Old Jun 12, 08, 10:07 am
Flying Buccaneer
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Plat, AA Plat 2MM, HH Diamond, WoH Explorist, SPG Gold
Posts: 2,199
Lounging in Istanbul

June 12, 2008 LHR-IST
British Airways 676
Seat 21A

Boarding was pretty much a free-for-all. There was just one announcement, and the only pre-boarding was for those who needed assistance. Not even Club Europe pax boarded first.

I settled into seat 21A, a window seat over the wing. I like to take pictures from the air when I travel to new places, and sitting over the wing nixed that. So would the clouds around London and along most of our flight path. The pilot announced that we would push back a little late, because there were thunderstorms in the area.

The taxi out to the runway was drawn out--we seemed to inch our way along--but we took off at 11:08 a.m. I was prepared for worse. Within 30 minutes, the FAs were in the aisle serving a hot lunch. The main dish was fish casserole (chunks of salmon and whitefish in a cream sauce with a crunchy topping). I know it sounds weird, but it was better than the typical US domestic F offering. The casserole was accompanied by a small Caesar salad, two rolls, and a pre-packaged rice pudding dessert. Before clearing away trays, the FAs offered coffee or tea. After the trays were cleared away, the "entertainment" started: Our movie was The Gameplan, starring The Rock. I could not see the screen from my seat, so I listened to some music on my iPhone and watched a couple of episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think my entertainment was better. I also slept a little.

The clouds broke somewhere over Romania or Bulgaria. For awhile, all I could see was the broad expanse of the Black Sea. The pilot announced that we had started our initial descent, and suddenly I could see ships on the water. A little later, I saw land. As we flew along the coast, I could see the Black Sea entering the Bosphorous. A few minutes later, we banked to the right and flew back across Istanbul. That was when I was really able to get an idea how big Istanbul is. And it looks beautiful from the air on a cloudless day like today. I could even see the Bosphorous Bridge. If only that wing had not been in the way!

You Mean I Need a Visa?

Even with our late start, we landed at 4:19 p.m. and arrived at the gate at 4:27 p.m. After deplaning and a ten-minute walk, I saw signs for passport control. I also saw signs for visas. I had read in at least three separate places that visitors from the US must purchase a visa on arrival for $20. Cash. No credit cards. So I came prepared. The AA agent in TPA even reminded me, and I told her I was ready.

I entered the visa line, and marveled at the different costs and durations for different countries. Slovaks pay $15 (or 10 Euros), but only get 30 days, while my $20 would get me 90 days. Canadian visitors have to pay $60 for a visa. Why? What did Canada do to deserve that? The two lines were long, but it took me less than 10 minutes to get my visa.

The next line was for passport control. As I entered the line for "Other Nationalities," I saw people leaving the line to get visas. During the 15 minutes I was in this line, I saw dozens of people leave the line to get in the visa line. Some of them had reached the front of the passport control line without realizing they needed visas! I just don't understand how anyone can travel to a country without doing at least a little homework about visa requirements.

Note to Self: There Was No Need to Check the Bag to AYT

Through passport control, I go to the baggage claim area. I am not sure if I will claim my bag here or not. Logic tells me that I will, because I have to go through customs. But after I get it, what then? Will there be a bag drop after I clear customs? Will I have to take the bag to the domestic terminal?

It began to look like a moot point. After waiting 30 minutes, my bag was not on the carousel, and it seemed that no more bags were coming out. I decided to ask someone in the lost baggage office. A friendly lady took me to someone else and asked her a question in Turkish. Then she turned to me and said "You will get it here," and pointed at the carousel. Sure enough, my bag was there!

After I cleared customs, I looked for a place to drop my bag, but the only sign that seemed to apply to me was the one directing me to the domestic terminal. Before walking over, I decided to get some cash from an HSBC ATM. However, a man stopped me and told me that the machine had eaten his card. That's one of my big travel fears. Actually, I have such an irrational fear that I carry three different ATM cards when I travel: my credit union, Citibank, and HSBC. I figured cash could wait until I got to the domestic terminal.

I followed the signs, and went up a couple of "travelators." I like this word and idea. They're like the offspring of a moving sidewalk and an escalator. Finally, I reached the domestic terminal, and I was not sure where to go. So I stood there and got my bearings, then walked around a little. I finally saw a sign for Business Class and Star Alliance Gold. I flashed my UA 1P card and walked to a counter. The friendly agent took my TK confirmation, my UA card, and my passport. He asked if I wanted an aisle or window seat. I chose aisle for this flight. Then he handed me a BP and put a new tag on my bag.

It took me awhile to figure out where the TK lounge was located, which was stupid on my part, considering that there was a big sign pointing toward security screening that said "THY Domestic Lounge." After 24 hours of a steady diet or airports and airplanes, I think I can be excused for a lapse like that.

I got some cash and went through security, then walked upstairs to the lounge. After the FL at JFK and BA Lounge at LHR, this one is spartan, but better than having to wait in the terminal. The food offerings certainly beat domestic airline lounges in the US: fresh salad vegetables, ziti pasta with sauce, chunks of hot dogs in some type of sauce, a variety of rolls and cookies, and non-alcoholic beverages. I tried the soup, though I am not sure what type it is. It is some type of vegetable puree with a meat stock. It has a nice flavor, so I might get another bowl before I leave.

I still have about an hour before my flight to AYT begins boarding. In the meantime, I am trying to wait before I develop my first impression of Turkey. It's not fair to use an airport as a measure of a city. This one is busy and somewhat stuffy. Then again, it's a much more civilized airport than MIA or certain parts of JFK and LGA. Besides, my true first impression was from the air, and it did not disappoint me. My impression of the people who work in the airport is definitely positive. I have been welcomed to Turkey by most of them, and when they could not answer my question, they tried to help or went out of their way to find someone who could help me. I consider that a good first impression.
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