Airline: Egypt Air
Aircraft: Airbus A321 / Boeing 777-300ER / Airbus A330-200
Route: Amsterdam - Cairo - Bangkok - Cairo - New York - Cairo - Bangkok - Cairo - Amsterdam
Date: June / July 2011
34000 miles on an airline I've never wanted to fly in my life
Egypt Air AMS-CAI-BKK-CAI-JFK-CAI-BKK-CAI-AMS
I had to fly from Europe to Thailand for some business and I also had to go back to the US again. I checked several flights and the cheapest turned out to be Egyptair from Amsterdam to Bangkok and from Bangkok to New York. Quite a crazy trip for altogether appr. 3300 EUR.
To be honest: If have a look at various aviation forums I've always been on the front to oppose Egypt Air and make very clear that they should not be a member of Star Alliance. Whatever. The routing was crazy enough, I needed the miles and the price was unbeatable. Let's give it a try.
Two days before departure I managed to get a connection flight from DUS to AMS for very small money.
The flight from DUS to AMS was uneventful. Because I had time enough I checked my luggage only to AMS and picked it up there to re-check it in to MS. In the arrival hall I waited for my luggage. The belt started moving and - suprise - my luggage came first. But not only did it come first, it also came last. It was the only piece of luggage from DUS routed to AMS directly. Everything else went to connecting flights.
Check in was nice. However, they had some problems to get my BMI number into the reservation but the supervisor knew about the problem and it was time to head to the lounge. Meanwhile MS and a lot of other carriers use the old KLM lounge at E. As somebody who had visited this lounge hundreds of times it was a nice welcome back to sit in there again.
40 min before departure I headed for the G gates and arrived at the gate perfect in time. I was the last through security, went to the front and started boarding first 30 seconds later. That's what I love Amsterdam for.
AMS-CAI was on a A 321. And directly the first surpise. The seats looked good. Very good. Not as the European Business seats which are nothing else then a row of Economy seats with the middle seat free and not as tight as the American domestic First seats. The seats are similar but with far more legroom and a better recline. All in all for a 4 hour flight the seats are more than comfortable. Lunch service was not bad, but nothing special either. I would rate the food on all flights together with appr. 4 out of 10 points. If you want to have gourmet food on board, do not fly Egypt Air. Service was ONLY during meal time. After that the crew disappeared. If you wanted to have something to drink you had to ring the bell. However, positive, IF you ring, they are with you within seconds. But ZERO automatic drink offers etc.
The 4 hr flight passed by and we landed before scheduled arrival time in Cairo. Bus gate of course. As there were only 4 people on this flight in Business class, the bus closed its doors exactly after those 4 people had entered. The rest of the cabin had to wait for the next bus.
The next positive surprise was Cairo Airport MS Terminal. It is a bit chaotic around the transfer desk. What they call "security" is the biggest joke I have ever seen at an international airport. Bags through scanner (nobody looked at the screen) and through security gate with all metal on your body. It beeped for everybody passing. Some people got searched manually, but most simply went through. It wouldn't be a problem to smuggle whatever you want through this "security". However, as soon as you pass through and you get one level up, you see that this is a midsize but nice airport, having everything you need, reasonable duty free prices, short ways and a reasonable numbers of lounges. For me as a smoker: They have 4 lounges in Cairo. 3 of them are for non-smokers. The last one is for smokers only (on the way to gate F at the end of the hallway on the left side). The lounge is small, food and drinks are rather mediocre but it is nice. The ragout and the pasta were ice cold. After they asked me for a review I complained about this in a short letter.
Some days before this flight left I had seen to my very big surprise that they continue the 77W service to Bangkok longer than planned and this flight is still served with a 77W. I walked to my gate, passed another "security" at the gate and walked down to my plane. What a surprise. The seats looked really good. As I heard later those seats are exactly the Air France NEV III seats, however, with a little bit more seat pitch which enables you to create a nearly 100 % horizontal bed. I know, it wasn't exactly horizontal, but I did not slip away once on my flights on these planes. The seats are great. So, why did I complain about MS being in Star Alliance, as long as their premium product is better than TG, LH, UA (old), US (old) etc.?
We left in time, had a short but acceptable meal and I put the seats in sleeping position for really good sleep for several hours. Although I had the sticker "do not wake me up" put on the seat, I got waken up when they served breakfast and decided to have mine as well.
We arrived in Bangkok at gate D 7, directly opposite of the immigration. With the "priority" cards which were handed to Business Class passengers it took only seconds to be through immigration and arrive in the luggage hall. Priority labelled luggage arrived first, so I was out of the airport appr. 15 min after arrival (in fact still 20 mins before scheduled arrival). MS does the hard job excellent. However, once more. I woke up several time during the night. I never saw anybody in the cabin. When I rang the bell and asked for a juice there was only one girl who did a quick and effecient job. I have the personal feeling - not only on this MS flight - that most of the crew takes a rest between first and second meal service.
Whatever, I found my driver, stayed one day at the JW Marriott, flew for some days to TPE on KLM (no extra report) and one day I had to fly to JFK!
No surprise, my timetable changed. The flight to and from Bangkok had been changed to an A 332. I knew that it was not the best seat, but be surprised. Ground service at Bangkok worked well (see NYC later). Fast check in, of course the coupon for the priority line and I went through. Outside I met a nice Dutch guy who was on the same flight. I promised him to take him to the lounge with me (having several Star Gold). The difference between having the priority tag or not was appr. 15 mins. So it is worth the value.
The Thai lounge at gate E is nothing to talk about. A nice lounge with a limited number of food. Nothing special and nothing to complain about. After 2 hours we went to the plane.
To be honest. When I heard that we expect a A 332 to fly to Cairo I expected a plane like the A 340 they have. I saw some pictures on the net. But no, it was not THAT bad. MS seems to have a closed relationship to AF / KL. As the new seats on the 77W are exactly the NEV III from Air France / KLM, the old seats on the A 332 seem to be an exact copy of the old KLM World Business Class. Not the perfect seats. But I flew hundreds of thousands of miles in these seats and did not complain. These times are gone, I know, but the seats are still good enough for some good hours of sleep. Business was loaded with pilots who returned to Cairo. One day earlier they had stopped their 77W service and changed it to the A 332.
The flight departed at 2:15 a.m. I was 100 % sure that there was no food service after departure. However, meanwhile I know, I missed it because I had fallen asleep.
I arrived in Cairo quite relaxed. During the 8:30 h flight I managed to sleep appr. 6 hrs. We arrived in CAI, had the usual bus service experience (all pilots had been picked up separately) and so I went to the smoking room directly. In front of the transfer desk I waited for my buddy from BKK to invite him to a lounge once more. After passing the world famous transfer security once more we went to the lounge and killed the time to our connecting flights. My buddy waited for the 10:00 a.m. flight to Amsterdam, I myself for the 9:45 flight to New York. Time passed by, we went to the gate and there is was again. The MS 77W, the flagship of the airline. This time I was seated in 12A, a bulkhead seat in the second business cabin. Latest at this moment it was very clear that the seats are NEV III. The flight left in time and the captain announced a quite short flying time, which should take us to JFK. The flight was smooth, nothing to mention about it. The food was acceptable, the crew disappeared after service.
When we reached New York airspace, there was no direct way into JFK. A curve over there, a curve there, it took more than 20 mins to get the bird landed. But we made it. We arrived at Terminal 4, Gate A2, so there were only very short walkways to custom and immigration. Not many questions were asked, I got my stamp, headed to the luggage caroussell and found out that my luggage was one of the first to be unloaded. Because I was in a hurry I headed directly to Hertz, got my car and continued with another 8 hrs. drive. It was so early that even Hertz Gold Service had not prepared the car yet. It was done in a minute and I was on my way passing New York South, via New Jersey, Maryland, Pensylvenia, West Virginia to my home far in the South of Virginia. After 8 hrs. flight from Bangkok to Cairo, another 9 hours from Cairo to New York and a final car ride of 8 hrs. to my home I fell into my bed like dead.
The next two weeks were quite chaotic. I originally planned to rebook my flight back so that I wouldn't have to do the real hardcore trip. It was booked in a way that I could fly down to Bangkok and directly back to Germany. I wanted to rebook, but until the day I was flying I did not get all the information I needed to decide whether to rebook or not.
So it happened like expected. I started Wednesday evening (didn't want to do the full ride to JFK in one day), stayed overnight somewhere near Harrisburg and had a smooth ride the next day. After I had returned my car I looked for the check in desk. What the heck was this? This was not a checkin, this was more like an oriental bazaar. As a Business Class passenger, you had no chance to get served. After some minutes of waiting a free Economy desk staff member waived me over and everything was o.k.
In New York Egyptair is using the Swiss Lounge at JFK. The lounge is nice, food is good and after the first Swiss flight had boarded it got empty in the lounge. 35 mins before departure (they announced boarding nearly an hour earlier) I went down to the plane. Of course I was in time, there is a priority lane at security. I do not understand why they ask you 1 h 20 before departure to leave the lounge.
I entered the plane and got happy again. It is something nice, if you are about to start a long flight and know exactly that you will enjoy the seats. However, I also knew that this was the beginning of the craziest trip I had ever done.
The pilot announced a surprisingly short flight time of only 8 h 40 mins, which reminded me that on this set of flights sleeping was the most important thing. So I had a quite acceptable dinner and put my seat down to flat. Woke up 6 hrs later, not really feeling well, but not too tired either and had still a small breakfast (took only the base tray with some croissants, jam and cheese). I had had the egg dish once (to BKK) and this was more than enough. The arrival in Cairo was in time. I bought my visa and went out of the airport, took the next taxi and headed to the Radisson Blue in Heliopolis. A day room was 50 USD. Not too bad. The only mistake: They did not find my reservation. After some short discussion they accepted the conditions of the printout (reservation was made via http://www.between9and5.com) and gave me a room for the same condition. It was already noon when I entered my room. Too bad, because I had to check out at 6:00 p.m. So I took a short but wonderful shower and tried to catch some sleep. The room was nice and worth the value. But when I checked out, I suddenly realised that nobody hadn't taken notice. The room was paid and nobody cared about it. I could have left two hours later or even the next morning. Nobody would have realized this. Strolled a little through the hotel after check out, took a coke on the roof terrace and wondered myself about the fantastic weather in Cairo - hot summer - at this time of the day. Sun was going down, it was still warm, but you had a light breeze which made it wonderful to sit there and sip a drink.
I had time enough but I decided to return to the airport. Arrived there appr. 3 hrs. before departure. Security control at the airport entrance was working, people sitting there, but they let everybody pass. I picked up my departure card from the MS Check In (there was NOBODY at Business Check IN, and this is Cairo, the home airport of MS), passed a second security control (where the guy behind the screen was smoking) and headed to the smokers' lounge.
Surprise, surprise. Some weeks ago I had complained about the cold food, when I entered the buffet area this time somebody came directly and asked me if I wanted some hot food. I should take it and they would reheat it in the kitchen individually. But they told me they do not want to keep it warm all day because they feared that they loose quality of the food. I asked the lounge manager later and he confirmed that my complaint had arrived at some high levels of people and there had been some angry reactions because it was planned this way all the time but nobody had cared.
The lounge filled up and at appr 9:50 p.m. I went to my gate to catch my flight to Bangkok. I had seen that the flight was totally overbooked and hoped for a mircale, but no, it was the A 330 again. Not a perfect seat, but also not too bad. When I entered the plane there were only two Business seats empty. Mine and the one next to me? Luck??? Not at all. Shortly after I sat down a young girl (20 - 24 years old) was pushed from one of the accompanying pilots on the seat next to me. Not only was she afraid, she was afraid to death of me. She leaned into the aisle as far as possible, her hands and her head were shaking and I expected some tears every second. Good luck, after doors closing and before departure they found another seat for her, so I had a pilot sitting next to me. We had some interesting discussion about the incident at JFK some days before (you remember, as MS pilot by mistake entered the runway where a Lufthansa A 340 was starting at the same moment. An emergency break from Lufthansa could avoid a disaster). Basically I was nearly shocked to hear that this incident was by fact "bad luck" and will not have any consequences for the pilot in command. Not even an extra training, improvement of English skills, NOTHING! Incredible.
Of course, I had some dinner and tried to catch some sleep again. I woke up automatically for breakfast, and took - as every time - the base tray only.
Arrival in Bangkok was - with the priority card in my hand - as easy at it could be.
Because my flight would leave at 2:15 next morning and our flight arrived at appr.12:30 a day room made no sense. Not only no sense, those hotels offering dayrooms are a bit nuts about their prices. Novotel would charge for a day room USD 125,00. So I booked via travelnow.com a hotel down at the river at which a friend of mine had been staying some days before and who gave me excellent reports about. Got the Chatrium Riverside for 62 Dollars (special rate without breakfast, but I would leave in the middle of the night) and I had 10 hours to relax, refresh, have some dinner etc. A wonderful hotel. Recommended to everybody.
It is a little far from the airport but if you tell a Bangkok taxi driver, that he should hurry up you can do it in 30 mins. I left the hotel at 11:30 p.m., arrived at the airport at midnight and found a totally empty Business Check in. All the people with huge numbers of bags were served on other counters, even when flying Business Class. That's the service you normally expect in New York. I asked them to check my luggage through on KLM from AMS to DUS. They did it without any comment and I was more than curious if the bag would arrive or not.
Back through immigration, directly to the Thai Lounge and waited for my final long haul flight. I know meanwhile that there is a kind of dinner service even at this time, but I decided, after my dinner at the hotel, to enjoy some snacks in the lounge and go to sleep. I usually can sleep in every airplane but it is not like sleeping in a bed. You normally fall into a deep sleep which is the really relaxing part of the sleep. Sometimes I can enjoy this on long haul First Class (if it is a good one like Singapore Airlines' one) but on a cradle seat like MS A 330's I sleep only "lightly". But also this flight left in time, seat down, time passed by and we arrived in Cairo shortly after sunrise. This last hour of the flight was fascinating but the window of my plane were so dirty that I couldn't take any pictures.
Like always, arrival, "security" control and straight to the lounge. I changed clothes and washed in the Lounge. Too bad that there is no shower. But the journey is nearly gone. Some hours to wait, 4 1/2 hours to fly and then arrival in Amsterdam. Coffee coffee coffee. When my flight was announced I felt awake. So I walked to the gate, was surprised how exactly they controlled passports. Two people had been sorted out and I am not sure if they could enter the flight later. It was a nice day flight with a lot to see outside. However - as on every MS plane - the windows had been too dirty for pictures. I know, Cairo is in the middle of the desert. But manpower is not expensive there. Why don't they hire some people to clean airplane windows at least once a week from outside?
We landed in Amsterdam and I was happy to have this trip finished. After some coffee it was time to board the final flight to DUS. Gate B 30. What??? This is a bus gate only. So why do they let you walk till the end of the terminal? They have their B bus gates very close to the entrance of Terminal B, so why don't they use these? Makes zero sense to me.
But the bus came, we entered our plane and I finally was on my way home. Luggage? Surprise! Not only did it show up, the original label was removed, so they routed it onto this final flight only by the small extra labels which they fix on the luggage at check in. Good job Schiphol!
I wrote at the beginning that I had never wanted to fly MS. It is not that bad as I had expected but it is also not as good as mentioned by some people about the new 77W.
First: Their prices are incredible. Paid EUR 1400 from AMS to BKK return and additional EUR 1820 from BKK to JFK return. Appr. 34000 miles for EUR 3220,00.
Food is actually acceptable. It is good enough to eat it, but if you expect restaurant style food like you get it on board of some of the Asian carriers you will be disappointed. On the other side, I had worse food on BA in Business. Service is mixed as well. They are very present till the end of the first service and then they mostly disappear. They are fast when you ring the bell, but there is nobody walking through the aisles, asking people for any requests like you know it from many other airlines.
The planes: Inside: always perfectly clean. Nothing to complain about. Outside: I wrote about it. The sand on the windows is terrible for somebody who wants to take pics. The seats are not bad at all. The short haul planes are good for short haul routes. Much better than what European airlines give you. On the other hand a lot of Europeans fly to Cairo with wide-bodies. The seats on the 77W are pretty perfect. Nothing to complain about. The A 330 seats are a bit old fashioned but as far as I know on the mid term they should be exchanged. For everybody having BKK on his time table, please note that starting from Sept. 15th BKK will be served again daily with the 77W.
If you want to fly in style and be treated like a king, go elsewhere. You will be disappointed. If your aim is to fly in a very comfortable seat for really small money, give Egypt Air a try. It is worth every penny you pay, but once more, you get what you pay for.
I myself will keep them on my radar.