The Egypt exodus: Part 2
...Continued from Part 1
Once in the terminal, I looked behind me and the security services had closed the entrance to the terminal. It could accommodate no one else. It was barely 9:00 AM, and no one was being allowed into the terminal from what I could see. My sister’s instincts were right. If I had gotten to the airport terminal any later, I would have been turned away likely like thousands of others with confirmed reservations.
From the corner of my eye, I could see that BA was already checking people in. For a flight at 4:00 PM, check in was already on-going at 9:00 AM. But, I had to get to check in station 4, and I was closer to check in station 24. With no one in front of me, that should have taken 5 minutes. But, with maybe five thousand people trying to navigate to their check in lines, it was gridlock with people. Body to body, we all accommodated each other and it took me about an hour to link to the line that led to the BA agent. I was in line for four hours only to realize that most people in front of me did not have confirmed reservations and were being turned away. The agents were doing their best to book people on flights for other days. A man, a grown man, at the top of the line, with no confirmed reservation was booked on the first available flight which was two weeks later. He moved out of the line, teary eyed, not knowing where to go or what to do now. He wasn’t alone.
Finally, it was my turn. The BA agent seemed relieved that at least I had a confirmed reservation and he gave me my boarding pass. That boarding pass was like holding gold in your hands given the chaos. The agent told me with no internet or international calling possible, re-booking could only be done in the airport and thus the chaos. I saw an older woman being turned away to my right and immediately knew what the right thing to do was. The agent quickly saw my gaze and said “Dr. Sherif, that won’t work, you give up your place to the first person on the wait list, there is no indiscriminate selection of who can board first.” Elderly or not, the system in place would not allow for proper human conduct.
With my boarding pass, it took another three hours to clear immigration. By then, it was close to 2:30 PM and BA was already announcing its boarding gate. Security had broken down and I don’t remember anyone being searched as we boarded. But, by 3:00 PM, I was on the plane. The last bus had made it to the plane with passengers and the pilot reassured us we were about to depart, but were awaiting two more passengers.
But, the plane was more than half empty. I asked the flight attendant what this anomaly was all about and she explained that the empty seats belonged to people who were likely unable to make it into the terminal when it was shutdown. These were paid for seats with no shows and I just couldn’t believe more people couldn’t have been accommodated. Don’t blame the airline, however, if you had seen the chaos in the terminal, you would have understood. It was amazing that anything worked, that the plane actually was re-fueled and ready for takeoff.
Sitting in economy plus, right next to the door where passengers were boarding, I saw a black Mercedes approaching on the tarmac. It parked next to the plane and its occupants boarded. As this family made its way into the plane, I recognized who they were. The head of this household was a Mubarak crony, someone in the mix of what had triggered the revolution to begin with. He recognized me immediately as he walked into the plane and said hello.
When the plane finally took to flight, the passengers clapped. Not me, I looked out the window with concern for my sister and her family and thought what next. As the fasten seat belt light was turned off, the flight attendant from First Class came to me in economy and said that I was being invited to First Class to have coffee with my “friend.” He was never my friend, and I don’t drink coffee, but I went up to First Class mostly out of curiosity of what he had to say. He told me Egypt was finished and he and his family were moving to their home in London to never return. This was his conclusion with President Mubarak only having resigned just a day before.
But, he was wrong. Egypt wasn’t finished. It was just him that was burned and he was running like a coward so he wouldn’t have to face the music. Egypt wasn’t finished, but it was finished with the likes of him. The revolution was already beginning to pay dividends and as I walked back to my economy class seat, I thought of all of the people that had given their lives for this day. I knew who the true heroes were who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for what is an on-going revolution.