Published: April 19th 2010April 19th 2010
We arrived into JFK airport in NY after an uneventful flight from Detroit. We were late taking off, what else is new, but with a 6 hour layover no great loss. We took an hour off in the Northwest Sky Club for some food and drink and headed across to terminal 4 to get our Egyptian Air boarding passes.
Unfortunately we arrived in terminal 2! We asked a nice cop how to get there on foot? She told us to go downstairs turn right at the bottom of the stairs pass two fences and walk straight on.
Cross two fences? Are we supposed to climb over or dig under? She shrugged and walked on.
So down we go, turn right go outside and ask cop number 2, how we can walk to terminal 4.
“You can’t” came the polite reply. “There is no sidewalk, the traffic is moving quickly and the cabs do not watch out for walkers”. “You have to cross the street and take the Airtran to get to terminal 4”
OK, despondent to be robbed of our walk, and hoping to waste some time we head across the street to the Airtran terminal when we come to cop #3.
One more try I figure and politely ask “can we walk to terminal #4?
“Sure you can. Follow the sidewalk over there and go under the bridge and the terminal is right there”
Sure enough the third time is the charm and a 10 minute walk later we are at the terminal. Lesson learned do not give up and NY cops know nothing about their environs.
So we go to the terminal and look for Egypt Air to get our boarding passes. At line number 6 we find all the ticket agents sitting upright behind their desks and a very short line. I walk up to the first agent and ask if he can help me get my boarding pass.
“Go stand in that line” comes the directive.
I look and there are 15 people just standing in line. No one is being waited on, just people in line.
OK it makes no sense until you are told by the last person in line that the agents will not start checking you in until 2:30 PM. Well it is only 1:45 and with no line we decide food is a better option so off we go in search of food.
Suddenly the volcano and its aftermath become apparent. There at the bottom of the escalator stretching for 50 yards are Red Cross cots inches apart with people just sitting there with all of their luggage.
As we walk by we hear German, Swiss, Irish and Polish chatter. Some are somber and some are crying. No one is laughing as many have been in the airport since April 15, it is now April 18 and there is no definite time set for their departure. They seem forlorn and hopeless.
We walk along looking for a light bite to eat and come to a Baguette Sandwich shop and $10.45 later I have an 8 inch baguette sandwich consisting of 3 slices of Kraft American cheese and ½ a tomato sliced across the sandwich.
I cannot imagine how the volcano refugees have been able to survive and hold up so well for three days eating expensive food and living in a hall in the middle of an airport. I can only hope that we do not join the refugee status in two weeks when we try to depart Cairo.
After the gourmet cost meal we head back up to the ticket agents who are still just sitting there. It is 2:20 PM and the line is much longer. There are several tour groups, some large family groups and some single travelers all waiting for 2:30.
An elderly man dressed in a uniform starts moving through the crowd and soon we find ourselves in a new line at the number 4 position in line. It seems we got mixed in with a tour group and were put into a line where people had no luggage since it was already checked through. So at 2:40 we were through the line and on our way to security for the long wait of 3 more hours at the gate until we can board our overnight flight to Cairo.
As you may recall I wanted to immerse ourselves in the Egyptian culture early so I booked our flight on Egyptian Air from JFK to Cairo. You knew this was not an American flight from the get go
As our plane was rolled into Gate A-4 about 4 hours before the flight Rick exclaimed “that’s our plane? It looks OLD” and sure enough it did look old.
“It’s so small it cannot be our plane.” I told him it was bigger on the inside.
“It only has two engines, I want four”
“You only need one to fly and look that is a Rolls Royce engine and it is HUGE” trying to calm his nerves.
OK the plane could use a paint job, it really did look small and yup there were two engines not the required 4 for trans-Atlantic flights but what the heck this is Egyptian Air after all, right?
Well with our 6 hour layover coming to a close and a queue forming at the gate, we decided to get involved and get in line.
Now those of you who have been to Europe know it is like controlled chaos when people are told to get in line. Apparently Europe has a different concept of line; it is more like a crush.
Everyone stood up and milled around the gate area for another 15 minutes. You see they told us to get in line for immediate boarding which in Arabic means 15 minutes.
Soon they call first class and business class. Of course they are all in the back of the amorphous line and have to push a little to get through. They do get through in amazing grace and the next section; rows 40 -53 are called.
Amazing Grace it was not at this point. You see in Egypt apparently they do not know numbers very well and anyone with a boarding pass wanted to push through to be immediately stopped in their tracks by a security TSA agent. Soon as the boarders figured out they really did have to board by rows, they moved along quite well.
So onto the plane and off to seats 28 D and C. Two Aisle seats. Folks let me tell you do whatever you can when you fly for 11 hours to get the aisle seat. There is some inconvenience with people crawling over you to pee, but having one side open is worth it.
Speaking about people I learned once again it is a small world. Sitting next to me was a husband and his wife. We chatted a few minutes and I learned the following:
They were from NJ, I am from NJ
The husband works in the chemical industry. I work in the chemical industry.
The husband worked for a company in NJ named Ausimont. I managed HCl from Ausimont back in 2000.
Now for the weird part, I KNOW THE GUY FROM THE OLD DAYS. Sitting next to me was Tom Millea an engineer with whom I worked back in 2000. Now that is a small world.
Back to the flight.
Service in Egypt is sketchy at best the guide books tell you and it is true. They are SLOW, but polite. Our stewardess was very beautiful, a classic Egyptian face, but scarce to be found.
I ordered special meals for Rick and me, so we got served first. Special was not exactly the description I would have chosen.
I asked for “low Calorie” and “diabetic” for Rick.
I get my tray, piping hot, and open the cover. There we have the following: fresh fruit (very tasty), Bonnie Bell Cheese (wonderful on the roll), a small salad (tiny is a better word), Ice water crackers and grilled fish. Well it looked like grilled fish, but I assure you this fish never lived for if it did it was an abomination. Let me explain.
There in the plate was what appeared to be 2 small pieces of perfectly square (that should have been a dead giveaway, no natural fish is perfectly square) white fish with grill lines. I dig in and off comes a perfectly rectangular piece of what now looks like cheese cake. Into the mouth it goes and there it stays.
I have a problem with “food consistency”. Some things I just cannot eat and this was one of them. You see it was not fish at all. It was TOFU with grill lines painted on! I cannot eat TOFU mainly because I have no idea what the hell TOFU is!
I look over to Rick and he has the same general plate but he has chicken, actual real chicken and it tasted good! So my low calorie meal was truly low calorie, you do not eat it.
The meal over it is now 1 AM in Cairo and I am off to sleep. Travel tip: get on to local time soon as you can. When I get on the flight I adjust my watch to the local time, in this case 6 hours ahead. Next tip: SLEEP on the plane. This gets the body and mind ready and while sleeping, the flight seems shorter. So sleep I did for about 7 hours.
They wake us at 9, two hours from landing, for breakfast. This consisted of rolls, a croissant, butter and jam, juice and coffee. Not bad so I eat most of it.
So it is now 10:10 AM in Cairo on Monday April 19, 2010 and we are coming down from 37,000 feet as we prepare for a landing in Cairo. Now Rick is finally excited and the real adventure begins.