Connecting in Cairo, and Ahlan VIP services

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On my recent trip I had to undertake three sets of connections in Cairo, Egypt. This, I have to say, is one of the most connection-unfriendly airports I have ever encountered. (To the extent that if I had to do it again, I would come a day early, stay at the airport and depart the next day.)

1. Royal Jordanian to Qatar Airways

In theory this should have been the easiest connection as it was within the same terminal. However, when you follow the connection signs you come to a holding area manned by the Police. The officer there takes your passport and flight information/ticket and holds these until your airline produces your boarding passes. I had a connection of about three hours. However, with two separate tickets, there was no way that Qatar would know to come and collect me. The officer was perfectly pleasant but spoke little English.

During my stay I was able to roam freely around the terminal, but with no passport or boarding pass I could not make the connection without Qatar coming to the holding area.

The Qatar app, I found out, contains the number of the Duty Managers Mobile Phone and I was able to call them and ask them to send someone round. They did this, but it took them two trips as various stamps had to be applied to my boarding passes by different officials. About 45 minutes before boarding I was good to go and paid a short visit to the shared lounge there, shown below:

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Pretty soon it was time for boarding, and we were bussed to the plane. Qatar in its own way, boarded all passengers from the back, causing me to have to fight my way to my seat in Row 1.

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2. Qatar Airways to Swiss (Terminal 1 to Terminal 3)

For the few days I was away the whole awful connection experience was playing on my mind, and so I started to do some research on options. My second and third connections would require a change of terminal. The monorail that does this operates once every 30 minutes, but from inside the secure area. With no way of getting a boarding pass (most airlines seem not to allow online check-in at CAI, due, presumably, to the need for the various stamps). The Cairo Airport website (one of the worst you could encounter) puts you in contact with a VIP service who offer to handle your arrival. For US $100, they will collect you from the plane, take you through immigration and security, collect your bags, and allow you to wait in their lounge. For 145 EGP (US$18) they will transfer you between terminals.

The more I thought about it the better idea this seemed and on the trip from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 it was great.

Someone met me at the bottom of the aircraft steps, popped me and the baggage in a BMW and drove me to arrivals. We got there in advance of the first bus from the plane. I then did Visa on Arrival (US$35, paid in cash), they took me through a special immigration channel and introduced me to the Customs officials. My bags were x-rayed and I was able to sit in the lounge until the driver was able to collect me and take me to Terminal 3.

About 15 minutes later I was at the Swiss check-in. (Tips were required for the guy who met me at the plane and the driver between terminals, plus the guy who loads your bag on to the pre-checkin x-ray belt.)

The transfer lounge is OK, not much more, but they did bring me a bottle of water whilst I waited.

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3. Swiss to Qatar Airways (Terminal 3 to Terminal 1).

Whilst in the US before my return connection I again resolved that even though it was an expensive option, I would use the service again, this time at Terminal 3, wait there and then have them drive me to T1 for my Qatar Airways flight.

At the end of the jet-bridge (they have those at T3, just not at T1) I was met by a man with a sign and a golf buggy who drove me – at speeds that felt like 30 mph – to the place for me to obtain my visa-on-arrival.

I then got to spend a nice couple of hours in the lounge airside before being wizzed through the VIP channel to the waiting car. This was the lounge:

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Unfortunately the driver took me to the VIP departure lounge at T3, rather than check-in so I had a hot miserable walk to check-in up a very steep set of steps.

Check-in was the usual zoo at Cairo but I was fairly quickly handled by Qatar and then on the way to the lounge – as mentioned above.

Overall – $200 for VIP services certainly reduced my stress levels to the level that was worth it. Next time, I think I’d probably be OK doing it all myself. Arrivals seems much better arranged at T3 than at T1. (Full details of the Ahlan VIP Services are here.)

Air France arrives as I leave Cairo for the last time:

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  1. Hate to giggle (a lot) but this is SO Cairo. Loved living there but it got to the point where I would take a domestic to HBE, HRG or SSH and would chill for a day to have easier entry/exit/transit. Americans who are not well traveled may be very intimidated by the seeming randomness of CAI procedures.

  2. I reserved this service last summer for a connection from arriving international flight to a domestic flight within Egypt. Received a confirmation via email. They were a no-show at arrivals. Made it through on my own. Beware.

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