Sunday, June 5, 2011

Up, Up and Away!

Being in Turkey gives you many options to travel, especially with the price to fly and take buses to anywhere! I have been wanting to make a blog about the flying options in Turkey for quite some time. I follow a blog religiously, Turkish Muse. I would like to thank the author, Barbara Isenberg, for allowing me to use the post as a guest blog post!

10 Things I've Learned About Flying in Turkey

Since moving to Istanbul for work in early November, I have flown back and forth from Istanbul to Izmir a total of 19 times. That number doesn't include one international fight in mid-November to Sofia, Bulgaria, where Jeff and I spent our Kurban Bayram.
Needless to say, I've learned quite a bit about how flying in Turkey works and have some tips and tricks that may help you the next time you board a plane in Turkey.
First, let's lay out some basics:
Turkish Airlines (THY) is Turkey's flagship carrier and it's largest. Pegasus Airlines is a serious contender to THY, especially with regards to short-haul international flights.Atlas Jet is a low-cost carrier (LCC) and primarily focuses on domestic lines and flights to the east, including Iraq. Onur Air is another LCC and is absolutely no frills. It is often the cheapest option available. (Sun Express is another LCC and also happens to fly internationally. I have never flown with this alrine before.)
But there's a lot of other things I've figured out since I started flying between Istanbul and Izmir every week. Here are the top ten.
1. It makes absolutely no difference which airline you fly as to whether your plane will have an on-time or late departure. Before I started commuting between Istanbul and Izmir, I thought that THY flights would, more often than not, be on time, while Onur Air flights would likely be late, seeing as how THY and Onur are at the top and bottom of the totem pole, respectively. Not so. The price you pay for the ticket and whether you get food onboard has nothing to do with a plane's departure time.
2. Flying into and out of Istanbul Ataturk Airport is real bitch. Sorry, I can't really put it any other way. There are too many flights going in and out of that airport and simply not enough runways to accommodate them all. This leads not only to delayed departures and arrivals, but the need to take a bus from the gate to the airplane because there simply isn't enough space for every plane to pull up to its own gate.
3. But the new Starbucks at the domestic terminal at Ataturk Airport is awesome. Instead of my only options being 12 TL Efes and 8 TL tomato sandwiches, I can now get a cafe latte (a huge weakness of mine) to propel myself for the flight. Now if only we could get one in Izmir.....
4. The food and customer service on THY flights is bar none. Yes, you pay a premium to fly THY, but when you do, the food is excellent. Even on a 55-minute flight (like the one from Istanbul to Izmir), you get a sandwich, a salad with fresh veggies, a small slice of cake, water and another beverage of your choice (not alcohol). The food served on board International flights is even better, and they give you booze.
5. Pegasus is a serious contender to THY when it comes to international flights. Back in November, when Jeff and I went to Sofia, Bulgaria, we flew Pegasus because the company had just begun to offer flights there. I don't quite remember how much we paid for our tickets, but I know they were significantly cheaper than THY, which previously had a monopoly on flights to Sofia. To give you an idea of the cost difference, a round-trip ticket between Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen) and Sofia, Bulgaria as of today for March 16, 2011, returning March 19, 2011, will cost you 174 TL on Pegasus and 372 TL on THY. That's a significant savings.
6. Onur Air's website and telephone customer service totally blows. Their non-user-friendly website is full of links to pages only available in Turkish (even though you're on the English-language version), cryptic error messages and written English that in many cases makes absolutely no sense. It's possible to buy a ticket on their website -- I have done it many times -- but it is quite painful. Calling the company is even worse, as they typically don't have any English-language customer service reps available.
7. If you are ever in need of a last-minute airplane ticket, call THY. Last week, I took the 6pm Havas from Taksim in order to take a 7:45pm Atlas Jet flight to Izmir. I had already checked in online and had printed out my boarding pass, and since the Friday night 6pm Havas typically takes 1 hour to get to Ataturk, I thought I'd be fine. Well, 7:45 came and went and I was still on the Havas. Multiple phone calls to Atlas Jet led to absolutely nothing at all since the woman couldn't speak English. One phone call to THY and within 4 minutes I had booked myself on another flight and was ready to go. Yes, I paid a premium for my ticket, but I was incredibly impressed with the prompt and professional customer service I received.
8. The marble poundcake served for free on Atlas Jet is absolutely delightful.Coupled with a cup of tea, this almost makes up for the fact that the company has such lousy flight time offerings.
9. Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of Istanbul is lovely to fly in and out of. I avoided flying out of that airport for quite a long time and only did it this past November because Pegasus flies its international fights out of there (see #5). When we traveled to Sofia, the airport wasn't crowded, there were plenty of restaurants and shops to occupy us before our plane left and everything ran smoothly. I am actually looking forward to flying out of there in May when we go to Paris instead of out of Ataturk (see #2).
10. Overall, flying in Turkey is often a pleasant experience. Compared to the US, where I have read ad nauseum about the TSA's inane security methods, where ticket prices are double what they are here, and where you have to pay to even take a carry-on, flying in Turkey is altogether lovely. Sure, sometimes the plane is late, but customer service here actually exists and in this country at least there are actual perks to flying. In Turkey, where bus fare from Istanbul to Izmir is only slightly cheaper than a plane ticket, it is a real treat to fly halfway across the country in 45 minutes.
While I'm glad to have all this new info under my belt, I'm happy to report that I won't be making the trip back and forth between Istanbul and Izmir for much longer. More details on that coming soon....
Direct link to original post: Flying in Turkey
About the author: Barbara, American, is an avid traveler and blogger, living in Turkey with her husband, Jeff, who is a professor at my current university, Yasar University. Her writings are always thoughtful and with much skill! I admire her love for Turkey and traveling in general. Thanks again, Barbara, for allowing me to use your post.
Most likely the best airlines in the world, Turkish Airlines!
My favorite view: Knowing you are going somewhere new, experiencing new things, growing into new things.

No comments: