Travelers in 2011 have already hit some serious turbulence, with record-breaking snowstorms canceling flights in the Midwest and along the East Coast, a suicide bomber at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport killing 35 people, and now a week of violent political protests in Egypt forcing governments worldwide to dispatch charter flights and evacuate their citizens.
For foreigners at Cairo International Airport, the political upheaval has generated a perfect storm of travel nightmares: Thousands of displaced passengers wait for planes, while commercial airlines cancel service to the city indefinitely; food supplies in the airport dwindle, with even duty free candy selling out; and traffic jams snake up to the airport departures terminal, even as the arrivals area remains deserted.
A 17-hour, country-wide government curfew (from 3pm to 8am) further complicates the bedlam, as both foreigners and Egyptian citizens are prohibited from going anywhere during those hours – leaving the airport understaffed and making it even more challenging for commercial flights to resume.
Stateside, Delta canceled flights to Cairo indefinitely, and American announced that passengers flying to or from Cairo from January 28 to February 8 may change their tickets free of charge.
The state department is urging U.S. citizens to leave Egypt as soon as it is safe to do so, but of the 52,000 registered Americans in the country, only 2,400 have requested a government rescue flight. So far, at least 940 Americans have been evacuated; the first flight flew 42 people to Cyprus this morning, followed by seven larger trips to Athens and other safe havens in Europe.