Foreigners Queue for Flights Out of Egypt

By Victoria Bryan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Thousands of foreigners were queuing to fly out of a chaotic Cairo airport on Wednesday as opponents and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak clashed on the city’s streets.

“The airport is in a state of pandemonium; all airlines are struggling to gain landing and takeoff slots,” said Mark Briffa, chief executive of Air Partner, which provides chartered flights for companies, governments and individuals.

“It was ok inside the airport but outside there were lots of crowds,” said holidaymaker Professor Treuter, arriving at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday afternoon. “Many people had to spend the night outside.”

China, Japan, Canada, Britain and Turkey have all announced extra flights to evacuate their nationals over the last couple of days.

All Chinese travelers stranded in Egypt are expected to have returned to China by Thursday, in time for the start of the Chinese New Year festivities, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing national tourism authorities.

China had sent a total of eight special commercial flights to Cairo, Luxor and Hurghada, and six of the planes had already returned, carrying 1,371 people, including those from Hong Kong, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Slovakia sent a government plane to bring back expatriates on Wednesday. Of 100 Slovaks in the country, 50 wished to leave, the government said.

The British government said that nationals wishing to take advantage of its charter flight to London would have to pay 300 pounds ($486) per seat.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the fare was in line with a standard single fare, and similar to the amount being charged by the United States, Canada and a handful of others.

“It is not an ordered evacuation because commercial flights are available,” the spokesman said. “The flight is simply to supplement existing capacity.”

The overnight curfew has also hit capacity, with some airlines, including Germany’s Lufthansa, bringing forward flight times and switching to jumbo jets to meet demand.

Red Sea Calm

While German tour operators on Tuesday canceled all holidays to Egypt, Air Berlin said it would still fly planes out on Thursday as normal, even if they were empty, to pick up travelers returning home. Tour operators reported the Red Sea tourist resorts remained calm and hotels had no problems with supplies.

TUI, Thomas Cook and Rewe said they had received only a few requests for customers to fly back early from resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm El Sheik.

TUI’s UK operators Thomson and First Choice are repatriating their 950 customers in Luxor, however, where the British government has advised against travel. “We’re hoping to get the majority of them home today,” said a spokeswoman.

Swiss-listed travel group Kuoni said this week’s flights to Egypt were operating normally, but that it would not offer flights to Egypt from February 7 to March 31.

Tourism is one of Egypt’s top sources of foreign revenue, accounting for more than 11 percent of GDP, and offers jobs in a country with high unemployment. In 2009, about 12.5 million tourists visited Egypt, bringing revenue of $10.8 billion.

(Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt, Avril Ormsby in London, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Martin Santa in Bratislava; editing by Tim Pearce)


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