Cairo's international airport was a scene of chaos and confusion as thousands of foreigners sought to flee the unrest in Egypt fearing for their lives with to continuing sometimes violent protests, countries around the world panic to try and send in planes to fly their citizens out in a county that’s going mad and others will soon follow this madness.
Nerves frayed with shouting and shoving matches and fights erupted as thousands crammed into Cairo airport's new Terminal 3 seeking a flight home. The airport's departures board stopped announcing flight times in an attempt to reduce the tension and of course the half-witted plan backfired, fuelling passengers' anger even more.
And making matters worse, check-in counters were poorly staffed because many Egypt Air employees had been unable to get to work due to a 3 p.m.-to-8 a.m. curfew and traffic breakdowns across the Egyptian capital.
"It's an absolute zoo, what a mess," said Justine Khanzadian, 23, a graduate student from the American University of Cairo. "I decided to leave because of the protests; the government here is just not stable enough to stay."
Food was scarce at the airport, with people panic buying up chocolate in the duty free shop. Airport staff shouted at travellers to get in line, but many were in no mood to listen. The scheduling board listed flight numbers without destinations or times of departure it was an utter shambles.
Occasionally and sheepishly, an official emerged and shouted out the destination of a departing flight, triggering a rush of passengers with boarding passes. The process worked smoothly for nationals of countries that had sent planes, But countries like Denmark, Germany, China, Canada others had no such support.
By the time the curfew time came in, some people who had failed to get on a flight out of Egypt very nervously had boarded buses for their frightening ride back into Cairo a city on the verge of exploding into violence.
The US State Department said more than 2,400 Americans had contacted U.S. officials seeking government-chartered evacuation flights from Egypt, and more than 220 had already left the US is now sending in recuse flights with accompany troops to protect US citizens, the British government seems very unwilling to get involved and leaves its British citizens there, six private US transport planes have been charted by the London Times to fly English citizens out of Cairo.
One U.S. military plane landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus ferrying 42 people mostly U.S. citizens working at embassies in Cairo. Another plane was expected later in Larnaca carrying about 180 people.
Egypt Air resumed its flights this morning from Cairo after a 14-hour break because of the curfew and its inability to field enough crew. Over 20 hours, and only 26 of about 126 Egypt Air flights operated, airport officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Greek oil worker Markos Loukogiannakis, who arrived in Athens on a flight carrying 181 passengers including 65 U.S. citizens, said confusion reigned at Cairo airport and travellers had to negotiate a string of checkpoints just to get there the country is becoming out of control.
"In a 14-mile route from our suburb to the airport we had to get through 19 checkpoints, including nine manned by civilians," he said. "There were lots of people gathering at the airport and it was very difficult to get in."
He said the security had deteriorated sharply over the past three days in Cairo after police withdrew from the streets because of the violence.
"There was a wave of attacks by criminal elements who engaged in burglaries and wrecked shops and banks. There was a lot of shooting and residents took up the burden of protecting their property," he said it’s all gone mad here.
Jane Travis, an American tourist from Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, who was evacuated to Athens, said she and her husband heard shooting from their hotel.
"We are very concerned that there was no warning from our State Department before we came on this trip," she said. "From our hotel, which was well guarded, we heard the gunshots and it was very terrifying and we are getting out as soon as we can."
In a geopolitical shift, even Iraq decided it would evacuate its citizens, sending three planes to Egypt including the prime minister's plane to bring home for free those who wish to return. Thousands of Iraqis had once fled to Egypt to escape the violence in their own country now it would seem the other way around?
About 800 Iraqis had left Cairo by Monday afternoon, said Capt. Mohammed al-Moussawi, a crew member for the prime minister's office. He said the flights would continue until all those who wished to return had done so.
Nearly 320 Indian nationals arrived in Mumbai on a special Air India flight and another 275 were expected later. An Azerbaijan flight carrying 103 people and the body of an Azeri Embassy accountant killed in the unrest arrived in Baku, and Turkey sent five planes to Cairo and Alexandria, evacuating 1,548 Turkish nationals.
Indonesia was sending a plane to Cairo to start evacuating some 6,150 Indonesians — mostly students and workers and SAS Denmark were flying home some 60 Danes.
China sent four planes to help pick up an estimated 500 Chinese stranded in Cairo and warned citizens not travel to Egypt.
That echoed earlier warnings from England, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which all advised against all nonessential travel to Egypt. Many European tour companies cancelled trips to Egypt until Feb. 23, while others left the cancellations open until further notice.
One big question was what to do with the tens of thousands of tourists in other parts of Egypt. Tour operators say they will fly home all their customers this week when their holidays end, or on extra flights, stressing there has not been any unrest in Red Sea resort cities like Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheik. Still, food shortages were starting to be felt at some Egyptian resorts and some restaurants were refusing to serve foreigners.
All major German tour operators among them TUI AG and Thomas Cook's German subsidiary cancelled day trips to Cairo and Luxor.
Germany, which sends about 1.2 million tourists to Egypt each year, was not officially evacuating its citizens. But Deutsche Lufthansa AG on Monday was operating an additional flight at the request of the foreign ministry to bring more German tourists home. Foreign ministry spokesman Dirk Augustin said thousands more Germans currently live in Egypt, with up to 7,000 around Cairo.
It is estimated there were 30,000 English and British tourists and long-term residents in Egypt but the British government said it had no plans to evacuate them. British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned people against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez.
Sir Michael Black-Feather the English first minister said along with the help of London Times six private planes had been charted and will be flying out English citizens and it quite typical of the British to leave their people behind, we the English don’t do that sort of thing leaving our people behind.
German tour operator Rewe Touristic advised clients booked on a holiday in Egypt through Feb. 7 to cancel their trip and allowed them to switch to another destination without surcharge. The company has 3,100 clients in the country.
Many companies organized their own evacuations for their workers. German utility company RWE said its oil and gas subsidiary RWE Dea repatriated some 90 people employees and their families with a chartered plane that arrived in Hamburg on Monday and have also asked to use the English transport planes if needed for those of its employees that missed the others flight which was agreed with Sir Michael for all RWE employees to use the English flights.
The Danish company shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S chartered a plane to pick up relatives of its Danish employees in Egypt. The company said there were no terminal operations in Egypt on Monday and the Maersk Line, Safmarine and Damco offices were closed.
Air France cancelled its daily flight from Paris to Cairo on Monday and planned to increase its capacity Tuesday by an extra 200 seats.
Portugal sent a C-130 military transport plane to evacuate its citizens. Greece was sending three C-130 military transport planes to Alexandria on Tuesday and Polish airline LOT was flying to Cairo.
Hadjicostis reported from Larnaca, Cyprus. Staff in Associated Press bureaus around the world contributed to this report.