It is amazing how quickly a trip can seem to go by. One moment you’re eagerly planning the trip’s details, and the next moment you’re packing up to fly home. It’s a reminder to treasure every moment and go appreciate what one has.
We knew this travel day was going to be rough. Yesterday, Monday, we had been on an extremely long tour of Istanbul with a fairly high step count. Then I ran a teen writing class from midnight to 3am. Neither of us got much sleep at all. And then here it was, 3:45am, and it was time to finish packing and get off the ship. Our meeting time at the bus was 4:30am.
Last night before dinner I’d tried to check in online. My flight had three legs – the first on Turkish Airlines and the other two on Air Canada. I wasn’t able to check in on any of them. I emailed my travel agent with the details of the errors. My travel agent responded with the confirmation code, but it still didn’t work. Her response was “If it won’t let you, I think you’ll just need to check in when you get to the airport tomorrow.” At the time I was mostly hoping to make sure Mom and I had adjoining seats on Turkish Airlines since the flight would be our last section of time together. I do always like to be checked in ahead of time.
So here we were. An early morning departure.
Mom and I finished packing. We triple-checked every drawer and corner of the cabin. We tried to make sure we didn’t forget anything. And then we rolled out of our cabin for the last time.
The hallways were pretty deserted. We went to the elevator, down to the disembarkation deck, and then swiped our cards out for the very last time. It was a bit anticlimactic after so many days here. Then we carefully rolled our large luggage down the long gangplank and were on land.
I’d mentioned before that the Turkish port terminal is like an underground fortress. We rolled our luggage down the ramp to enter it. We went down a wide, long hallway and this time turned left at the passport processing area. There was practically nobody there. We went through the passport check fairly easily. Then we had to go through the infamous card-swipe turnstiles. This time my card went through flawlessly. I’m very glad I had them cut a new card for me. We went past a big luggage area where everybody who had the ship ‘transport’ their luggage would pick up their bags. We already had our bags with us so we were set. And now we got to the bus.
It was a full-sized bus. There were maybe 12 people or so on it. Everyone was very sleepy. We waited a little while to make sure everyone was on board and then we set off.
The ride to the airport was about an hour. The landscapes were sometimes city and then rolling dark hills. I admit I was too sleepy to really pay attention. Finally we approached the airport. It was ENORMOUS. The bus pulled up to a specific entrance. The driver and someone else had us all stay together. They put all our luggage on carriers. They escorted us as a group to a specific security line. There are security lines at the entrance to the airport – nobody can get INTO the airport without going through security. Istanbul airports have had bombs go off a number of times. They take security seriously.
We all were processed for the entry-area security. Then on the other side we all regrouped together.
The Istanbul airport is vast and open like a warehouse. Past that doorway-area security, the check-in area is a series of vertically-oriented alleys, each with check-in counters on the left and right of their alley. So where we were, by the door areas, we could see the “mouths” to all of those alleys before us.
The centermost alley was sort of ‘shielded’ with plants and a person at a podium. You couldn’t see into it. This was the business class Turkish Air area.
We were brought up to the podium area and then welcomed through. This alley had high walls so it was sort of like its own enclosed area, with plush seats and relative quiet. It felt sort of like an oasis from the rest of the massive airport. There were only counters along the left. The right side had comfy chairs and tables.
The two ‘handlers’ now tried to tell each group where to go, but it was extremely disjointed. They sort of pointed but then changed their minds and pointed elsewhere. Six of us decided we were supposed to go to the counter spot at the far end of the counter and headed there. A couple went to the agent first and showed their tickets.
The passengers were brusquely told by the agent that their tickets were invalid.
Concerned, Mom and I showed our tickets. Then a gay couple with our group showed their tickets. Nope, we were told the tickets were all invalid. Too bad, see you later.
I emailed our travel agent, saying, “There are six of us trying to get to Paris and Turkish Airlines has no record of any of us.” No response.
The first couple went elsewhere and we didn’t see them again. I’m not sure what happened to them.
The gay couple and my mom tried to reason with Turkish Airlines, but the staff was wholly uncommunicative. They said there was nothing they could do – the tickets were not valid. They said we would have to talk to Air Canada about it, but Air Canada was not at the airport. Air Canada had stopped landing in this airport as far back as 2016 due to a number of bombings and bomb threats. So there was nobody in the airport we could talk to.
Mom and the men asked Turkish Airlines to please call Air Canada, since this was going to be a technical matter for the two airlines to figure out. Turkish Airlines coldly refused to call them. They told us to go ahead and call them ourselves.
We asked to talk with supervisors. We moved up and down the counter talking to different staff members. Nobody wanted to talk to us, and nobody wanted to help us. The all told us in essence to get lost.
We we completely stuck in an Istanbul airport with actively hostile staff staring at us. We had literally nowhere to go. Our ‘handlers’ had long since gone.
Now, fortunately, out of us four, I was the only one with a functional phone. I always have a phone with me anywhere I travel, for emergencies, even if it’s going to be outrageously expensive. I do that just for this very reason. Also, fortunately, my boyfriend did all the research before I left home. I had unlimited text and unlimited data. Calls were 25 cents a minute. I would gladly pay 25 cents a minute to figure this out.
I first called my travel agent at 5:54am. No answer – I left a message.
I next called Regent (the cruise line), 5:56am, as our travel was booked through Regent. I got an automated system which said their staff was all busy. If I left a message they would get back to me quickly. I left an urgent message. Nobody from Regent EVER called me back. EVER.
Next I called AirCanada directly. I navigated their phone system and got to their after-hours support staff. It was 6:06am Istanbul time. We were beyond exhausted.
SOMEONE ANSWERED!!! His name was Ashir. He was a voice of calm and support in a sea of despair.
Ashir was sure this was a minor technical issue that could be worked out with Turkish Airlines’ help. (Hah). I gave my phone to the Turkish Airline person but the agent pretty much refused to talk to Ashir. They told Ashir that everything was his fault and that he had to fix it. Ashir explained that everything looked absolutely perfect on his end. He tried resetting some things, but Turkish Airlines refused to even refresh their screen to see if it helped. Ashir tried recreating the tickets. Turkish Airlines didn’t even want to check the new tickets, but then claimed they were still not working.
This went on for a full hour, while us four passengers were enormously stressed. We could be abandoned here in Istanbul with nobody willing to even help us. We took turns “manning the phone” and trying to work on the issue. When one of us was exhausted another one of us stepped up to try to make progress. It was a true team effort.
Finally Ashir, despite his infinite patience, began to get a feeling that Turkish Airlines was not going to do their part. He talked with me and agreed he should just get me OUT OF ISTANBUL however possible. He found me a two-leg flight on Air France. Air France only had ONE flight out of this airport every day so either I got on that flight or I was screwed. I was willing to take the risk. So he started to set up that Air France flight for me, first leg to Paris, second leg to Boston. He then asked if I got the email confirmation. I attempted to check my email on the phone.
THE CALL DISCONNECTED.
I stared at my phone in absolute shock, barely able to breathe.
The phone rang.
ASHIR HAD CALLED ME BACK. I was so incredibly grateful. We had just been on the phone a full 71 minutes. I couldn’t even imagine starting that entire process again from the beginning.
Ashir finished with my Air France tickets. This would involve me going over to a special ticketing area, since as mentioned Air France only had one flight a day and therefore sort of ‘borrowed’ a counter to use for that one flight. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get me and Mom out of Istanbul.
I gave the phone to my mom next. She was trickier. She needed to get to Tampa, Florida. Ashir tried his best, but the flights involved 3 or 4 legs with 8 hour layovers. We were already exhausted. I was in tears of thinking of my mom, who had health issues, navigating four legs of flights with 8 hour layovers in various airports around the world, all alone.
23 minutes in, while my mom was sorting this out, the phonecall disconnected again.
Ashir called right back.
Now we were on a mission. We just needed to get OUT of Istanbul. The two men, who were also in southern Florida, asked Ashir what the closest to home they could possibly get was. Ashir looked and found a direct flight to Miami. The gay couple said WE WILL TAKE IT. They would then take a multi-hour Uber to get from Miami to home. They didn’t care. They just wanted OUT OF ISTANBUL.
Mom, to my great joy, decided she would join them.
I was literally in tears now, in relief. I really did sob as I hugged the two men in thanks. My mom would have a direct flight. The two men would be with her. It would be a direct flight. We would get OUT OF ISTANBUL. And yes there was a long Uber ride at the other end, but hopefully they could sleep on that ride.
The last phone call with Ashir was 47 minutes, to get all those details settled. We thanked him many times. I did later send letters in his praise to various Air Canada people and post thanks to him on my blog as well. Ashir deserves every accolade one can give.
8:26am – we hung up with Ashir.
My Air France counter did not open until noon. It was not even an “official counter” right now for them. So I told Mom and the two men to go ahead through the main security and find their lounge. They could get some food, get a nap, and rest. Their flight out was at 2pm. Mine was at 3pm. My counter wouldn’t even open until around noon.
The ‘check-in counter alley’ with my Air France counter was a few to the right from this plush Turkish Airlines alley. My mom walked over with me to my alley, but of course there wasn’t even any indication that Air France would arrive here at noon. It just had other airlines doing their stuff. I assured her I would be fine. I’d find a bench to sit on and would just wait. She and her two friends should go through the inner layer of security, get in to the lounge, and relax.
After some more assurances, she went off to go with them. She doesn’t have any data / text plan on her phone, so she would be completely incommunicado until she figured out WiFi.
I was completely exhausted. I found a bench to sit on and made sure to keep my eyes open. Every once in a while I went to check the departure boards to make sure her flight and my flight was still on track. At 9:37 I emailed our travel agent just to let her know the status, that we were now all booked on flights, but that Mom had to take an Uber 4 hours home at the end. I finally heard back from her at 10am saying to keep receipts so those could be sent to Regent, and that “I will go to Regent to see if we can get reimbursement.” IF???
At 10am I finally got a message from Mom that she had figured out WiFi. She and the men were safely nestled into a lounge. She was eating coffee and scrambled eggs. So that helped me relax, knowing that she was all set.
I tried to set up an AirFrance account to pre-check-in, but their app kept hanging. My boyfriend Bob tried to do it from home, but even the web version kept hanging.
Finally it grew close to noon. An Air France sign was put up at one of the counters. I stood nearby. Someone else got into line, which was my signal that this might be the right place and I got in line behind them. I turns out they weren’t in the right line, so now I was in the front of my line.
A few more crew showed up and talked amongst themselves. At 12 noon on the dot they waved me over.
I was exhausted and concerned. While Mom and the men were safely checked in, it was no guarantee that my own ticket was OK. I am a die-hard paper person and was nervous about my information solely being on my phone. I handed over my passport and phone with the ticket information.
Hurrah!!! The Air France person didn’t blink an eye. Everything was wholly set. She printed out my paper boarding passes (PAPER!!! YES!!!!). She pointed me at the business class security line. She also wrote on my pass that I had access to the Sky Lounge which was different from where Mom was.
I was so exhausted that I walked away from the counter without my laptop bag. They had to call after me to come back and get it. I apologized profusely. The counter clerk asked in concern if I wanted to check it, but I said no. I want to keep it with me. I resolved to do better about keeping it with me :).
I headed off toward security.
The security area in this airport is MASSIVE – and keep in mind this is a SECOND tier of security after the first one which you go through just to get in the doors. Istanbul, after all, has been subject of bombings. For me in business class, though, I went to the side of the massive, long security area. There was a man standing guard at a podium next to a velvet rope. Several people in front of me tried to wheedle their way past him. He turned them away. I came up and showed my ticket. He smiled at me and let me through. The security line was very short. Then I was in the actual huge gate area, full of restaurants, shops, and benches.
Mom’s lounge was to the far right. Mine was to the far left. I was very tired and headed left, following the signs and going up an escalator. The lounge entrance was nondescript. The woman there stared at my ticket as if they’d never heard of Air France and even took a photo of it. Then she let me through.
The lounge was lovely and nearly empty. I wearily plunked myself down onto a sofa with a clear view of the departures board. I went to the buffet area and got some things to snack on. There were several glass-fronted refrigerators with sodas and drinks and such. I had two diet cokes to keep me awake until the flight boarded.
For a while I sat quietly. Then a woman came in with two young kids and – despite the entire lounge being practically empty – decided she had to sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME. And then ever time she got up the kids started screaming MOM MOM MOM MOM MOMMEEEEEEE!!! with a super-high whine. It was beyond belief.
Mom’s flight now said to ‘go to gate’. I messaged her to let her know. She replied that she saw that it was delayed 50 minutes. Then she saw that it said go to gate. So I grabbed my bag and went down to the escalator which led to her gate area. I met up with her there. We walked together to her gate, and I saw her off. The two men were a bit behind and would catch up soon. I was very relieved to know she was now at her gate and would soon get on a non-stop flight.
I then walked over to my own gate. I got there at 2:07pm. I waited there until boarding began. At 2:38pm I was on the flight. This was a ‘normal’ seat in a row of 3. I was in the very first row, and the only person in my left-hand group of three. There were people in the right-hand group. I couldn’t really sleep on this flight, but at least nobody behind me was sticking their bare toes on my armrests and poking at me.
We were landing in Paris. After the chaos of the flight in, I was a bit nervous about how long it would take to get from my landing gate to the departure gate and what might be in between. Bob tried to send me gate maps but they were hard to read on my phone. The plane app had no information on airport layouts, which I found odd. So I was all ready, the second the plane door opened, to head out at a fast walk.
Once again, you would think airports would be much better with signage and directions. I headed down hallways just hoping I was going in the right direction. Since I was at the very front of the line, I had nobody to “follow”. At one point there was one pathway leading to passports and another pathway leading to the right which seemed barely used. This made me nervous, but I had done passport control when getting off the boat in Turkey – hopefully I didn’t need to do it again? So I went right, the whole time thinking maybe this was just a pathway for workers to use.
The pathway squiggled left through a featureless hallway, then right, then came up to an escalator. Right as I got there, the escalator stopped.
I panicked. Maybe I was in the wrong place. Maybe this path was for workers to use.
A man came up behind me. I pointed and said, “The escalator stopped!!”
He calmly said, “It’ll start up again.”
I said, “I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go through passport control!!”
He asked, “Are you just connecting through to another flight?”
He said, “Then you’re fine to go right to your gate.”
And just like that, the escalator started up again. And everything was fine. I really appreciate those small moments of kindness when a stranger lets you know everything is going to be all right.
I went up the escalator and the gate was not too far ahead. The gate area was ‘messy’ with random piles of people and random lines. But eventually they started calling for the business class. I went up to scan my ticket.
The scanning system showed an error message.
You know, I actually didn’t even care at this point. At least I was in Paris. I had faith that people in Paris would treat me well and get me home eventually. If I had to stay in a hotel overnight in Paris I would handle it.
The agent sent me over to the main desk and the agent there checked some things out. Then they let me through. I got onto the plane.
I had a pod :).
I was exhausted. I was so happy to see the pod. I settled into it. You would think I would sleep. But I think my body was so full of adrenaline that it was sure mountain lions and sabre tooth tigers were about to gnaw me open. So I stayed awake and they fed us a lovely dinner. This time all the menu options were actually available.
I chose braised beef cheek.
Then did I sleep? No, I watched the Streisand version of A Star Is Born. And then there was a breakfast-style meal.
And then I finally was settled enough that I slept for a few hours.
We landed early, so our gate wasn’t ready for us. Our plane sat on the tarmac for over a half hour. At this point I was ‘home’ so I didn’t care. I did feel sorry for anybody who had connecting flights.
Eventually they let us get to the gate. Entry processing was quick and easy. My bag was pretty much the first one on the carousel!! Woo hoo!! And then I walked out and Bob was right there waiting for me. So so happy. He drove me home, and I climbed right into bed.
I’m writing this two weeks after I got home. There’s been time to process all the anxiety of the flight home and to think more coherently about the trip as a whole.
I really enjoyed the time in Santorini and Mykonos. Not because of the unexciting ouzo tasting or wine tasting or shopping plazas, but because of how stunning the locations looked. They were gorgeous. I would love to go back there to spend a week and just relax and paint. I’d love to seek out lovely locations and photograph / paint them. I’d be content soaking in the serenity.
The Greece stops of Crete and Rhodes? Maybe interesting to stop in once, but not somewhere I crave returning to. Not with as much as our world offers to us.
In Istanbul, it was nice seeing the mosques, but the huge crowds made the experiences unruly. I actually liked better the small, quiet mosque we went to near the Grand Bazaar. I imagine that location gives much more of an authentic mosque experience. A mosque experience probably doesn’t involve hordes of selfie-taking crowds jostling each other. It hopefully involves quiet contemplation.
For the other Turkey stops? Bodrum? Antalya? Ephesus? I did really enjoy the castle at Bodrum, so I’m glad I could see that. I don’t have a need to go see it again, though.
Overall, I have LESS than zero interest in going to Turkey again. There are currently 195 countries in the world. I’ve only been to maybe 16 of them?? There are so, so many other fascinating places to visit. I would pay extra money to go somewhere else rather than go to Turkey again. There are plenty of historic locations to see in other countries.
I am wholly grateful I had a functional phone with me, that I could text Bob and Jenn for help, and that AirCanada lent a hand. Regent Air and my travel agent weren’t any help. At least by being able to text Bob and Jenn I could have other eyeballs helping out. It’s worth noting that even two weeks later I have STILL not heard a word from Regent. I am planning on sending them my T-Mobile bill for the phone calls to Air Canada to get that reimbursed. It was only $36.75 but it’s the principle of it. Regent caused me ENORMOUS stress with their invalid tickets and lack of support. They haven’t reimbursed my Mom the Uber money, either.
As for the Seven Seas Explorer cruise, the cabins were lovely. The food, while sometimes having a few issues, was generally delicious. The ship was smallish compared with others but had ample lounge / dining options. I really missed the beautiful artwork and the included art classes of the Oceania Riviera. I also missed the daily string quartet. On the Riviera, many people actually LISTENED to the music, instead of talking over it here. So while on the Riviera it felt like I always had things I really wanted to do, on the Explorer it was more like the lounge was a way to kill time before dinner.
The whole ‘taking our passports away’ issue seemed a bit strange – I wish they’d explained that better. I’m curious why they xeroxed my Turkish e-visa one day and then claimed the next day that they didn’t have my information. And how could they run out of Champagne one of the nights, but still have it available for a Champagne-and-Caviar event the next morning? But those were just minor hiccups.
Overall, if I had to choose, I think I might choose the Oceania Riviera next time, instead of the Seven Seas Explorer. Let’s assume both went to somewhere exciting and new that I wanted to see. I’d prefer to be on the Riviera to see the ports. The cabins aren’t meaningfully different. The Explorer food is better – especially the presentation! – but the Riviera food is quite fine. And the music selections and art classes mean I’d have other fun things to do while on board. I could live with boring-looking food that was reasonably tasty in exchange for the string quartet every day, the fun art classes every day, and the beautiful artwork to enjoy. Those are just my personal preferences.
I’ll note that I took TONS of photos and videos on this trip. I’ll work on uploading slideshows and the videos in the coming days, now that I have gotten all of the writing effort complete.
Ask with any questions, and thank you for reading along!