I’ve boarded quite a lot of flights over the two years I have been in Turkey, more than I can count – actually I could but then I’d be horrified at my carbon footprints so I’d rather not (definitely more than 25 times only in 2015) – so it’s quite unexpected when I say I’ve had my fair share of unfortunate events in terms of delays and cancellations, some about which I still have nightmares. Different airlines have different conditions when it comes to cancellations and delays but what I’ve noticed is that they do tend to somewhat resemble each other although do check the conditions of the airlines you’re flying with just to be sure in case of a pinch.
For most, you tend to be eligible for a refund depending on the situation except for ‘extraordinary cases’ which seems to cover everything from bad weather conditions to strikes to air traffic restrictions, and of course, which seem to usually be the most common causes for delays and cancellations other than overbooking – you’re fucked basically. You’re however entitled to food and beverages for the waiting time, accommodation in a hotel if necessary and compensation if you’ve waited for 2 hours or more (again, airline-specific). Doesn’t make it any better especially if you’ve got a meeting schedule for the next day, or in my case, a day planned at London Zoo to meet some old friends (human and non-human). It has however gotten me into the habit to always check the status of any scheduled flight a few days before flying, which in my opinion is one of the most important things when flying. Also make sure that the airline has a contact number and/or email where you can be reached in case of an emergency. Most of the time, communication will be in the form of a text message or email, or both.
To: London, via Istanbul
Airline: Pegasus Airlines
What happened: An attempted hijack of a plane to bomb the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, leading to the closing of the whole Istanbul Air Space.
What I learned: Always keep a clean pair of underwear in your handbag, just in case.
When I boarded my flight to London in February 2014, I had no idea about the roller coaster I was about to face, which certainly killed every ounce of excitement I was feeling about going back ‘home’ after 14 months. As if the impending tube strike in London during the week I was going to be there wasn’t enough. Anyhow, everything was going well until we reached Istanbul and our plane after hovering over the Sabiha Gökçen Airport for more than half an hour – which at the time I assumed to be due to air traffic – made a U-turn back to Ankara. Five minutes after landing, without any explanation, our plane took off again for Istanbul to land back again in Ankara two hours later. Rumours, i.e. Twitter, mentioned a bomb threat that the plane staff neither confirmed nor attempted to deny, which of course did nothing to calm down the frustrated and cranky passengers. We were kindly asked to collect all our belongings and to make way to the waiting room of the airport. My only worry, and everyone else’s, was whether we would make our respective connecting flights and what would happen in case we did miss it. After two hours or so of waiting (and me standing in the women’s toilet to charge my phone whilst considering whether I should just go back home and postpone the whole trip), we boarded the plane again in the midst of ultimate chaos – Turkey isn’t exactly the most organised country.
More chaos ensued as we got off the plane; most of us, including me, had missed our flights leaving us stranded at the airport. My luggage somewhat made it onto the London-bound flight even if I didn’t. Whilst waiting for ‘further instructions’, we got updated on the current situation which involved an attempted hijack to Sochi where the Winter Olympics 2014 were being held. We were also told that the threat had been ‘neutered’ with the suspect being escorted out of the plane by the Turkish military (I’ll leave this one to your imagination, and mine). A couple of hours later, I had been issued another ticket to London for the following day which meant that my trip to my old work place at London Zoo wasn’t ever going to be realised. We were driven to a hotel to spend the night and provided with a schedule for arranged pickups back to the airport for the following day. Without any luggage which meant no spare clothes, even underwear, I was quite happy that we were spending the night at a 5-star hotel and not at the first dodgy motel they could put us in. It was also the most comfortable bed I had ever slept in but definitely one of my worst ever nights.
What happened: Pilot strike, as they do.
What I learned: Speaking for a long time without taking a breath is a skill which comes in handy when you least expect it
A few months later, just two before flying to Munich for the first time, Lufthansa announced yet another pilot strike and a scarily long list with all flights that were going to be cancelled due to the strikes. Note: strikes fall under ‘extraordinary’ circumstances so you’re not entitled for a compensation unless you had not been informed and no alternative flights similar to your original flight had been offered, which was my case. However, I really really really wanted to go to Germany – if you hadn’t realise, it’s literally my favourite country to go to – so I spent hours and hours just trying to reach the customer service of Lufthansa. Turns out, even pilot strikes are the usual business for Lufthansa, they certainly are NOT prepared to deal with calls following these strikes from worried customers, or maybe that’s just the Turkish branch. The lines were busy or down, and I could barely even say my name before the connection got cut in the case I could reach them. After the 15th time, I had managed to memorise my ticket number and in the matter of seconds had given it along with my name and with instructions to book with an alternative flight after which they were to emai… and the line got cut again. I did however get my rebooked flights, with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul (instead of a direct flight), within 5 minutes of my call and reached Munich only two hours later than the original time of arrival.
What happened: Delays
What I learned: Just go with it
If you live in Turkey, you’re bound to have flown with Pegasus Airlines and you’re bound to have learnt by now that it’s never on time, whether it comes to taking off or landing whether it’s for five minutes or an hour. Sometimes five minutes could even mean an hour (and vice versa). They do manage however to keep it under two hours, after which any passenger is eligible for any compensation which in itself is a feat in my opinion. Sitting in waiting area of the airport with barely any information about when we’d be allowed on the plane is likely to get any normal person frustrated. Let’s just say after two years, I cannot be found in the category of “normal” people when it comes to flying. Make sure you have a good book and have some tea, à la turca. You may even get vouchers to get food and drinks although I have never been able to figure out after how long they give them out. Recently a friend of mine who was travelling to Paris nearly missed her train because of said delays from Pegasus – she made it by less than a minute – and on top of that, her luggage did not make it on her connection flight. She did get it five days later after all the stress of losing her luggage and nearly missing her train but I suppose there is some sort of silver lining in this situation, if you don’t have deal with luggage on a crowded train.
To: Nuremberg, via Istanbul
Airline: Turkish Airlines
What happened: Cancelled flight
What I learned: STOP MAKING EVERYTHING A FREAKING CRSIS
Yet another trip to Germany which was nearly jeopardised, or was it? When I received a text message from Turkish Airlines to say that my flight had been cancelled, my first reaction was: “MAJOR CRISIS WTF DO I DO NOW?”. I instantly reached for my phone and called them to demand an explanation, in the most polite way possible. I was informed that my flight to Istanbul had been cancelled as there were too few passengers on said flight but that we had been moved to an earlier one, scheduled an hour before the original time of departure. I was also told that if ever the new arrangements were not satisfactory, I would be entitled for a full refund on my whole trip (return included). Major crisis averted. I did tell them, however, that a message regarding a cancelled flight should have come with an explanation as well as details of the arrangements made, of course, in the politest way possible.
Trust me, there is a reason (or many in this case) when I tell people that I do not like to fly.