The potential is there: A review of EgyptAir’s business class on the 787-9 from Cairo to New York
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. To help keep you entertained — and maybe inspire you — we are also republishing a selection of our most popular reviews from 2019 and 2020, including the one below, which was originally published in December 2019. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Please note that, due to coronavirus-related restrictions, regularly scheduled EgyptAir flights to the United States are suspended until June 1. On that date, services from Cairo to New York and Washington will resume. The former will be operated by a Boeing 777 with an older, subpar business-class cabin, while the Boeing 787 product reviewed here will fly to Washington. Also bear in mind that for the foreseeable future, service on board will be greatly reduced to lower the risk of contamination, and that the ground experience — with lounges closed or without food and amenities — will also be very different from what was available before the pandemic.
This review has been edited from the original.
Following a busy week at the 2019 Dubai Air Show, it was time to make my way back to New York. Emirates would have been the obvious pick, but we’ve already reviewed the carrier’s business and first class a number of times, so I searched for something a bit off the beaten path for the journey home.
Considering the mixed reviews — plus the fact that it’d be my first time flying a dry airline — EgyptAir’s new 787-9 Dreamliner seemed like an excellent candidate, so that quickly became my pick for a ride home.
There wasn’t any award availability on the flights I needed, but there ended up being an outstanding cash fare: just $1,216, including the flight from Dubai (DXB) to Cairo (CAI), a free overnight stopover in Egypt and the long-haul leg to New York-JFK. United’s site also shows this itinerary available for 85,000 miles, while on Aeroplan you can find it for 82,500.
This time around, we paid with The Platinum Card® from American Express, earning 5x points on airfare for a total of 6,080 Membership Rewards points, worth about $122, based on TPG’s valuations. (Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.)
Additionally, since I was traveling on a paid flight, I was eligible to earn miles. I credited the trip to United MileagePlus, earning 100% redeemable miles and Premier Qualifying Miles.
I earned 7,117 miles between the two flights, worth about $93, based on TPG’s most recent valuations. Paired with the 6,080 Membership Rewards points we earned, worth $122, our effective cost for the business-class journey from Dubai to New York was just over $1,000.
After a pleasant stay at Mena House near the pyramids, I took an hourlong Uber ($17, including tip) to CAI, arriving around 8:45 a.m. and giving me time to explore ahead of my scheduled 10:25 a.m. departure. Cairo Airport has security checkpoints before you can access the check-in desks, and you need to show a passport and proof of travel to get through.
After passing through that screening, I found a sprawling but empty check-in area with kiosks scattered throughout. The first few I tried didn’t seem to be working, though, and once I did find one that accepted my booking info, it returned an error message, directing me to the staffed check-in desks.
I followed the signs toward the business-class check-in area at the end of the hall, but an agent there directed me to a special section for U.S.-bound flights, which was similarly deserted.
There, I found a number of agents hanging around and chatting, but one jumped behind a counter and waved me over as I approached.
He handed over my boarding pass, which was clearly marked with an “SSSS” for Secondary Security Screening Selection, meaning I’d almost certainly face extra screening at the gate.
With a dedicated Gold Track lane, I was through immigration and into the departure area just a couple of minutes later.
There wasn’t much to speak of there aside from a few stores and a food court — CAI is not somewhere I’d recommend spending a long layover.
There was a decent duty-free selection, but the prices certainly weren’t outstanding, so I was prepared to leave empty-handed until I remembered that EgyptAir — a dry airline — has been known to open up passenger-supplied booze on board.
I headed straight for a large section of the store labeled “Egyptian Wine,” which offered just one label. As it was just 6 bucks, though, I didn’t hesitate to buy a bottle to bring on board.
I still had a few minutes to kill until boarding, so I made my way to the carrier’s Gienah Lounge, which somehow ended up being even less appealing than the terminal.
There was natural light, but all of the windows had a heavy blue tint (likely to keep out some of the scorching desert sun), which resulted in a bizarre mix of colors throughout the lounge.
It also threw a serious wrench in my planespotting plans. Snapping a usable photograph was impossible here.
The decor really needed some love, too — the lounge clearly hadn’t been updated in many years.
The TV lounge was beyond depressing. I’ll let the photo speak for itself.
There was a variety of snacks and soft drinks, but nothing appealed to me.
Most of the items weren’t labeled, either. Some were easily identifiable, others, not so much.
Perhaps worst of all was the Wi-Fi performance. I could barely load my email, so I gave up and began my journey to the gate.
It was a fairly long walk to Gate G5, which ended up being at the far end of the terminal.
There wasn’t much in the way of concessions there, either, aside from a coffee shop.
At the end of the hall, I noticed several signs marked “SSSS Transit.” It seemed passengers connecting in Cairo and SSSSpecial flyers (such as myself) were being lumped together, which I took to be a good sign.
There were indeed a number of passengers in my SSSSpecial lane. We all underwent regular X-ray screening before rounding out the adventure with a check of our hand baggage.
Thanks to the extra screening, I didn’t have long to wait in the gate area, which was almost entirely full by the time boarding was announced.
Around 10:10 a.m., it was time to board SU-GEW, our then-four-month-old Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, 20 minutes after the scheduled time.
Cabin and Seat
EgyptAir’s 787 business-class cabin consists of 30 seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. This product represents an enormous improvement over the 2-3-2 angle-flat seats on the carrier’s 777s — it’s quite possibly the most significant single-generation shift I’ve encountered.
I landed on 16K, a window seat in the very last row.
While 16K offered excellent privacy, it only had one window, while most other rows offered two.
I found the seat to be especially spacious and comfortable, though. EgyptAir went for Collins Aerospace’s Super Diamond, which you’ll find on a number of major international carriers, including American Airlines’ 787-9s and select 777-200s.
There was a decent amount of storage, starting with a large tray table underneath the 18-inch inflight-entertainment display.
There was also a cushy ottoman with a small storage compartment underneath.
The seat had another small, somewhat hidden compartment to the side of the footwell, which is where I found a water bottle waiting when I first arrived.
There were two enclosed compartments, as well, including one beside the window, which came with universal power, a USB port and a wired IFE remote.
There was a second compartment on the aisle side, which was deep enough to hold my iPad.
I could control the seat via a dedicated touch panel, with granular adjustments for the back and legrest.
The seat was comfortable in bed mode, but I really wished EgyptAir offered a larger pillow and a mattress pad.
I was also disappointed to see that the carrier omitted dedicated air vents, which would have made it far more comfortable to sleep, too.
There were three lavatories, a decent 10:1 (passenger-to-bathroom) ratio. However, two of the three were kept locked at all times — to prevent economy passengers from using them, according to a flight attendant I asked. Most passengers seemed to queue for the one forward lav, but I quickly learned to ask the crew to unlock one of the two behind my seat.
I was impressed with the cabin overall, though, especially when it came to privacy.
Amenities and IFE
Waiting at my seat was a robust amenity kit stocked with the usual essentials along with some less-common items, like a hairbrush and shoehorn.
There was also a medium-size pillow and a sealed comforter at my seat.
EgyptAir also provided noise-canceling headphones, and I was optimistic after seeing the high-end-looking case.
The headphones themselves felt especially cheap, though. The sound quality was poor, and they weren’t very effective at blocking out noise.
I was excited to see a brand-new 18-inch high-definition display, which, potentially, EgyptAir could have loaded up with dozens of Hollywood new releases.
Instead, there were a mere 19 English-language movies. I wasn’t excited about any of them, so I ended up watching the latest Godzilla flick despite encountering quite a few critical reviews.
The picture quality was decent, but my entire system crashed many times throughout the flight — every few minutes, in some cases — at which point I had to select the film again and scroll through to pick up where I left off.
The flight info display worked well, though, so I ended up keeping that up and watching content on my iPad, instead.
The moving map was functional, too, making it easy to keep tabs on our position throughout the flight.
EgyptAir’s Dreamliners offer speedy Wi-Fi, but it can get quite expensive, since the airline prices packages based on usage rather than time. Everyone gets 5 MB to use in an hour for free. Beyond that, packages include: 5 MB for another 30 minutes ($2), 10 MB to use within one hour ($3.50), 15 MB in three hours ($4.50), 50 MB for the full flight ($12.50) and 100 MB for the full flight ($23).
I ended up getting a 100 MB package, half of which I blew through with the speed test alone.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
EgyptAir is a dry airline, meaning you can’t get so much as a beer on board, so drinks were limited to juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and soda. Shortly after pushing back from the gate, a flight attendant offered welcome drinks, and I went with a delicious strawberry juice.
About 25 minutes after takeoff, I was handed a menu and made my pick, assuming incorrectly that we’d be starting with the “hot lunch/dinner” on the left.
I’d normally go for some Champagne or red wine after takeoff, but I had to get creative here. I chose a tea with ginger and cinnamon, instead.
As it turned out, the first meal was served from the smaller breakfast section. I needed just a moment to decide, but when it was clear that I had made my pick from the wrong column, the flight attendant got impatient and immediately began walking away before I almost shouted out my selection.
Breakfast arrived about 50 minutes after takeoff and included my hot item pick, the “Oriental dish” of Egyptian beans with olive oil and “white cheese.” The dish was hot, but there was a ton of oil, which overpowered the flavor of the beans.
The fruit was decently fresh, though, and I enjoyed some of the cheese.
The croissant was soft, so I focused on that and the dry cinnamon roll.
After napping for a while, I went over to the galley to see what snacks were on offer. I ended up ordering the same ginger-and-cinnamon tea I had with breakfast, but the flight attendant misunderstood and brought me two separate teas, along with a yummy chocolate muffin.
I also ordered a Diet Coke. A Diet Pepsi arrived.
Five hours into our 11-hour flight, the crew turned on the cabin lights and announced that it was time for dinner. Yeah, the only other scheduled meal.
I ordered the steak, which arrived just a few minutes later but was drenched in a mysterious brown sauce and way overcooked. The veggies had clearly spent too much time in the oven, as well.
I asked to try both desserts — a pastry with raspberry and a tartlet with chocolate cream — but only the pastry arrived. It was pretty hard, so I only had a few bites, but I enjoyed my ginger-cinnamon tea.
I ended up getting pretty hungry again about an hour before landing, and ordered the “mini sandwiches.” I’m not sure what was inside, but whatever it was, there wasn’t much of it.
I found the service to be well-intentioned but inconsistent. Most of the crew members were friendly, and the flight attendants always responded to the call button quickly. A flight attendant was more than happy to serve the bottle of duty-free wine I brought on board. Sadly, though, there wasn’t a corkscrew in sight. So I, like the flight, remained utterly dry.
I was especially puzzled by the lavatory situation, though. I found it odd that the crew kept two of the three lavatories locked at all times, and they didn’t actively open them up for business-class passengers, either. When I went to use one the first time, a flight attendant waited several minutes before getting up from the jump seat to open it up, without even knocking to see if it was occupied — after that, I knew to ask.
Worse yet, not only did the crew not keep the lavatories clean, they left them dirty. I went into the lavatory directly after a crew member twice. Once, the seat was left dirty, and the second time they hadn’t even flushed the toilet. They also didn’t actively collect plates and glasses, even before landing.
So, where to begin? First, EgyptAir has made a phenomenal choice in aircraft. This Dreamliner represents a huge leap forward, and there’s no question that the carrier’s hard product — the cabin and seat — is top-notch.
But the awful Cairo lounge, the lackluster catering (though I understand the lack of booze), weird lavatory blocking and inconsistent service severely hurt the overall experience. That said, given the price, $1,216 for a lie-flat seat all the way from Egypt to New York plus the connecting flight from the Middle East, I’d almost certainly book EgyptAir’s Dreamliner again.
All photos by the author.
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