Why Turkish Airlines makes me proud

Published in Turkish Daily News, 2 June 2008

I can't claim to have first-hand experience of all the significant airline companies in the world, but as someone who has traveled widely across the Northern Hemisphere, I can perhaps claim a small sample size, large enough to draw comparisons.

To be fair, Emirates and Singapore Airlines top the list of the best airplanes, best customer service, flight and airport experience. For me, they represent the ideals of world class traveling. The only negative thing about Emirates is the quite small and tight economy class seats, which always feel like settling into a space shuttle ready to take off.

Besides many peaceful and delightful flights with top airlines, I did have my fair share of nightmarish and so-wrong-that-it's-funny ones. Once, I boarded an Aeroflot plane to be greeted by two unshaven pilots with greasy hair and suits and sleepless faces along with their ungraceful airplanes and cabin crew. I don't remember repeating “Our father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name” that much before.

Around the World in 80 flights:

Once, a steward of the Turkmenistan flag carrier slapped my shoulder quite aggressively with no warning or verbal communication as I tried to fit my laptop bag into the only space that was left in the airplane, which had more carpets and giant plastic bags than passengers. She simply wanted me to get out of her way. To her credit, it worked. I kept quiet, ignored eye contact and any expression of ingratitude during the entire flight, even though the food was probably a health hazard and the drink served as “wine” was one of Saparmurat's secret weapons.

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On an extremely dirty, smelly and chaotic flight between India and Nepal, I watched stewards laughing as they were trying to continue to chat, drink and hold on to any possible stable object they can grab while the plane landed. They were still standing up.

Even on European flights, I have regularly encountered poor airports and customer service and rather rude flight crews that make you feel like you are receiving U.N. aid at a refugee camp rather than enjoying a flight you paid for. Once, I had to wait three hours at London Heathrow after a business-class-in-ticketing-but-economy-in-actuality flight with a Scandinavian flag carrier before walking out of the airport without my suitcase. I simply refused to wait two more hours for the next flight to bring a special tool to open the plane's locked cargo doors. British Airways and Alitalia have always caused me mini anxiety attacks the night before the flight, during the check-in, the flight and landing for similar reasons.

I can add more disturbing stories of travel gone sour, but one of the funniest things ever happened to me was during a flight between Manila and Boracay in the Philippines. The pilots of the 20 seater prop plane kept telling jokes to the passengers and played music from their portable players and speakers. True Pinoy style!

No matter where I was, whether in China, Kuwait, Israel, Egypt, Azerbaijan or Italy, seeing a Turkish Airlines (THY) plane at the airport and boarding one have always given me a sense of security, trust and a chance to take a breath as I sought to run away from tough and intense localities with haunted airports.

In all these years I have flown with THY domestically or internationally, I have not even once had a missing or damaged luggage. Where Emirates staff made me pay huge amounts on many occasions for just 3 or 4 extra kilograms, THY always showed grace. Not even once have I seen a stewardess treat passengers rudely or behave unprofessionally, even though I have witnessed many incidents where even I was convinced that it was ethical to strangle another passenger. To be fair, I have experienced a couple of over confident airport and ticketing staff here and there.

At the corporate level, when global factors of market speculations, increasing oil and production prices along with security fears lead many companies to bankruptcy, cut backs and playing safe, THY kept expanding its fleet, adding further destinations, recruiting new staff, and even opening its own flight school. When its domestic monopoly on flights was eventually broken and THY had to face the challenge of budget travel, it managed to continue to benefit and increase its number of passengers.

Still a serious road ahead:

When most private sector companies struggled to adapt to a global age and rival international giants, THY surfaced as one of the most self-reforming and improving companies in Turkey. One has to only glance into its extremely easy and dependable website, frequent flyer program, co-branded credit card and changing designs to get a sense of its energy and drive to be a major global actor. This is also evident in its new membership in the Star Alliance.

THY still has a serious road ahead to be on the same page as prime league players. It needs to employ more bilingual staff, add destination specific languages to its on flight instruction videos besides English and Turkish, upgrade its catering with better and more international food and invest in serious infrastructure and marketing initiatives abroad. Yet, as THY celebrates its 75th year, I am truly proud of where it is and truly excited about its future. And I promise (Boy Scout's honor), I have no links with THY nor they have any clue about me or this article, but each time I see a red and white tailed airplane, I can't help but smile.