In December 2010, I was rapidly growing paranoid about my requalification to Diamond status on DL. I was roughly 7000 miles short, so I pulled out the Great Circle Mapper and looked at options. I knew that the easiest thing would be for me to use AF, KLM, or Alitalia to a hub and then connect to something further. This can be somewhat of a problem, as when you are in the center of a map, getting far enough - in MQM terms - requires some work. I ended up deciding on Cairo as one of the components of my requalification. As I had just moved here and was not rolling in money, I found that the cheapest option would be a one day hop through Amsterdam on KLM. Little did I know that this would be my last chance to see the old Egypt, the land not yet torn by domestic strife.
The inherent problem with Egypt on KLM is that the daily flight arrives - during the winter months - at about 2:30 AM. The daily departure is about 4 AM. Despite the fact that the same aircraft would obviously be used, I did not want to take any chances with local authorities, and I also wanted to see a little bit of Cairo. Not thinking clearly, I booked a layover of just over 24 hours. At the time, the flight was operating on a 777 - it has since been downgraded to a 737. Air France had more reasonable arrival and departure times, but the prices were much higher.
I then looked into hotels, and I could not find anything within my desired price range that was downtown. I couldn't even find anything - anywhere - within my price range in my favorite chains. I found that the Radisson Blu Heliopolis was near the airport, and near the pyramids, so I made a reservation. I have found that Radissons are an acceptable choice when my preferred brands are not available, especially in Europe, where the SPG and Marriott chains can be sparse in certain locations. The GoldPoints program makes it easy to transfer points into DL miles, and I have had really good experiences with the chain in SLC when DL is offering lucrative bumps (the $800, $50 in meal voucher, guaranteed F seat and mileage credit kind, that show up frequently during IROPS in winter).
The connecting flight was uneventful, and I got to spend some quality time in one of the Crown Lounges in AMS, which I have always found to be quite good. The staff are nice, Wi-Fi is free, in AMS there is a huge, in-lounge smoking area (with it's own cappucino machine), there are lots of newspapers, and the food is excellent. Soups, sandwiches, good drinks, fruit, vegetables, etc., are always on hand. In my opinion, these are the best SkyTeam lounges in Europe, outside of the T4 joint lounge in LHR.
I was unable to talk my way into an upgrade to Cairo, but I did get into an Economy Plus seat, which works about the same way as the new DL Economy Plus. These are free only for Flying Blue Platinum members, but carry a 50% discount for SkyTeam Elite Plus. I ended up paying 30 Euros more for the seat. All I got from that was more leg room, but at that hour of the night, I found it to be well worth it. The in flight entertainment with just like that on an old NW A330. I tried some language lessons on the way, but I found that I wasn't having much success.
Upon arrival, something just felt a little strange. It was probably just my paranoia about the middle east, but the stares I got - and that the other passengers who were clearly not middle eastern got - while buying a visa and moving through passport control - were a little odd, in my opinion. I was tired, and I basically got conned into a gypsy cab to the Radisson. There were a number of police checkpoints on the airport grounds themselves, and that enhanced my paranoia. We sat at one - with the driver of the cab being questioned - for 15 minutes. 10 minutes after that, and 20 USD later, I was at the hotel.
The hotel had metal detectors, and clearly, they weren't using them with everyone, including me. I realize that this is par for the course in places like Cairo, but it never seems right when people are walking through a metal detector into what is otherwise a very nice looking and new hotel. Check in was painless - and why shouldn't it be - with me paying for two nights, by the rules, but only being there for less than 24 hours. Wi-Fi was on the house. I went up to the floor, took two cookies from the lounge, and went to bed.
At around Noon, I got up and headed for the pyramids. A large sandstorm was in progress, and that limited my willingness to be there. They are an amazing feat, needless to say, and it was worth the trip. When I got back, it was late afternoon. I had a drink in the bar (NOT DRY! YAY!) and after a conversation with a frequent traveller from Canada, I went to the 20 USD buffet and got stuffed on the local cuisine, which was actually quite good. At this point, I just went to bed and waited for the flight. The highlight of the day, though, was discovering that a pack of 20 cigarettes cost 2 USD.
The hotel offered a free shuttle to the airport, and when I arrived, I discovered no shortage of people with their hands out looking for a tip. Everything from being "hustled" through security to carrying bags was offered. Having learned my lesson from the cab, I found a security line, put my bags through the belt, and then proceeded to the check in counter. The contract staff was nice enough, and they directed me to a contract (shocker) lounge, where smoking was permitted, but comfortable seating and alcohol were not. I went through yet another security checkpoint, boarded a bus, and then took the staircase to the 777, not really knowing if the trip was worth it or not. The flights back were uneventful, outside of another stop in the Crown Lounge, which is hard not to enjoy.
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