British Airways Suspends Flights to Cairo, Citing Security Risks

LONDON — British Airways and Lufthansa abruptly canceled all flights to Cairo on Saturday for security reasons, a day after the British government warned of a heightened risk of terrorist attacks against planes over Egypt.

British Airways told stunned passengers at their departure gate in London that they could not fly and could not reschedule their flights for one week.

“We constantly review our security arrangements at all our airports around the world,” the airline said, “and have suspended flights to Cairo for seven days as a precaution to allow for further assessment.”

The airlines, two of Europe’s largest, did not give any further details on the security issue. Lufthansa said that it would resume its flights on Sunday.

“As safety is the number one priority of Lufthansa, the airline temporarily suspended its flights to Cairo on 20.07.2019 as a precaution,” the German airline said. “Normal operations will resume tomorrow and all flights are scheduled to operate.”

Aviation security has been a central focus for Egypt since October 2015 when Islamic State militants based in Sinai brought down a Russian jetliner moments after takeoff from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh. Since then, Egypt has stepped up security at major airports.

The British government released updated travel advice for Egypt on Friday, warning against nonessential trips to most of the Sinai Peninsula and the area west of the Nile Valley and saying that travelers to Cairo should be cautious, too.

“There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation,” the government said.

In the United States, a State Department travel warning on Friday also described “risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of Egypt,” as well as “threats from terrorist and violent political opposition groups.”

Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, said on Twitter that his flight to Cairo from London’s Heathrow Airport had been canceled. He asked why other airlines were not taking similar precautions.

“What does @British_Airways know about the security situation in Cairo that we don’t??” he said.

Reuters, citing Egyptian airport security officials, reported that British workers had examined security at Cairo’s main airport on Wednesday and Thursday.

The cancellation is bad news for Egyptian tourism, an important economic sector that has staged a tentative recovery in recent years after a deep slump caused first by the Arab Spring in 2011 and then by a string of terrorist attacks.

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said Saturday that it would increase the capacity of EgyptAir flights to London and schedule an additional flight to Heathrow Airport. The statement did not address the security concerns.

Britain has refused to resume flights to Sharm el Sheikh since the 2015 downing of the Russian jetliner despite loud and repeated reassurances from frustrated Egyptian officials, in what has become a sore point between the two countries.

Saturday’s move by British Airways is likely to bring new scrutiny to the security at Egypt’s major airports, which include the main international airport in northern Cairo and the new Sphinx airport to the west of the city. Sphinx operated its first internal flight in January.

In a notice in March, the Federal Aviation Administration said there was “continued risk to U.S. civil aviation operating into, out of, within or over” parts of the Sinai Peninsula at certain altitudes. It cited the danger of mortar and rocket attacks and small arms attacks from militant groups.

Sinai has been a hot spot for violence involving the Islamic State. After years fighting Egypt’s security forces there, Islamic State militants broadened their range of targets in 2017 to Christians and Sufi Muslims. Dozens of Christians were killed as they prayed or traveled to places of pilgrimage, and 311 people were killed at a Sufi mosque in Sinai in Egypt’s deadliest attack ever.

The killings prompted an Egyptian military operation in Sinai that has drawn accusations of widespread abuses that Human Rights Watch and other groups say may constitute war crimes. Egypt denies the accusations but has refused news media access to the area.