Cairo CAI, Terminal 2
EK 926, Cairo to Dubai
When arriving in Cairo airport never, ever park and walk to the terminal. For all its slick appearance, parking is a bunfight. Far better, employ the five-minute zones at the front of each terminal, where vast amounts of luggage and people are unloaded in an anarchistic melee, under the watchful eye of armed police and soldiers. Given Egypt's constant state of heightened security, only travellers are allowed into the building of Terminal 2, so there are no cafes in which to linger until you pass customs. Porters hover with carts waiting to help – for a fee. Beware, they can take you only a few steps to the first security screening area; a separate porter will wait on the other side, for another fee. Expect to pay LE20 (about $2) each time.
Terminal 2 was closed for nearly three years for a renovation and reopened in 2016 to match the new Terminal 3. The look is the standard style of chrome and glass with undulating roof, seen in most new airports around the world. In a country of vivid colour, grey features heavily here. There are 14 gates, with a maximum of five minutes' walk to the most distant.
While most airlines allow you to check in online, in Egypt boarding passes must be issued at the airport. However, there's no queue at the Emirates desks, so we whip through in record time.
My standard bugbear about Cairo Airport is the ratio of women security officers to men. There are two separate queues – one for men and another for parties that include female travellers. There are never enough female security officers and the women's queue includes children, luggage and all the drama of large, travelling families which are standard in these parts. Take deep breaths: in a country that prides itself on its slapstick comedy, the security staff have absolutely no sense of humour. Expect several screening points until you get to your plane.
FOOD AND DRINK
Past the duty-free offerings, find decent coffee at Costa. Originating in Britain, the chain has a significant presence in this part of the world and its cafe offers a stylish seat. You'll find the standard outlets: Burger King and Starbucks, for instance, but for a last taste of Egypt, take a seat at Le Carnaval for a slice of basbousa (namoura) or baklava. A lonely McDonald's is hidden upstairs.
Shop oud-heavy fragrances and imported gin, the same as any other airport, straight past security. The airport designers have hidden most of the souvenir shops down by the gates, so unless you're going to Gate 9, you'll miss the last chance to buy mother-of-pearl inlay chess sets and bronze-cast pharaonic cats at five times the price of the street. It's probably better to blow your last few Egyptian pounds at Cottonil, a local brand selling good-quality Egyptian cotton T-shirts and underwear.
Free airport Wi-Fi is wishful thinking in Terminal 2. Far better to grab a seat and watch the parade of fashions, from central African men in patterned jellibiyas (traditional robes) and matching kufis (caps) to women from the Gulf states in well-cut abayas and heels. You can identify the rare Antipodean by their khaki zip-off pants. If you want to hang with the locals, they're in the smoking rooms.
ONE MORE THING
Egypt is a tipping culture – a few pounds here, a few pounds there. Save your last notes and a final ma'a salama (goodbye) for the bathroom staff.
Thank goodness Emirates and Etihad no longer fly from the old Terminal 1 (they were sent here during T2's three-year renovation). With its raucous taxi chorus and decaying bathrooms, this was not the message modern Egypt wanted to send. However, while the airport's chrome and glass exterior is all about the new, the delightfully shambolic culture of those who work there is pure old Egypt.
3 out of 5
Belinda Jackson travelled at her own expense.