EgyptAir has just introduced a new business class product featuring reverse herringbone seats with all-aisle access onboard their Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and my friend T.J. recently flew this product on the Cairo–Washington route.
With the airline planning to launch Dreamliner service to Toronto in October 2019, I know many of my readers would be curious about the new EgyptAir business class experience, and so I asked T.J. to contribute a review.
Earlier this year, EgyptAir received a delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft in an effort to modernize its fleet. And, according to its CEO Ashraf el-Kholy, “to give our passengers better flying experiences and further demonstrate our dedication to providing a five-star airline service.”
There are currently six Dreamliners in the airline’s fleet, operating on routes from Cairo to Washington, Dubai, Paris, Kuwait, and Frankfurt. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a five-star flying experience, but I was curious to see what this product had to offer.
After an eight-hour layover tour of riding ATVs in the Sahara Desert, my wife and I arrived at the Cairo International Airport covered in sand and exhausted after what felt like a death-defying ride back to the airport.
We were travelling back to Canada from Turkey, and decided to try out EgyptAir on a Dreamliner rather than our usual option of flying with Turkish Airlines, as we had done last year during our honeymoon. EgyptAir offers Fast Track services through immigration and security for business class passengers, with separate entrances and queues, so we arrived at the EgyptAir Gienah Lounge in Terminal 3 with plenty of time to spare.
EgyptAir | MS981
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Cabin: Business class
Route: Cairo (CAI) to Washington (IAD)
Date: Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Time: Departing 11pm and arriving 5:10am the next day
Duration: 12 hours and 10 minutes
Unfortunately, the wifi in the lounge was dial-up-slow at the best of times, and the food selection was scant, with trays and plates quickly being emptied by hungry passengers. It was a far cry from the new Turkish Airlines flagship lounge in Istanbul we had visited earlier that day, and we wound up leaving the lounge much earlier than we usually would.
After the less-than-remarkable lounge experience, we headed to the gate, where we were greeted with an extra layer of security screening. An EgyptAir representative scanned our boarding passes and directed passengers to either a secondary screening point or to another security checkpoint. While most passengers were sent to the secondary security line, we went through the other one to wait in the noisy lounge for boarding to begin.
There were no stanchions or signs directing people to the business or economy class boarding areas. Nor was there a customer service counter at the gate. Rather, there were two airport employees seated in chairs next to the doors that lead to the aircraft, which were blocked off with planters until it was time to board.
Boarding commenced nearly thirty minutes behind schedule, with an EgyptAir representative yelling “Business class passengers boarding through this door!” This was followed by a bottleneck of passengers and general chaos as they tried to cram through the line. Just as we about to set foot on the plane, we were stopped at the end of the bridge to allow several pilots to board and for the staff to finish preparing the cabin for the antsy passengers. The whole process seemed hurried and disorganized.
As I boarded, I was directed to the front of the cabin and breathed in the new plane smell. I proceeded to my seat and was greeted with the two-tone grey and navy-blue colour scheme in the brand-new cabin: a welcome departure from the baby blue and garish gold hues used in EgyptAir’s older fleet.
As I was travelling with my wife, I selected Seats 10D and 10G in the middle of the cabin so we could enjoy some casual banter throughout the flight (until she closed the privacy screen and blocked off my babbling).
At least I was comfortable. Business class on the EgyptAir Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner features 30 Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seats with direct aisle access and a reverse herringbone configuration.
The seat was prepared with a pillow and plush EgyptAir blanket. I was surprised to find there was no additional bedding offered for the flight, since this flight departs close to midnight and you would think most passengers would want to sleep for the majority of the journey. This is an area where EgyptAir could improve their in-flight experience. Nonetheless, the seat was comfortable and was an entirely pleasant place to spend 12 hours.
The seat’s storage units and tray table are accented with faux-wood, which complemented the cabin colours nicely. The seats also offer ample storage space with three closable compartments, one open shelf, and additional room beneath the footwell. Two of the closed compartments are located next to the right arm rest, one of them housing the remote, charging bay, USB port, and headphone jack. The other is situated on the aisle side underneath the left arm rest, with enough room to store a book, headphones, or something similar.
The other storage unit is located under the left arm-rest, which can be manipulated up and down.
There is also an open storage unit near the footwell, which contained a complimentary bottle of water upon boarding.
There was room under the footwell to store my camera bag and shoes, too. Overall, the in-seat storage was more than sufficient to keep my personal items within reach throughout the flight. It was so spacious, at one point, I found myself wanting to unpack my carry-on luggage to see how much I could fit. But I soon abandoned that idea after realizing how it would be annoying to repack my things prior to landing.
One part of the cabin that I particularly appreciated was the lamp located by the literature storage on each seat. It gave a nice warmth to the cabin, similar to a bedside lamp in hotel rooms.
The seat controls are located on a touchscreen next to the arm-rest, as is standard on most airlines that use Dreamliners. The overhead light and seat-side lamp are also controled on this touch pad.
Now for the flight service.
For take-off and landing, the flight attendants ensured that passengers in the business class cabin had their shoulder belts attached to the lap belt. This reminded me of my days of flying around in helicopters as a wildland firefighter in Western Canada, although I’m not sure if this extra safety precaution is necessary.
After take off, flight attendants handed out amenity kits made by Cerutti 1881, an Italian fashion company that primarily makes fragrances. The colour scheme matched EgyptAir’s navy blue signature, and contained standard items such as a toothbrush, socks, and a shoehorn.
While these kits are not as exciting as the Rimowa mini-suitcases offered on other airlines, they are an improvement over the plastic bag casing previously offered by EgyptAir on long-haul business class flights.
After the amenity kits were handed out, I was offered a hot towel by one of the flight attendants (which was the only hot towel service offered during the duration of the flight). It was refreshing to cleanse myself of the sand and sweat that had accumulated during our desert-adventure-layover and the 36˚C heat.
Noise cancelling headphones were distributed shortly thereafter with a two-prong jack. I opted to use my own noise-cancelling headphones during the flight, however, as they helped to drown out some of the on-flight symphonies of babies’ cries, passenger chatter and the occasional chorus of snoring.
Due to a delay in luggage loading, the flight took of about 30 minutes late, possibly due to the extra security screening of checked bags in the airport. But the flight attendants kept our spirits up with a choice of fresh orange juice, strawberry compote, or still water as a welcome beverage. While it wasn’t the usual bubbly welcome beverage that I prefer, the strawberry compote was quite refreshing and delicious.
After a smooth takeoff and once the seatbelt sign had been switched off, I proceeded to the lavatory only to notice that it didn’t appear to be particularly clean. The floors had footprints and splash marks, and the sink appeared to have been only given a quick once-over in between flights.
Noticeably absent were the typical nice touches of fake plants and additional amenities that spruce up business class restrooms.
After reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendants prepared the cabin for the first meal service, which began around 1am local time. Linens were hurriedly draped over the tray tables and the flight attendants took meal orders. While I wasn’t particularly hungry, after enjoying a breakfast in Asia (eastern Turkey), lunch in Europe (Istanbul), and dinner in Africa (Cairo), I decided to have another feed prior to catching some sleep.
I found the appearance of the business class menu to be less refined than other menus, as it featured cartoon fruits and vegetables. (The cabin was dark and my photography skills are developing, so please excuse the poor quality of the menu pictures).
One aspect of travel on different airlines that I appreciate is how local cuisine is highlighted on the premium cabin menus. I was disappointed not to find any uniquely Egyptian dishes available, as I would have opted for something locally-inspired over generic continental dishes.
For my appetizer, I selected the calamari with smoked salmon and potato salad with dill, which was served very chilled. A tray containing my appetizer, a side vegetable salad, and several slices of cheese was set on my table shortly after the flight attendant took my order.
While I enjoyed the dill in the potato salad, the calamari had an unusually large quantity of shells in it, which presented a barrier to enjoying the meal. Furthermore, I believe the calamari would have been more appetizing served hot.
For the main course, I selected the roasted chicken breast with barbecue sauce. The presentation of the dish left a lot to be desired. The chicken was slightly overcooked and tough. Having been awake for around 20 hours, though, my palate may have been a bit off.
Immediately after my tray was cleared, I reclined my seat and promptly fell asleep.
As EgyptAir is a dry airline, I had read some reports that you could bring duty-free alcohol on board and the flight attendants would uncork it for you. While I had fully intended to give this a shot, sleep prevented me from discovering if this was possible. From my understanding, opening duty-free liquor on a flight is illegal, but maybe in this case, what happens onboard stays onboard?
The in-flight entertainment system offered a small range of English options and a wide variety of Arabic-language films and TV series. My screen seemed to be glitchy, as it often reset to the main menu while I was browsing the options. My wife did not have this issue though. And to be honest, I did not make much use of the entertainment system throughout the course of the flight, as I came equipped with a Nintendo Switch and work to keep myself sufficiently occupied.
After five hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep, I woke up and was asked by one of the cabin crew if I would like anything to drink. I opted for a cappuccino, which was ordinary but much appreciated.
Two hours prior to landing, the flight attendants began the second meal service. The breakfast options seemed to be various combinations of limited items. I contemplated whether to get the omelette with mushrooms served with potatoes and sausage or the plain omelette served with mushrooms and potatoes.
I went with the plain omelette served with mushrooms and potato, although I still wasn’t particularly hungry.
While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the breakfast, it wasn’t terrible and left me fuelled for my connecting flight to Toronto upon arrival in Washington. My wife ordered vegetarian meals for the flight, and remarked that her meals were various combinations of the same things as well (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes). There were also vegetarian options on the menu, so in the future, she said she would take a chance on the menu items instead of ordering a special meal.
I found the service offered by the flight attendants throughout the flight to be attentive, genuine, and warm. I was consistently asked if I would like any additional food or drink, although I didn’t take advantage of many of the offers. The in-flight service made up for what was lacking in the quality of the food and beverage selections and left me with a positive impression.
The flight landed smoothly in Washington around 6:30am local time, one hour behind schedule. Some business class passengers who seemed to be VIPs of some sort were greeted upon arrival and provided with additional Fast Track vouchers, which didn’t seem to make a huge difference as the immigration and customs lines were more or less empty. Perhaps being on a dry airline took away from the usual grogginess that comes with long-haul flights, and I felt relatively alert and somewhat coherent for the rest of the day.
While I don’t feel as though EgyptAir offers the “five-star” experience that it boasts, the addition of the Dreamliner to their fleet provides a much-needed boost to their international business class offering. Whereas the fully lie-flat seat is industry standard for long-haul flights, EgyptAir’s food and beverage offering leaves much to be desired both on the ground and in the air. But the excellent service provided by the flight attendants was one of the highlights of this experience.
If given the choice between flying with EgyptAir or connecting through Istanbul to access North Africa or the Middle East, I would choose to fly with Turkish Airlines without hesitation as their soft product is considerably superior to what I experienced with EgyptAir. However, if Cairo is a place to which you often travel for work or pleasure, having a direct flight from North America in a fully lie-flat seat may prove to be a more appealing option.