Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo

In this review, I will detail my experience taking a red-eye flight to Cairo late at night and give some tips how you can best deal with an extremely early arrival in the capital of Egypt.

Direct flight

As I already wrote in the introduction to this trip report, I had booked a direct flight from Bucharest to Cairo to kick off my Egyptian adventure.

Although the the direct TAROM flight to Cairo was decently priced and quite convenient, the late hours were certainly not the best. I would depart from Bucharest just after midnight and arrive in Cairo at 3.15am.

Not only the arrival time in the wee morning hours kind of sucked, but also the relatively short flight time is a problem as you can’t really sleep fully if the flight time is under three hours in duration.

Before the flight

To prevent having to write off my entire first day in Egypt because of tiredness, I hatched a little plan. The day before the flight, I woke up extremely early (5am) so that I would be for sure tired enough at the end of my normal working day.

After an early dinner, I indeed managed to sleep for a couple of hours, waking up at 9pm with plenty of time to spare to take a shower and to order an Uber for the drive to the airport.

My plan was very simple: although I might have only slept for two hours by now, I figured that with one or two hours dozing off on the plane and a late night check-in and a few hours sleep at a Cairo hotel, I would still be rested enough the next morning to start a day of sightseeing.

At the airport

Flying TAROM – a SkyTeam member airline – meant that I could access the TAROM Business Lounge courtesy of my Air France/KLM Flying Blue platinum status.

It could thus have a complimentary glass of wine or two in the lounge as a nightcap, which would definitely help me to doze off on the plane.

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Drinking a glass of wine in the TAROM lounge. ©Paliparan
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A bit of TAROM plane spotting from the lounge. ©Paliparan

Bucharest (OTP) to Cairo (CAI) on TAROM
Flight RO101 – Boeing 737-700 – Economy class, seat 8A
Departure: 00.30am – Arrival: 03.15am
Flight time: 2h45m – Distance: 1,038 miles
Costs: 102 EUR

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The flight from Bucharest to Cairo takes just under three hours. ©Great Circle Mapper

TAROM Boeing 737-700

Two or three glasses of white wine later it was time to walk to the gate to board my TAROM flight to Cairo. As priority boarding was neatly enforced, I was the first to board the plane.

Today’s flight to Cairo would be operated by a Boeing 737-700. The plane in question was TAROM’s 20-year-old bird with tail number YR-BGF.

Looking at the cabin and the seats, you can clearly see that this is one of TAROM’s older aeroplanes, although that is not necessarily a bad thing.

In business class you have proper recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration – rare for an European airline. In economy class, you have old-fashioned plane seats which are much better padded than modern-day slimline seats found on newer planes.

That said, there is quite some wear and tear throughout the cabin and some seats may be a bit saggy after so many years of service. Still, it’s a comfortable way to fly and I did manage to doze off on this late night flight to Cairo, sleeping entirely through the meal and beverage service.

If you want to know TAROM’s in-flight service in economy class, check out my review of a Brussels to Bucharest flight – which is of a similar duration as this late night flight to Cairo.

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The cabin of the TAROM Boeing 737-700. Note the proper business class recliner seats in 2-2 configuration up front! ©Paliparan
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Economy class seats on the TAROM Boeing 737-700. ©Paliparan
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All set to fly to Egypt! ©Paliparan

Cairo arrival

Fortunately, the flight went by fast and when I woke up we had already started our descent into Cairo.

There were some decent views from the window over the vast Egyptian capital which is home to more than 10 million people, although it being late at night it was mostly the bright city lights you could see.

We landed on time in Cairo and after a short bit of taxiing over the airport apron parked at our gate.

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View over a night-time Cairo. ©Paliparan
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Flying over Cairo. ©Paliparan
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Taxiing to our gate at Cairo Airport. ©Paliparan

Customs

As I was seated towards the front of the plane and did not have any seatmates next to me in row 8, I managed to disembark quickly.

Being a rather fast walker – especially when travelling alone – I easily managed to beat the passengers in business class and the first rows of economy to passport control.

Just before passport control, your PCR test is checked at a health screening booth (Egypt requires a PCR test taken 72 to 96 hours before arrival depending on your country of departure).

The process was entirely straightforward and two minutes later I was at passport control where I was swiftly stamped into Egypt. Customs was however an entirely different matter.

After luggage reclaim, you have to put your bags through a scanner before you exit the terminal and enter the main arrivals hall. Being the only person there, I was of course picked out for extra scrutiny, with the customs officer having to go through both my small rucksack and trolley bag.

The entire process took more or less ten minutes. Fortunately, I was given the all clear in the end and could proceed to the arrivals hall.

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Taking the escalator down to passport control and baggage reclaim. ©Paliparan

Airport pick-up

It is of course possible to take a taxi to reach your hotel (haggle hard for a fair price!) or to order an Uber from Cairo airport. However, I had decided to arrange a private airport pick-up in advance through my hotel.

The reason is very simple: As I was staying in a small hotel, I was not sure if the reception would be open if I would knock on the front door at 4am.

Without a local sim card to call anyone, I might even have ended up on the street in the wee hours of the morning being unable to contact the hotel or to call a taxi.

Having arranged the airport pick-up in advance and having clearly communicated my arrival time, I was at least ensured that the check-in process at the hotel would be fast and smooth. Besides, the price of 25 USD wasn’t too bad at all from an European point of view.

Cairo hotel strategy

Although I would stay most of my nights in Cairo in the downtown Sofitel, I had decided not to stay there for my first night for one particular reason.

Instead of staying the first night at the Sofitel, I opted for a small local hotel in Giza. Why? It’s a stone throw away from the pyramids. It meant that I could wake up at 8.30am, have breakfast at 9, and be ready to explore the pyramids at 9.30, 10am.

The advantage is clear: This way, I could sleep a lot longer. Sure, I could have stayed the first night near the airport or in a downtown hotel. But that would have meant a very long taxi ride in the morning to the pyramids at Giza.

Don’t forget that Cairo traffic can be sheer madness during the day – especially at rush hour. In the daylight hours, it can easily take one hour or (much) more by taxi to travel from downtown Cairo to the pyramids at Giza.

The single advantage of landing at Cairo Airport late in the night is that there is zero traffic on the road and you can travel across this mega city at lightning fast speeds which are unheard of during the day. I managed to arrive at my Giza hotel at 4am – about an hour after my plane had landed in Cairo.

To put it into perspective: If I would have stayed in a downtown hotel and wanted to see the pyramids at 9.30am, it might have meant a 7am wake-up call after a similar 4am hotel arrival. I basically managed to win two, two-and-a-half hours of sleep this way!

Not only I could sleep more by staying my first night near the pyramids after my late night arrival, it also meant that in the morning I could start exploring right off the front door of my hotel, not having to deal with a long taxi ride through gridlocked traffic.

giza pyramids late night
My first glimpses of the pyramids from the patio of my Giza hotel at 4am. ©Paliparan

Golden Pyramids Inn

There are a lot of hotels near the pyramids at Giza. These are among others the mid-range Steigenberger and Mercure and the upmarket Le Meridien and Marriott Mena House.

The bulk of the hotels in this area are however locally owned budget hotels – which is especially the case for those hotels which are actually located right near the entrance gate to the pyramids (most of the chain hotels are a bit further away and require a longer walk or a taxi ride).

Some of these local hotels are actually very decent and are definitely value for money. That was certainly the case with Golden Pyramids Inn where I stayed, paying 32 USD for a ‘deluxe triple room’ with pyramids view, breakfast included.

Communicating with the hotel through the booking website was straightforward and I easily managed to arrange my airport pick-up and my late night check-in.

Service was friendly and welcoming too, although there is one thing you should take into account when staying at one of the budget hotels near the pyramids: The continuous sales pitches.

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My room at the Golden Pyramids Inn. ©Paliparan
bathroom
Bathroom of my room at the Golden Pyramids Inn. ©Paliparan
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Bathroom of my room at the Golden Pyramids Inn. ©Paliparan

Sales pitches

From the driver who picked me up at the airport to the receptionist at 4am, all persons at the hotel immediately tried to sell some tours and other extras to me.

This is part of the local life in Egypt and something you will have to deal with during your entire stay in the country. When walking the streets or visiting the great sights of the country, you will be constantly approached by souvenir salesmen, boat or camel ride agents and tour outfits.

The only places which are devoid of such sales pitches are mid and upmarket chain hotels. If you stay at any hostel, budget hotel or local hotel on the tourist trail, you will be bombarded with a lot of offers of tours, cruises, rides and more.

Even though I understand it’s part of local life and know how to (politely) deal with such sale attempts, it is a bit annoying.

It certainly is when arriving late at night being all tired, when the last thing you want is having to shrug off such sales pitches from your driver and the hotel owner checking you in.

That said, both my driver and the hotel owner and all other staff at the Golden Pyramids Inn were amazingly friendly and welcoming. It’s really hard to describe to those uninitiated to Egyptian travel how these two different experiences add up – but it really is possible.

During my stay I got complimentary water and tea, was always politely and warmly addressed, welcomed and helped with some small requests without being charged for anything. And also the sale pitches work both ways as you can certainly take advantage of it if you require something.

Although some of the offers for (guided) tours seemed way overpriced, I managed to get a good deal for a long camel ride around the pyramids through the hotel.

In the end, I probably paid a much better price and for sure had a better quality camel driver than I would have ever received if I had to haggle at the pyramids entrance being surrounded by dozens of aggressive touts.

Just remember the golden rule in Egypt: prices are not fixed and there is always room for negotiation if you are interested in a tour, need a guide, a driver or some other extra services!

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Sales pitches are part of life in Egypt and you can take advantage of it if you require some services. If you are not interest, just firmly but politely decline and don’t get annoyed – remember it’s part of local culture..! ©Paliparan

Waking up

In the end, I managed to have a great couple of hours sleep in my room at the Golden Pyramids Inn. And what’s best of all? When I woke up I only had to open the curtains for one of the best morning views ever.

Breakfast was certainly decent too for a local budget hotel – especially when eating it from the patio in front of my room overlooking the pyramids.

Although you can have some decent pyramid views as well from the midrange to high-end chain hotels, they won’t have the same up-close views as some of the Giza budget hotels.

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Not a bad view to wake up to! ©Paliparan
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View over the Giza pyramids from the Golden Pyramids Inn. ©Paliparan
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Egyptian breakfast with a view. ©Paliparan
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One of the main reasons to book a night in one of the Giza budget hotels is the view. Another advantage: you can watch the pyramids sound-and-light show at night for free too this way. ©Paliparan
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Looking from the hotel patio towards the city of Giza. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Although I initially dreaded the red-eye flight to Cairo and the late night arrival in Egypt, it all went smooth and I still managed to have a good night of (interrupted) sleep.

The arrival process at Cairo Airport was relatively fast and smooth apart from the customs check – and I was happy that I arranged an airport pick-up in advance and did not have to deal with calling an Uber or haggling with the local taxi drivers.

If you have a late night flight arrival in Cairo, it might make sense to stay your first night in Giza. This way, you can drive there on empty roads at night and thus save a lot of time compared with having to take a taxi in the morning rush-hour from your downtown Cairo hotel.

By staying my first night in Giza and not in downtown Cairo, I managed to get an extra 2-3 hours of sleep this way, and could start exploring the pyramids in the morning from the front door of my hotel.

Do however note that if you stay in one of the budget hotels in Giza you will need to deal with a lot of sales pitches. It’s annoying, but it can be useful and it’s part of local life in Egypt so you better get accustomed to it as you will come across it many times during your trip.

When looking beyond the annoying sales pitches, I can still recommend staying at the Golden Pyramids Inn if you need a cheap hotel with a great pyramids view.

The price was good, the room was clean and sufficient, communication was smooth and the hotel employees were friendly and helpful. Just be prepared for the barrage of sale attempts!

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo (current chapter)
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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