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Airline Fail

It’s the height of summer where we are but my head is already in Egypt and filled with back-to-school thoughts. We’re on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, on a beautiful, untouristed island called Ugljan, but the boys’ school in Cairo started today and my inbox is filled with class lists and details meet-the-teacher nights.

This is our first time in Croatia, and it is stunning. There are few sandy beaches, but the water is so crystal clear that no one seems remotely bothered. We’re renting an apartment and have a little rocky shoreline near us but usually just jump off the dock at the bottom of the stairs leading to the beach. The water is so clear that you can see every rock on the bottom.

We flew through Rome into Trieste, Italy, which used to be part of Austria. I decided to try Alitalia, despite all the bad reports, because I thought surely they had to be overblown. How bad could a European airline be? We’d been flying Egypt Air for a year now and had found it perfectly acceptable. Alitalia couldn’t be worse than Egypt Air, could it?

Turns out, it could.

When I checked in in Cairo, the AlItalia desk agent basically told me I was going to lose my luggage in Rome because my connection was too tight—even though I had more than an hour between flights. I asked her if she could put priority tags on the bags so they’d have a fighting chance. Mercifully, she did, so I figured I would probably be ok.

The flight was fine, if not great. The kids hated the food, but in truth, it was fine, though the meal was skimpier than others we’ve had on flights between Egypt and Europe. We were in the last row, next to the bathroom, which was no fun, but someone has to sit there. There was zero in-flight entertainment, which I never watch anyway, but for the kids that was a real black mark. No in-flight magazine. But the kicker was that there were no barf bags. I remarked to myself on a flight recently that they seemed anachronistic and that I hadn’t seen anyone use one in ages, but this flight reminded me that when you need one, you NEED one. A poor little boy came running back to the bathroom with his hands clasped over his mouth and vomit running down the sides of his arms. Alitalia: Time to resupply your air sickness bags.

Our connection in Rome was fine, although you couldn’t say it went smoothly. We waited for a long time for the buses to take us from the plane to the terminal. There was a special security station we had to clear immediately upon disembarking from the buses, before we could even enter the terminal, but only one line, so the people who had tight connections were completely stressed. And once we’d made our way into the main part of the terminal, we had to clear the regular security checkpoint. After that, there was a long line for immigration, with no open EU channels. I made it to my gate with a few minutes to spare, but I had been speaking to a woman who, like me, was half Dutch and half Egyptian, and her flight to Amsterdam left 30 minutes before my flight. I don’t see how she could have made it.

The flight to Trieste went smoothly, and when we arrived at the tiny airport the suitcases began coming down the chute to the luggage conveyer almost right away. It wasn’t long before I saw the first of our two bags—albeit without any tags, let alone the priority tag. I was waiting with growing unease for our second piece of luggage when I saw an airport employee head for the conveyer belt’s off switch. Our second bag was nowhere to be seen, nor were those of about half the people on our flight.  My inquiries over the next few days—first from Lubjana, Slovenia, and then from Uglijan, Croatia, were fruitless and it was only six days later that I was informed that Alitalia baggage handlers were on strike—though the strike started days after our arrival.

Finally, more than a week later, I got a call saying the bag was at the airport in Trieste. We were due to return shortly, so I asked them to deliver it to the hotel where we’d be staying. We’re headed up to Trieste today, and hopefully will be reunited with our luggage.

Okay. This blog post turned out to be a rant about Alitalia and, meanwhile, I didn’t write at all about how lovely our vacation has been. I’ll do a trip report in a few days, after we’ve been to Trieste as well. Right now, I have a ferry to catch.

Return to Cairo

More from…..


Mom in Cairo: Back in our home, we’re adjusting to new normal

Monique El-Faizy
TODAY contributor

Author Monique El-Faizy moved, with her two young sons, referenced as X and T for privacy, and husband, Oliver, to Cairo on August 14, just as tensions reached a fever pitch. She’s there for a two-year stint while working on a book about Egypt. The delay of the kids’ school year rattled her nerves enough to take the boys and head to Rome but now, they’ve returned to their new home. Read the latest on her family’s progress. 

We’re back in Cairo.

Arriving this time was different from any other I can remember. I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I usually do. We were coming home.

That’s not to say I hadn’t worried we might not be able to return to Egypt. While we were in Italy, having fled with the kids when the kids’ American school announced it was delaying the start of classes, Mubarak was released from prison and the self-described anti-coup alliance announced a “Day of Martyrs,” calling for multiple demonstrations. The stage was set for some serious bloodshed.


                     X and T, walking to school in Cairo on their first week.

Monique El-Faizy
X and T, walking to school in Cairo on their first week.

The Back Story

So clearly we left Cairo. I had been jittery. Then again, I’ve been jittery pretty much every time I’ve come to Egypt since 2007, when a guy harassed me in a street for, I think, not being covered enough. So that’s nothing to go by.

The truth is, we were fine and our neighborhood felt completely safe. I think it was a combination of the gruesome images on TV, feeling unsettled in the hotel and hearing about all the families who were leaving. And the jet-lag and worry-induced insomnia. I hadn’t slept for more than 4 hours at a stretch since we’d arrived, and on the day I decided to leave I didn’t fall asleep until 7 or 8 in the morning—I’d been up all night watching the siege of the mosque that the MB protestors had barricaded themselves in.  So not at my most stalwart.

I realized that, but I figured we’d had a stressful summer trying to get ready for the move and, since the start of school had been postponed, I didn’t see much point in sticking around. We could barely feed the kids, between the curfew and our lack of a working stove, and it was only a matter of time before they got tired of being pent up in the house. We might as well take a relaxing little break on the beach, I reasoned. A close friend has an apartment in an Italian seaside town that is nearly always empty.

Nearly being the operative word. When I asked her if we could use it, her concern was that it was too rundown, or that there might not be mattresses there. But that wasn’t the issue, it turned out. No, as the email I received while buckling into the EgyptAir flight to Cairo told me, the issue was that it was rented.


Fortunately we’d planned to spend the first night in Rome, so we were okay for the time being. We were in one of my favorite cities in the world and had a bed to sleep in that night, so I couldn’t bring myself to worry. On the train ride from the airport to the city we met a lovely couple from NY who had just come back from doing volunteer work and going on safari in Africa. The boys had a blast telling them what superheroes they looked like.

And then the glitches started popping up. Both my US and Egyptian cell phones decided, for various reasons, to go on strike in Italy, so we’ve been without any reliable way to communicate with anyone unless we have access to Wi-Fi. Next, the hotel—which was fantastic (Hotel Artemide) and where I was hoping we could stay until we figured ourselves out, told me they were all booked for the following nights. The evening reception staff was terrific, though, and assured me they’d help me find somewhere in the morning.

The morning guy was decidedly less friendly (although I later found out he was holiday fill-in and normally worked in the back office). But he booked us into a sister hotel at a reasonable rate and told me everything was taken care of, which was a relief, given my telecommunication challenges. Thus assured, the boys and I set out for a day of sightseeing. We had a delicious lunch and a great time at the Coliseum. We returned to the hotel in the evening expecting to pick up our bags and go over to the sister hotel around the corner.

If only.

Unhelpful morning man had failed to tell the next shift about our little arrangement, nor had he given the sister hotel my name, so when they called later and asked who they were holding a triple room for, no one knew. Understandably, they gave it away. It is, after all, Rome in August.

Fabulous evening people, though, rode to our rescue, booking us in to a hotel next to the Forum, where we went after a nice meal on the rooftop of our first hotel. Hotel #2 was okay but not great and had only sporadic Internet access.

The kids though, were troopers, despite being exhausted and kept up way too late every night by their jet-lagged, insomniac mother. They have both fallen in love with Rome, although I suspect it has much to do with the daily pizza, pasta and gelato as it does with ruins. Although they’re quite good at indulging my talk of ancient civilization and architecture.

It’s day #3 and I’m writing this from our third hotel and our second city: Santa Marinella. After a slow morning in Rome and a line at the train station ticket office that took longer than the trip itself, we found ourselves in Santa Marinella, a seaside town on the coast less than an hour outside of Rome where, after a prolonged search for a beach escape for us, Oliver managed to book us into a basic but lovely hotel right across the street from the water. We plan to stay for another day, or two, or until we can find a room in Rome.beach boys

Out of Egypt

More of our saga from….

Flight from Egypt: As tensions rise, American mom and kids depart Cairo

Monique El-Faizy
TODAY contributor
Monique and her two boys in Rome.

Courtesy of Monique El-Faizy
The author and her two boys in Rome, where they flew to after leaving their new home in Cairo.

Author Monique El-Faizy moved, with her sons and husband, to Cairo on August 14. She’s there for a two-year stint while working on a book aboutEgypt, but tensions in the country rattled her nerves enough to take the boys and head to Rome while her husband stayed behind to continue setting up their new home. Read the latest on her family’s progress. 

Well…we fled. Temporarily.

I’m still not sure it was the right call, although our friends and family seem terribly relieved. The truth is, our little Cairo bubble was as quiet and safe as ever. I’ll admit — I felt edgy every time I turned on the news or heard about another company evacuating employees, but had I not known about those things, nothing in our neighborhood would have indicated to me that we should get out.

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