Trip Report: Flying the Last Airbus A340-200 with Air Leisure

In late 2015, after EgyptAir had retired their last Airbus A340-200, I began to realize that I was running out of time if I wanted to catch a flight on the original model of Airbus’ four-engine long-haul jet.  Three of EgyptAir’s A340-200s had been sold to an obscure Egyptian airline called Air Leisure, which then became the last operator of the 200 series Airbus aside from governments and VIP operators.  This carrier specialized in transporting tourists from East Asia to Egypt for package holidays.  Typically, they operated one flight per week from destinations in China and Japan to Hurghada on the Red Sea.

While it was easy to track Air Leisure’s flights on websites such as FlightRadar24, booking a ticket on their services proved to be a challenge.  When searching for flights on their routes in Google Flights, Air Leisure’s scheduled flights appeared in the results, but with no links to purchase tickets.  Similarly, their website didn’t have any booking functionality.  It seemed that their tickets were sold exclusively as part of package tours organized by agencies in the countries from which their flights originated.

In December 2015, after thorough Googling I stumbled upon an internal link from the airline’s reservations system, Videcom, that allowed me to price tickets on their routes and even get through to the payment stage.  They had very attractive business class fares originating in Egypt, with Hurghada to Shanghai-Pudong available for just 1614 Egyptian Pounds (USD $206 at the time).  Unfortunately, the schedule in that system only extended until the end of 2015 and I couldn’t make the trip in that timeframe.  By the time the new year came around, the system was no longer accessible.

Booking & Prices

Even though the booking system was gone, the flights continued to operate.  By March 2016, I was determined to figure out how anyone buys tickets on these flights.  I searched Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, for package holidays to Egypt and finally found the answer.  An all-inclusive package originating in Shanghai was available on the platform and listed “AL” coded flights with schedules matching those of the Air Leisure flights as the included transportation to Egypt.

With the package easily bookable through the website, I decided to jump at the chance, especially since booking a package at short notice resulted in a significant discount.  The trip departing on April 1st was especially convenient as it fell on the three-day weekend in China for Tomb-Sweeping Day.  The discounted price for the week-long package which included international airfare, a guided bus tour, three-night Nile River cruise, a domestic flight, and three nights in a Cairo hotel was about 5250 RMB (just over USD $800 at the time).

With the trip just days away, I arranged my flight from home base in Shenzhen to Shanghai.  As I wouldn’t be able to spend the whole week on the tour due to work, I’d need to abandon the group and the return flight in order to leave partway through.  To get home, I booked a business class ticket on Royal Jordanian from Cairo to Guangzhou via Amman and Bangkok using American AAdvantage miles.  This cost 36,000 miles after a 10% co-brand credit card discount and had minimal taxes and surcharges, which I found reasonable.

Positioning Flight & Check In

Aircraft wing and airplanes
Shenzhen Airlines Boeing 737-900 without winglets

After finishing work on April Fools Day, I took the metro to the airport and arrived just as my Shenzhen Airlines flight was boarding.  Hurrying through security and sprinting to my gate, I walked right on and, after taking my window seat, was a little confused about what aircraft type I was on.  Of course I knew it was a 737, but I was momentarily thrown by its lack of winglets, which were always present on my 737-800 flights with Shenzhen Airlines.  I wondered if this was a 737 Classic but didn’t think the airline still had any.  Upon searching the registration, I realized I was on one of the airline’s three non-ER Boeing 737-900s.  It was a small but pleasant surprise to start this trip.

Airport departures board
Pudong International Airport Departures board
Sign with airline names
Air Leisure Check in location. Note the misspelling.

After a very normal flight, I arrived at Pudong International Airport’s Terminal 2 and made my way upstairs to the landside departures area to find the tour guide who would lead the group on this journey.  Eventually he turned up at the designated place, crossed my name off a list, and gave me some stickers to attach to my baggage.  After the rest of the group trickled in, we were led to the Air Leisure check in counter.

Airline check in counter
Air Leisure check in counters at Pudong International Airport

Check in proceeded slowly and I was one of the few passengers traveling hand luggage only.  There was a bit of confusion and cross-checking as the agents attempted to issue my boarding pass.  As one agent put it, “usually we only have Chinese guys on this flight,” so they wanted to be extra certain of any differing visa requirements for my nationality.  I asked for a window seat and was pleased to have my Air Leisure boarding pass in hand soon after.

Airline boarding pass
Air Leisure Boarding Pass. My name was too long.

I headed to exit immigration where a gentleman from Mali approached me and indicated he needed help filling in the departure card with his information.  Evidently, he didn’t speak English or Chinese, so he didn’t know what information to fill in where.  I pointed to the fields on the form and then to the matching information on his passport page and we got it done.  After getting stamped out of China, I went directly downstairs to our bus boarding gate only to see the flight would be delayed.

Airport seating area
Bus gate waiting area
Airport departures board
Late night departures at Pudong Airport


Originally scheduled to depart at 1:30 am on April 2nd, we began boarding about an hour late.  There were a handful of other departing international flights scheduled between midnight and 2:00 am.  Finally, the Air Leisure flight began boarding and passengers crammed into the waiting Cobus for the ride to the remote stand.

Airport boarding gate
Boarding Air Leisure Flight AL851

As we pulled up in the darkness to the waiting A340-200, I began to get excited at the start of another aircraft-inspired adventure.  We boarded via airstairs into the L2 door and were welcomed into the fairly old-school cabin.  The EgyptAir interior had been retained, including the brown leather business class recliners and blue cloth economy seats in the standard 2-4-2 configuration.  I was the only non-Chinese passenger on this flight aside from two Egyptian men who appeared to be airline staff.

Aircraft and van
Air Leisure Airbus A340 at remote stand
Aircraft on ground
Air Leisure Airbus A340
Aircraft fuselage
Boarding the Air Leisure A340 via airstairs
Aircraft business class cabin
The Air Leisure A340-200 business class retained the EgyptAir interior.

After everyone was onboard, the Egyptian flight attendants made announcements with flight information and the safety briefing in English and Mandarin Chinese.  For non-native speakers, I would say all of the crew made a good effort and did well in communicating in Chinese with passengers.  This would be a theme for the rest of the trip with the Egyptians I encountered during my time with the tour group.  As a non-native Chinese speaker, I would almost say I could understand them better than some Chinese people since they spoke very slowly.

Aircraft cabin with passengers
Passengers board the flight to Hurghada
Aircraft safety instruction card
Air Leisure Airbus A340-200 Safety Card
Aircraft wing with another aircraft
Parked next to Air China Boeing 777 at a remote stand

Air Leisure Inflight Experience

The aircraft was pushed back and taxied for a departure to the north.  We were airborne at 3:03 am, which marked either the end of or the beginning of a very long day.  Upon reaching cruise, we were served a meal, which I suppose would be considered dinner despite the hour.  This consisted of fairly standard Chinese airplane cuisine of a protein with rice or a different protein with noodles.  The meals were catered by China Eastern and seemed more like the meals found on domestic Chinese flights rather than long-haul international.

Aircraft cabin and seats
Cabin view inflight

With a flight time of just over twelve hours, I would be lying if I said the flight passed quickly.  Without IFE, there was little to do aside from revel in the knowledge I was flying onboard an A340-200 and try to catch some sleep.  The aircraft did have a projection screen at the front of the cabin, but it was not used during my flight.

Aircraft wing with water below
Descending over the Red Sea

As we reached the Arabian peninsula, I was done with my sleep attempts and spent the rest of the flight looking out the window now that it was daylight.  Crossing over the Arabian coast of the Red Sea, we began our descent toward Hughada.  The cabin crew prepared for arrival, again using Chinese to remind everyone to fasten their seatbelts.  We were soon on final for Runway 34R at Hurghada International Airport and touched down smoothly just past 9:00 am.

Aircraft wing and desert coastline
Turning final near Hurghada’s Red Sea coastline

Arrival at Hurghada

Arrival & Bus Trip

We disembarked at a remote stand and, to my surprise, even the non-avgeek tourists (everyone else) were keen to take photos with the aircraft while waiting to board the bus to the terminal.

Airplane with people on stairs
Tourists taking photos with the Air Leisure plane
Airplane with people on stairs
Exiting the Airbus A340-200 and boarding a Cobus to the terminal

In the terminal, I became a little worried about having to pay the USD $25 for the visa on arrival as I didn’t have any cash and there were no ATMs in the pre-immigration of the terminal.  However, once all the passengers had been bussed to the terminal, it became clear that the tour guides would take all of our passports to carry out the visa on arrival process and that the visa fee had been included in the package price.

Visa sticker with text and stamp
Egypt Visa on Arrival Sticker

We passed the immigration inspection and, as each person exited the baggage claim area, an officer took a last look at each passenger’s documents and said something to them in Chinese.  In turn the passengers thanked him, “xie xie.”  When I passed him, I also thanked him in the same way, but he looked so confused and said, “but you are not the Chinese!” and we had a laugh.

Exterior of airport terminal
Hurghada Airport exterior
Exterior of airport terminal
Hurghada Airport terminal

Outside, we were directed to a bus and met our Egyptian tour guide, Gao Shan, who would narrate the rest of the trip in Mandarin.  Despite the tour being advertised as including “the only direct flights to the Red Sea,” there were no activities in the Hurghada area on the itinerary I booked, so we began the long bus ride to Karnak.

Interior of bus with red curtains
Interior of the tour bus

Onboard the bus, we were again served Chinese food that looked very similar to what had been served on the flight.  Many of the passengers were fast asleep for much of the journey, but I enjoyed the desert views from my seat in the back of the bus.  Later in the ride, Gao Shan came through the cabin to each guest and tried to upsell additional activities like a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.

Desert mountains
View during the drive from Hurghada to Karnak
Parked buses
Tour buses parked during a restroom and shopping break

Egypt Sightseeing

Path with ruins, tree
Egyptian rock carvings
Tour guide with hieroglyphics
Gao Shan explains the hieroglyphics at Karnak.
Egyptian obelisk
Obelisk at Karnak
Stone animals and flowering plant

We arrived at Karnak in the late afternoon and enjoyed a tour of the site, again narrated by the knowledgeable Gao Shan.  Afterwards, we were taken to the boat that would serve as the base for the group over the next three days.  I was paired with the Chinese tour guide who had welcomed us at Pudong Airport as my roommate.  Dinner and breakfast were served onboard the boat buffet-style and was much more enjoyable than the airplane and bus food diet I had stuck to for the previous 24 hours.

Cruise ship docked at port
Exterior of the Nile River cruise vessel
Cruise ship lobby
Interior of the Nile River cruise boat
Room with beds and mirror
Stateroom on Nile River cruise boat
Room with beds
Bedroom on Nile River Cruise
Pool and deck chairs
Pool Deck on Nile River cruise vessel
River with boat, mountains, and hot air balloons
Hot air balloons over Valley of the Kings

The next day, I left the group for a day of independent travel before my return to China from Cairo.  I started with a flight on EgyptAir Express from Luxor to Cairo on an Embraer E170.  Upon arriving at Cairo International Airport, I ordered an Uber which took me to Giza to see the pyramids.  The driver was a great guy who kept at bay the many scalpers and unofficial guides that hound tourists as they drive up the road toward the pyramids entrance.

View of aircraft stairs
Boarding the EgyptAir Express E170 at Luxor Airport
View of aircraft from boarding door
Deplaning the Embraer E170 in Cairo

At the time, it seemed Egypt was a bit tourist-starved as many overseas visitors were put off by news of regional unrest.  As such, there were very few people at the site and many of the tourists were domestic visitors.  Several of the young Egyptian tourists asked to take photos with me.

Egyptian sphinx and pyramid
Giza Pyramids
Egyptian pyramid
Pyramid in Giza
Egyptian pyramid
Giza Pyramids
Man pulling camel by rope
Tourists on an unenthusiastic camel
Egyptian sphinx
Giza Sphinx

After a few hours enjoying the area and baking under the sun, it was time to head back to the airport.  I ordered another Uber which didn’t move and then cancelled it and ordered again.  Matched to the same driver, who was the only one in the area, this time he did come and pick me up.

Cairo Airport Check in & Flight to Amman

While we did experience some of Cairo’s notorious traffic, I was at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  Check in for Royal Jordanian had yet to open.  Sitting in the departures area, an Egyptian man started talking to me.  He was also heading to Guangzhou on the same flights as me and was a trader of metal products.  I guess it is true what they say about Guangzhou being China’s trading post for all of Africa.

As soon as check in opened, I headed to the business class line and asked for window seats as I hadn’t been able to pre-select them online due to having an American Airlines-issued ticket.  I was given a lounge pass along with my boarding passes and found I had a window seat to Amman but aisle seats for the other two legs.  I accepted this and proceeded to immigration where I was stamped out of Egypt without issue.

Airline boarding cards
Royal Jordanian Boarding Passes and Lounge Invitation

The contract lounge and the entirety of Terminal 1 was disappointing and disorganized.  Nonetheless, I was glad to have access to somewhere I could clean up, have some food, and wait for the flight.  I noticed there were a lot of Middle Eastern families in the lounge traveling with elderly as well as their Southeast Asian domestic helpers.

Boarding for the Airbus A320 flight to Amman was again from a remote stand.  Onboard, a gentleman asked me if I would move one row aft so his party could sit together.  This was no problem for me.  Service on this short sector was good with finger sandwiches and an entertainment system that was far and away better than any I had experienced on the trip so far.

Airline food on plates
Business class finger food on CAI-AMM

Amman Layover & Flight to Bangkok

I had about six hours to kill in Amman before the 4:00 am departure of the flight to Bangkok and Guangzhou.  The airport and its large central shopping area were very quiet during this time and the Royal Jordanian lounge where I spent most of my layover was not crowded either.  I found the lounge food very satisfying, and the staff was helpful in lending me a power adapter.

Lobby with chairs
Entrance to the Crown Lounge at Amman Airport
Airport terminal interior
Terminal view from Royal Jordanian lounge in Amman
Shopping area in airport
View of the duty free area in Amman airport from the lounge

Boarding went smoothly and I was directed to my flat-bed seat onboard the Boeing 787-8.  After takeoff, I put the seat into the lie-flat position and was able to get a good amount of rest, considering how little sleep I had gotten on the rest of the trip.

TV screens on aircraft
Business Class IFE screens
Empty bar area on aircraft
The bar area in the aft part of the business cabin remained empty.
Aircraft cabin with TV screens
Royal Jordanian Boeing 787-8 Business Class
Aircraft windows and TV screens
View from aisle seat with personal TVs
Aircraft wing and engine
Wing view from the forward cabin
Aircraft seats
Royal Jordanian 787 business class seats

The flight attendants on this leg were not very friendly and I was disappointed in the meal.  The main course was rotini pasta in a mushroom cream sauce topped with Parmesan.  The sauce was watery, and the presentation wasn’t very good either.  If not served in a porcelain bowl, this dish could have been an average economy class meal.  The dessert was good, however.

Airline food on plates
Royal Jordanian Business Class Appetizer on AMM-BKK
Airline food on plates
Royal Jordanian Business Class Main Course on AMM-BKK
Dessert dish and cup
Business Class Dessert on AMM-BKK

Bangkok stopover & the last leg home

Upon landing in Bangkok, we taxied to the gate and parked alongside a Shanghai Airlines Boeing 767.  Transit passengers for Guangzhou were instructed to remain on board during the stop.  I was a little disappointed as I had never been inside Suvarnabhumi Airport before.  The two-hour stopover felt long, especially since we were prohibited from using any electronic devices while refueling was in progress, which took a while.

Aircraft parked at airport terminal
Shanghai Airlines Boeing 767-300 at Bangkok Airport

There was a crew change in Bangkok and the new group of flight attendants were a lot more personable.  I think they were based in Bangkok.  As my seat neighbour had gotten off in Bangkok, I thought I may be able to slide across to the window seat for the last leg.  Unfortunately, a man boarded at the last minute and was seated in the window next to me.

We took off at 5:30 pm for the 2.5-hour flight to Guangzhou and it quickly became dark outside.  The quality of the catering on this sector was slightly better, but being a short flight there was less on offer overall.  My main course was salmon in tomato sauce with vegetables.

Airplane food on plates
Royal Jordanian Business Class Appetizer on BKK-CAN
Close up of food in plate
Salmon and vegetable dish served on BKK-CAN.

The flight touched down in Guangzhou just before 9:00 pm and business class was quickly deplaned into the empty international terminal.  I quickly cleared immigration and rushed downstairs to catch the last bus of the night to Shenzhen.