Cairo’s international airport has become a scene of chaos and confusion as thousands of foreigners seek to flee the unrest in Egypt while countries around the world scrambled to send in planes to fly their citizens home.
Nerves frayed, shouting matches erupted and some passengers even had a fist-fight as thousands crammed inside Cairo airport’s new Terminal 3 seeking a flight home.
In an attempt to reduce tensions, the airport’s departures board stopped announcing flight times – but the move simply fuelled anger over cancelled or delayed flights.
Making matters worse, check-in counters were poorly staffed because many EgyptAir employees had been unable to get to work due to an overnight curfew and traffic chaos across the Egyptian capital.
“It’s an absolute zoo, what a mess,” said Justine Khanzadian, 23, a graduate student from the American University of Cairo who was among those waiting at the airport for several hours to leave Egypt. “I decided to leave because of the protests, the government here is just not stable enough to stay.”
By midday local time on Monday, an announcement filtered through the crowd instructing groups of Danish, German, Chinese and Canadian passengers that their governments had sent planes to evacuate them, prompting a nervous stampede towards the gates.
US assistant secretary of state Janice Jacobs has said it will take several flights over the coming days to fly out – via Europe – the thousands of Americans who want to leave Egypt.
EgyptAir resumed its flights on Monday morning after a 14-hour break because of the curfew and its inability to field enough crew. During a 20-hour period, only 26 of about 126 EgyptAir flights operated.
Airport officials said many countries were working to evacuate their citizens, with Turkey sending four flights, Israel and Russia sending two planes each and the Czech Republic one.
They said those additional flights had helped ease the airport’s swelling and restless crowds, but those gains were likely to be short-lived as other foreigners and Egyptians arrived.