Lufthansa was flying a larger than normal aircraft on the Munich to Cairo route this morning, February 1, 2011. Still, there weren’t many people — maybe 30? — sitting at the gate for flight 586 when it came time to board. The small group consisted of prominent journalists (Katie Couric and David Muir), tight-budgeted freelancers (e.g., Joel Carillet), and a handful of Egyptians interrupting their studies in the U.S. in order to join the historic demonstrations against the regime of Hosni Mubarak, going on now in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The larger aircraft, we knew, was intended to better carry more of the thousands of people currently crammed into the Cairo airport who wanted out.
When it came time to board, there was a sense of unity: we all walked the same jet bridge to the same aircraft; we all were voluntarily departing a place of serenity for one in upheaval. But then we entered the aircraft, and some of us turned left and vanished into first class, while others — the freelancers, the would-be Egyptian demonstrators — turned into economy. I lost the sense of unity.
Sometimes in travel you feel the presence of people near and far. Other times, you feel the empty seats surrounding you, and the barrier separating you from the support network, financial and logistical, of those in the front of the plane.
THINGS MENTIONED OR RELATED:
- “Rocks, Fear, and a Giant Roar in the Land of the Pyramids,” my account of the 2011 demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square published in CCCU Advance magazine.
- “Going it alone: More freelancers means less support, greater danger” (Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 April 2015)