Reviewing an airline's treatment of passengers with disabilities and special needs is no easy task. It is only through a large sample size of trips that I can gain a true understanding of a carrier's attentiveness to wheelchair users like me. With that in mind, I try not to write about individual experiences with airlines. But today, I will make an exception.
EgyptAir is the flag carrier of Egypt and a partner of United Airlines, by virtue of its membership in Star Alliance. I recently flew with EgyptAir from Abu Dhabi to Cairo on flight MS 915. In this article, I'll describe my entire experience as a wheelchair user traveling with EgyptAir - including booking, check-in, boarding and arrival to Cairo International Airport. I decided to share this single experience with you, as I'm not sure when I will next have an opportunity to travel with EgyptAir.
Tickets & Booking
Needing to travel between Abu Dhabi and Cairo, I explored all of the available flight options. Preferring to travel non-stop, I was left with a choice between EgyptAir and Etihad Airways. Having previously flown with Etihad, I decided to fly with EgyptAir for the first time. I jumped on a one-way economy class fare of $104, a good deal for the journey of 4 hours and 1,476 miles.
I made my booking through Priceline, so that I could pay in U.S. Dollars without a foreign transaction or conversion fee. I credited the frequent flyer miles to my United Airlines MileagePlus account, but was only able to earn 367 miles with the deeply discounted coach fare.
Requesting Wheelchair Assistance on EgyptAir
After making my booking, I used my six-digit PNR/booking code to access my flight reservation on the EgyptAir website. Through this tool, I was able to request wheelchair assistance for my journey, informing the airline that I am unable to walk and would require the use of an aisle chair.
For more information on the types of special needs and disability assistance offered by EgyptAir, visit www.egyptair.com.
If you would prefer, you can request any assistance by calling the airline at +1 (212) 581-5600 or toll-free at +1 (800) 334-6787. These telephone numbers lead to the EgyptAir office in New York. If you require contact information for another regional office, click here.
Check-in at Abu Dhabi International Airport
Check-in for EgyptAir flights departing Abu Dhabi begins three hours before scheduled departure. The entire check-in process took about 30 minutes, but the staff and manager were very accommodating.
The airline requested that I hand over my personal powered wheelchair at the check-in desk, but I insisted on keeping it until boarding. As many power wheelchair users know, sitting in a standard airport wheelchair is uncomfortable. Beyond that, though, my mobility device is specialized for me, and includes a tilt feature to help me relieve pressure.
After a few phone calls, the manager agreed to let me gate-check my wheelchair, and I was off with boarding pass in hand. The passport control and security procedures were quick, and I was airside within 15 minutes. EgyptAir operates out of Terminal 1 at Abu Dhabi International Airport. The building is quite dated and a bit under-sized, but architecturally beautiful. This was my second time using T1 at AUH, having been there in 2015 aboard the inaugural flight of KLM's Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Wheelchair Assistance at Boarding Gate
I arrived at the gate about one hour prior to departure, and thirty minutes before boarding. I hoped to take a photo of the Airbus A330-200 that would take me to Cairo, but was not able to get a clear shot. Here is a stock photo courtesy of Airbus, which will show you what my plane looked like:
EgyptAir has a beautiful livery. The tail features a representation of Horus, the winged God of the Sky or Sun in ancient Egyptian mythology. The picture above is a stock image, of a brand-new Airbus A330 just off the assembly line. Because EgyptAir operates primarily in Africa and the Middle East, the elements are tough on the paint jobs, and my Airbus was a bit faded.
At Abu Dhabi, the aircraft had parked at a gate with a typical jet bridge. The wheelchair assistance team arrived to the gate prior to boarding and was prepared to assist me. I was allowed to stay in my own wheelchair until reaching the aircraft door. At that time, I transferred with assistance into the aisle chair and was rolled to my seat in the first row in economy class.
What happened to my gate-checked personal wheelchair? It was actually rolled through the aircraft to meet a high loader at the opposite door. This allowed for the wheelchair to be lowered down to the ramp/tarmac. It was then placed inside of a cargo container and loaded into the cargo hold. On arrival to Cairo, my wheelchair was returned to me without a scratch - but, more on that later.
Flight MS915 to Cairo, Egypt
Just a few minutes before pushback, a flight attendant and the EgyptAir station manager approached me and asked if I would like to receive a complimentary upgrade to business class. Although I had already comfortable settled into my economy class seat, I jumped at the opportunity for a free upgrade (not literally). A couple of the flight attendants assembled the onboard aisle chair and pushed me up to the much more comfortable business class:
The business class seats on this EgyptAir Airbus A330 were comfortable, but they did not lay flat into a bed-like position. The seatback reclines quite a bit and a leg rest comes up as well, so there are many ways to position oneself to get comfortable. Either way, it was a big improvement from the economy class seat, and I was grateful for the free upgrade!
Our scheduled departure was 3:10 p.m., but we did not push back from the gate until 3:40 p.m., a delay of 30 minutes. This was partially due to the fact that the aircraft had arrived late on its flight from Cairo to Abu Dhabi. After about 20 minutes taxiing to the departure runway, we were wheels up!
After take-off from Abu Dhabi International Airport, we turned Northwest and crossed the Persian Gulf. The weather was beautiful, with few clouds and a bright sun. Our route took us across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before crossing into Egypt at a cruising altitude of 27,000 to 30,000 feet.
Just a short time after takeoff, meal service began. Because EgyptAir is a dry (alcohol-free) airline, I had to settle for a soda pop (7UP) instead of a glass of wine. The meal consisted of three courses:
The food seemed fresh and tasty, despite the fact that the airplane had probably been catered hours before in Cairo. My favorite part was the dessert - it tasted as good as it looks in the photo above. I fell in love with the design of the tableware, and wish I could have taken a set home with me!
Service was attentive throughout the meal, and the flight attendants were also very friendly. I felt very comfortable on EgyptAir.
Arrival to Cairo, Egypt
We approached Cairo on a northwesterly track, turning approximately 90 degrees to the northeast to line up with Cairo International Airport. Cleared for landing on runway 5R, we touched down safely at 5:44 p.m. EET. It was a short taxi to our remote gate stand, and we arrived about 40 minutes late. The total elapsed time from gate to gate was 4 hours, 8 minutes.
Although we did not receive a physical gate or jet bridge, the airline was prepared for my arrival with an AmbuLift. While the able-bodied passengers deplaned, I asked a flight attendant to snap a photo to commemorate my very first flight with EgyptAir:
A few minutes after taking the photo, the wheelchair assistance team at Cairo Airport was aboard with the aisle chair. The rolled me out of the aircraft and into the AmbuLift through door 2R, where I was reconnected with my power wheelchair.
After a short drive to the terminal, I was set off on my own (at my request), and made my way to passport control. Egypt offers a visa on arrival to U.S. citizens for $25 USD. After about 15 minutes spent waiting in line, I was admitted to Egypt and free to collect my luggage at baggage claim.
With bags in hand, I proceeded into the Terminal 3 arrivals hall and followed the signs to my accommodations for the evening, the Le Méridien Cairo Airport Hotel. The hotel is connected to Terminal 3 of Cairo International Airport by a skybridge. Time from baggage claim to the hotel check-in desk was less than 10 minutes.
When I booked my flight with EgyptAir, I didn't expect to have a great experience. But, from booking to baggage claim, my wheelchair accessible travel experience with EgyptAir was seamless. No drama. Assistance when and where I needed it. My request to gate-check my power wheelchair was granted, and it was returned to me in the same condition. EgyptAir staff in the airports and on the airplane were friendly, and so were the wheelchair assistance contractors.
While this was only one flight, I won't hesitate to book another trip with EgyptAir in the future. They checked all of the accessibility boxes and left in me a very good impression.
Have you taken a trip on EgyptAir with a wheelchair, disability or assistance need?
If so, how was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!