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Special Reports Last Updated: Jul 11th, 2007 - 01:24:57

Egypt, a vibrant land of contrasts and contradictions -- Final part: The return to the US was the trip from hell
By Bev Conover
Online Journal Editor & Publisher

Jun 7, 2007, 04:14

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Little did I know what I was in for when I entered a practically empty Cairo International Airport shortly before dawn on May 22 for the return trip to Florida.

The Air France agent was pleasant. She checked my e-ticket, issued my boarding passes and nodded when I asked to have my bag checked through to Gainesville.

But when I went through security, the fun not began. A guard sitting in front of a computer terminal said, �Scissors.�


�Scissors,� he repeated.

The only scissors I could think of were in my checked bag. But I rummaged through my carry-on. He had my carry-on put through X-ray again and said, �Scissors.� This time, while I�m again rummaging through my bag, he managed to pull a zipper tab off one of the outer pockets, insisting I had scissors. Ironically, no one was concerned about scissors when I left the States or going through security in Paris for the connecting flight to Cairo.

Then I remembered I had a small manicure set that contained a pair of cuticle scissors that were allowed by the US TSA. He promptly confiscated them, which goes to show you that you can�t trust what the TSA says is permitted.

The group of us going to Paris were then left standing outside a locked waiting room while waiting for a shuttle bus to take us to what turned out to be another waiting room, where for the next hour or so more passengers were deposited. At the appointed time, it was out across the tarmac to begin another day of climbing in and out of planes.

In Paris, with only an hour and a half between flights, it took two shuttle buses to get to the correct Air France terminal for the connecting flight to Atlanta, only to be confronted by a massive line of people creeping through switchbacks at security. Which brings up the question of why transfer passengers who have not left a secure area are put through security again?

With the clock ticking and me wondering if I would miss my flight, it was finally my turn. No silly plastic quart bag to deal with this time; I had put all the liquids in my checked bag. But it was off with shoes this time and through the X-ray machine they went with my carry-on and camera bag. After I emerged from the metal detector and was putting my shoes back on, a security guard sitting at a desk asked, �May I look in your bag?�

�Be my guest,� I said, heaving my carry-on from the conveyor to the desk. �May I ask what you�re looking for?�

�Scissors,� he replied.

�They took my scissors in Cairo,� said I, as he rummaged around in my bag.

�Scissors,� he insisted.

�I don�t have any scissors,� I said, as he opened my make-up bag and pulled out eyebrow tweezers with little scissor handles.

I couldn�t help laughing. �That�s not scissors,� I said.

Not quite sure of what he was looking at, he got the attention of the woman at the computer monitor, who apparently had alerted him to my alleged scissors. She agreed that the tweezers weren�t scissors. Wheee!

I was outta there and off to what turned out to be a cramped and noisy waiting area and no time to buy another overpriced bottle of water to quench my thirst, but at least I hadn�t missed my flight. How they were going to fill a 747-400 and take off on time was another question and, again, I only had 90 minutes in Atlanta to make the connecting flight to Gainesville.

Then it was down a flight of steps to board waiting shuttle buses for the pleasure of climbing up into another 747-400, except when we got out to the plane we weren�t let off the buses. The Air France gal riding with the driver got out, climbed up into the plane and disappeared. When she finally returned to the bus, she told the driver there was a �security problem� and got on her cell phone. A few minutes later, two male security agents arrived and the three of them went back into the plane, leaving us still packed in the bus.

At last, they decided there was no �security problem� after all and we were let out of the buses and into the plane. We were an hour late taking off, but we must have had a strong tailwind that got us to Atlanta only 30 minutes late.

It was on to another shuttle bus that deposited us at US Customs that some bureaucrat spent sleepless nights figuring out how to make it a traveler�s worst nightmare. Egyptian Customs in Cairo is totally organized: Nothing to declare? Go to the Green Zone. Something to declare? Go to the Red Zone. Not Atlanta. In Atlanta everyone gets to stand in horrendous lines making their way through switchbacks, regardless of whether they haven�t exceeded the duty-free limit, in order to hand their declaration forms to an agent.

Emerging from Customs, I had less than 20 minutes to make my flight to Gainesville. I asked a Delta agent for directions to my gate, said she, �Did you claim your bag?�

Say what? I asked Cairo to check my bag straight through. �Oh no,� she said, �everyone has to claim their bag and have it rechecked. Go to Carousel 3.�

�I�m going to miss my flight.�

�If you do,� she said, �go to the Delta desk and they will rebook you.�


I go to Carousel 3 and watch bags going around and around until no more come in. My bag isn�t there. I approach another Delta agent. �I seem to have a problem,� I tell her. �No bag.� She points me to a woman wearing a fedora set at a jaunty angle and decked out in an outfit that no one would have taken for an airport employee. When I explain the situation to her, she says, �Did you check Carousel 4?� GRRR!

I walk over to Carousel 4 and there is my bag. Now I have to join another line in order to give the bag to a man who puts it on another conveyor.

By the time I get through the lines at the third and final security checkpoint, my connecting flight is long gone, but at least no one said, �Scissors.�

I get directions to the Delta desk and a gracious agent rebooks me on the next flight to Gainesville, which leaves in some two hours. When I ask her where I can find a pay phone to call my husband waiting for me in Gainesville, she hands me a free 5-minute phone card and tells me that I will find phones out by the gates. She then gives me directions to my terminal.

It�s down an escalator and into an underground tram. The first stop is my terminal. I and a few others get off. A sign says I am there. There? I am standing in the middle of a tram station. Where is there? The sign points both ways. Which way to go? Right or left? I decide to go left through a winding tunnel. A man is loitering there. There are only two people quite a distance ahead of me. The tunnel ends at another escalator. Up I go to find left was the right choice.

I call my hubby who was expecting me to arrive on the 8:06 pm flight, which was a few minutes from landing by that time. Our plans to have dinner in Gainesville are now out the window. Not knowing if my bag made it on that flight, I tell him it�s somewhere between Atlanta and Gainesville and ask him to check the bags offloaded from the 8:06 flight. Then I grabbed a miserable burger and Coke from Burger King.

Finally, it was down another escalator, across the tarmac and up into another Aerospatiale/Alenia ATR72. When we landed in Gainesville, I had been traveling 24 hours and, miracle of miracles, my checked bag arrived with me on that flight.

What kept going through my mind is why people who often travel for business or pleasure (pleasure is an oxymoron under current conditions) put up with this madness? Have they become such fearful wimps that they will submit to any humiliation or inconvenience under the pretext of being made �safe?�

Part 1: Getting there

Part 2: Cairo and Alexandria

Part 3: People, politics and economics

Egypt Photo Gallery

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