Canadian flight from Cairo reaches Frankfurt

The first Canadian flight out of Egypt has arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, after a six-hour delay caused when airport officials demanded $2,000 US in cash from the passengers.

Avoid all travel to Egypt, Foreign Affairs Department warns Canadians

Canadian tourists wait for one of two scheduled government-organized flights out of Egypt's Cairo International Airport on Monday. ((Victoria Hazou/Associated Press) )

The first Canadian flight out of Egypt has arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, after a six-hour delay caused when airport officials demanded $2,000 US in cash from each passenger.

Canadians were also warned by the federal government to avoid all travel to Egypt due to the protests that have gone on for seven days.

The Air Canada flight from Cairo — chartered by the federal government — carried 335 passengers when it left around 3 p.m. ET for Frankfurt. Reports indicated 174 Canadians were on the flight, along with 161 non-Canadians.

Canadians in Egypt who want to leave should:

  • Call the Canadian Embassy in Cairo at 20 2 2791 8700.
  • Call collect to the Foreign Affairs Department's emergency operations centre in Ottawa at (613) 996-8885 or (613) 943-1055.

Relatives in Canada can contact the centre toll-free at (800) 606-5499 or (800) 387-3124.

The CBC's Nahlah Ayed reported from Cairo that Egyptian officials asked passengers together to come up with $2,000 US before the plane was allowed to leave.

Foreign Affairs said it understands the additional fees were charged for luggage, and the department reminded Canadians to have only one piece of luggage.

Foreign Affairs also said that Canadians wishing to use the government-chartered flights will be expected to pay approximately $400 per seat.  

The passengers have been told they will be reimbursed when they return home, she said.

The flight was the first of two on Monday organized by the federal government to help Canadians flee Egypt. A second flight left Cairo before 9 p.m. ET, carrying 50 Canadians.

The Canadian government has chartered two more flights to leave Cairo on Tuesday. An Air Canada plane will take passengers to Frankfurt, while a SkyLink flight will land in Paris, after a stop in Amman, Jordan.

Canadians hoping to flee Egypt board a bus at Cairo International Airport en route to a flight to take them to Frankfurt, Germany. ((Nahlah Ayed/CBC))

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the government would partner with the Australian government to help rescue Canadians stranded in the port city of Alexandria, too.

Earlier, he urged Canadians outside Cairo "not to try to make their way to Cairo for safety reasons."

Embassy faces criticism

Cannon also defended the government against critics who said it had mishandled the evacuation efforts.

"The Canadian government has a plan in place," Cannon said. "The problem is logistics on the ground. The problem is always ... the situation in the country."

Annilee Guy of Victoria told CBC News on Monday that she and her friends had "been up all night" to try to secure a spot on one of the government-organized flights.

"We were really lucky," Guy said. "We got through to the embassy at about 3 a.m. (8 p.m. ET) and were able to give them our passport information, so that is why we were able to get on this flight."

Five hours later, the Canadian Embassy contacted Guy and four friends and told them to "get to the airport as soon as possible," she said.

Many of her colleagues at the British Columbia Canadian International School in Cairo, however, were still waiting to find out if and when they would be able to leave.

'Really excited to get on the plane'

"There's a lot more Canadians than just two planes trying to escape," Guy said. "It's a really terrifying situation right now."

In recent days, looters have targeted her wealthy neighbourhood. Members of a "vigilante neighbourhood watch" stand on street corners, using crutches, tree branches and clubs to fend them off.

"Last night the apartment I was at, there were two men who had machine guns, so there were two tanks who followed them into this sandy sort of area behind the apartment building I was staying in," Guy said.

"All my colleagues and friends are kind of in the same boat, wondering what we were going to do next. We packed everything that we owned, as much as we could, into one suitcase and just going to be really excited to get on the plane."

The airport in Cairo was a scene of chaos and confusion.

Shouting matches erupted and some passengers had a fistfight as thousands crammed inside the airport's new Terminal 3 seeking a flight home.

In an attempt to reduce tensions, the airport's departures board stopped announcing flight times, but this simply fuelled anger over cancelled or delayed flights.

Check-in counters were poorly staffed because many EgyptAir employees were unable to get to work because of the curfew from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. and traffic breakdowns across the Egyptian capital.

Stranded Canadians

Dena Nicolai, an Edmonton native in Cairo, is hoping to leave Egypt on Tuesday but said she might be stuck because she is still trying to get her passport renewed.

Nicolai said she is safe but frustrated by a lack of information.

"I've been trying to call citizens services and the emergency hotline and I keep getting nowhere," she told CBC News.

"I'm getting an answering machine that says it's full, so I can't reach anyone, and I don't know if the embassy is open tomorrow. And it's just a lack of information, and that's what is very frustrating."

For Donia Ahmed, trying to secure a spot on a flight has proven an immense challenge.

Passengers trying to leave Egypt were stranded and forced to sleep overnight at Cairo International Airport. ((Bertrand Combaldieu/Associated Press))

"I have no information," said Ahmed, who is visiting family in the port city of Alexandria with her two young daughters.

Ahmed told CBC News she has been calling the Canadian Embassy in Cairo since Tuesday but has heard nothing back.

"I tried maybe three times, four times, [and] they did not reply to me," Ahmed said Monday morning. "I have three numbers. They are busy, or on the answering machine there is no space to leave a message."

Calls by CBC News to a toll-free number established by Foreign Affairs also found the voice mailbox was full. Callers were unable to leave a message.

Ahmed said the local television station has been broadcasting evacuation hotline numbers for American, Israeli, Saudi Arabian, Turkish and Iraqi citizens.

"But no presence of the Canadian in all of the channel," she said.

Foreign flights

Some Canadians are getting out of Cairo on foreign airliners. Bill and Diane Parent of Toronto were among those who arrived in Frankfurt on Monday on German carrier Lufthansa.

Diane and Bill Parent of Toronto arrive at the airport in Frankfurt on Monday after they were flown out of Cairo by German airline Lufthansa. ((Michael Probst/Associated Press))
"The last couple of days were a little bit difficult. There were gunshots heard in our neighbourhood and I must say that people responsible for the buildings took on the role of the police. They took very, very good care of all of us," Bill Parent told Reuters.

"I am so impressed with the people who are in charge with this responsibility. They are poor, but they have heart."

Diane Parent said they were anxious to get home.

"Home is Canada, so we are hoping to get there tomorrow," she told Reuters.

Liberals, NDP slam response

Cannon said Monday the government was "looking for options" to help evacuate Canadians from cities other than Cairo, such as Alexandria.

Canadian returns from Cairo

Darrel Helyar flew into Montreal from Cairo via Heathrow on Monday night following 48 hours in the protest-wracked Egyptian capital.

Helyar said he arrived in Cairo on Friday afternoon and ran into the protests on his way to his hotel via taxi. He said he saw fires burning and vehicles overturned. His eyes burned and watered — due to tear gas, he suspected.

Unable to cross the bridges over the Nile River to get to his original hotel, Helyar wound up at a smaller hotel.

On Saturday, the cabbie took him to his original hotel. On the drive, Helyar noted more military personnel on the streets, along with tanks and armoured vehicles.

After the 4 p.m. curfew went into effect, two tanks stationed themselves on the street, and hotel staff stood shoulder-to-shoulder guarding the building with metal pipes.

On the way to the airport Sunday for his flight home, Helyar said the situation was calm, and he questioned whether to stay longer. But after he started seeing people armed with clubs and machetes setting up their own roadblocks, he knew he had made the right decision to leave.

"It was a nice relief to get out of there," he said.

"It was one heck of an adventure ... but I don't regret it."

"Individuals located outside of Cairo are advised not to try to make their way to Cairo for safety reasons," Cannon said in a news release.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party would be "holding the government to account and making sure they do absolutely everything to help Canadians" in Egypt.

Flights "have been slow getting there," Ignatieff said, before adding he didn't want to "play politics with this."

"Let's work as Canadians to get Canadians to safety," he said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the Conservative government's response to the Egyptian crisis has been "tepid and disappointing."

"This is a moment to use our international recognition to put pressure on the Egyptian regime," he said during question period.

Cannon replied that Canada has been "extremely forceful" in dealing with the crisis in Egypt, not only in its efforts to get Canadians out of Cairo, but also in its calls for the Egyptian government to bring forward a "transition to democratic reform."

Cannon denied accusations that Canada has been slow to get its citizens out.

"We are no slower or faster than other like-minded countries," he said. "It's true there is chaos, but we are working very hard to facilitate things as much as possible. At the same time, it's important to remember this is a difficult environment, it's not as though we were telling people to go from downtown Ottawa to go to the airport or downtown Toronto to go to the airport. It's much more complex and difficult."

Egypt has been in turmoil since Tuesday, when anti-government demonstrators began fierce protests calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Cannon said Sunday the flights would accommodate between 700 and 800 Canadians. At least 1,200 Canadians are registered at the Canadian Embassy in Cairo; there are an estimated 6,500 Canadians living in Egypt.

With files from The Associated Press