Journal: Monday 16 March 1998
I had arranged for a taxi to come to collect me from the Gezira Hotel at 6.00am to catch my flight back to England which was scheduled to leave Luxor airport at 8.30am. It was still quite dark when I left for the long journey over the bridge to the East Bank, so I really didn’t notice the ominous clouds that covered the sky. By the time I reached the airport however, the weather was even worse and a dense blanket of yellow-grey dusty fog obscured everything. Checking in is always the worst part of the journey for me as I know my bags (usually full of books) are likely to be overweight, but a pleasant smile, a smattering of Arabic and playing the helpless female often works on the desk staff. I was relieved that I had got my bags through with no trouble and went off to the departure lounge to wait for my flight. And I waited. And waited.
By lunchtime we managed to find out what was going on. The airport was being renovated at the time and there was no view from the windows so we passengers didn’t realise that the weather had worsened and nobody would tell us for several hours what the hold-up was about. At about 12.00pm a large basket of rolls was brought in and I wiled away an hour helping the overwrought staff to butter them and make sandwiches for the starving hoards (well, there weren’t really very many but they were not happy!). It wasn’t the fault of the airport staff but they were taking the brunt of passengers’ angry shouting about the delay and I felt sorry for them. Communications could have been improved, but there was nothing the staff could do about the Khamsin dust storm centred over Luxor. At 2.00pm an airport official came at last to the departure lounge and announced that the airport was closing and we would all have to return to our hotels as there would be no flight today. As I had been staying on the West Bank this was not as easy for me as it was for other passengers from hotels in Luxor. We were told that we would have to collect our luggage and take it with us and we would be contacted about flight times for next day. I got a lift to the Corniche on one of the coaches provided and with two heavy bags, struggled onto the passenger ferry back across the river to Geziret. Now I could understand why the aircraft couldn’t take off. The air was so full of dust that I couldn’t see even half way across the Nile – there was just a blank greyness from the river to the sky as far as I could see.
I had said to hotel staff that I hoped to be back soon, but they hadn’t expected it to be this soon! All I could do was to sit on the hotel roof terrace and wait to hear about my flight but the fog was not moving. At 5.00pm I went down to reception intending to telephone the Egyptair office in Luxor and I was greeted by a tour guide I vaguely knew. He asked what I was doing there as he knew I should have left today and when I explained, he told me that my flight had left at 4.30pm – a small window in the weather just over Luxor airport had allowed the flight to take off. So much for being contacted. Hmm… here I was, stuck in Luxor with no money left and a husband at home expecting me back later today. The fog was just as thick as ever here and so I decided to go back to Luxor to the Egyptair office to see what could be done. Nothing could be done – Egyptair only flies out of Luxor once a week on a Monday, but they agreed to transfer my ticket to the following week, which I suppose was better than nothing. Secretly I was quite happy to stay another week, but I had spent virtually all of my money and didn’t have a credit card either. It was with mixed feelings that I phoned my husband at home and explained what had happened and in a cowardly moment asked him to telephone work next day, when I should have been back. It was the busiest time of the year at work and they were not happy. Oh well, I could think of worse places to be marooned.