this morning I returned from my pre-Christmas holiday in (Northern) Cyprus, intended to get away from the Christmas bruhaha here in Germany.
I decided to go to Cyprus for a week; because of the current media coverage, I wanted to check out first hand the situation in the non-existing country "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus".
(Feel free to skip this and go directly to the first flights)
I booked a package tour about three weeks before the intended travel period with the major German tour operator Oeger - famous for losing 200 customers in a plane crash off the Dominican Republic in 1996. The flights were supposed to be with Sun Express via AYT.
However, two weeks before departure, Oeger plainly informed me that my holiday would be cancelled because the flights had been cancelled due to low demand.
I started laughing. When I stopped, I wrote back a letter, informing them that we had a valid holiday treaty by which they had to abide. If they failed to do so, I threatened legal action. I graciously allowed them to rebook me on a scheduled flight.
Apparently I got my point across rather well: two weeks later (i.e. three days before departure), an Oeger representative phoned me, apologised and said I was rebooked on a Turkish Airlines/Cyprus Turkish Airlines combination via IST.
Two days later, the tickets arrived. I was rather astonished to see I had been rebooked again, now on a purely TK connexion .
There was another change: the ticket identified the destination airport as Geçitkale GEC - up to then, I had been sure to arrive at the main airport Ercan ECN. I learned later that the latter (near Nicosia) is closed at the moment due to construction works; during that period, all traffic is diverted to the former (near Famagusta).
Anyway, one day before departure, everything was finally sorted out, and I boarded the train to FRA.
FIRST FLIGHT, December 12, 2002
FRA-IST 1145-1540 TK1588
operated by A340-311 TC-JDK "Isparta" (del. August 10, 1993)
Photo © Paul Arnold
I was positively surprised to be told upon check in "Why do you want row 14? The exit row is number 26!" You see, I had expected an A310 - but a 340 on such a short route is always nice - especially because this was only my third overall 340 flight.
The plane was quite empty, only about 70 pax. I had the bad luck though, to be stuck next to a fatty who farted all the time. Oh well...
Other than that, the flight was particularly pleasant. TK struck me (on this flight) as a very good airline up on a level with its European competitors. We got a decent warm meal (Turkey, and that on a flight to Turkey!). On the negative side, though, has to be noted that the beverage cart came through the aisles only twice - not enough on a flight of over four hours.
I got some awesome views of the snowed Balkans: from Croatia right until the Turko-Bulgarian border the land was completely white. A cloudless sky made for tremedous sights from 11K metres. With the help of some maps, I could make out single cities - hence I can give you the great piece of information that we started our descent right over Edirne .
Because I had so much time in IST, I had checked in only for the first leg. So I had to clear immigration, get my suitcase and check in again.
I spotted some interesting planes at IST:
Photo © Sven De Bevere
Photo © Toni Marimon
Photo © Dietmar Schreiber
Photo © Juan Rodriguez
... and some others that are even too exotic to be in this site´s database.
SECOND FLIGHT, December 12, 2002
IST-GEC 1950-2115 TK1264
operated by B737-4Y0 TC-JEV "Efes" (del. May 6, 1993)
Photo © Charles Falk
(Now Patrick, how´d you like LH naming their planes Warstein, Krombach or Radeberg? )
I checked in, this time keeping my suitcase as well as my rucksack with me, proceeded through passport check and arrived at my gate´s security checkpoint. (At IST, every gate is screened individually.) I didn´t encounter any lines anywhere.
When we were bussed to the a/c, another pleasant surprise: a -400 instead of the scheduled -800. The -400 is also exotic for me with only one prior flight on one.
Before boarding, everyone had to identify their luggage which was lined up in front of the a/c.
This flight was again extremely empty, only 28 passengers in all.
Since it was all dark outside, the flight was unspectacular in terms of sights, so we arrived after one and a half eventless hours at GEC.
The airport is extremely shabby: one runway, no taxiway (had to to a 180 degree turn on the end of the runway and taxi back on it) and the terminal "building" - well, my politeness stops me from giving any commentary, but if you happen to know the old DTM and imagine something half as good, you get an idea... I hear, btw, the airport at Lefkonoiko/Geçitkale is in fact a Turkish Air Force Base, which explains the heavily armed guide at the entrance for the outer airport perimeter. And that was only the first impression of a very VERY heavy military presence in the country...
(again, skip that if you´re bored)
I was of course the only Oeger customer arriving, so the local representative himself picked me up and drove me to my hotel. There had been a change there: the hotel on which I was originally booked (directly at the beach, 4 kilometres from Kyrenia) was closed; instead I got another one 2 kilometres from the beach, 11 kilometres from Kyrenia - you can imagine one of the next items on my To Do List is "write another harsh letter to Oeger demanding a price reduction or else" . These suckers will wish I never had booked my trip with them. You know, bad experiences spread like a forest fire, new potential customers are turned away by that. So I give you a friendly advice, Germans: don´t book at Oeger .
Anyway, I got what I wanted, namely an insight into the Cyprus and Turkey/EU questions which are so hotly debated right now. I also realised that the tourism in Northern Cyprus is not much developped at all. There´s good potential, but so far nearly unused. Considering tourism is a great money maker, I now understand why Northern Cyprus is so impoverished compared to the South.
I also visited Nicosia, checking out the UN troops which were busy keeping the peace.
THIRD FLIGHT, December 19, 2002
GEC-IST 0605-0735 TK1265
operated by B737-4Q8 TC-JKA "Kars" (del. May 2, 1994)
Photo © Peter Unmuth - Vienna Aviation Photography
I got picked up at 0400 for the transfer back to GEC. Unfortunately, the facilities are so basic, that I was checked in only for the first flight - by this lovely old system of stickers with your seat number attached to the boarding pass. I had decided to keep my luggage with me, otherwise it would be highly improbable to make the 60 minute connexion at IST.
Security was appallingly low. In my life, I´ve never ever met such a ridiculously low amount of screening before being allowed airside. Really bad.
Again the luggage was lined up for identification in front of the a/c.
I boarded, settled in my seat, heard the "boarding complete" announcement at 0550 and thought "hey, I might make my onward flight after all". However, after long minutes of painful waiting, two passengers were paged to identify their luggage. This had to be repeated THRICE. So, thanks to these bozos, we took to the air 20 minutes behind schedule.
Load was low again, only about 40 people, 20 of whom belonged to a group of young, cheap looking Moldavian females (Nachtigall, ick hoer dir trapsen...)
We landed with only 18 minutes delay, so I was confident; so were the two other couples, who wanted to get the same flight as me. However, our taxi seemed to take forever: we blocked at 0811, I was in the terminal at 0822 - always keep in mind my flight was about to leave at 0835.
The great consumer oriented TK did not provide me with any help whatsoever. A normal airline would have expected me at the arrival gate with boarding pass ready and rushed me to the departure gate.
Not so TK. all on my own, I had to proceed to the "Transfer Desk" - which was inundated by masses of raging Turkmens, whose flight from ASB had just landed three hours late, busting all their connexions. (Quite funny, when you´re on a once weekly flight and can´t leave the transit area due to lack of visa...) I got out my elbows, fought my way to the lonely agent and made clear that my flight was to leave in 10 minutes and I better get a boarding pass quick. She took my ticket and vanished. She came back at 0828 and told me my flight was closed, my fare allowed no changes, I had to buy a new ticket. Mentally tearing first her fingers then her head off, I explained patiently I was on an online connexion with the incoming flight delayed, hence she must get me the boarding pass, flight closed or not. She vanished again. She came back at 0832, handing me a hand written (!) boarding pass and told me "You, quick. Airplane close door!" I made a mental note to be dissatisfied with TK staff´s friendliness as well as their mastering of the English language, grabbed the boarding pass and ran of to my gate. I arrived, soaking wet from sweat, at 0836, went to security and slumped into my seat. The door was closed at 0838; needless to say the fellow passengers from the GEC flight had not made it.
FOURTH FLIGHT, December 19, 2002
IST-FRA 0835-1040 TK1587
operated by A340-313X TC-JIH "Hakkari" (Harakiri? ) (del. April 22, 1999)
Photo © Marlo Plate
Where was I? Right, I slumped into my seat. I immediately noticed the ARJ 70/100 safety card in the seat pocket in front of me. I quickly repossessed it, thereby creating a win-win situation: I had eliminated a dangerous safety risk for them by obtaining a nice souvenir for me .
We took off with a 15 minutes delay. After a very nice flight, including a spectacular view of the snowy Balaton over which we directly passed in perfect sunnny weather, we circled for 45 minutes over Wuerzburg, touching down with a delay of 50 minutes.
I routinely asked for inflight cockpit visits on all four flights. I was turned down on three occasions, citing company rules. On one flight (won´t say which of the four), an exception was made: the Captain said he enjoyed visitors very much, a pity nowadays people were afraid to ask. We concurred security must be as much as necessary and as few as possible on the ground, but security measures must not be placed on the air crew´s shoulders. They have other jobs and can´t take care of that too. After a very pleasant discussion, he sent me back to my seat just prior to landing.
Thanks for your interest, I hope I didn´t bore you too much.
I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Feedback and questions always welcome.