I passed through Bourj Al Arab Airport near Alexandria on Friday 8th April and experienced the full frontal assault of a seriously secure facility. No-one allowed through the main doors except for travellers. Five layers of security. Fear and loathing permeated the building, darkened by sand blown in by southerly winds from the Sahara. It was 40 degrees and the passengers alongside me were generally friendly. They were also resigned to their slow moving fate. Hijabs and Nuns habits, little kids running about playing with torches and plastic trucks. It was the sabbath so families permeated, along with a religious tour heading to Dubai on FZ 172 from HBE to DXB. On board a 737 run by FlyDubai. One of their planes crashed last month in Russia killing all on board. I was not that happy to be flying FlyDubai.
Then things got worse. I carry a special pen that allows me to record audio and video which passed through security check point one. Then security check point two, with full bells and whistles, shoes off, and a rather invasive thigh to crotch search by a somewhat enthusiastic moustached policeman. Then up the escalators to Security Check point 3. A slumped uniform beckoned me over. Generally I take off my jacket and place it in the plastic tray along with my laptop. But uniform had decided there was something suspicious about my pen.
He shouted “You, come here, come here” so I knew there was a problem. He was on his mobile. Within a few minutes an uniformed cop arrived and prodded my pen.
“What is this?” he asked.
“It’s a dictaphone” I said.
I showed him how the pen wrote and the USB under the screw off metal case. He seemed unconvinced. At this point my wife who was watching from beyond the X-ray machine moved away. I was aware that things were going downhill rapidly. Mr Plain Clothed whipped out his mobile and spoke at length to what appeared to be a senior security officer.
“No, ok, you wait” uniformed said to my wife, who ignored him and walked to the toilet. I had memorised my Egyptian contacts number in case of problems and was ready to ask for a phone call when the plain clothed cop told me to follow him. He took my passport and boarding pass, handed it to customs and we took a lift downstairs.
I was in real trouble. With a recent flight full of Russian tourists blown out of the sky and an FlyDubai aircraft crash at Rostov-on-Don, I had entered the contract to head off to Alexandria with a few misgivings. These were now appearing to come true. Worsened by the MetroJet flight blown up in the Sinai in November, killing all 225 on board.
The security manager looked up as we approached.
“What is this?” he asked.
“My business dictaphone, look I switch it on here and that means I don’t have to use my hands – I just stick it in my pocket.”
“Ok, no problem – come with me”
He walked away from the police and then said
“Put it away, you can’t take that on board, but if you leave it in your pocket its fine.”
And with that relief flooded through my body. I had spent 5 days in Alexandria and saw fewer than 30 tourists in total, including the ever present Chinese. The paranoia following the Russian plane disaster had kicked in, along with the muslim brotherhood which has threatened to kill visitors. Egypt is in the throes of political instability and I’d finally run slap bang into the sentiment. But things were not over yet.
I had to pass through two more security checks – one included a bag search. Success, the pen passed the test and just before we entered the final gangway to our flight, a fifth check of passengers over an above the usual passport/ticket confirmation. In a strange way all this made me feel much better about taking a plane out of Egypt. Surely they’d find a smoking shoe or a couple of grams of explosive if they were so careful about my pen.
Luckily the flight had been delayed by an hour because so had I. Eventually we took off at 19h15 and made it to Dubai unscathed. But I won’t be taking FlyDubai in a rush in the future. Four hour flight and if you wanted any form of entertainment or food and drink it was purchase only. Not even water was provided which I thought was counter to IATA rules. But more about FlyDubai next time.