POSTED: 8:45 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 1:49 p.m. HST, Jan 29, 2011
CAIRO — Hundreds of people crowded the capital's main international airport hoping for a flight out on Saturday but Western carriers were canceling, delaying or suspending service after days of violent unrest.
A British airline turned around its Cairo-bound jet in mid-flight.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 people flocked to Cairo Intentional Airport, many without reservations. Officials said that about half were tourists and half Egyptians.
British Midlands International said its flight from London Heathrow to Cairo turned around because a shift in the start of a nighttime curfew from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m. had made it impossible to land in time for passengers to make it out of the airport.
The United States, France and Germany issued warnings to their respective citizens, urging them to cancel nonessential travel to Cairo and to remain indoors and away from flashpoint areas if they were already in the country.
Israeli carrier El Al was trying to arrange a special flight Saturday to take roughly 200 Israeli tourists out of the country, a Cairo International Airport official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. Israel's embassy in Egypt declined to comment.
British Airways, meanwhile, modified its departure time so flights would not arrive in Cairo during the curfew hours. BA also said it would send a charter plane to Egypt to move passengers wanting to leave.
The flight disruptions threatened to undercut one of Egypt's key foreign revenue generators — tourism, which accounts for about 11 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product. Tourism brought in over $9 billion for Egypt in the first nine months of 2010 and $10.8 billion the year before.
So far, the protests appear to have mainly affected travel plans to Cairo, while the Red Sea resorts favored by the Europeans and Russians who make up the majority of foreign tourists to Egypt were unaffected.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said it had learned that some Polish tourists had rented vehicles to travel to cities where demonstrations were taking place.
"We consider this very irresponsible and urge them not to do that," ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said.
Two of the biggest tourism agencies in Germany, TUI and Thomas Cook, gave their customers the option of either canceling trips to Egypt or choosing a different destination, with no penalties.
Thomas Cook said that there had not been any requests for cancelations.
TUI also said nobody had asked to return early to Germany and there had been only sporadic cancelations.
Rene-Marc Chikli, president of the CETO association of French tour operators, said the group was suspending all departures this weekend for Egypt. Many travelers who are already in Egypt are being routed away from Cairo to see other destinations, such as Luxor, Aswan or the Red Sea, he told France Info radio.
— German carrier Lufthansa said it had canceled both of its two scheduled flights to Cairo on Saturday.
— Air Berlin canceled one flight to Cairo.
— U.S. carrier Delta Airlines, which flies direct to Cairo from the U.S., said service to and from Cairo would be "indefinitely suspended as a result of civil unrest."
— Polish airlines LOT has canceled a flight from Warsaw to Cairo scheduled for Saturday evening, as well as the return flight on Sunday. Future flights will be determined based on whether the unrest in Egypt continues, airline spokesman Jacek Balcer told the Polish news agency PAP.
— Low-cost Dubai-based carrier FlyDubai, which flies to three Egyptian cities, said it canceled a flight Friday evening to Alexandria because of the curfew, and is delaying other flights scheduled to depart for Egypt Saturday and Sunday.
— Emirates, the Middle East's biggest carrier, said its two flights from Cairo on Saturday were delayed, but that it expects to continue flying to and from Cairo.
— KLM, based in the Netherlands, said it was continuing with its daily flights to Cairo, but in a curfew-driven schedule, according to airline spokeswoman Astrid de Craen.
— Italy's Alitalia was also adjusting its schedule to account for the curfew.
— EgyptAir flights were running late, in some cases because crew were unable to reach the airport, or were worried about the drive to the facility, the Cairo airport official said.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Angela Doland in Paris, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Adam Schreck in Dubai, Arthur Max in Amsterdam, Gregory Katz in London and Alessandra Rizzo in Rome contributed to this report.