Sometime during the night of October 17th British journalist Jacqueline Sutton took her own life in an airport restroom at Istanbul’s Attaturk airport after, and apparently because of, missing a flight. ‘Apparently’, because that is the evidence and the official story; although there are those who think something else may have occurred and the official story is a cover up. Sutton’s family, however, does believe the incident was a suicide.
So do I. I entirely believe Ms. Sutton was driven to suicide by the simple act of missing a flight.
Why? Well, I have some special information most people reading this do not have: I know what happens in Attaturk airport when you miss a flight on Turkish Airlines…
Only weeks before Ms. Sutton’s death I was leaving Istanbul after five wonderful days in one of the most beautiful and historic cities on earth. During that time I was treated well by every Turk I met; even the ones who weren’t making money off of me. They were hospitable, helpful, and generally cheerful. I had no complaints at all.
Then I tried to leave.
Everything went fine at first. I took an inexpensive taxi to the airport. I checked my bags and made my way through security and passport control. With over an hour to spare before my flight, I made my way to the departure gate and I waited.
About half an hour before scheduled boarding there was an announcement that the gate had changed. Annoying, but no problem: I located the second gate in plenty of time. Only to find that the flight was now delayed.
But no problem, right? I’m there. I can wait. My connecting flight out of Amsterdam was the next day and I had a hotel room reserved near Schipol airport, so no biggie.
I settled down with my cellphone to wait. And waited. And waited some more. But they never called boarding for my flight. Not in English and, so far as I can tell, not in any other language.
Finally, about ten minutes after the flight-delayed plane should have started boarding I went up to the desk to ask what was going on. The Turkish man at the gate spoke barely understandable English.
“Boarding is done. You are too late.”
“What do you mean, done? You never called boarding!”
“We do not call boarding. Not for . . . one year. Not call boarding.”
As you can imagine, I was pretty upset. the flight was right there and they weren’t going to let me board because they started boarding it early (close to the original time, despite the flight delay announcement), without announcing. No ‘Will Mr. Bell please come to the desk at gate XX.’ No nothing.
This was quite outside my experience. Every airport I have ever been in calls boarding in multiple languages and raises hell if you don’t show up. Every airport and every airline, except apparently Turkish Airlines in a Turkish airport. (They did call at Schipol airport on my way to Istanbul.)
So I asked what I was supposed to do. I was told I needed to go to the Transfer Desk.
“Where is the Transfer Desk?”
“That way.” Pointing, the man’s face is a mask of contempt. He refuses to elaborate.
So I go ‘that way’ looking for the Transfer Desk and I find one. I explain my situation. I am treated with the same contempt as at the gate, like I had done something quite wrong and disgusting. They tell me I am at the wrong transfer desk. I ask where the correct one is. The directions I am given are delivered in broken English and barely better than ‘that way’.
I am going to cut a bit for length here, but suffice to say I go through this same exact routine for three more Transfer Desks before I finally find the fifth and correct one. It is in the basement. Past four sets of doors. Near where arriving passengers go through customs.
The contempt continues, although the English is somewhat better. Here I am one of a crowd of people, all going through the same thing. Three of them had the same experience as I did, of not hearing a boarding announcement. One poor sod was there because the checkin clerk had printed the wrong date on his boarding pass! When he tried to board the gate staff agreed he was scheduled for the flight, but would not let him board because of that misprinted date.
Eventually a rather pretty Turkish woman staffer gathers our passports, stacks them up and, without explanation to us, starts to walk away. Carrying our passports!
As you can imagine, this upset everyone in our little group of unfortunates. When one woman passenger in the group has a meltdown and screams the Turkish staffer deigns to explain that we needed to let her take our passports or we would have to stay there.
I explain that her explanation makes no sense. She gives me that look of contempt and simply repeats herself. She does give the (now crying) lady passenger back her passport; telling her she cannot leave now.
Eventually someone comes and takes all of us, except for the one weeping lady, up to passport control. A few minutes later she joins us, still crying, but allowing one of the Turkish staffers to carry her passport. There is some discussion with the authorities there and then we are led through a door to one side of passport control, out to the disembark side of the airport. The Turkish Airlines staffers then hand us back our passports.
“You must now re-book your flights,” one of them says. Then they walk away.
They just walk away.
No explanation. Outside of ‘you must now re-book.’
My little group of unfortunate confer and eventually we set out to find the checkin counter. There, when we ask what we are supposed to do, are told we need to speak to a supervisor. When we find the Supervisor’s Desk (by the way, if you aren’t counting, this is now the sixth desk I have been to trying to get this straightened out) we find a huge line.
After much waiting I am told I have to buy a new ticket. I ask where and get the contempt again. “From the Ticket Desk.” A hand points.
I find the Ticket Desk and try to re-book a flight early enough to catch my connecting flight at Schipol the next morning. I am told it will cost the equivalent of $750 in Turkish Lira. This is nearly four times what I originally paid for a round trip ticket from Amsterdam, but at that point I am willing to pay any amount to get out of there. So I fork over.
Then I have to return to the checkin desk again. I ask about my checked luggage, but get nothing outside of that Turkish Airlines patented look of contempt and directions back to the Supervisor’s Desk. At the Supervisor’s Desk I wait in another long line while fresh victims ahead of me discover they now have to buy a new ticket because they missed their flight, even though they (like me) did nothing wrong.
When I speak to the supervisor I get more contempt and no answer about the luggage. “It cannot be said.”
What the fuck does that mean? You can’t say? You won’t say? You don’t know?
But, you know what? I just want to get out of there. I’ve already learned not going with the program only makes things in this little slice of bureaucratic hell worse. So I shut up and I go through security again. And I go through passport control again, where I am held up while they dither because I had already gone through once.
Finally I get back into the departure area. Six hours after I missed my flight and seven hours before my rebooked flight. I am about to spend the night there. But, compared to the absolute horror that is Turkish Airlines customer service, an uncomfortable night in an airport seems pretty good.
The next morning I arrive an hour early and stand at the gate right up to the moment we are allowed to board. The gate staff complain and try to get me to move. I just shake my head and give them a glare of contempt.