One of the biggest and most common logistical questions that future visitors to Egypt have is how to get there. For nearly all travelers, you’ll almost certainly fly into the country, although very few do cross the land border from Israel into Taba, Egypt. But compared to the total number of international visitors to Egypt, those who come in by land are very far and few between.
The overwhelming majority arrive by air into Cairo, while a small fraction of European visitors may take direct flights to Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh. But for the sake of this post we’ll focus on the overwhelming majority of first-time visitors to Egypt who fly into the country and arrive at Cairo International Airport.
There’s only one direct flight left from the USA to Egypt, and that’s an EgyptAir flight from New York’s JFK airport direct to Cairo. It takes about 10 or 11 hours, but you don’t have to worry about any connections at foreign airports and you just basically eat dinner, watch some shows, go to sleep, and wake up in Egypt the next morning. Bam!
Ok, so many of you are probably already wondering the same thing I used to wonder and you’re thinking… uhh, EgyptAir? Is it nice? Is it safe? Is it a real airline? In short, those are all yes’s. EgyptAir used to have a reputation for being a little jank, like many other national carriers from developing countries. But I’ve gotta tell ya – EgyptAir has really upped their game over the past few years. Their planes are really nice, and I’ve never personally had an issue with them and I’ve actually flown them a good bit.
On the direct flight between the US and Egypt, to be honest I’ve only flown business class on that flight and found it comparable to all of the American carriers’ business class product. I’ve also known many others who have flown in coach on that direct flight and they say the service and quality are also very similar to US carriers now.
The only difference – and I’ll be the first to admit that this is a big one – is that EgyptAir is still a dry airline. Now I’ve certainly carried a mini bottle or two onto my EgyptAir flights before, knowing in advance they’re dry. If you do that, don’t get caught and put them in an awkward position. But unless you need to get a good buzz going on every flight, the direct JFK-Cairo EgyptAir flight is not a bad option at all.
Many of us love our airline alliance loyalties, whether for points and status accumulation or the benefits from said status. I’d say the majority of Americans who visit Egypt by far DON’T end up flying EgyptAir, but rather fly a European carrier, or a combination of an American carrier to Europe then a European codeshare onward to Cairo. There are a lot of good reasons to do this and deal with the connection and longer trip, but keep in mind that EgyptAir is part of Star Alliance so you can still get mileage credit in that network if Star Alliance is your people.
If you’re coming to Egypt from the United States and you do not live in the greater New York City area, you’re going to have to make a connection anyway. If you live in New York you can take advantage of the direct flight. But if you live in any other part of the country you’ll have to either connect in New York, Europe, or the Gulf. So let’s talk about each of these options real quick.
I can’t possibly talk about every possible routing to get to Egypt, but I can tell you some of the more popular ones and best ones from my experience going there zillions of times. If you want to fly Delta or it’s SkyTeam alliance, you’ll be flying from one of Delta’s international gateway cities – and they have a lot of them around the country – to either Amsterdam, Paris, or Rome. Then you’ll connect from there on to Cairo on KLM, AirFrance, or Alitalia respectively.
If I had to pick one of those for myself or suggest one for you, I’d always pick laying over in Amsterdam. Schipol airport in Amsterdam is a fabulous airport with lots of food options and, perhaps more importantly, lots of comfy seating and rest areas. Even though you’ll be doing an overnight flight across the Atlantic and hopefully sleeping on the flight, you’ll still likely be tired when you arrive at your connection airport and having places to lay back and chillax or lay down and rest is very important. Most major airports will have areas like this in their VIP lounges, but if you don’t have access to one of these you can still enjoy many of the same luxuries in the main public access areas at Schipol airport in Amsterdam.
And if you have a long layover, it’s super easy to hop on the train at Schipol and ride into the center of Amsterdam and get back to the airport in plenty of time. I used to fly KLM to and from Cairo a lot and do day trips into Amsterdam on my layovers every single time. But if Paris or Rome is cheaper to go through or they work out better for your schedule, then by all means go with the best flight option for you.
If you like United and its Star Alliance network, you’ll also likely connect in Europe, most likely Frankfurt or Munich in Germany. EgyptAir is also a part of Star Alliance, so there’s a good chance if you book through United or Lufthansa that your flight between Germany and Egypt will be operated by EgyptAir. While there may be only one flight a day between most cities and Cairo, there are at least 2 a day between Frankfurt and Cairo and Munich and Cairo. So if you ever have an issue with a missed connection or mechanical issues flying Star Alliance, you’ll have more options for getting there on your original planned day.
If you’re flying American Airlines and their OneWorld partners, you’ll likely go to London or Madrid and connect on to Cairo from there.
Now, it wasn’t always this way, but these days there are a lot of really great flight options servicing Egypt that connect in the Middle East too. For starters, Turkish Airlines is a really great global carrier with great service and you’ll connect in Istanbul. Technically Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is on the European side, but since most people associate Turkey with the Middle East I’m lumping Turkish Airlines here into the category of Middle Eastern connection carriers.
Istanbul’s airport is totally safe to connect in, super modern, and it’s one of my favorite airports in the world. If you fly business class on Turkish OR you buy access to their lounge in Istanbul, you’ll be amazed and how beautiful and posh their lounge is. The design and aesthetic are simply incredible.
Turkish Airlines is also a part of Star Alliance, so there are at least 3 or 4 flights per day between Cairo and Istanbul and they also fly direct between Istanbul and several cities in the US. Turkish can sometimes have longer layovers, like KLM, but it’s really easy to arrange a day trip to downtown Istanbul on one if you want to see another country and city on your same trip. On some tickets, even some economy tickets, Turkish airlines will also arrange a complimentary city tour for you on your layover. Sometimes they’ll even throw in a hotel for the night if you have an overnight layover.
Then there are also the Gulf carriers, as we call them, or specifically Qatar Airways, based in Doha; Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi; and Emirates Airlines based in Dubai. All three of those fly direct to a boatload of cities in the US now, and from any other those connection cities in the Gulf it’s only a short hop back over to Cairo. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, these Gulf airlines offer incredible service and their airports and lounges on your layover will be beautiful and posh. So that’s another option for you as well these days that we didn’t really have conveniently available a decade and a half ago when I started going to Egypt.
Nowadays you have tons of options to get there. If you live in the NYC area, you are the only ones that will have a direct flight to Egypt with no stops or connections. But for everyone else, most major metro areas in the US have a one-stop option to get you there on a wide variety of airlines and airline alliances. I didn’t mention Canada yet, but Canadians also have most of the same options for getting there, and many Americans fly through and connect in Canada to take advantage of AirCanada’s low international fares sometimes too.
However you chose to get yourself there, just get used to the fact that it’s a long overnight journey and consider investing in comfort. If you don’t’ want to spend a boatload of cash on a biz class ticket, consider strategies for accumulating enough miles to get you there and back in biz. It’s totally worth it and with some smart planning, you can easily bank enough miles for that in less than a year.
But even if you decide to save miles and cash and fly economy, you’ll be perfectly fine, of course. You’ll get a great meal and be knocked out overnight and you’ll wake up on the other side of the world about to step out into the land of the Pharaohs and embark on the trip of a lifetime.
Thousands of years ago, not even the great god-king Pharaohs had access to the ability to fly across the globe and visit another nation. Today, all of us are lucky enough to have countless options for getting to Egypt and exploring the incredible surviving remnants of this remarkable ancient civilization.