Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Journey, Part 1: Jacksonville to Istanbul

December 31, 2007

I should know better than to fly American Airlines. I don’t normally, however, as AA and Turkish Airlines are international partners, and as I was flying Chicago-Istanbul-Bishkek on Turkish Air, flying Jacksonville to Chicago on AA seemed the thing to do. Ever since my very first international flight (to Ireland, back when I was 12), I have had problems with AA every single time I’ve used them. How is it they’ve managed to stay in business? I should also add that I’m feeling more than a little peeved with Orbitz right about now. Surely they should’ve updated me about... well, you’ll see.

The problems started when the check-in clerk in Jacksonville couldn’t provide me with boarding passes all the way to Bishkek, nor could she check my bags any farther than Istanbul. She seemed quite confident in her explanations of *why* she couldn’t, and how I’d just have to re-check my bags and get my next boarding pass in Istanbul, and how it wouldn’t be a problem. In hindsight, I suspect she may have been talking out her ass.

The plane out of Jacksonville was seriously delayed, which meant I had to run full steam across the Chicago airport in order to catch my flight. I was the very last person to board the plane, and was already having doubts about whether my bags would make it. Then, after all my airport sprinting, we sat on the tarmac for over two hours before takeoff. Of course, as I was mainly relieved to have made my plane, I wasn’t too bothered by this. The flight was quite pleasant, and as it wasn’t full, I had plenty of room to stretch out once we were airborne.

We landed in Istanbul two hours late – which didn’t bother me, as I knew I still had a three hour layover even with the delay. International transfer passengers (of which I was one) were instructed to go to the transit desk upon deplaning. I figured I’d get my boarding pass for Bishkek and instructions on what to do about getting my luggage checked all the way through. What I didn’t expect was to be told that THERE WAS NO SUCH FLIGHT TO BISHKEK on December 31st! I was told I needed to purchase an entry visa for Turkey ($20), go through customs, pick up my luggage, then go to the ticket counter for more information.

So I did all that. Except for the part about picking up my luggage, because only one of my bags was there. I guess this is why you don’t buy nice luggage; yes, my brand new, red, awesome, and very expensive backpack that I had bought in South Korea didn’t make it. While this was pretty stressful in and of itself, I’ve lost luggage numerous times before, so I know the procedure pretty well. (And the Turkish Air lost luggage people were way more friendly and helpful than the bitchy old man in Moscow’s Sheremetevo.) I filled out all the necessary paperwork, and got the numbers I’m supposed to call to check and see if they’ve found it yet. They even claim that they will send it to my home in Bishkek; far better service than Aeroflot and their suitcase warehouse.

After dealing with all the lost luggage rigmarole, I stood in line at the ticket counter. While up until then, everyone with whom I’d dealt on the entire trip had been quite pleasant, this woman was, unfortunately, rather bitchy. She seemed to think that I was simply insane for assuming that I had a flight to Bishkek on December 31st, and was somewhat confrontational about the whole thing. Finally, she did a search for passengers with my name. She said that I was booked on the January 1st flight to Bishkek, but there was a problem with my ticket, and I’d have to go to the ticket sales office. What kind of problem? “Some kind of e-ticket problem.” She either could not or would not be any clearer than that.

I was having stressful fantasies about being forced to purchase a new ticket at the ticket sales office in order to actually make it to Bishkek. Luckily, the woman at the ticket sales office was very nice. She explained that the December 31st flight to Bishkek had been canceled, and that my ticket had been transferred to the January 1st flight. She also said that Turkish Airlines would pay to put me up in a hotel overnight. Yay! She gave me a new e-ticket receipt, and said that I could use it to check in the next day.

Turkish Airlines set me up with a room in the Gunes Hotel, and the staff there were excellent. And by excellent, I mean super friendly, attractive young men. The room was pretty nice as well, although I swear the bathroom was bigger than the bedroom! So there I was in Istanbul for 24 hours, on New Year’s Eve of all days. I actually thought about going out and finding something to do with my evening... but I made it as far as the nearest grocery store and back before collapsing into my bed, sound asleep. I awoke a good hour after Istanbul had rung in 2008, watched CNN for a bit, then slept straight through until morning.

The hotel toilet had this scary device which, if turned on, blasts a violently strong stream of water sluicing between one's ass cheeks. While I did check to see if water really came out of that strange tube, I didn't do it while sitting on the toilet - I was frightened!
Look - Turkey sells kefir! Oh, how I’ve missed kefir!

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