- Steve Jaffe
Reverse Exodus -- Israelis Flock to Egypt with New Flight Options
The throngs of Israelis backed up in a nine-hour wait to transit the Taba border crossing from Israel into Egyptian Sinai on the week of Passover – the weeklong holiday in which Jews over the millennia have observed in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt – was an irony to great to, well, pass over.
So it should not come as a surprise the sudden upswing in flight activity between the two countries. In October 2021, Egyptair launched flights – with its own metal – to Tel Aviv. Now, this should not be a big deal. After all, the Camp David peace agreement was signed a mere 43 years ago. But for 42 of those years, Eqypt was unwilling to allow its national airline to add Tel Aviv to its route map. Rather, the route was operated only once a week by a white-tailed airplane – with no Egyptian markings whatsoever – with an airline created solely for these semi-clandestine flights to Israel. Nary a web page, an advertisement, and certainly no promotions – things that actually get people excited about a new destination – were to be seen. Instead – the absolute minimum effort was exerted to maintain a link with the Jewish state – a reflection of the very cold peace that existed between the two countries.
El Al had given it a go for years, starting with weekly flights to Cairo in April 1980. The route was never profitable – not even remotely, as Egypt all but discouraged inbound tourism from Israel, preferring to keep relations at a government-to-government level. For years El Al bled money on the service but was forced to maintain it for political reasons. Not until El Al was privatized in 2012, and no longer under government control, was it able to drop the Cairo route.
In 2021 Egyptian government started to openly demonstrate and promote closer ties with Israel. The Abraham Accords have resulted in flourishing trade and tourism between Israel and the Gulf States. Egypt was missing out on all of that. Political considerations around the accords have played a part and Cairo decided to come out of the closet and stop treating Israel as something more than an inconvenient neighbor begrudgingly tolerated.
Currently, Egyptair is flying 6 times a week between Cairo and Tel Aviv with a highly diversified fleet. Flights are operated by the A220, 737-800, A350-900, and 777-300ER. That’s quite a range of capacity, and one can assume that this short flight (1:05 block time) is used as a tag-end with aircraft with available utilization.
A direct result of this recent rapprochement is the start of a new route from Tel Aviv to the Egyptian Sinai resort town Sharm el Sheikh. El Al and Israir commenced service in April, and Air Cairo (a subsidiary of Egyptair) inaugurated flights two weeks later. The route has proved immediately popular with Israelis who can now hop an hour-long flight instead of the long land-slog through endless border cues.
Two things to point out. One, almost all the traffic flow is from Israel. Egyptians have shown little interest in visiting Israel and given the cultural and historical background, that’s probably not going to change any time soon. Two, all this is a drop in the bucket compared to the wildly popular flights between Israel and the UAE. Currently, there are nearly 2,,000 weekly seats offered between the two countries. At more than 150 flights per week, that’s an astonishing growth rate in a market that didn’t even exist two years ago.
Bottom line – good to see new international airlines and routes to Israel. An Egyptian airline in its own markings is a welcome – though highly overdue – development. Don’t expect the Egyptian market to in any way mimic the frenetic growth of traffic to the Gulf States, but we’ll take what we can get. And if you’re not happy with the onboard service or amenities, there’s always the land crossing at Taba. Can you hold my place – for about 9 hours?