I was booked on EgyptAir to Hurghada via Cairo last week. I am a nervous passenger and must admit to an irrational, almost racist, attitude to the world's less glamorous carriers.
"Are they safe?" I asked my host, Labib Kallas, a Lebanese oenologist at the Kourom of the Nile winery and my host in Egypt. "Surely Middle East Airlines is better?" By "better" I meant safer. I had memories of the EgyptAir plane that plummeted into the Atlantic in October 1999, a tragedy in which it was widely suspected that the co-pilot deliberately flew the plane into the sea just to get back at an unpopular superior who was on the same flight.
"Are you kidding?" Labib replied via email. "They are much better than MEA [Middle East Airlines]. You will see". Maybe I didn't want to see. Labib may have transformed the reputation of Egyptian wine from a drink that used to induce a sure-fire migraine into a world-class proposition, but he had clearly been under the desert sun far too long.
Mild anxiety became my default setting in the days before I travelled. How could I be sure that aircraft maintenance was as rigorous as it was in Hosni Mubarak's day? With an interim sharing of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, standards may have dropped in the post-revolution euphoria.
I chatted via Skype with an American friend in Minneapolis who regularly travels to Cairo. "Relax," he said, laughing. "EgyptAir is a member of the Star Alliance. You're gonna be fine."
Star Alliance, eh? The name rang a vague bell and indeed sounded quite pukka. Wikipedia told me that the Star Alliance is the world's largest airline alliance and that it insists that members "comply with the highest industry standards of customer service, security and technical infrastructure". I began to feel a whole lot better.
But there was also the issue of the two internal flights - Cairo to Hurghada and back. For some reason - again it is clearly an irrational fear - I saw internal flights as a death sentence. One hears of Russian planes coming down all the time. And a Boeing 737 owned by the unfortunately named Flash Airlines, an Egyptian charter company, went down in the Red Sea in 2004. The company went bust several weeks after the crash.
I was flying on EgyptAir Express, a new service with a fleet of Brazilian Embraer aircraft. Brazilian? Since when did the Brazilians make planes?
But Embraer is the fourth-largest aircraft company in the world. It has revenue of US$3 billion (Dh11.02bn), back orders worth $15bn and more than 17,265 employees. But we Lebanese live in a bubble. We think the Brazilians spend their time playing beach soccer. We forget that Brazil is a country with a GDP of $2.5 trillion. We also tend to look down our Levantine noses at Egypt, a country whose only contributions to the world are Umm Kulthum and Sharm El Sheikh. We forget that Cairo, arguably the greatest Arab city, makes Beirut look like a suburb. And we forget that EgyptAir has more than 80 aircraft - compared with MEA's 15 - and flies to more than 70 destinations worldwide.
The flights, of course, were fine. EgyptAir Express was one of the best services I have flown: efficient, punctual and the Embraer E-170 turned out to be a great little plane. What was not to like?
For the record, according to www.planecrashinfo.com, between 1950 and 2010, there were 1,085 fatal accidents involving commercial aircraft. The odds of dying on a decent commercial airliner are 1 in 9.2 million, and the chance of surviving a controlled landing in water is 53 per cent. Even if you fly on a carrier with a terrible safety record, your chances of not making it are 1 in 843,000.
So now you know.
Michael Karam is the associate editor in chief of Executive, a Lebanese regional business magazine