Airline review: EgyptAir Boeing B737-800 economy class, Madrid to Cairo

THE ROUTE

MS 754 Madrid to Cairo

THE AIRCRAFT

Boeing B737-800

This workhorse makes up nearly half of EgyptAir's fleet, running short to medium-haul routes to Europe and around Africa. The airline's frequent flyers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

EgyptAir is a member of the Star Alliance, which includes Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand.

CLASS

Economy, seat 42F

DURATION

Four hours, 40 minutes

FREQUENCY

Daily

CHECKING IN

My flight from Lima arrives in Madrid-Barajas' newest Terminal 4S, and the next flight is via the oldest, Terminal 1. The transfer involves a bus from the plane, train to Terminal 4 proper to collect baggage, and a bus transfer to Terminal 1 which actually leaves the airport precinct and hits the highway at 100km/hr, causing heart palpations that I'm on the wrong bus. Happily, all's well. While I have checked in online, my boarding pass refuses to download and I can't select a seat – it's in the lap of the gods.

THE SEAT

I'm a window girl, so at check-in, I trade my aisle seat for the last window available, in the final row with the galley and loo behind me. I'm going against the check-in staff's advice, however, on a packed flight, I've hit the jackpot – the middle seat is free, and the aisle seat on my row is used by staff, who sit there for take-off and landing only. They are universally charming, snapping their fingers to order extra water and snacks for me. If you're playing along on Seat Guru, the aircraft is B737-800 V2, which has three more rows than V1. I'd asked at check-in whether the seat reclines, and it does.

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BAGGAGE

The luggage limit is one bag of 23kg and one piece of carry-on luggage at 8kg, though nobody's checking the carry-on kilos.

COMFORT

With a seat configuration of 3-3 and a full flight, there are always going to be middle-seat losers, but for once, I'm not one of them. Seat width comes in at 18 inches – generous by international standards – and pitch is 32 inches.

ENTERTAINMENT

Africa's first airline, EgyptAir has been running since 1933, and on some of its aircraft – mostly running domestic routes – it shows, with black and white TVs hanging from the ceiling and playing aged Egyptian comedies (Arabic only). Today, however, the 737-800 has seatback entertainment and USB ports that actually work. It doesn't have the gazillions of options of its gargantuan Middle East peers, but includes an audio channel (unlike our own Qantas), which is good for getting some work done on the flight, and a chance to explore local music.

SERVICE

Egyptians like to see themselves as the comedians of the Arab world, and the staff reinforce the stereotype. Service is always with a smile and joke and, because I'm in the last row before the galley, at whiplash-speed. After a full meal, I'm plied with biscuits and savoury snacks, to fill up the corners.

FOOD

Chicken or the beef? The beef arrives cubed in a sauce with spiral pasta, and is surprisingly comforting. It's accompanied by a dried, tired salad, crackers, chocolate cake, a wholemeal dinner role, butter and a triangle of La vache qui rit (The Laughing Cow, incidentally, is the nickname of Egypt's deposed military dictator, Hosny Mubarak).

ONE MORE THING

There's plenty of tea, but not a waft of alcohol about the plane – EgyptAir is one of a handful of national carriers from predominantly Islamic countries that don't serve booze.

THE LAST WORD

It's not the flashiest airline, nor is it the cheapest, but EgyptAir's your best bet for direct flights in and out of Cairo, including non-stop from London, with good connections on to Luxor and Abu Simbel.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★ ½

Belinda Jackson paid for her own flight.

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