I flew 6 hours in EgyptAir economy class and it showed me even the most basic flag carrier can be better than most American airlines

  • EgyptAir is the flag carrier of Egypt and a member of Star Alliance, operating in 75 cities around the world.
  • While EgyptAir isn’t known for winning awards and has a spotty history of accidents, I decided to take a chance on the international flag carrier for a recent long-haul flight from Cairo to Morocco. I wanted to test my theory that any flag carrier is better than most US-owned airlines.
  • EgyptAir can’t compete with top flag carriers like Etihad,Emirates, or Singapore Air for luxury, but it was certainly in the same class as second-tier flag carriers like Turkish Airlines or Air Astana.
  • The service was excellent, the food was good, free newspapers were distributed, and the plane was clean and new.
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EgyptAir wasn’t my first choice of airline.

Usually, when looking for airlines to fly, I’m searching up and down the list of consumer-aviation website Skytrax’s list of the world’s top airlines and cross-referencing that with the best deals.

These days, that list is dominated by international flag carriers – airlines owned or previously owned by a government – like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, among others.

But when I was searching for a flight from Egypt to Morocco this winter, there weren’t a lot of good deals to be had. I was due to fly right around Christmas, one of the peak times for visiting Morocco. The pickings were slim.

One could understand why I was a bit nervous when I punched my ticket for an economy-class ticket on EgyptAir. EgyptAir isn’t known for winning tons of awards like other flag carriers. Instead, it’s probably better known for the various incidents and accidents it’s had over its 86-year history, the most recent being a crash in 2016.

I figured that, at the very least, it would test my hypothesis that just about any international flag carrier is better than the biggest US airlines.

Now, having flown EgyptAir, while I wouldn’t say it was the best airline I’ve ever flown, it was enjoyable, on-time, comfortable, and with no extra fees. Colour me pleasantly surprised. Here’s what I thought of my flight on an Egypt Air 737-800, departing from Cairo International Airport to Casablanca, Morocco.

My day with EgyptAir started early with a short flight from Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo. That flight, on a 76-passenger Embraer 170, landed on time. After spending a few hours in the Cairo Airport lounge (thanks, Priority Pass), I went to my flight.

My flight was on a 737-800, otherwise known as the 737-NextGeneration. Despite the Star Trek-esque name, the plane doesn’t look too futuristic. There are 24 recliner seats in Business Class. They looked nice and roomy.

Thankfully, my flight was only about half-full, which meant there was plenty of room in the overhead compartments. I had no trouble getting my backpack up there. I checked my suitcase as EgyptAir gives all economy passengers one free checked bag. Business Class gets two.

Another benefit of a half-full flight? I got a row all to myself. Not only that, but it was the first row in Economy, which meant I got a few extra inches of legroom.

Source: EgyptAir

737-800s are EgyptAir’s most-used aircraft, making up 29 of the airline’s 147-plane fleet. The oldest 737-800s EgyptAir uses date only to 2006, while some new ones were only just delivered.

Source: AirFleets

Judging by how fresh the leather seats looked, my plane had to be on the newer side. The seats were very comfortable, but beware that they are tighter than many aeroplane seats.

While economy seats on EgyptAir’s 737-800 get 32 inches of pitch – good enough legroom for most – the width is only 17 inches. That’s less than some United planes I’ve been on.

Source: SeatGuru

With a flight time of around seven hours starting around 7 p.m., it was likely that I’d need some shut-eye. EgyptAir provided some standard blankets and pillows.

The in-flight safety video is standard, though it plays in Arabic first, then English. Not that I need translation for these at this point. I could probably recite every one by heart.

One of the stranger parts of the pre-flight ritual — for an American, anyways — is the Muslim prayer that plays after the safety video.

Some international customers have complained in the past that the prayer is played to uncomfortably loud volume. I did not experience this. It was fairly unobtrusive.

Source: Arab News

See ya later, Egypt!

Shortly after take-off, a flight attendant came around to offer up newspapers in a variety of different languages. It’s a nice touch that gives the airline that “golden-age of flying” vibe.

I took a copy of The Egyptian Gazette, the Middle East’s oldest English-language daily newspaper.

Let’s be real, though: I wasn’t reading any newspapers. I just figured out how to turn my OnePlus 6T into a Super Nintendo emulator. Goodbye, productivity on flights.

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

With so many open seats, I could hop around from seat to seat like Goldilocks. The entertainment system was a new touchscreen-style monitor.

Flight attendants came around to offer up free earbuds for the plane. It’s always a treat when these are single-pronged instead of double-pronged.

As with many new Boeing aircraft, EgyptAir’s flight featured some very nice mood lighting. This soft blue that lit up the cabin after flight was very relaxing.

One of my big pet peeves of the flight, however, was the cabin temperature. Even with my little fan blasting on me, it was far too warm. I don’t know if this stretches across EgyptAir flights or was an anomaly.

When you start up the entertainment system, it flashes with information about some of Egypt’s top tourist destinations. There are many. Hurghada, on the Red Sea, is gorgeous.

The system has one of the better user interfaces I’ve encountered — it’s very clean and easy to navigate.

The movie selection wasn’t the biggest I’ve encountered, but there was a strong mix of Hollywood movies and films from India, the Middle East, and Asia.

You could also watch a ten-part series on the Qur’an. My flight wasn’t long enough to binge-watch the whole thing, so I decided not to.

The in-flight meal was very good. The rice was moist and tasty with lots of flavour and the chicken had a spiced brown sauce on it.

There was a cucumber, olive, and corn salad. There are a lot of ways for a salad like this to go wrong — too much dressing, old vegetables, etc. — but this was very fresh.

The finale was a scrumptious red velvet cake. While Egyptians are known for their sweet tooth — one guide told me he drinks sugar with tea, not tea with sugar — I hadn’t had a good Western-style cake during my month in the country. This hit the spot.

One of the best parts about the new-style touchscreen entertainment systems is the inclusion of the USB charging port. Any airline that doesn’t have these at every seat these days is a no-no for me.

There’s a standard duty-free catalogue. About halfway through the flight, the flight attendants come by to see if anyone wants to make any orders.

The in-flight Horus Magazine isn’t worth reading, except perhaps to look for wacky articles translated from English to Arabic and then back to English. The magazine had to apologise last year for a bizarre “interview” with Drew Barrymore.

Source: Time Magazine

While I didn’t end up watching any movies on the entertainment system as I was too busy playing Zelda on my phone, I kept my eye on the flight map. The screen is sharp and bright. The movies other passengers were watching looked very good.

I kept trying to adjust my air vent, but there was no respite from the oppressive cabin temperature. Some people may like it that warm, but not me.

When it comes down to it, though, the only thing that matters to me is landing on time. On this flight, we landed 11 minutes early. EgyptAir placed 31st out of 900 airlines on punctuality in 2017.

Source: EgyptToday

And that was it for my flight. Deplaning was obviously quick with so few passengers on board. Overall, EgyptAir definitely exceeded my expectations.

After flying EgyptAir on both a quick one-hour flight and a longer seven-hour flight, I can say that the airline is much better than I expected.

Both of my flights left on time and the planes were clean and well-kept. My flight from Cairo to Casablanca was the real test and the airline came out with mostly flying colours.

It’s clear that the airline wants to make a good impression on its economy passengers, which I cannot say for US carriers, in my experience.

The main reason I like to fly flag carriers is that the airlines tend to have a motivation to create a good experience beyond just making a profit. In recent years, many flag carriers, like Singapore Airlines and Emirates Airlines, have had huge successes using top-notch flight experiences to draw positive attention (and tourists) to their countries.

It seems that Egypt may be making a similar push. EgyptAir announced a year ago that it was making the biggest deal in its history to add 45 aeroplanes to its fleet for a whopping $US6 billion.

I have no idea if the 737-800 that I flew on was part of that deal, but I can say the plane seemed very new.

As far as my experience, I really enjoyed the complimentary newspapers, the full meal service, the free checked bag, and the hi-def seat back entertainment system.

That said, I wouldn’t say that EgyptAir went above and beyond with its service or any extra goodies, as I’ve experienced on, say, Air Astana.

The two major downsides that I found were the tight seats on the 737-800 and the very warm cabin temperature. But I can’t say with any confidence that the temperature is a fleet-wide issue. I would have to fly the airline a few more times to know.

With all of that in mind, I would recommend giving EgyptAir a try on your next international flight, particularly if there’s a good deal. It’s far better than you’d expect.

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