Friday, December 21, 2012

DO NOT fly with Turkish Airlines

Usually, when I blog, I try to show some wit and/or creativity in the title. In this case, however, I wanted anyone who saw the link to know the central moral of the story, whether or not he or she clicked through to read.

As I start this piece, it is Thursday, December 20, 1:54pm Istanbul time. I sit with my partner and her parents in the food court at Ataturk Airport, each of us ready to commit acts that would make Joffrey Lannister reel. Istanbul itself has been amazing – we stayed at the Hotel Sultania, which must have been trained in helpfulness by a crack unit of the Red Cross, and I have seen historic wonders aplenty; Topkapi houses, amongst other wonders, a sceptre containing a ruby the size of my fist. Literally that big. I think that is the first time I have looked at something and have immediately thought “nah… that doesn’t exist.”

But this leg of our journey drew to a close, and so our chariot whisked us to the airport, ready to head to catch our 11:50am to Venice, and further history. We had even booked a water taxi to retrieve us from Marco Polo Airport, which strikes me as being less Venice and more Atlantis. But, having negotiated the luggage and Customs formalities, things took a decidedly arrogant and stupid turn. We got to our gate, and watched as snow fell around the terminal. Not a snowstorm, just snow. Awww. We sat, as the time that boarding was due to commence came and went. No cause for concern; the scheduled boarding time was an hour before takeoff, which is usually a guide rather than a timetable. A staff member checked our boarding passes and passports, and we waited. 

The usual “20 minute before takeoff” boarding time passed. 

Takeoff time passed.

Usually, when a flight is cancelled, the lines are something like this:
“Ladies and gentlemen, At Fault Airlines regrets to announce that Flight six-oh-yours to Someplace has been cancelled. Passengers, please make your way to the At Fault Airlines desk where arrangements will be made. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

At Turkish Airlines, it is not “we regret to inform”, it is “we neglect to inform”. One of our more vigilant co-travellers had checked the departures board, to find that instead of the previous “Go To Gate” instruction next to our flight number, there was now a single word, in red text, that started with C. No announcement of any sort – Turkish had decided to engage the communication system of “We’re Busy, You Figure It Out”. We made our way en annoyed masse to the help desk, past the travelators that mocked us with their only-toward-the-gates-not-the-other-way motion, and I noticed that before we got to the desk, all details of the flight had vanished from the departures boards. Not even the Cancelled entry remained… we had apparently booked tickets on an UnFlight.

Now… the “help” desk. Unless I am underestimating the value of an indifferent shrug, the greatest assistance that the staff at the help desk could be is as spare parts. A note at this point: I am a firm believer that the person who says “the customer is always right” is usually a tool. However, I also try to live by the idea that “the person in front of you is a person”. We were not people. We were, if the staff’s attitude was to be believed, the physical embodiment of flat tyres, dropped-out phone calls and full nappies. After enough of us had gathered, the Moustache in Charge told us that we needed to head to the transit desk, which was left, left and down. This list of directions was as useful as a recipe that says “add the stuff, then heat it”. The group splintered, and we charged off in the wrong direction, eventually wandering our way down a level. It beckoned from a distance; Turkish Airlines Transit Desk. After some quick and terse discussions amongst the group as to what did or didn’t constitute a queue, a decree was made from behind the desk. No microphone, just a shout.

The other transit desk.

We charge deeper into the bowels of Ataturk Airport, eventually finding this third stop in our quest to get where we paid to go. After something of an annoyed jostle, new boarding passes to the 4:30pm flight are issued. The help desk, and transit desk #1 are both capable of printing out boarding passes, by the way, but then as my lady’s father said, “if an army is marching, it isn’t fighting”. 

Heading back up from the transit section seems to be trickier than we thought, as the automatic doors we came through have a certain red-circle-with-a-white-dash symbol, proclaiming as loudly as Gandalf that We Shall Not Pass… at least not in that direction. Because it wasn’t the airline’s fault, I declined to point out that we had been through the metal detectors twice at the airport already; once immediately after stepping in from the cold (including sending suitcases through), and the second time after having our passports checked. So, as we found that our only way back to the surface world was through a third metal check, and I again took my belt off to avoid the buzzer, I heard a voice much like my grandfather’s grumble in the back of my head – “I tell you now, if I have to take this belt off one more time, I’m smackin’ someone with it!”. I should point out that I never heard either of my grandfathers say anything like that ever, but I choose to believe I wasn’t so annoyed that I had developed another personality. 

The next stage took me back to the “help” desk. As I had picked up our new boarding passes, I had been told that a food voucher would be provided, to cover the five our gap between original flight and planned replacement. The rest of our party got off weary feet in the food court, and I went to retrieve the promised Papers of Nourishment.

“Please sit there. Twenty minute.”

I sat there. 

“Venice – where you fly in from?”

We had flown in from Hong Kong a few days ag-

“No – food only for transit today. Thank you.”

Apparently having been outside an airport that day disqualified us from the Turkish Airlines Food Aid Program. I delivered this news to the rest of our group, and then opened the computer to start this piece.

We funded our own lunch, then headed to the advertised gate for our new flight. 

The scheduled boarding time passed.

The “20 minutes before takeoff” time passed.

Takeoff time passed.

After numerous checks to the nearest departures board, the last one showed a shift – a gate change, to literally the other end of the airport. We headed across, past our original gate for our original flight, and down. Not to a gate that a plane could pull up to, but to a doorway where a bus would park. The snow had not eased up at this point, although flights were taking off through it… as would we, eventually.

The first PA announcement pertaining to our flight that was made all day (remember, we had found out the previous information ourselves, dragging it syllable by syllable from our captors) came at 5:10 pm, saying that our flight was going to take off at 5:20pm. We had had to bite and scratch for every drop of information, and the first piece that had been volunteered was immediately obvious bullshit. This is like starving someone for a week and then handing them a chiko roll. Five minutes later, this time was to be revised vocally to 6pm, and then by screen data, stage by stage, until we finally boarded the plane at 7:50pm, taking off (after refuelling) at 9pm. As we sat, waiting to finally enter the sky, I recalled our arrival into Istanbul, and seeing a sign for Turkish Airline’s frequent flyer program, “Miles and Smiles”. The celebrity whose photo they had used in this massive banner was not smiling, but then I guess calling the program “Miles and Facial Expressions Reminiscent of a Doctor Delivering Bad News” doesn’t really scan. I had learned on that day why she wasn’t grinning.

For details I won’t go into now, I believe that 90% of the delay we experienced was due to financial reasons, not weather (to start, our original flight was only half full), but what made the treatment we received go from bad to unacceptable was the fact that it was delivered constantly with a bored shrug and a turned shoulder… oh, and sandwiches at about 6:30, as one Italian passenger threatened to be the spark that turned the whole thing into a riot.

And so I say, reader, do not fly with Turkish Airlines. And to the airline itself… Go To Hell. Go Directly To Hell. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, or any of anyone’s hard-earned ever again.

1 comment:

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