MS916 Cairo to Abu Dhabi
Cairo loves drama, so why not enact a bit of it at the airport? Terminal 3 has the ability to handle 11 million people each year, and all of them seem to be at the airport today. We snag a coveted five-minute bay to unload luggage directly in front of the doors before our car is moved on swiftly by hawk-eyed police. Passports and tickets must be presented to the armed police on entrance to the airport precinct, and again at the terminal doors.
Terminal 3 is the biggest and newest of Cairo Airport's three terminals. There are 23 gates which are spaced out with coffee kiosks and well-patronised smoking rooms, the doors of which are usually left open. The moving walkways don't always move so budget enough time to get to the most distant gates. An airbridge connects Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 and the Le Meridien Cairo Airport hotel but you'll need to keep your eyes peeled for the few signs.
Terminal 3 is the main terminal for Egyptair and its Star Alliance friends. Since so many international airlines pulled out of Egypt after the 2011 revolution, Egyptair flights are always heavily patronised. Hold your place in the queue - don't be that foreigner everyone pushes past to get to the desk. The actual processing, however, is swift, with a few jokes thrown in by Egyptair staff.
Egypt plays the strong man when it comes to security, with plenty of measures in place that may surprise the nonchalant traveller. For example, only passengers can enter the terminal, so kiss your loved ones and tour guides farewell at the door. Also, while you can check in online with most airlines, you must collect your boarding pass in person at the check-in desks. And expect to be patted down, regardless of whether or not you set the security screener pinging. Every shoe is scanned. The security staff have no sense of humour, but show me happy security staff anywhere in the world.
FOOD AND DRINK
The dowdy Segafredo cafes have been murdering the bean at Cairo Airport for years, so much so I have sent letters of warning to their Italian HQ of what's been done in their name. Don't even talk about the tea. Go anywhere else: I'd opt for Costa. Overpriced, lacklustre pizza and soggy burgers will convince you that you should have eaten before you arrived.
There are few bargains to be had here: the major imported alcohol and perfume brands – ho hum. An Egyptian souvenir shop lets you snap up that last-minute belly-dancer's outfit, Tutankhamun fridge magnets and faux papyrus, as well as bags of kharkadi (hibiscus) tea. Key finds include some lovely calico bags with traditional Egyptian embroidery and a tiny gold papier-mache sarcophagus. For some upmarket, homegrown fashion, Daly Dress always yields great accessories and chic, flowing Egyptian cotton shirts. Diwan Bookstore usually has local, English-language newspapers.
Free Wi-Fi is ostensibly available in T3, but it's a game of hit-and-miss. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, so don't rely on it to call friends on your arrival.
ONE MORE THING
A note for your own security: always use Uber or its Middle Eastern equivalent, Careem (which has been bought out by Uber), or pre-booked transport going to and from the airport, with an agreed price beforehand. Never take up the touts for a private limo or taxi. And note that there is a toll to enter and depart the airport. Many drivers will expect you to pay. It's about a dollar. Seriously, don't sweat it.
There are no digital art museums, celebrity restaurants and (usually) no Wi-Fi, but the second busiest airport in Africa does the job of getting you in and out of the country, with just the faintest whiff of professionalism.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Belinda Jackson travelled at her own expense.