The U.S. Embassy in Egypt on Sunday recommended that Americans leave the country as soon as possible, while other nations urged their nationals to avoid traveling to Cairo as days of protests descended into chaos, with looters roaming the streets and travelers stranded in the airport.
The Sunday morning travel warning came as uncertainty mounted over how the demonstrations that have roiled the Arab world's most populous nation will play out. Those questions, coupled with the growing lawlessness, have panicked Egyptians and foreigners alike, with thousands flocking to the airport frantically trying to secure a dwindling number of available seats. Others hopped on private jets and made their escape.
The travel warning said the Embassy will update Americans about departure assistance as soon as possible. Other nations, including China, France, Germany, Belgium and Russia have warned or advised their citizens against travel to Egypt.
The U.S. has yet to send in any special flights, and the only American carrier with direct service to Cairo, Delta Airlines, has suspended that service. Other nations, however, have flown in additional flights to evacuate their citizens as a growing number of commercial flights are either canceled, suspended or delayed because of a curfew that only leaves a few hours in which people can freely move around the city.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan sent in over 15 flights in total to transport their national out of the country, an official at Cairo International Airport said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to brief the media. Royal Jordanian and Bahrain's Gulf Air switched to larger flights to accommodate more people.
Gulf Air's Chief Executive Samer Majali said the carrier is in touch with officials in both Egypt and Bahrain and is prepared to put additional measures in place if necessary.
"As the national airline of the kingdom of Bahrain, it is our responsibility to ensure our Bahraini nationals are brought back home," Majali said in a statement.
The protests have largely been centered on the main cities, including Cairo. The Red Sea resorts favored by European and Russian tourists have not been affected, though a growing number of tour companies are offering those who booked trips to Egypt either refunds or other destinations as alternatives, without penalty.
The lawlessness and uncertainty, further fueled by the appearance of a mass exodus from Cairo, are likely to batter the tourism sector whose revenues account for as much as 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
With questions abounding, the evacuations mounted.
Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said the government is evacuating about 750 nations from Egypt on three planes, that are slated to arrive later in the evening, according to the Dogan news agency.
Azerbaijan sent an aircraft to evacuate many of its approximately 70 citizens in Egypt, including families of embassy staff and some staff. The decision followed the death of an embassy accountant on Saturday during the unrest, Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov said.
And Iraq, a nation no stranger to chaos, offered to evacuate its citizens stranded in Egypt.
"We will send whatever planes needed to those who want to leave Egypt," Transportation Ministry spokesman Aqeel Hadi Kawthar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It will be free of charge."
Belgian tour operator Jetair said it was evacuating its remaining tourists from Egypt starting Monday, and was dispatching two jets.
The wealthy found other options.
Within the span of four hours, 25 private jets flew out of the airport early Sunday, carrying a range of Arabs, Westerners and in some cases Egyptian celebrities, the airport official said. Among the celebrities who left was pop star Amr Diab, who was headed to London with his family aboard his private jet, she said.
A day earlier, at least 19 other jets flew out carrying the families of wealthy businessmen.
But for as many as 5,000 travelers at the airport, the options were limited. Thousands were forced to spend the night at the facility, either because they were unable to secure seats on flights or because their flights arrived after the curfew went into effect at 4 p.m.
The curfew hammered Egypt Air. The country's national carrier was forced to cancel or delay 25 flights Sunday because flight crew were either unable, or were too concerned about their safety, to make it to the airport in time for the flights.
This program aired on January 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.