Culture Diversity Travel Turkey

“Just relax” – this is the orient. And it is Christmas.

27. December 2015

Drama and fortune are always close to each other. Especially when you visit the orient. And I am not even deep inside the Middle East but only at its edge: in Turkey.

I got here by taking the airplane from Geneva, Switzerland, via Istanbul to Izmir. So actually the airport in Istanbul was only a transfer station. Wait, “only”? I didn’t know that all the passport controlling and officially entering the country stuff would be handled over here. And this needs some time.

If you ever passed the border control at Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen airport you will know that there are two spaces for this:

  • the one for travellers with a Turkish passport
  • the other, always deadly crowded one for all the other nationalities

Both areas are equipped with these typical protective gratings as you know them from every airport or from Disneyland in which you walk around for hours and in the end you covered a distance of like 20 meters. And if you have ever been into such a “Labyrinth” of Istanbul-Sabiha Gökçen airport, then you know that, if it is completely filled with humans, you will need about one hour to make it to one of the border control desks at the end.

And that is exactly where I had to stand in line on this december 24th 2015.

Oh wait, no – first I had to stand in line at the pre-queue which was even outside the protective gratings and about 200 meters long:

Although there was so much time to take this picture (the queue only moved very slowly) it is totally blurred. A mistake? No – it is a protective course of action to anonymize everyone in this picture.

I guess you ask yourself: “How could this guy take a picture from the queue’s side? Shouldn’t he stand directly inside the queue? Among all the other passengers waiting?”

I have an easy explanation for this: There were two (!) of these pre-queues. Yes, two. Two queues before you even make it into the “official” queue inside the protective gratings. And both of them did not move at all. So there was enough time to take a photo of one queue out of the other.

Einkaufstüte mit Schokoladen-Weihnachtsmännern

This explosive Christmas propaganda material crossed the border to mainly Muslim Turkey in my pocket: Santa Clauses made from chocolate, signs of deep Christianity, accompanied by “pigs of luck”. Erdoğan will not be happy.

As I had entered Turkey once via Istanbul in May 2015 I know that you need at least 45 minutes to pass the “official” queue and stand in front of a desk of the border control. And as my pre-queue hadn’t really moved during the last 20 minutes I had to face the fact that the remaining 50 minutes until the departure of my next flight would not be enough to pass the border control and get onto this plane.

So I left the queue twice (I did not have to lose anything as I knew I would miss my flight) in order to find a faster way to the border control desk. Once I asked an airport employee if I would be allowed in my special case to use the express lane for airline staff and business class travellers (I was not). The second time I showed up at my airline’s information desk to ask them if I had to use another queue regarding I am a transfer passenger. No, he said, the queue I left was totally the right one.

I then told him that the remaining time of 40 minutes till my flight starts would not all correspondend mit the estimated time of 90 minutes waiting in these queues and that I would definitely miss my connecting. His reaction was:

“If that happens we will book you on a later flight. Just relax.

He presented this answer with a grumpy face and a certain gesture that should say: “Now leave.” I accepted that. I did not pay much for this flight.

So I put myself into the queue again. And sorted the remaining possibilities:

  1. Positively being checked in on a later flight that same evening.
  2. Not being checked in on a later flight that evening, but the next day, so having to find my way into the city by taxi to get a hotel and also pay it (it is not the airline’s fault that Turkish authorities work so slow).
  3. Something else. No idea what that could be.

And exactly number 3. happened! Some staff of border control authority had a heart and decided to to re-open those desks where normally only Turkish citizens are handles (that already had happened in total so those desks were available) for us normal people who were not Turkish. It seemed they had realized that in none of the others anything was happening.

At this point, the beginning of my journey when I departed from Geneva, everything was still relaxed. Although we had taken off already with a delay of half an hour. But the pilots managed to catch up with this delay. Maybe they have learnt flying on modified BMWs.

Thanks to leaving and getting back into the queue twice I was exactly in that part of it that was redirected to the new and clear desks (the Turkish authorities took strict care of noone running around to get better places but as this is a police state they were pretty successful in it). There it took some time, too, but when I got the official stamp into my passport and was allowed to pass there were still 5 minutes left till the departure of the lane. Considering that Pegasus Airlines regulalrly departs with a delay of 20 to 30 minutes and having my boarding pass for this flight already in my pocket since I had left Genenva I saw a slight chance to be on my regular flight.

And yes – although I had to pass one more security check and although I could not ask where departure gate 310 is to be found (I am really bad in translating numbers into Turkish – 310 must be üç-something-on) and therefore had been running in the wrong direction I finally found myself in the transfer bus taking me from the gate to the plane. At this point I still held my belt and my watch in my hand (you have to take them off at the security check desk and there was simply no time to put them on again) but I was not the only one who wore his belt in this unusual way.Looking from the outside this bus must have looked like it is transporting a bunch of exhibitionists.

Still I was not the last one at the security. There were passengers arriving there right after me, and even when the bus had started it stopped after about 20 meters and backed into the gate to get more passengers on board.

Being a German I am now asking: Why does the airline sell such connected flights when they know that Istanbul is such a bottleneck? Why isn’t there a special transit zone at the Istanbul airport for people with connected flights so the border control happens at the final destination (I know that Izmir is able to control passports, I have been there already)?

But those questions will not come up in the orient. Efficiency is not the highest value over here. Or put into other words: In the Orient things do seldom happen as planned (if there is a plan at all), but in the end everything works fine. You have to adapt this background and then you can – as the airline’s employee said – just relax. Then you can even enjoy life over here.

Okay, maybe there was also a portion of a christmas miracle in everything that happened that day.

I don’t know anything about the airport in Istanbul as I had to run through it to catch my flight and did not have time to look around. But the airport of Izmir was decorated with Christmas items. Not bad for a country whose people are 98% Muslims. Officially.

tl;dr
Do not let the Turkish border control authorities run the Berlin Lageso!

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