Friday, September 09, 2011

The phantom airline between Cairo and Tel Aviv

From The Globe and Mail:
The lone ghost-white aircraft – with no logo or name displayed – sits in the far corner of the airfield outside Cairo International Airport. The aged twin-engine Boeing 737 could be mistaken for a CIA plane used for extraordinary rendition of al-Qaeda suspects; it even resembles the DC-2 that flew to Shangri-La.

The plane, in fact, is the entire fleet of the phantom airline: Air Sinai, a semi-secret division of Egypt Air.

Though thousands of people have tried and failed to get a seat on this plane, it is possible to do so. It’s just not easy.

Air Sinai was created in 1982, right after the Israel-Egypt peace treaty went into effect. As part of the normalization of relations between the two former enemies, the treaty called for the national airline of each country to fly regularly in and out of the other country’s main international airport.

Israel’s El Al airline happily complied, taking often-full flights of internationals and curious Israelis to the Egyptian capital.

The owner of Egypt Air, the government of Egypt, was a little squirmier. To fulfill the terms of the treaty without appearing to do so to its citizens and to others from Arab countries to which it flew, Egypt Air created a new division – Air Sinai, operating under the International Air Transport Association code of 4D.

This airline would fly to and from Tel Aviv every week, without forcing Egypt Air to list the destination among its flights, or on its maps. .

...It’s hard to even find Air Sinai online, and it’s impossible to book a seat between Tel Aviv and Cairo. Pursuing any of the online discount brokers that purport to offer Air Sinai tickets will lead the unsuspecting traveller either to a message that says there is “no service” between the two cities, or will route the person through Jordan on Royal Jordanian Airlines. .

Checking on the parent Egypt Air’s website, there is no mention whatsoever of Air Sinai; Tel Aviv can’t even be successfully entered in the destination box. .

Air Sinai’s telephone number is unlisted. .

It’s left to a handful of traffickers – sly travel agents and hotel concierges in Israel and Egypt – to get hooked up. An envelope of cash is sent to an unmarked office and, in return, comes an odd, horizontal yellow booklet that resembles an airline ticket of a bygone era.
This is a great description of the entire cold peace between Israel and Egypt. One side really wants peace; the other wants to do the barest minimum it is required to do while still getting billions from the US.

(h/t T34)