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Coming & Going: Don't even think about going to Egypt

Sunday, February 6, 2011; F02

Coming & Going

Travel to the Middle East

Egypt travel update

CoGo is going to anticipate your question with this answer: Don't go (for now), and get out.

The recent surge of protests in Cairo has pressed the pause button on nonessential travel to the land of the pyramids. The civil unrest has compromised transportation by plane, bus and train and sparked wholesale cancellations of tours and cruises.

"It's best not to go to Egypt," said Ed Daly, director of intelligence at iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, which assesses security risks around the world. "If you are planning a leisure trip, you could have trouble getting in, because Cairo is the main node of entry."

The State Department has issued a travel warning advising Americans to "avoid travel to Egypt at this time."

Since Jan. 25, when the protests began, tour operators have focused on evacuating guests, not bringing them in.

Gap Adventures, for one, removed all but two of 100 customers traveling on one of eight tours in progress. (The pair who elected to stay had friends or relatives in the area.)

"I think this is remarkable because of the sheer number of people who were affected," said Billy Connelly, the company's public relations manager.

All of Gap's travelers managed to depart by air; on Monday, the company employed a Jeep convoy to transport 22 clients to the airport.

For the near future, the adventure travel company has canceled all five Egypt tours scheduled through Feb. 12. Travelers can rebook the Egypt trip at a later date, choose a different destination or opt for a full refund.

James Berkeley, president of Destinations & Adventures in Beverly Hills, said his company is offering customers booked on February or March trips the same trio of choices.

"Let's give it a week or two to see how it plays out," said Berkeley, a former resident of Egypt. "These things do have a way that, six months from now, we're not even thinking about it."

Cruise lines are halting voyages on the Nile or rejiggering itineraries with Egyptian ports of call.

"The Nile is geographically the epicenter of this event," said Daly. "There are no leisure cruises going up and down the river."

Avalon Waterways, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises all canceled cruises through Feb. 28. Costa's Red Sea cruises will now visit Israel and Jordan; the cruise line has also replaced Tunisia stops with visits to Sardinia or Malta, and the Alexandria port with stops in Greece or Israel. (For a list of updates, see www.cruisecritic.com.)

Airlines, meanwhile, are increasing capacity to help stranded visitors. Delta has added more than 200 seats from Cairo to Athens and, with code-share partners KLM and Air France, has expanded service from Amsterdam and Paris.

Last Saturday, the carrier suspended nonstop service from JFK airport to Cairo but will continue to fly from New York, connecting through Rome. Air France has altered its daily schedule because of a government-imposed curfew and congestion at the Cairo airport.

Delta passengers booked on a canceled flight will receive a full refund. Travelers scheduled to fly to Cairo through Feb. 13 can rebook by March 15 without penalty.

Despite major disruptions around the country, Egypt's iconic attractions have remained unharmed, although protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

With Egypt now following Tunisia in its path of political tumult, many wonder whether more dominoes could fall. Could Jordan or Morocco be next?

"The situation in each state is different," says Brian Lewis, a Middle Eastern and North African analyst at iJet. In Jordan, King Abdullah II receives strong support from the citizenry. And despite spurts of unrest over the years, Morocco is stable overall.

For updates on international travel warnings, see travel.state.gov.

Andrea Sachs

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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