STORY: Why I Hate Turkish Airlines But Will Have To Get Over It
I love to hold a grudge. It's kind of my thing. I come from a long line of semi-professional bitter Bennies. If you've wronged me in some way I'm going to bronze that moment and put it on my mantle so every morning I can wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee, take a seat in the chaise I've placed directly across from it and slowly let my body become energized by the smoldering seer of anger and resentment. It's a character flaw to be sure, but one I've embraced as one of those quirky things you just can't change about yourself. On the plus side I will say it's extremely difficult to get on my bad side. Many of my friends have seen my sharp tongue in action under duress in the past, but generally speaking in most situations I'm willing to take a lot of abuse. It's the universe's way of balancing my yin and yang.
Take off on Turkish from Istanbul's Ataturk airport.
Need a good example of this? Take Turkish Airlines. I flew with them one time in 2015 and they pissed me off so badly that I've refused to fly with them every since. Even when flying with another airline for a trip has literally cost me hundreds of dollars more, I've refused to book with them. My fiance and I make good money but this gurl is still on a budget, so I really don't have money to be throwing away like that. But to this day I'd still sooner pull cash out of an ATM and set it on fire rather than hand it over to my least favorite airline in the world. And honestly - it didn't have to be like this. As I mentioned above, I went through a long process trying to give Turkish the benefit of the doubt and avoid being the only airline on my "do not fly" list.
How did we get here? It all started with an innocent trip to Israel.
Goods for sale in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Well. Innocent to me at least. Potentially not so innocent to the Israelis as I had a hell of time getting approved to get on my flight to Tel Aviv from Prague and an even more difficult time being let on my plane on my way home. I detailed my experience entering and exiting Israel in a blog post at the time, and it remains one of my more popular articles based on reader data. I'm not going to rehash the entire experience since you can read about it through the link if you like, but the story ended with Turkish Airlines notifying me when I arrived in Brussels that the "powers that be" in Tel Aviv had confiscated my baggage. They assured me they'd soon be able to get it to me in Chicago. You're probably scoffing at the fact that checked a bag right about now. Sure it would be great to travel with a carry on bag only on all my trips but that just isn't feasible for some situations. This was one of them.
Fast forward a month and it turns out that the story of my luggage wasn't nearly as clear as Turkish had presented it at the time. Over those weeks I was given a virtual buffet of explanations, reasons, and delusional responses by the airline's inept customer service staff that left me:
Confused beyond belief.
Angrier than a wet cat.
Still missing my luggage.
So let's walk through this labyrinth of lies, fairy tales, and delusions that took me from simply frustrated on day one to swearing I'd never fly with Turkish on day 21.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A LIAR
So as I noted above, the Turkish Airlines baggage agent in Brussels (whom I believe was actually just a general contract agent working for several airlines but I'm unsure) informed me my baggage was held in Tel Aviv by Israeli authorities but the airline would soon have it back to me in Chicago. This explanation seemed to make sense at the time considering the difficult security screening I had trying to enter and exit the country. I was clearly subjected to a higher level of security screening so it would make sense that the luggage I checked would have a similar experience. The agent proceeded to ask me a few basic questions about how the airline could best contact me, what my remaining travel itinerary looked like, and what address in Chicago to send my bag too once it was "returned" to the airline by the Israelis. He was about to send me on my merry little way before I protested slightly and said I didn't really feel comfortable walking away without some documentation in hand. He said normally they only fill out documents when a baggage has been lost in transit and not confiscated like in my situation, but with a little pushing he agreed to fill out their standard lost baggage form and then issued me what he called a PIR number, which apparently identified my "case".
The form had my personal and flight information and noted the brand and color of my baggage. Additionally I was able to give him a relatively detailed list of the contents of my bag and their estimated value so, as he said, if the bag for some reason wasn't able to be delivered to me in Chicago they would use the information to determine fair compensation.
The bag was filled entirely with (dirty) clothes by this point, so relatively inexpensive things. The one thing that pained me about it being lost was a Calvin Klein coat since it was quite literally my favorite coat of all time. I loved that coat so much that after I determined I would never see it again I spent six months trolling the internet to find another one to buy. Which I did. And it was promptly stolen from me three weeks later by someone at a volleyball practice I attended. Clearly I wasn't meant to own to coat. It's also a bit fun to see the sizes of the clothes I was wearing at the time since this was about a year prior to my decision to get healthy and fit. I now wear a 32/34 waist depending on the pants and a medium in most shirt sizes, so all that angst over the lost coat was for nothing since it wouldn't even fit me now. Back to the story though ....
With the documents in hand the gentleman in Brussels apologized again for the delayed delivery and told me to call in to Turkish Airlines with the PIR number to get an update on when to expect my bag. I thanked him, exited the baggage claim, and then bought a few toiletries and a seriously overpriced sweatshirt that said "BRUSSELS" on the front of it since it was colder than I anticipated outside and I no longer had a coat to pull out of my luggage. I always travel with a change of clothes in my carry on when I need to check luggage though, so I at least had something to wear on my flights home the next day.
Fast forward a few days and I was getting increasingly frustrated with Turkish. I arrived home and waited two days before calling the airline and asked for a status update on my bag. The first two times I called I was told there was no update. The third time I called I was informed my bag was currently on the daily Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Chicago. I was thrilled and even offered to go to the airport to pick up the bag myself but was assured they had a delivery service that would bring it to my address that day. I went to sleep that night without my luggage. Called next day to inquire on the status of the delivery and was then told the bag couldn't have possibly been on the flight to Chicago the day before because it wasn't even found yet.
Predictably we then went through an aggressive game of "Who's On First" regarding my luggage, which Turkish Airlines baggage representative I had talked to that told me it was on a flight, and what was said to me over the past few days He mentioned something called the Montreal Convention during this time period which I looked up but didn't pay much attention to at the time. By the time I hung up the phone that day I was no closer to knowing where and when I would get my luggage back than I had been in Brussels. I did, however, have a growing sense of anger and frustration with Turkish.
Eventually I called back and expressed my deep frustration with the process to date. I spoke with a representative I had spoken with many times before. Numerous calls following the loss of my baggage clued me in on the fact that there were only a handful of people working in Turkish's baggage department call center and I was getting on a first name basis with all of them. The representative offered a different tactic/solution to the problem which in retrospect I believe was designed to get me to stop calling them and shift the conversation to a medium where it was easier to blow me off. The rep I was speaking with sold it to me like this - they were going to declare my luggage officially lost and start the process of compensating me. I was sad it had reached that point (I had some great clothes in that bag!) but was relieved it finally felt like something was happening.
He provided me with an email address, BAT @ THY.com, and asked me to submit a slew of documents to the address with an explanation of what had happened to date. They wanted a picture ID, my lost luggage form from the airport, the original baggage tag, copies of my boarding pass, etc. I thanked him and said a silent thank you to Dolly Parton (you send your prayers where you want, and I'll send mine where I want, thank you very much) that I had meticulously kept every scrap of paper given to me to date.
I gathered all of the requested documentation and submitted it with a clear but concise explanation of what had happened to date. I attached the requested documents (some of them more than once I now realize). Not long after that I received an uninformative but promising reply.
I waited a day and received another email.
No real update, just a notification that they had created a "file" for me with a corresponding reference number. Then two days after that I received a generic email asking me to submit the same exact form I had already provided to them in the initial email, the one that I filled out with the agent in Brussels detailing all my flight information and the baggage content/description. I was confused by the request but reattached the document and submitted it to them with a reminder that I had already sent this to them.
A few hours after I resubmitted the requested document, Turkish Airlines dropped this little gem on me .....
It's a pretty straight forward email but to summarize - "Hello, this is Turkish Airlines. We admit we lost your luggage. We only looked for it as a courtesy. We refuse to reimburse you for it. Fuck off, respectfully."
Again, for emphasis - "Greetings from Turkish Airlines. We jerked you around for days now and have concluded we screwed the pooch on this one. But PLOT TWIST. We're not gonna pay you for our mistake. Respectfully eat a dick. K, thanks."
I don't have much memory at this point about what happened next but I'm pretty confident it involved a lot of cursing, kicking, screaming, and general rage release. Once I had gotten that out of my system I sat down to write a strongly worded response to the utter bullshit Turkish had sent to me. I'll spare you the long drivel of me arguing about the entire process to date and simply fast forward to the part where I asked Turkish to clarify two things....
I also referenced the Montreal Convention since my previous conversation with a Turkish rep seemed to indicated they considered this an applicable policy though I was skeptical.
I did my best to remain calm and rational throughout, though a bit of snark did manage to creep its way into the letter, notably above with the "hopefully much more" addition. Following this the "paper trail" on my issue pretty much drops off. In the eyes of Turkish Airlines, they were done with me. They gave zero response to everything I sent them in writing in response to this email. Undeterred, I continued sending requests for further clarity and argued their assertion they didn't owe me compensation after losing my bag was complete malarky.
Days turned into a week and finally I reverted back to getting on the phone and speaking with actual human beings. Everyone I spoke with at Turkish did the exact same thing:
Expressed utter shock that they lost my bag.
Expressed even more shock when I said their company had admitted they lost my luggage and then told me they wouldn't compensate me for it.
Suggested that I misunderstood the message because they were a good company and would never do such a thing.
Tell me they wished they could help but I would have to continue emailing the same department at the same email and hope for the best.
In other words - very nice and very useless. I finally got someone on the phone that seemed in a position to do something about the situation only to have him very clearly outline that I was pretty much screwed. He reconfirmed that they had lost my luggage. He reconfirmed that they would not be reimbursing me for the bag. He said if the flight had left from Brussels to Istanbul they'd be required by EU law to compensate me, but since this was from Tel Aviv I was at Turkish's mercy. He said their best option in this situation was to simply deny the claim. End of story. Then he said that if I had a problem with this course of action, I could always take them to court.
And sadly he was right. My research into the legal framework around compensation indicated I was pretty much at Turkish's mercy. EU regulations didn't apply. I even attempted to speak with the EU Commission's office for passenger rights just to see what would happen and was told the same. No recourse through Israel's governing bodies for transportation. Turkish was essentially daring me to spend the money to take them to court over this. They knew the only way to compel them to pay me in this situation was for me to use my own cash out of pocket for a lawyer to take them to court in the US and get an order forcing them to do something.
As angry as I was about it all at this point, I did in fact contemplate pursuing the legal route. Eventually I decided it wasn't worthwhile for me. Too much time, too much money, and too much heartache for what ultimately was just clothes and some assorted unimportant items. I did resolve to call Turkish one more time and try to find a sympathetic ear. I found one - a nice gentleman who listened to me, believed my story, and agreed that what was happening to me was wrong. He provided me with a new email address to send my request into with a list of document to include. He assured me they would make it right and gave me specific language to use which again referenced the Montreal Convention and suggested this would motivate someone to help me. He also indicated there was a weird note in my luggage file stating they thought my bag was actually carried onto the flight and not checked in. This was insane considering I still (to this day!) have the luggage tag confirming I had checked it at the counter. He provided me with language to address this odd assertion as well. I was skeptical but hopeful based on his sheer optimism.
I sent the email as requested and received a response the very next day. It simply told me to email the previous email address I had been using that had told me to go f*ck myself.
And that's where my story ends. After a lot of thought and contemplation about what the path forward looked like, I decided to cut my losses and let it go. Every avenue forward did not appeal to me - running in circles with the same email addresses, calling in the vain hope someone would eventually be able to help me, or taking legal action. All terribly annoying, stressful, expensive, or all three at once. They had very little likelihood of garnering results and even if they did, the pay off was minimal at this point.
There's the right thing to do, and then the right thing for you. Maybe I had the moral high ground but the right thing for me was moving on with my life under the condition that I would never, ever fly with Turkish Airlines again. I've stuck to that promise the past three years. I've literally paid hundreds of dollars extra in airfare on trips to avoid flying with Turkish on principle.
Which is why things need to change.
A Rock and a Hard Place
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I'm slowly attempting to visit every country in the world. I'm currently 60 countries into a 195 country list. The vast majority of the highly touristed/visited countries like France, China, India, etc.... I've already spent some time visiting. Going forward many of the places I'll be exploring will be relatively off the beaten path and increasingly difficult to get a flight to visit. Which is where forgiveness will eventually come into play.
Sadly I do not see a way for me to continue working toward my goal without using Turkish Airlines. They're the airline that serves the largest number of countries (but are not the largest airlines) in the world by quite a distance. You can find Turkish Airlines planes in many corners of the globe you wouldn't really expect to see them. Burkina Faso? Yup. Kazakhstan? Yes, ma'am. Dodging surface to air missiles in Somalia. You betcha! Turkish has a long reach and the ability to get passengers to quite a few corners of the globe. And the kicker?
They often do it at a very affordable price.
Money motivates, and it's the largest motivating factor behind getting me to break my Turkish ban. Like I said, I've paid hundreds of dollars extra to avoid flying with Turkish in the past and that's simply not a pattern that can continue for a world traveler on a budget. If money were no option I'd cling to my pride and principles like they were Chris Pine naked on a Mediterranean beach. But I'm not Bill Gates. I'm not even the guy that can afford to get guacamole at Chipotle.
So that's my story folks. A tale of woe and redemption. Well, possible redemption. I've still yet to book a flight with Turkish, and I'm still going to actively avoid them going forward. I anticipate there will come a day when I'll have to swallow my pride and click "Purchase" on a ticket with what is by far my least favorite airline. Time will tell. But I'll hold out till the bitter end!