Our Covid Travel Nightmare

Why we chose to travel to Egypt in 2021

I’ll start with a little background on why we chose to visit Egypt this year first. Last year I had 2 Europe trips scheduled and both got cancelled. I considered rescheduling one of those for 2021 however come March 2021, Europe was still entering stages of lock down and there was still no word on if or when the EU countries would open to vaccinated Americans.

Meanwhile I had seen a few friends that visited Egypt in 2020 and early 2021 so it seemed like a pretty safe bet. This trip would also coincide with Braden’s and my 5 year wedding anniversary so I figured we’d go all out with what I consider a “more expensive” destination due to longer, more expensive flights AND needing to book an organized tour for everything.

Preparing for travel restrictions

Well here we were a couple weeks before departing on our trip when I re-looked up the entry requirements for Egypt, Jordan, and the USA to know what to expect. By this point, both Braden and I were fully vaccinated so I wanted to see what tests we would need. I couldn’t find an actual government site for Egypt however multiple airlines and an online visa for Egypt website all stated that fully vaccinated Americans could enter Egypt without needing a negative test as long as they had their vaccination card on them.

A few days before departure I again checked these websites and found the same information. The US Embassy site was a little more vague calling out that the vaccination card needed to have a QR code but also stating that there are testing facilities in the Cairo airport. OK…. So this did put a seed of doubt in our minds on whether we would need to get tested or not but we were unable to find a testing center open when we would need it (on a Sunday) and after calling and talking to someone with United Airlines, they assured us our vaccination card was sufficient for entry. We then thought worst case scenario… We’d just get tested on arrival at the airport.

Boy were we wrong.

Let’s look at the timeline of events.

  • 7/12 12:21 PM Departure and first flight to Chicago. – 3 hour flight
  • 7/12- 6:10 PM Departure Chicago to Munich, Germany – 8.5 hour flight
  • 7/13 – 9:45 AM Arrival in Munich, Germany.
    • 8.5 hour layover and on my birthday, so we venture out easy as pie to grab lunch with a local friend at the central square in Munich.
  • 7/13- 4:55 PM Departure from Munich to Cairo, Egypt. – 4 hour flight delayed once we were on the plane so more like a 4.5 hour flight
    • Once again our next airline Lufthansa reassured us we would be fine to enter Egypt with the vaccination card.
    • I will also call out this was a TERRIBLE flight. At this point we are exhausted with next to no sleep and there were SO. Many. Screaming children on this flight it was ridiculous. The meal served was also pretty terrible so we barely picked at it and Lufthansa only handed out 6 oz cups for a beverage once the entire time. This is important for later as we went HOURS without food or water in Cairo.
  • 7/13 – 9:45 PM Arrival in Cairo

This my friends is where it all went south.

Immediately out of the gate and before passport control was a checkpoint where they wanted to see negative PCR tests taken no more than 96 hours before arrival (no other airport has had this checkpoint by the way). We showed them our vaccination card with our passport and they flagged us as not having the right documentation. They confiscate our passports along with another older couple, and a solo girl who had the same issue as us.

We wait until they check everyone else in from the flight and then follow the guy in the lab coat who has our passports to the immigration hall where they were supposedly talking with the airline whose fault it is for allowing us on the flight. Our tour manager who came to pick us up from the airport meets us here and tries to interpret what is happening for us but they don’t communicate with him well either. A couple hours pass by while we wait for them to make a decision on how to proceed. We are sitting right outside the testing facility in the immigration hall.

There’s also no vending machines, no food, and no water in this hall where they are holding us. We also have no idea how long we will be there.

  • 7/14 – 12:30 AM Our tour manager says it isn’t sounding good, that he has requested we just get tested but they are insisting that we cannot enter the country and will have to leave.

There’s loads of arguing between the older couple who were with us but they had dual citizenship and so they got tested. The airport police say the onsite testing there is for “Egyptian citizens only.”   The solo girl traveler had more of a headache but was travelling there on a work visa for the largest company in Egypt so as I understood later that eventually got her through. At this point, we start working out a game plan with our tour manager on how we will proceed if we have to leave.

  • 7/14 – 1:30 AM Our tour manager confirms they are making us leave instead of allowing us to just get tested there.

We come up with a plan on if we go back to Germany and get tested there- how we will resume our tour and fly back later this same day. I also requested some sort of water at this point because I feel like I’m dying from exhaustion and thirst. Our lovely tour manager leaves us for a few moments and returned with a bottle of water, croissant, and small Orange juice for both of us from the café just pass immigration and customs. We find out when our flight will leave and our tour manager takes his leave of us.

  • 7/14 – 5:00 AM, 30 min before departure. A police guy finally comes to get us, escorts us to the ticketing counters to check our bag (which we find out is getting checked ALL the way back home and that they didn’t just reticket us to Germany but to home) then escorts us to the gate which is boarding and puts us on the plane.
  • 7/14 – 5:30 AM, our flight departs back to Munich, Germany.

The meal is inedible on this flight also so I’m still starving having been awake and travelling 36 hours and having nothing of substance to eat (and very little water) since lunch in Munich over 17 hours ago. We’ve also discovered that they changed our initial return flight tickets to this day (so this flight home is on our own dime by the way) and that we only have a 2 hour layover in Munich before our flight back to the US. I’m way too stressed out to rest on this flight unfortunately so I spend the whole time anxious instead.

The cost of returning to Egypt

  • 7/14 – 9 AM, our flight lands in Munich. We race to a customer support counter for Lufthansa and ask them to hold our checked bag as there is no humanly possible way I am going to get on a 9.5 hour flight back to the USA at this point. They rebook the rest of our return journey of Germany to SLC for July 27th (1 day after our original return date but we will take it) free of charge.

HOWEVER, we have to now pay for a flight back to Cairo, Egypt. The only direct option that would get us back to pick up our tour in time to fly to Aswan and board our Nile cruise is the same one at 4:55 PM that day. Great there’s seats but it costs $1300/ person because they are the last seats.

The other flight options involved 1 or more long connections and would make us miss 2 days of sight seeing on our tour and still cost us at least $700/ person so we pony up the money and book to return to Cairo at 4:55 PM. (mostly just to be done with it at this point because we are EXHAUSTED)

  • 7/14 – 10:30 AM, we pay more money to have rapid PCR tests done in the Munich airport that cost us $220 each. We grab some brunch from Mcdonalds, and find somewhere to FINALLY rest a bit.
Waiting for our flight back to Cairo.
  • 7/14- 4:55 PM Depart for Cairo, Egypt. Again the flight is a little delayed leaving. We have the same terrible meal but otherwise it’s quiet enough we can sleep a little.
  • 7/14 – 9 PM Arrive in Cairo – easy pass through customs and immigration with our fancy negative PCR test. Drive 1 hour to our hotel in Giza ( we  were supposed to have toured the pyramids this day so that’s just the hotel we had on our schedule.)
  • 7/14 – 11 PM Finally get to our hotel and pass out for 4.5 hours before we have to get up and drive 1 hour back to Cairo for an early morning flight to Aswan.

Wrap up

We ended up in Egypt a full 24 hours later than we were supposed to but thankfully only missed 1 day of sightseeing which we could mostly squeeze into our day in Cairo on the back end of our trip… so not too bad. Total travel time ended up being 5 flights and 53 hours with very little sleep.

However the cost for this avoidable screw up was:

  • $2600 flights Munich to Cairo and back on the 26th.
  • $440 Rapid PCR tests.
  • 1 missed day of sightseeing in Cairo. (We did not have time to see the Saqqara Pyramid complex, the Souks in Cairo, or the old town in Cairo)
  • Seriously messed up return flights home that resulted in needing 2 hotel stays and another full day of work PTO needed for me.  

So moral of the story, if you’re planning on travelling to Egypt this year or any year during a pandemic, don’t listen to the airlines- just get the freakin test.

3 thoughts on “Our Covid Travel Nightmare

  1. Thank you for sharing!! We’re flying to Cairo form US next week to do a tour with Memphis Tours. With the havoc you experienced, I’m happy to hear the tour company was able to adjust accordingly with you. We also have been reading mixed vaccine yes/no PCR test and the confusion that is going along with it. We are schedule for our PCR tests two days before we leave!

    1. Oh my goodness yes! I’m so happy you found this post before your trip. Better to be on the safe side as that whole experience really put a damper on our trip. If you can print the PCR test results, even better! I hope you guys have an amazing time with Memphis Tours!

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