Monday, December 29, 2008

Tip the man?

When I reached Cairo airport today, I walked into the departures area and found my first security gate. When it was my turn, I put my bags on the conveyor belt and walked in through the machine. Airport staff stopped me on the other side and asked me for my ticket. I showed him my e-ticket receipt because that's all I have on me.

The man had the entire passenger list for the plane this morning. He scanned the list for my name. I had a feeling it wouldn't be on there because I changed my flight last night to move them 1 day forward (today instead of tomorrow). As predicted, he told me I wasn't on the list and called another man over who had a badge but didn't dress like a normal security officer.

The first man gave the second man my passport. The second man asked me to follow him to the check-in desk. He asked a third man standing behind the British Airways counter something after handing him my passport. The third man said something back that sounded positive after checking the computer and then gave the second man my passport back. I thought everything was clear and I would be allowed to check in.

But the second man didn't give me my passport. He then asked me to follow him back to the first man. The first man then asked the second man to take me to the office. I didn't know what he meant but the second man told me to follow him. He kept repeating "everything ok" to me for some reason.

He must have thought I was worried. After 7 months of traveling I'm used to this crap. I was calmer than a lion that had just finished chowing on a antelope.

I followed the second man back outside security. I could tell he was leading me to the British Airways office. I took out my phone and opened up on my browser to get my flight itinerary information in case they would need to see it. During the walk over the man kept repeating something under his breath while trying to get my attention. I figured out after a couple of repeats that he was saying "tip the man ok? Tip the man ok?"

I gave him the blank-faced puzzled look I like to give with my eyes and forehead to get out of situations, to either give the impression that I don't inderstand english or I don't understand what they mean anyway because I'm too innocent.

We step into the BA office. There's only a woman working the counter. So apparently he doesn't mean to tip her. I assumed at that point that he meant to tip the security guard to get by. Maybe they do a 2 man runaround when this kind of stuff happens to get bribes from frightened foreigners and then they split it between them.

The lady asked me how she could help. I told her I wasn't on the list at the security gate so they wouldn't let me in. She took some time to look me up and then printed out a paper for me to show the security man. During this wait I noticed that the man that escorted me had left the office (are you surprised? I wasn't).

I thanked her for the printout and then went back to the security area. I put my bags in the conveyor again and then walked through the machine. I showed the same man my passport and the printout to confirm what he wanted to see. He gave it back to me with a smile on his face that was just a little too creepy to seem genuine. I said "thank you" with a little creepy grin to match his to send him the message of "I didn't fall for your stupid bullshit hah", took my passport and walked toward the business class counter for BA to check-in.

Conclusion: What I think happened is the 2 guys were playing a little game based on formalities. I certainly wasn't on the original printout list so taking me to the BA counter was required. The BA check-in guy had probably told the second man that I was indeed a confirmed passenger in the computer, but since I didn't understand the conversation, the second man pulled me back to security and then to the BA office like something was wrong just to see if they can get me to donate some money to the security guard sheesha fund, except they didn't realize I was too calm to fall for that one.

Lesson learned for Egyptian airport security: Next time try scamming someone who has not been carrying a backpack for 7 months wearing camping clothes and has been staying at $7 a night hostels. You might get a better payoff out of it.

Free tip for Egypt: maybe you wouldn't need 6 serial security checkpoints at the airport if you fixed this corruption problem. You should see how many guards asked me if I would tip them if they let me take a picture with him and his semi-automatic gun at the tourist attractions.


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