DUBAI // For hundreds of Emiratis and UAE residents stranded in Cairo over the past two weeks, the turmoil on the streets came like a sudden storm that left many stranded throughout the city, struggling to get out. But hundreds were able to return to the Emirates following coordinated efforts by the UAE embassy and staff at UAE-based carriers.
More than 1,000 people, 700 of them Emiratis, have been evacuated from Egypt on Etihad Airways since the start of protests there, the airline says.
Since January 29, the airline has added three flights from Cairo and used larger aircraft on scheduled flights.
The Dubai-based budget operator Flydubai said flights were running as scheduled, but that the situation in Egypt was being monitored closely and the airline would make changes to ensure the safety of staff and passengers if necessary.
Emirates Airline said all flights were running as normal and there were no plans to add additional flights.
The experience of one resident underscored the harrowing experience of getting to the airport and to the safety of the UAE.
The woman, who asked that her name not be published, said she and her husband had been at Khan al Khalili market when they first heard about the protest on January 25.
"The city was quiet because it was a national holiday - Police Day - and only a few tourists were around. We did not give the protests much attention," she said.
But by Thursday, she said, the protests had become more intense and locals warned them to stay home to avoid any looters and thugs. "My sons, who are in Abu Dhabi and the US, called to say we should get out as soon as possible."
The couple, who have an apartment in Cairo, had tickets with another airline but were unable to contact anyone to switch to an earlier flight. "All telephone lines were cut and we were able to use only landlines."
By Thursday night, she said, "we did not know whether we would be travelling or not. We had to brace ourselves for the worst."
The following day, she said "all hell had broken loose" in the city. "We were staying in Al Ma'ady district, and people from the neighbourhood were patrolling the streets. Looters and thugs were everywhere, and there was even a prison-break at a nearby jail. We knew by then that we had to get out."
On Saturday morning, the couple received a call from the UAE embassy, telling them a car was on its way to take them to the airport."Tanks were lined up on the streets that morning," she said. "The roads were empty."
At the airport shopping mall, the couple gathered with other UAE-bound passengers in a designated area.
"They checked our luggage and handed us Etihad tickets, then guided us to the main airport terminal. There was not even a place to put your foot at the airport, people were on top of each other trying to leave the country. It was like judgment day, so crowded that there was no air to breathe.
She said emigration officers barely looked up as they stamped passports and ushered passengers through.
James Hogan, Etihad's chief executive, said: "We are pleased to have worked so closely with the UAE Government to help UAE nationals, and passengers from around the world return safely home."
The airline is still assessing the need to provide additional relief flights or upgrade aircraft in the coming days if required, he added.
Etihad's office in Cairo remains closed, but the company's sales counter at T1 Cairo International Airport is open from 11am to 4pm and from 11.00pm to 4.00am daily.
The husband and wife landed safely in Abu Dhabi last Saturday evening.
"After I got back, I replayed the events in my mind," she said. "I keep remembering the man who drove us to the airport. He told us he had given his children just one piece of bread that day, because they were rationing their food.
"My heart goes out to Egypt. The cameras don't show just how bad it is on the ground there."