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
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
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
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
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
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
People, politics and economics