This is the second report about my complicated Johannesburg to Casablanca roundtrip on Star Alliance. If you read the first entry, Johannesburg to Frankfurt, go ahead and skip the preamble.
Intra-Africa travel can yield a great value when using United MileagePlus awards, if done correctly. Travel between most city pairs in Africa are usually the same award price, whether they're an hour apart or across the continent. When travelling from far southern Africa to far northern Africa, you can often get a complicated routing through Europe. For someone looking to get from point A to point B, this may be viewed negatively, but for a backpacking AvGeek, it's a huge positive. My itinerary below cost 52,500 Mileage Plus Miles and $192.30 in taxes and fees. It was ticketed as a roundtrip from Johannesburg to Casablanca, but it afforded me an 8 hour daytime layover in Frankfurt, a two night stopover in Cairo, and a 17.5 hour overnight layover in Lisbon. For comparison's sake, a one way Business Saver Award from Frankfurt to Johannesburg is 55,000 miles plus taxes and fees. Even Frankfurt to Casablanca would cost 55,000 miles, a bad value for such a short distance, but that's the price of Europe region to Northern Africa region. I was technically just travelling from Southern Africa region to Northern Africa region and back. The value of itineraries like this are even greater when you consider the high cash price of intra-Africa airfares.
Johannesburg to Frankfurt (Economy, Lufthansa): http://flight-report.com/en/report-12213.html Frankfurt to Cairo (Economy, Lufthansa): Mentioned in the prior report, full report skipped Cairo to Casablanca (Economy, EgyptAir): You are here Casablanca to Lisbon (Business, Portugalia): Lisbon to Frankfurt (Business, Lufthansa): Frankfurt to Johannesburg (Business, South African):
I stayed at the Ramses Hilton just north of Tahrir Square. The decor is pretty dated, but it was clean, the staff was fantastic, and at 10,000 HHonors points per night I thought it was quite a steal. In my only prior trip to Cairo, I stayed at the Hilton Zamalek which was also a great stay and came in at 20,000 HHonors points per night.
The TV had an impressive number of channels. This is Melissa & Joey, an American sitcom, with Arabic subtitles.
I requested a high floor when I booked and ended up with some great views.
I also requested that the room face Tahrir Square and was not disappointed. That's the Egyptian Museum in the foreground. As you can see, the city is pretty hazy during the day. Part of it may be from farmers burning rice straw (it does smell a bit like smoke outside), but I think a lot of it is just general smog.
Here's a zoomed in shot of a random neighborhood viewed from my room. A lot of Cairo still looks like this.
I took a taxi from Hilton to the airport on the morning of my flight. In my experience the taxi drivers will attempt to rip you off on every ride. When you're leaving a hotel, it's best to negotiate a price or confirm the meter's running before you leave, with the bellman present. Or if you're arriving, don't pay until the bellman greets you. The hotel employees know the game and will side with their guests over the antics of taxi drivers. The dropoff at the airport went fine, Cairo has a decent sized departures area and I got there pretty early in the morning.
On the subject of taxis, here's a video from my taxi ride from the airport a couple days earlier. The guy just started driving right through this street market, but I guess it's pretty normal because no one seemed surprised.
There's a security check before when you first enter the building before the ticket counters. Check in went fine. There was a decent sized line, but I had time and wasn't checking any bags. The airport is pretty standard with a big food court and the usual duty free shops. There's another security check when you enter your gate area. The gate area was big enough to easily find a seat and had a bathroom, but no access to any shops or restaurants.
Boarding was smooth, easier than the last time I departed Cairo in February 2014. Back then the second revolution had just ended and there was no formal government in control. Everything in the city felt pretty normal, but there were little weird things like a Police Officer, who was just a guy wearing street clothes, checking everyone's passports before they got onto the jetbridge. No idea who he actually was or what he was looking for. For this flight, boarding for business class began at 08:52, followed by economy boarding by row.
Does anyone know what the thing in that glass case is? A Qu'ran maybe?
Boarding took about as long as any other flight. There was a Moroccan youth soccer team on my flight which was kind of interesting. Some notes if you ever fly this aircraft type on Egyptair … There are bathrooms in the middle of the cabin on both sides of the aisle immediately after row 30. Also, there are bulkheads in front of row 20 and 20H is a jumpseat, resulting in reduced legroom for 21H.
The seats were pretty comfortable. They had plenty of padding and a good amount of legroom.
We pushed back at 09:14 and were wheels up at 09:34. At 10:12, they came around with pound cake and drinks.
I received my lunch at 12:05 and it was pretty good. I think this was some sort of lamb.
The rest of the flight went smoothly, I arrived at Immigration in Casablanca at 12:50, Morocco time. This marks the end of the flight portion of the report. Read on for the Cairo tourism bonus.
I went to they Pyramids the last time I was in Cairo with a local guide and there were only four other Westerners there. This was just after the second revolution, there was a lot of anti-government violence, and tourism had taken a steep dive. The lack of tourists made things easier for me though. So I didn't need to see the Pyramids again on this trip. I decided to just take a few long walks around the city without any real plan.
There are still a few remnants of the high security state after the second revolution, like this mass of barbed wire rolling around. Back then there was barbed wire and decked out military personnel all over the place, mostly around important government buildings.
I walked through Zamalek, the neighborhood where I stayed last time, and stopped in Zooba for a comfortable lunch. Zooba has Egyptian food, but feels like a hip Western restaurant inside. This was probably the best meal I had on my whole trip.
Cairo - CAI
Casablanca - CMN
Overall, this was not a bad flight. It was my first flight on Egyptair and I'd fly them again. The food was decent, we arrived on time, and the seats were pretty comfortable. There wasn't anything in the way of entertainment options, but this was also just a short haul flight, though a relatively long one.
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