Electronics ban lifted in many countries

In Act 3 of the security theater of the electronics ban, international airports are now being let off the list of locations where US-bound flights are required to put all electronics bigger than a cell phone into checked luggage (even a Kindle!). The airlines now permitted to arrive with electronics in the main are:

  • Emirates Air (Dubai, UAE)
  • Eithad Airways (Abu Dhabi, UAE)
  • Kuwait Airways (Kuwait City, Kuwait)
  • Royal Jordanian (Amman, Jordan)
  • Qatar Airways (Doha, Qatar)
  • Turkish Airways (Istanbul, Turkey)

The airlines still restricted are:

  • EgyptAir (Cairo, Egypt)
  • Royal Air Maroc (Casablanca, Morocco)
  • Saudia Arabian Airlines (Jeddah, Saudia Arabia)

Back in May there was a brief worry that the ban would be expanded and members of the administration hinted at more potential terrorism. All the while, airlines were worried of lithium ion batteries exploding in cargo holds, causing more likely damage. In the end, the rumor that there would be security increases to get off the list came true and we can now fly “safely” from these countries back to the US.

The whole thing is really unfortunate as TSA agents are failing at their jobs 95% of the time that it actually matters. Here’s hoping we can figure this stuff out in the US soon.

Review: EgyptAir Business Class Cairo -> Johannesburg

Once fully showered and changed (we brought an extra set of clothing according to our plan) we arrived at Cairo International Airport about 1.5 hours before our EgyptAir flight was set to depart. We had little difficulty checking in as we had a separate line (as had been the case a lot during this trip). Interestingly, there was also a designated kids check-in counter, although no one was staffing it and we had no idea what its intended purpose was. Once we dropped off our luggage we filled out customs cards and passed through border control with no difficulty. We quickly noted the new electronics restrictions on flights towards the US.

After security we headed towards the lounges we had access to as business-class passengers. There were two on our very long walk to the gate. One was a designated smoking lounge so we avoided it. The other was near-ish to our gate and we spent a majority of time there. It had comfortable seats with internationally adapted plugs for our devices. There were private bathrooms for us to use, a small business center, and plenty of food and drink (not of the highest quality, but definitely there). Since we knew we would get food on the plane, we did not gorge ourselves too much.

The gate had an interesting added security station to pass through before boarding. It took us a bit more time to get on board because of it. Also, there was a nod to the electronics travel ban to the UK at that location (I guess sometimes planes leave from that gate to London as well).

The seat was comfortable enough, with plenty of leg room for us and an in-flight entertainment system with many options. Since I wanted to maximize how much sleep I got on the flight I decided to forego whatever meal would have been given when we reached cruising altitude and just went right to sleep. This is where my major gripe comes in about this seat: it is not fully lie-flat. There is an ever-so-slight angle to the seat, causing you to slide forward over time and have your feet become somewhat weight-bearing at times. While I was still able to sleep because of my exhaustion, it was definitely not desirable in the least.

My wife put a provided sticker on my seat as I was asleep, asking for me to be woken up for breakfast, which was not the most appetizing thing in the world, but still better than economy-class food.

Overall, the flight was uneventful because we just wanted to sleep and arrived rested in Johannesburg. Getting through customs and passport control was not as big an “ordeal” as it had been in Cairo because there was a lot of organization, but the lines were so long it took us an extra 45 minutes to get through to baggage claim. Unfortunately, our bags had not arrived with us…. but that is a story for another blog post.

A whirlwind layover in Cairo, Egypt

Between arrival into Cairo and leaving for Johannesburg my wife and I had a layover of about nine hours.

While some might view this as a hindrance we preferred to think with an adventurous spirit and booked a layover tour of the city through Egypt Tailor Made tour company. We estimated we really had about six hours of time between exiting the airport and needing to return, so we made sure to explain that through email communication a few weeks in advance. As you will read at the end, the tour company definitely earned their five star rating on TripAdvisor.

Our arrival into Cairo International Airport was hectic to say the least. The customs area is one large room where the mantra “hurry up and wait” is very evident: there were lines everywhere leading in every which way. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and we realized one of the sets of lines was to get our visa, which we purchased for $25 each. I had read to bring US cash in advance so it was an easy transaction. Afterward, we waited in line for our customs interview, lasting a minute or two. All told it took about 1.5 hours to get through this mess of logistics and people and end up in the arrivals hall where we met our tour guide who recognized me because of a photo I sent in advance.

During our brief time in the city and its surroundings we visited the pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx from afar, learned how papyrus is made, sailed down and up the nile for an hour, visited a local market, and ate pigeon, a delicacy in the city. Our Egyptologist tour guide, Seham, was kind, knowledgeable, and conversational throughout the journey. She made sure we were able to get past security and check-in at various sites quickly because we were running behind, she communicated with locals to make sure we knew where to go and what to do, and helped us negotiate prices for a few souvenirs. While I would love to have spent more time in the city and country, it was great to have her with us for the limited time that we had.

After our tour of the city was complete, we headed over to the airport to check in for our last leg to Johannesburg airport and this is where my idea of schemes gets a bit ridiculous.

I had read in advance that there are no showers in any lounges at Cairo International Airport. Despite the fact that this is an airport in the Middle East and so should have showers to make sure any sweat gathered en route could be washed off, it is also a stopover on the way to many other nearby countries where businesspeople would expect to get washed up.

So, in order to make sure we were washed up before our business class EgyptAir flight, we visited the nearby JW Marriott Hotel Cairo and booked a room to take a shower. We didn’t pay for the room in cash – or even points. Instead, I used a free night certificate for a tier 1-5 hotel from my previous Chase Marriott Rewards card that was expiring in August. Before using it I verified that our travel over the next few months would not have taken us to a location where any hotels within that range would have been available (most in NYC or other urban areas are tier 6 and above) and decided to use it for an hour’s luxurious shower purpose.

Our ridiculousness was rewarded with comfortable beds, free slippers, a bathtub and separate shower, fancy creams, lotions, etc and even a welcome message on the TV with my name on it! Even though we only spent one hour there it was a fantastic use of the free night certificate and I’m glad we got to end our stay in Cairo at that hotel – next time we might stay for longer!