My no longer favourite airport

Landing again at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, I realised the last several years I was flying mostly via two airports for connecting my next flight – the current one in Istanbul and Heathrow in London. Almost every month it’s meant to step at one of them. Should admit, though, I am more often at Ataturk. Seems like it was customised lately for nightmare transfers and unfortunately, it’s no longer my favourite airport

The overcrowded long long queue, even before entering the International transfers circle walk

It’s such a pity, because Istanbul is supposed to be a door between Europe and Asia, Europe and Africa as well. I even considered it long ago the most comfortable airport for connecting flights in those directions. Firstly, because of its location (just an hour flight away from my hometown), secondly – because of the number of destinations it provides and connects. It used to be my favourite airport for lots of years.

I am hardly trying to find the answer of a question, which frequently pops up in my head. How is possible such a huge city, with more than 18 million citizens, a recognised international hub, fantastically located, to provide such way no organised airport, with mediocre service and lots of issues?

Circling endless tour to the transfers’ customs

I found myself trying to avoid Ataturk airport lately, if I have connecting flights, because of the chaos, lack of good organisation and space. Flying to the Middle or Far East, I am heading to Dubai or Doha now, instead of connecting in Istanbul. It’s really sad. I have heard the local government has realised the traffic and capacity of passengers is already overloading the existing infrastructure, so they are about to invest and build a new much bigger (hopefully much modern) airport, close to Istanbul. The expectations are the new airport to start operating in October 2018.

I didn’t mean to be unfair. But I feel irritated every single time I land at Ataturk. I have flown maybe a dozen times directly to Istanbul, but were there double more for a connecting flight. Moving to the section “International transfers” is kind of  a disaster. People like me, who are heading to their next flight, become desperate, while trying to reach the proper gate. 

The labyrinth walk to the customs- overcrowded, irritating and exhausting

I’ve noticed something useful, which we, unfortunately, can’t control. The chance to quicker move to your next flight gate is much higher if you are reaching the airport’s terminal by bus. The bus delivery is right to the gates, starting with number 300+. All the busses drop their passengers in front of 300+ gates section. Then the crowd is pushing ahead to a narrow entrance. 

Moving slowly, hit by elbows and backpacks, stumbled by feet and bags, finally I am at the desired entrance of the terminal, carefully holding my passport and boarding pass. I was expecting some officials are going to take a look at them, as it happened before. All I got is just a loud alert from the administrator to move faster. No boarding pass check up, no customs and I am drowned in a sea of speeding passengers. I still consider myself luckier than others, who reached the airport Terminal by a gate sleeve ( jet bridge). 

“Luckier” buss transferred passengers

The “sleeve” arrivals are the victims from the first three photos above. Long queues, frightened not to miss their next flight passengers, long track of circling to the customs people, time to time inexplicable opening of the limit line in the labyrinth walk, exhausted crying babies, irritated parents, shouting boarding control policemen, struggling to pass the crowd wheel chairs, nervous group members… That’s the usual picture at International transfers of Ataturk Airport Istanbul. 

Last time I had four and a half hour layover, so I could afford to stop for a while and look around. Everyone is annoyed. People hardly get orientation of their gate number and I can hear them cursing in different languages. Tight and narrow. Some family groups stop just in the middle of the corridor. They are squashed and pushed, as no one pays attention on their complete lack of orientation.

I finally got to the main area with the fancy shops, hoping to quietly sit and find complimentary Wi Fi . This was mission impossible the last several times at Ataturk airport. Maybe now I’ll be pleasantly surprised and the airport will finally provide some free of charge internet connection.

When I flew from Istanbul to South Africa, Rwanda, Dubai, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, every time I had the secret hope, they will finally manage the situation with the lacking free Wi-Fi, which is mandatory at the modern, cosmopolitan city’s airports. I learned in a hard way, if I need internet here, for at least an hour, I should sit in a coffee shop or a restaurant and should order a snack. Along with it, I’ll eventually get an hour free internet connection.

There was a coffee shop, which provides power supply for recharging mobile devices and some decent Wi-Fi. I was wandering the airport, but this shop did not exist anymore. Finally, what a bargain – I just got two hour free Wi Fi via network “Turk Telekom WiFI Airport free“…and lost it in 10 minutes. Too complicated. You should register with your cellphone number, getting a sms code, which you fill in on your device. I happily used it for 10 minutes and then it was gone. Probably the network can’t cope with the number of requests. And I realised, if you don’t have roaming on your cellphone, it’s impossible to connect to that network, as you won’t receive the message with the required code. 

Seems like it’s time to get tricky. I downloaded in advance, network’s names, usernames and passwords published publicly by someone in the Internet space for free internet access at airports. Thank God, I am now connected to TK Lounge. Extremely slow Wi Fi, but in a few minutes the page could be open. I’ve checked the rest of the pointed possible usernames and passwords – nothing works.

Did you know that Ataturk International Airport is the home of Six time in a row Best European Airline – Turkish Airlines. They are famous for providing more than 220 different destinations all over the world. I have been one of those, attracted by the opportunity to fly by Turkish Airlines everywhere, having approachable connections. The airlines were competitive and able to attract thousands of new passengers, but the airport, servicing those passengers, is much behind. Offering so many destinations, it assumes lots of and long layovers. The logic is to respectively service the passengers on ground during those layovers in well-manner.

Sure there are number of Business lounges at Ataturk, but you can use them only flying by business or first class, or paying additionally (only in some of them) for using the lounge extras. But just a limited % of all the passengers are able to access the lounges. 

The other issue – to find not overcrowded WC is just a dream. Long queues in front of the WC, while you are about to pee your panties. I would kindly advise you to go in the direction called HSBC lounge. On the right side, there is a WC that almost no one knows. It’s on the second level, opposite direction of the Food court. 

Food Court. What can I say?!  Super overcrowded as well with a questionable hygiene. If you think you can spend your hours of long layover around, think again. Simple wooden chairs, highly uncomfortable for hours stay. Smelly and noisy. But here is the most decent Wi Fi at the airport. Not for free, of course, but just 1 EURO for 24 hours.  The network is called BAT Guest. You just should first register by your preferred username and password, then need to pay 1 EURO by credit card and this would guarantee you 24 hours Internet connection. The catch is you should stay only in the Food Court. By moving out, you are losing your Wi Fi connection.

No answer yet, why this close to my heart city can’t provide an outstanding airport. Obviously Istanbul is a well recognised International hub. There are amazing opportunities and destinations to fly from/to, if Ataturk is the preferred airport. The current condition of that hub makes the passengers exhausted and unsatisfied, lost in chaos, instead of pleasing and supporting them for completing an enjoyable stay.

Also a bit weird seating set up. Most of the seats are located in the gate and corridors area, with limited access to shops and internet connection. If you would like to spend your time sitting in the main shop area, it’s Causa Perduta, unless you are in a cafe with time limited accessible Wi Fi. So clever, right – to sit you should consume and pay. During a long layover no much to be done at Ataturk airport. No attractions, no decent complimentary Wi Fi, no comfortable sitting areas, nothing inspiring, nothing to catch your eye, nothing for free. 

I absolutely love Turkey, the local people and especially Istanbul. Every time I travel to, it’s a little party for me. But I can’t forgive the lack of competitive airport on site. Usually, if I have four-five hour layover, I move out the airport, straight to the city via subway. The unbelievable queue at Passport control section is what sometimes stops me, as the queue is way longer than the queue at International transfers. 

After the terrorist attack in June 2016, it’s much safer to keep stuck in, than going out, that’s my impression. Now the fear sticks most of the people in and they don’t dare to explore anything out of the Transit area, even if they have a gap between the flights. I met and talked to random people, while walking the airport. Passengers from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, India and UK who prefer the safety of the airport, instead of spending the hours of their layover in the city. Hopefully, this fear will soon be over.

Istanbul is one of the most amazing cities, one I can never get enough of. I landed here more than 30 times, for sure will keep coming back again and again. I cross my fingers to do it through a better airport, no doubt this cosmopolitan city deserves the best. At the moment, though, Ataturk is no longer my favourite airport. 







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