Johannesburg to Cairo Flight
On my last day in Cape Town I was hoping to be able to go to the Table Mountain or check out some attractions in town. Alas, the mountain was once again surrounded with clouds and, similarly to the day before, I spent most of the morning wrestling with the slooooow Internet connection. Oh well, I was still pretty happy with my visit having checked out Cape of Good Hope and seeing the Great Whites up close. The rest of the attractions can wait until the next time. When I got in town on Monday, I dropped off my daypack to get its crappy lining and zippers replaced with some quality material and heavy duty zippers. I picked it up in the morning and even though I paid just over how much the original bag was worth, I was happy to have it fixed as I really like the design.
With the daypack back, it was time to pack everything up and get on my way. I went through my things and decided that the cargo pants, my running shirt, a pair of underwear and a few more little things will not make the cut this time. It was tempting to get rid of a couple of shirts, but I decided to keep them around for now.
This served two purposes. First, I am starting to realize how little clothing I really need (and is willing to carry around with me). The second is more pragmatic - the low cost airlines I am flying in addition to the round-the-world ticket all have some sort of restrictions on the amount of luggage I can bring on board. Particularly, Cebu Pacific in the Philippines severely limits the amount of luggage at 5kg in carry ons and 10kg (that I already had to pay for) in checked in luggage, anything over that will cost even more.
Once packed up, I headed out to the Regus office for the last time to print out my boarding passes to Cairo and Dubai, as well as Cebu Pacific confirmation sheet just in case. Come to think of it, I will be flying on five flights in the next 72 hours. Yey! With the boarding passes at hand, I marched on to the MyCity bus stop at the Civic Center nearby. Unlike the 160 rand/$18.80 rip-off ride when I got in, the MyCity bus ride costs only 53 rand/$6.25 and an actual bus is being used, running every 20 minutes.
Velvet Sky and the Bidvest Lounge at CPT
I got to the airport exactly an hour before my departure to Joburg on a Velvet Sky flight - one of the four low cost carriers in Africa. I already flew on Mango to Cape Town and the other two are 1time and Kulula. There was no lines at the check-in counter and the lady was friendly but would not let me take my backpack with me as it was 12.6kg instead of 7kg allowance, apparently posing a (mysterious) threat to safety. She was kind enough to offer me a seat in the exit row, but as it turned out, it was actually the seat in the row just prior to the exit row, so not only there were no extra space, the seat backs did not recline either. Thanks a lot!
I had a few minutes to spare so once I made through security check, I used my Priority Pass membership to get into the Bidvest Premier Lounge and have some snacks and fingerfoods for lunch. The view out of the lounge was fantastic - large windows overseeing the international tarmac with a Speeddbird 747 and Emirates A330 parked in front of us. The runway was not far either and I watched a KC-10 tanker taking off while having my lunch. Cool stuff.
Once I got downstairs for boarding, I saw that it has not started yet. In fact, it was delayed for about half an hour with no announcements. At the same time, five other flights to Joburg were boarding and departed on time.
When we finally boarded the 737-300 (I believe it was an ex-Continental bird since it had no row 13 and the signs were in English and Spanish) I found out about the mess up with my seat assignment. On top of that, the aircraft did not have any overhead cooling vents to help with the warm cabin. Things were going just great. Finally came the good news - the flight attendant has negotiated an exit row seat for me. Greatfully, I plundged my butt down in it just to experience the most uncomfortable seat ever - the bottom felt like it had a huge hole in it while a horizontal bar was pressing against my back with little padding in-between.
Somehow, I still managed to pass out for about half of the flight in that seat. The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful except for some pockets of good turbulence on our descent to Joburg. Once on the ground, we were parked all the way out in the middle of nowhere by the cargo ops. It sucked because we had to go on a long bus ride to get to the terminal, more so because I really really needed to use a bathroom. On the other hand, the airplane geek inside me loved it - we got to see a Saudi Arabian Cargo MD-11, a Kazakh IL-76, Air France and Lufthansa A380s, a couple British Airways 747s, and my favorite RJ - the Avro in South African colors.
We arrived to Joburg around 4pm and I had to wait six more hours for my EgyptAir flight out to Cairo (a later flight from Cape Town was a lot more expensive on any of the carriers). Thankfully, I already had my boarding pass printed but it did not specify the gate. So I went to the Terminal A security line for the international departures, but then I realized that my boarding pass said Terminal B. I got out of the line and walked all the way across to Terminal B, then upstairs to the check-in desks just to find out that the Egypt Air check-in desks are at the other end (by the Terminal A).
Once I got back there, I found out that all the desks were empty and will not be manned for another two hours. Some 'good samaritan' tried to tell me to go just go to Terminal A. That was not enough for me, so I went to the South African ticket counters. They told me they could not look up anything for me and I will just have to wait for the EgyptAir check-in desks to open. I was told that same thing by a couple more people until I finally was able to get one of the South African reps to call someone to find out where EgyptAir normally boards - turned out it is indeed at Terminal A. But, he told me, I would not be able to get through the security without a boarding pass issued at the check-in desk. I decided to try anyways and had no issues getting through security check and passport control at Terminal A.
After passport control, it was another long track to get to the South African lounge, past all the other lounges. Once I was finally there, it was not too bad - The internet connection was decent, the lounge was pretty big and divided into multiple sections - the bar area, the kids area, the awesome view of the ramp area, and the back area. I was even able to get them to print out my new round-the-world itinerary for me, which is the first time I was able to get anything printed at a lounge.
I started out with Amarula on ice and some finger foods and read up on the current state of events in Bangkok as well as looked up a few things to do in Boracay while trying to catch up on my Facebook messages. I was also trying to get a hold of the tour guide in Cairo that I was supposedly meeting up with at the airport in the morning, but I have not had a definitive confirmation from him just yet - that was a bit nerve-wrecking, but eventually I got an email back from him stating that he will be at the airport bright and early when I arrive. As the dinner time rolled in, a few hot meal choices showed up but the notable thing was that I was able to stay away from the velvet cake - yes I was pretty proud of myself for staying strong.
I left the lounge after they started boarding the flight so I got there once everyone else was already on board. As soon as I walked in, I did not get a good feeling. EgyptAir's A330-200 business class configuration apparently does not have the overhead bins over the middle seats meaning that there was very little storage room, further made worse by all of the crew junk stowed in there already. I had to go back to economy cabin to find the place for my backpack. Once I settled in, I watched in disbelief as the old, short purser-hawk was making the rest of the flight attendants literally cram passenger's luggage together (in business!!!) to free up some room. WTH???
The seats looked like the plain old business class seats one would encounter on a domestic flight in the US. They did have some recline and a footrest making them barely bearable - but, heck, I still had much better legroom than in economy so I will that one slide. There was no usual bottle of water at each seat, no magazine to detail IFE offerings, no earplugs or hand lotion in the very plain looking travel kit. They did pass out the towelettes before takeoff, but they were barely warm. As all of that was not enough, there was a constant retching noise (very loud and annoying) in the back of the biz class during taxi. Wow…
There were not many choices for dinner - beef, chicken, or get lost as well as no alcohol served on the flight. Lastly, I thought it was nice that they had a set of stickers in the travel kit that you could attach to your seat to indicate whether you wanted to be woken up for breakfast. But, they managed to mess that one up as well - I put the sticker on to show that I just want to sleep, but was still woken up for a crappy breakfast.
I was dreading the EgyptAir experience after reading nothing but awful reviews on Flyertalk, but I did not have a choice as for some reason South African does not fly to Egypt. Unfortunately, my experience did confirm all those bad things. As if they were touting us, the inflight magazine kept mentioning how they were named the best business class airline in Africa for 2011. I have no idea why - in my experience, they compare to South African as Ryan Air would compare to British Airways…
EgyptAir Arrival Lounge In Cairo
Unlike Lufthansa and South African Airways (EgyptAir's Star Alliance partners), EgyptAir does not have a lounge set up for arriving business class passengers at Cairo airport so I did not get a chance to freshen up a bit upon my arrival. Oh well, Mohammed was already waiting for me at the airport to take me on a day tour around Cairo.
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