Saturday, 13 March 2010

Egypt. Cairo to Aswan. March 2010. Beware of the smiling Travel Agent.

This is the time of year when it suites me to take my ‘main’ holiday of the year. This year the destination was to be India, or to be more precise Goa. The independent travellers dream, 2 weeks backpacking around Goa, and hopefully getting time to see Mumbai as well. I had done my research and was ready for the challenge. My eldest daughter questioned my choice of destination, she doubted that her parents fitted the profile of visitors to this part of India, informing me that I was far to old to visit Goa, ‘Its the sex and drugs capitol of India, only young people go there’. This was not the reason why I did not go to India. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to change my plans and my visit to the land she described was not to be (well not in 2010 anyway).
In the first few months of 2010 I have been very busy at work, not busy with practical, hands on work. But busy with office work, preparing for a very important assessment. So having spent hours on a PC at work I did not really want to do the same once I got home. I was being very lazy and I did something I haven’t done in ages, used a travel agent to book a 10 day holiday to Egypt. I wanted to take my youngest daughter to the River Nile and to Sharm-el-Sheikh.(if you want to know who the TA was please PM me).
Because I had used a travel agent, and was so busy at work, I did not check the fine details of my planned trip......this was a mistake.
So here is my Trip Report.
I flew from London Heathrow (LHR) to Cairo on BMI flight MS9231. This left LHR at 09.15. it was an Airbus A321, it looked a bit old, but the seats weren’t bad, leg room and IFE OK and the flight was short, just over 4 hours. We arrived at 16.15 local time. Now this next bit I had questioned with the travel agent, as I felt the timing was a bit tight, I had been assured that there was nothing to worried about...be warned!
Our connecting flight to Aswan was due out at 17.20.
It took ages to get through customs, then an age to collect our small cases. We left the International Arrivals and quickly found the Domestic Departures and went thought the security checks. This is a very odd and laboriously slow procedure, as you have to show the police officer your passport and e ticket, have you bags put through the scanner all before you get to the check in desk. At the Air Egypt check in desk I was told. ‘You are lucky, you have just made it in time’, relived I put the case onto the scales. A man behind the desk shouted over in Arabic to the man checking us in. I was then told ‘you have missed the flight, go to see him’ pointing to the end of the counter. Here I was again told, ‘you missed the flight, come back at 20.45, maybe you can go on that one’. I questioned the availability of seats on the later flight, with a shrug of his shoulders, he again said ‘back at 20.45. it happens everyday, it is BMI!’
Problem number one; security (the Police) would not let us back out into the Arrivals hall, so we sat on the hard chairs in the domestic departure check in area to wait. A second security officer informed me that it was not allowed to wait in this area,
Security; ‘you must check in’,
Me; ‘I can’t check in’,
Security; ‘so you must go out’,
Me; ‘you won’t let me out!’
Security; ‘ow !? you have e ticket? you miss plane? you go out to Cairo? Go to Cairo now! PASSPORT? PASSPORT?’
After over ½ hour of this he let us back into the main airport area.
Problem Number two; I went over to the Air Egypt desk and asked when the next flight to Aswan was, it was at 21.15. so a quick calculation....I was not happy to be checking in at 20.45 as I felt that was a little late, a little like a standby ticket? I asked what the expected load was on the later flight.......I was told that it was over booked, but if I wanted I could purchased a ticket, as my ticket was no longer valid as I had ‘missed the flight’. I moved from the Air Egypt ticket office to the ‘Customer Relations Desk’. Once again asking about the flight. I was told as I had missed the flight, and that it was a problem of my own making, my ticked was no longer valid. I was advised to get a new ticket.
Me; ‘how do I do that?’.
Customer Relations Man; ‘you by it from me!’
Me; ‘I already have a ticket and don’t have money to by another one’. This conversation went on for a very long time. I acted totally daft and just kept saying I needed a new ticket. In the end I must have ground him down with my blank looks, slow speech and general stupidity, he made a phone call, then advised me to go back to the check in at 19.15 and wrote in Arabic all over my e ticket (I hate to think what it says! but I bet it is not complementary).
So! At 19.00, back to the security, who wont let me in as I missed the flight and my ticket is not valid, act daft again. He let me in at 19.30. the check in desk looks at the ticket, ‘this is the wrong ticket, you missed your flight, ect, ect’. Act daft, don’t move, just keep saying ‘yes! I am checking in!’, at 19.55, he relents makes a phone call to the Customer Relations Desk, I hear shouting in Arabic on the phone. Our boarding cards are issued at 20.00.
By this time I trust no one, I check the codes on my boarding pass, its a ‘Y’, full economy fare, I relax a little.
We leave Cairo at 21.30 on a packed Air Egypt Embracer 170, arriving in Aswan at about 23.00.
Because we have a travel agent, we should be picked up by the Marhaba Tours Rep. As we are late, = no rep. I look at the vast amount of papers I have been sent for a local contact number....guess what, there is not one!
I wiz over to the Lockwood Rep and ask if he knows who Marhaba Tours are, he has never heard of them, nor has any one else in the airport, but he does tell me not to pay more that 50 Egyptian Pounds for a taxi. The Taxi driver wants 200, but I haggle him down, and arrive at our hotel in Aswan after midnight.
I ask the reception desk if they know who the local Marhaba Tours rep is, again they say they have never heard of the company, but, if I want to see Aswan he has a brother who can take me to the sites tomorrow. Sick of it all and very tried by now, I decline his kind offer and we retire to our hotel room for the night, after all tomorrow is another day!