious
Turkish writing, it is an Onur Air-leased aircraft after all:
Over the Red Sea, approaching the Egyptian Coast:
Mountains and landscape near Hurghada:
As we approached Cairo’s smogy skyline at Dawn, I felt a rush inside me, and my heart was pumping faster, all the anger and fatigue from the ordeal we just went through seem to fade away, because there is not better feeling than looking down at your hometown from the sky as you are approaching it.
Various pics of Cairo during landing:
The famous CityStars complex:
Terminal 3, seconds before touchdown:
Saudia B747-300 taxing out for departure. I’d be riding that same aircraft in 5 weeks:
Cairo’s new ATC Tower which recently opened:
EgyptAir B777-300ER arriving:
EgyptAir A320, with the old ATC tower in the background on the right:
Petroleum Air Services (PAS) aircraft:
We parked next to another Saudia B747-300. Don’t you just love the SV livery? So beautiful.
Usually, SV along with the other Gulf Carriers, British Airways, Alitalia and Air France/KLM use the notorious Terminal 2 at CAI. But Terminal 2 has officially been closed as of May 2010, for renovation until 2013. It’s capacity will be double from 3.5 Million pax per year, to 7 million pax per year. Also, what was once CAI’s ugliest, most horrendous terminal, is getting a majore facelift. You can see the design here: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1018985
Also, Terminal 1 has a very weird system, since it has 3 halls. It’s to my understanding that Hall 1 isthe access to the main terminal building, Hall 2 being Saudia departures, and hall 3 being Saudia Arrivals.
Terminal 1, hall 3:
A 7:30 am we disembarked. I was really happy to get off that aircraft, and even happier because of the fact that I was now on Egyptian soil.
Air Cairo A320:
The sign that warmed my heart :
It took 7 mins to clear customs, then 15 min to get the luggage. But I didn’t care, I had a grin on my face, and I was on the best mood ever, because I was finally here.
Walking out towards the exit:
At the exit, there was a plaque commemorating EgyptAir’s first flight ever: In 1933, EgyptAir started commercial operation in August with Spartan cruiser from Cairo to Alexandria:
Thoughts and Comments
Aircraft & Seats
The seats were really small, seat width was uncomfortable, leg room was decent. However my sear was ripped, and there was a metal spring which was jabbing me in my rear end for the entire flight. Its good that it was just a 2 hour flight (oh, and add the 1 hour 45 mins on the ground), because sitting in that seat any longer than that is just unimaginable.
I’ve never given anything a zero before, but this time it deserves it. There was literally, no IFE. No PTVs, no overhead screens, not even an inflight magazine! Its just a 2 hour flight and I’m not asking for a touchscreen AVOD PTV, but seriously, no In-Flight Magazine? Really?
I dont know who was behind the idea of serving Chicken or beef with rice for breakfast at 6:30 am, but it’s quite ridiculous. Why did they not serve a breakfast meal? That said, the meal was average, the chicken and rice a bit bland, however the rice pudding desert was really good.
There were those 2 Egyptian male FAs, along with a tall (Syrian or Lebanese) female FA, who I think composed the SV share of the crew. Meanwhile there were 2 other, older female Turkish FAs (Does Onur Air include cabin crew in the lease or were they just SV FAs of Turkish nationality?) The two Turkish FAs gave me the impression that they hated their job, and were doing it as if they were slave labour. They showed complete disregard for passenger concern, always frowning, and keeping interaction to a very minimum. The two Egyptian male FA’s were a bunch of smiling, cheerful lads, but they weren’t grumpy. Mainly going with the “Just doing my job” attitude, with the occasional smile. The best FA though, was the tall, female, Syrian/Lebanese one, who I saw smiling a lot and interacting with the pax.
An absolutely dreadful experience, which I hope never to repeat again in my life. There was just so many things wrong from Jeddah Airport, until arrival, that I dont even know where to begin. I think I’ve ranted enough during the TR.
I’ve flown this route 18 times I’ve flown this route around 18 times in the past 15 years on a combination of both SV and MS. In regards to my experiences on SV, I have had great flights on PTV equipped SV 777s, and have been packed like sardines on an SV B747-300. In my flights with SV, I’ve had a variety of good and bad experiences, this flight was one of a couple of really bad ones.
I used SV on this route all the time in the 90s, and until the mid-2000s, simply because at the time, SV offered a service that was far superior to that of MS. But I believe the day has come, where SV has deteriorated so much, that MS has become the airline of choice on this route. As a result, I’ve been using MS on this route in the past few years (this flight was an exception, I mentioned why earlier), and especially since they joined Star Alliance, I could earn miles on my BMI diamond club. After this summer, I will try and avoid SV at all costs, at least on this route.
Taking an average of the ratings above, it gives us a score of 3.25/10. Quite frankly, for this flight at least, the only thing I liked about them was their Livery.
Back to the TR, I stepped outside the Terminal, looked around, taking in the fact that I was in Egypt. I couldn’t believe it, so I tried to convince myself: Crazy Drivers (Check), Bargaining Taxi Drivers (Check), Disorganization everywhere (Check), saw a couple of police officers walking in the white Egyptian Police uniform, saw the signature black and white cabs. I dropped my bag, and felt a tear of joy run down my face. I was finally in Egypt!
The Air Mall:
Old ATC tower on the right, new ATC tower on far left:
Soon, our driver pulled up in our car, we said hi to him, put the luggage in the car, and off we go. Driving out from the airport, I could already see construction going on for CAI’s Inter-terminal Monorail. Scheduled for completion in 2012, the CAI Monorail will link T1, T2, and T3 together making transit between terminals easier.
Construction of Monorail support beams:
The first station:
More Terminal 1:
On the road away from the Airport:
As we were cruising down the road from the airport, I did a customary thing, which is always the first thing I do when im in the car going home from the airport, I turned the radio onto “104.2 Nile FM”, a very popular, English, radio channel in Cairo. I kicked back and relaxed, and to my luck, it was 8 am, and the “Mobinil Wake Up Call” was just starting. I rolled down the windows, looking around, as the radio presenter said: “Good Morning Cairo! This the Mobinil Wake Up Call , Zach and Lina Here, playing out the latest hits, only on 104.2 Nile fm, Cairo’s #1” I continued listening as Cairene commuters, began their morning commute to work, the street merchants opening up their stalls with the fresh morning bread, and typical Egyptian staple foods like Ful etc. I was one of the happiest men in the world right then.
Thanks for reading my TR, as always comments, suggestions and feedback are most welcomed.
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