British Airways and Lufthansa have cancelled all flights between Heathrow, Frankfurt and Munich and Cairo, citing unspecified ‘security concerns’, but what is actually happening and what are your rights as a passenger if you were due to fly to Cairo?
British Airways announced without warning on Saturday 20th July 2019 that they were suddenly suspending all flights to Cairo as a security precaution. Soon afterwards, Lufthansa followed suit, suspending all flights between Frankfurt and Munich and the Egyptian Capital.
Update: As of Sunday 21st July Lufthansa has resumed flights to Cairo. British Airways is still keeping the suspension for a week as a precautionary measure.
As of Friday 26th July British Airways has resumed flights to Cairo after an internal review.
How long is the suspension and what is the specific security concerns?
The situation is fluid and will change on a day to day basis as assessments are made, but as of the time of writing the suspension was only for an initial 7 day period whilst investigations are ongoing.
Specific reasons will never be given for obvious operational reasons but the UK foreign office have for a long time stated that there is a risk of terrorism against aviation and in occassion in very specific parts (usually at the border regions of Sinai and away from most populated and touristy areas) in Egypt and because of this, the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the sudden cancellations and the specific timeframe, it is reasonable to surmise that very specific intelligence has been made available to the airlines and a specific threat is being investigated and assessed.
This does appear to be a specific threat or concern against British Airways on this very specific route, and should not be used to judge the safety situation in Egypt as a whole.
Whilst this happens flights are suspended but will most likely be resumed after the stated 7 day period.
Update: There have also been unconfirmed reports that this security risk was a result of an internal British Airways security audit and had no input from any intelligence services or governments.
What is the security situation with flights to Egypt?
The UK foreign office is often highly sensitive to any situation in Egypt and has maintained a general but non specific cautionary stance with tourists for many years.
In 2015 a Russian passenger jet crashed after take off from Sharm El Sheikh airport in Sinai after a suspected terrorist attack. Ever since then the UK foreign office and other governments imposed an all out ban on any airline flying to or from the airport and has not lifted it since despite repeated calls from the Egyptian authorities that it is too heavy handed and has had a devastating effect on Egyptian tourism.
Despite the warning of all but essential travel to Sharm El Shiekh in Sinai, there have been no similar warnings against any other airport in Egypt or Sinai.
What about other airlines and airports in Egypt and Sinai during this specific situation?
The situation may change rapidly but at the time of writing all other airlines including Thomas Cook and Easyjet, are still flying to Egypt from the UK. This may change as the situation is reviewed. Egyptair are currently still flying between the UK and Cairo on a daily basis.
What are your rights if your flights are cancelled?
If you were booked to fly with British Airways to Cairo and are affected by these cancellations, the Foreign Commonwealth Office is advising all passengers to contact the airline on 0844 493 0787 for updates.
At the moment if you are affected by these cancellations then you do have rights under EU law. British Airways themselves are offering a choice between a full refund, postponing a journey until a later date or being booked on another flight, which at the time of writing may have to be on Egyptair.
The same rules should apply if other airlines decide to join British Airways and Lufthansa in cancelling flights to Cairo.
If however you are booked to fly to any other part of Egypt, you cannot simply decide you don’t want to go to Egypt any more (and nor should you if this is a specific threat against two airlines only in Cairo).
If you simply decide to cancel your trip to Hurghada for example, and this is as true for packages as it is to flights alone then this is deemed ‘disinclination to travel’, and that means travel insurance firms have no legal obligation to pay out and airlines have no obligation to refund you.
What is the difference between this security situation and general security warnings?
In very general terms the warnings from the Foreign office do not advise against travel to Egypt, only the resorts of Sharm El Shiekh, and give the cover all advice of caution and vigilance. They state that terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt, but then qualify that with the statement that most visits are trouble free.
You can essentially apply that advice to anywhere in the world, including the UK, and can only ever be seen as precautionary advice designed to cover themselves more than anything else.
This situation however is different as it seems to be a response to a very specific threat or situation, one that is advisable to stay away from until the threat is contained and normal travel can resume.
It is essentially the difference between saying ‘that alley is dark, it may be a bad idea to go down there’ and ‘that man has a gun, is pointing it at you and will shoot if you don’t move’. One is worth factoring into general safety precautions and then not being afraid of, the other is a specific threat that should be listened to.
You cannot however equate one with the other.
The real risk of terrorism.
Egypt has been the victim of terror attacks in the past and the UK government, as well as other authorities including the US State Department does warn against a high threat of terrorism in specific parts of the country. Unfortunately this is often construed to mean the entire country as a whole. Cairo is in fact under the general label of safe, but check advice before visiting. The fact of the matter is however that terrorism can happen anywhere, anytime, and it often does. That is the whole point of it.
Terror attacks have occurred all over the world, including the UK, and the warnings against it are always constant.
There have been almost as many attacks in many western countries in recent years, including the UK and Germany for example, yet tourists aren’t told to stay away from these destinations. There is definitely a high double standard at work here.
Any terror attack is abhorrent, there is no denying that and I do not want to downplay any incident, but they are not and should never be a reason for you to not travel anywhere, and that includes Egypt.
Egyptian security is very visible and very good, and if you take sensible precautions against travelling with the risk of terrorism yourself there is no reason at all to fear a potential terror attack.
The fact is unless there is specific intelligence warning of a specific attack, any general warnings are unwarranted. There is no reason to believe that another terror attack will happen in Egypt as opposed to anywhere else in the world, and there is no point in living your life afraid of what may or may not happen.
Terrorists want you to be afraid. Don’t let them win.
Is Egypt Safe?
Yes, it really is. Specific warnings of potential incidents aside, which can and do happen in every country every day, the general situation in Egypt is safe and trouble free.
The truth is Egypt is an amazing country to visit. It is truly remarkable, unique, welcoming, frustrating, easy and challenging, all at the same time! But one thing it isn’t is dangerous, and I urge any traveller and backpacker who hasn’t been, or anyone at all who has dreamed of visiting Egypt but have been put off by it’s reputation and the general media scaremongering, to just go!
This security situation at the moment is just temporary and there is no reason to believe that flights to Cairo will not resume soon. So forget what you think you know about Egypt and go and see for yourself.
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