British Airways grounds Cairo flights: Key questions and answers

Thomas Cook and easyJet links to Egyptian resorts continue as normal

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 21 July 2019 12:41
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British Airways cancels flights to Cairo for seven days

All British Airways flights between London Heathrow and Cairo have been cancelled until Sunday 28 July because of heightened security concerns.

BA made the decision shortly before the departure of its usual daily flight from Heathrow to the Egyptian capital on 20 July.

The German airline Lufthansa later followed suit, grounding its Saturday night flights from Frankfurt and Munich to Cairo and the early inbound services on Sunday from Egypt.

What was it that prompted British Airways and Lufthansa to ground their planes?

The circumstances indicate there is intelligence available to European governments about a specific threat involving flights departing from Cairo airport. Fights to and from Hurghada airport, the main Egyptian gateway from the UK, have continued as normal.

The Foreign Office says: “There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures are in place for flights departing from Egypt to the UK.”

British Airways says: “We constantly review our security arrangements at all our airports around the world, and have suspended flights to Cairo for seven days as a precaution to allow for further assessment.

“The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our priority, and we would never operate an aircraft unless it was safe to do so.”

A Lufthansa spokesperson said: “We took the decision as a precaution but after assessing the situation will be operating as normal.” Flights from Germany to the Egyptian capital have resumed.

What about Egyptian planes?

Egyptair is continuing to fly twice daily between Heathrow and Cairo. The Saturday night flight on Egyptair from Heathrow to Cairo was delayed by over an hour and did not take off until shortly before midnight. It is not clear what held up the flight, but it may have been connected with the security alert and BA’s decision to cancel flights.

The Sunday morning Egyptair departure from Cairo arrived at Heathrow on time after an uneventful flight.

Who uses the British Airways flights?

Mainly passengers with family connections in Egypt, people connecting from other destinations at Heathrow, and by business travellers.

Despite the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and a wealth of other attractions, Cairo is no longer a big destination for British tourists.

Is it unusual for an airline to cancel flights on specific route like this?

Yes, highly unusual – especially for a specific timeframe as in this case of exactly one week. No British Airways tickets are available on the route any time up to Saturday 27 July, but flights are on sale again from Sunday.

The decision should be seen in the context of the tragedy on 31 October 2015, when a Russian passenger jet crashed shortly after take off from Sharm el Sheikh airport in Egypt.

It is believed a bomb placed on board at the airport was responsible for the deaths of 224 people. Shortly afterwards, the Foreign Office imposed a ban on all UK airlines flying from the airport, which serves Egypt’s premier resort.

Intelligence reports express similar concerns about a threat to western aircraft at Cairo.

What about other airlines?

Flights are continuing as normal. The main operator is Thomas Cook, which flies daily from Manchester to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, and operates other flights from Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick and Newcastle. It also has a link between Birmingham and Marsa Alam.

The other significant airline is easyJet, which flies to Hurghada from Gatwick. A spokesperson said: “We will continue our flying programme as planned, but this will be kept under continuous review.

“We adhere to any guidance and advice given by the authorities.”

What are passengers’ rights if they were booked on British Airways?

The airline is offering a choice between a full refund, postponing their journey or being rebooked on other flights – which, if sufficient space is available, will be on Egyptair.

But if other European airlines join BA and Lufthansa in cancelling flights, there will be a serious shortage of seats at what’s a very busy time.

And what about people who are booked to travel on other flights between the UK and Egypt but now don’t want to fly?

Unless the Foreign Office itself grounds planes, as it has done in the case of Sharm el Sheikh, then normal conditions will apply and passengers will not be able to cancel without losing some or all of their money. The same goes for people with package holidays booked to Egypt: they have no legal right to a refund or different destinations, though they may find their holiday company is sympathetic.

Thomas Cook is still selling packages for later this month.

Travel insurance firms will not refund the cost of holidays for what is termed “disinclination to travel”.

How dangerous is Egypt?

The Foreign Office says risks are tolerably low along the Nile Valley, all the way from Alexandria on the Mediterranean via Cairo, Luxor and Aswan to the Sudanese border. This also includes the western shore of the Red Sea, encompassing the leading resorts (for British travellers) of Hurghada and Marsa Alam.

Coded warning: the FCO map of Egypt

The Sinai Peninsula, though, is regarded as too dangerous – except for a small enclave around Egypt’s premier resort, Sharm el Sheikh. The FCO advice defines this as “the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier”. This is a ”ring of steel“ which includes the airport and the areas of Sharm el Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks’ Bay and Nabq.

But following the October 2015 crash of a Russian passenger flight, the Foreign Office banned UK airlines from flying in and out of Sharm el Sheikh, a prohibition that continues today. This is based on specific concerns about the security risks at Sharm el Sheikh airport. British people still fly to Sharm el Sheikh but via Cairo or Istanbul, thereby going against Foreign Office advice.

The US State Department warns American travellers: “Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Egypt. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, and have targeted diplomatic facilities, tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, western businesses, restaurants, resorts, and local government facilities.

“Terrorists have conducted attacks in urban areas, including in Cairo, despite the heavy security presence.”

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