At the beginning of October of this year (2021), I saw headlines all over the travel news sphere lauding EgyptAir’s “first” flight to Tel Aviv and, given that TLV is the only commercial international airport in the entire country, to Israel too. However, amid the pages and pages of goole news search results all saying this same thing, one slightly different headline stood out. One of my favorite local news websites in Egypt, Egyptian Streets, worded things a little differently by saying “First Official EgyptAir Flight Touches Down in Tel Aviv.”
The critical difference in the Egyptian Streets headline was the word “official.” EgyptAir has technically had a regular direct flight to Tel Aviv for decades, but unless you were really in the loop on regional aviation – and politics – you would have never known it.
After fighting 4 wars between 1948 and 1974, Egypt and Israel finally signed a peace treaty in 1979 and agreed to resume normal diplomatic relations with one another. Part of that agreement required the operation of regularly scheduled air service between each country’s capital. However, Egypt worried about both public opinion on the streets and security concerns surrounding an aircraft bound for or coming from Israel. So in order to comply with the treaty, Egypt’s state-owned national carrier EgyptAir spun off a subsidiary airline and called it Air Sinai, the sole purpose of which was to operate this regularly scheduled flight between Cairo and Tel Aviv.
If you ever tried to buy a ticket on Air Sinai, or find an office for it, or pull up its website, or spot one of its two planes at either airport, you’d be pretty much out of luck. That’s because Air Sinai was never intended to be a public-facing or customer-serving operation. It existed solely to comply with the conditions of the highly successful peace treaty that kept tensions low, tourism high, and economic aid rolling in from the United States to the tune of billions of dollars per year.
It was technically possible to buy a ticket on Air Sinai and take the mystery flight, but you had to find its obscure office in downtown Cairo, pay cash, and get issued a paper ticket. Then at the airport in Cairo, you had to ask 200 people where the check-in desk was for Air Sinai, all of whom would deny ever hearing of such an airline. Eventually someone would get someone who would know someone who would point you to an EgyptAir-branded check-in desk, where they would discretely tag and check your luggage, give you a boarding pass, and tell you where the unmarked gate for the flight was that day.
Air Sinai’s actual aircraft were no less mysterious, at least on the outside. They were both painted plain white with no logos, words, or branding of any type, for either Air Siani or EgyptAir. Once inside, however, it was a different story. The aircraft interiors had EgyptAir branding just like normal EgyptAir aircraft, and the cabin crew wore EgyptAir uniforms. Needless to say, it was all very bizarre, and Egypt carried on this show for decades for the sake of keeping a low profile for the flight domestically and internationally.
So as you can imagine, for a country and an airline that goes to such great lengths for decades to run a regular secret flight via a spin-off secret airline to a destination that they publicly deny servicing, this new announcement about EgyptAir taking its direct Tel Aviv flight mainstream is quite a big deal.
Fares for the new “official” route appear to be a little high at 370 US dollars or 326 Euros, but this could also be due to added taxes and fees for the international nature of the ticket, although the actual distance is less than most domestic flights within Egypt.
As international travel is bouncing back big time in Egypt and around the world, this new “official” direct route for EgyptAir adds another great opportunity for travelers to Egypt to tack on an Israel add-on after they finish exploring Egypt, and for travelers to Israel to stop over and see the Pyramids or new Grand Egyptian Museum as an add-on to their journeys around Israel too. With two bucket list destinations side by side and now cooperating publicly on a direct air link, this development is sure to greatly benefit both countries moving forward.