Almost 6 months ago I was able to secure some very cheap flights to Istanbul with my favorite Airline TUIfly. While usually I use their free train ticket to the departure airport which is most of the time in Stuttgart and Cologne, this time the flights would be flying from my home airport Frankfurt. The flight times are almost perfect for a weekend trip: I would be leaving Friday evening at 11pm, perfect to go to the airport after work. The flight back home would be in the very early morning in the night from Sunday to Monday, making me arrive at 6am at Frankfurt, again perfect to go to work (although tired). I was able to book the flights for 29 EUR incl. Taxes each way and didn't took long to decide to go for it. Booking a flight on their website is very convenient and a piece of cake. Being a Bluemiles Gold client (Bluemiles is their FFP) I was also able to make a free seat reservation. Payment can be done by debiting the bank account, which is very common in Germany. Using credit cards is not that common over here and also costs a fee if this form of payment is chosen.
However I had no real time to see what to do in Turkey that weekend. I would have been able to visit Istanbul, but hey I want to go to uncommon places and fly a lot with airlines that I cannot find in Frankfurt. Almost 2 years ago I had a similar routing and I took the chance to fly to Northern Cyprus with Cyprus Turkish Airlines. I was trying to find a similar routing again, but it was too expensive just a few weeks prior to the flight. Therefore I decided to fly to Van in Anatolia, in the very eastern part of Turkey, just a few dozen Kilometers from the Iranian Border. Safety is an issue there, however there were no reports at the moment stating it was particulary unsafe. So no worries because of that.
Pegasus Airlines, a Turkish Loco-Airlines had a very good fare (approx 30 EUR) for the one way from Istanbul to Van. It would depart from Sabiha Gökcen airport (SAW
) which was great, since my TUIFly flight would land there as well and I would not need to take busses, trams and trains for ages just to reach Atatürk Airport. But what was even greater is that this flight was due to have a stop in Ankara. However it would operate as one single flight number, making me believe it would just be a stop, no actual aircraft change. However on the electronic ticket it shows 2 segments, which is unusual since normally a direct flight is only as one segment in the ticket. But both segments in the tickets (2 coupons) are the same flight number. So we will just see. I flew Pegasus before, once from Ercan/Northern Cyprus to Antalya and once from Ankara to Istanbul and I had the chance to get an ex-independence Air A319 of IzAir on both flights (operating for Pegasus). They have a terrific scheme, however the "normal" Scheme of Pegasus is quite boring. Booking the ticket is rather easy. Their website improved considerably and one can book a ticket in english, turkish or German language. During the booking process one can select seats (at a charge) and pay by credit card. Other than with TUIfly there is actually an eticket issued, and they send you an email with the eticket confirmation.
So I had the flight to Van. I would arrive in Van Saturday in the late morning and wanted to fly back to Istanbul on Sunday. Again Pegasus was the cheapest option with approx 30 EUR, again a flight with a Stop in Ankara. However I decided to pay a few Euros more and to try AnadoluJet, which is the Low-Cost-Carrier of Turkish Airlines serving almost every airfield in eastern Turkey. This time I had to fly from Van to Ankara and from there in a "real" other plane to Istanbul, conveniently again Sabiha Gökcen and not Atatürk airport. The connecting time with 30 minutes in Ankara would be rather short, but this should work out. I have been in Ankara before and the airport is very convenient and ultra modern. Furthermore since Anadolujet an Turkish Airlines are basically the same company it should be no problem to be rebooked by TK
to any other later TK
mainline flight to Istanbul (they even have a later flight to SAW
that evening and a few others to Atatürk) if I miss my connection. Booking is exactly the same as booking a ticket on the TK
website, by the way Anadolujet-flights have a TK
flight number and the Ticketnumber is also on TK
-stock. Credit card debit was also from TK
I also tried to find a hotel in Van online, however this was alomst impossible. Only one rather expensive hotel was offered. I therefore decided to take care of this once arrived in Van.
So much for the preparations. Now let's start the report.
TUIfly Flight X3
Frankfurt-Istanbul Sabiha Gökcen
Boeing 737-800, D-AHFW, Seat 31A
I left the office aroung 8:30pm, parked my car in Kelsterbach and took the S-Bahn one station to reach Frankfurt airport. I took the chance to by a baguette and some cheese at the Tegut Supermarket under Terminal 1C in order to have something to eat when I arrive at 3am in Istanbul (the flight to Van would not be before 6 or 7 hours later). From my previous stay at SAW
I know that food options are very restricted and almost non existant there.
I took the Skytrain to Terminal 2 and picked up my boarding pass at the deserted TUIfly counters. I've checked in online (X3 uses the KLM online check in system) but was too lazy to print out the pass and also I like these classic boarding passes, it's a kind of souvenir, and since TUIfly will give most of the destinations to Air Berlin I will not be able to get a Tuifly-Boarding pass soon. The agent was very friendly (only one counter was opened), she told me that the flight was only half full. I realized later that this was not nearly true, actually we must have been 40 passengers, which is less than a quarter full flight.
-Checkin-Counters in Terminal 2:
There was not that much going on at Terminal 2 that night. Pakistan International had a A310 to Lahore and actually the checkin was rather chaotic. There was a full crew beneith the checkin desks, since the flight was soon to depart I guess that this must have been a deadhead crew and not the actual crew of this flight. I noticed that PIA issues boarding passes on their printed boarding passes on their own stock, a lot of "uncommon" airlines get issued boarding passes on a a blank white stock or stock of the handling company nowadays. Furthermore there was a Qantas flight to Sydney, a Gulf Air to Bahrain, Etihad to Abu Dhabi, Emirates to Dubai und some charters (Sky Airlines, Bluewings) to Antalya. The biggest surprise was to see an Oman Air-flight to Muscat. I know there were to start services to Frankfurt in October, but I didn't realized that they did actually startet the flights yet. Must have been one of the first flights. Since the flight was soon to depart when I arrived I was not able to see how much people were on board, but I realized that the product looked solid: A lot of Staff in Oman Air-Uniform was around, they use own boarding cards, had Oman-Air branded Magazine racks in the waiting area etc. Not sure which lounge they use though at T2
since most of the lounges close rather early (8pm).
Departure Board at Terminal 2:
Passport control was a mess. However the guy checking the boarding passes before entering the Queue was great! He really enjoyed his job and always had nice words to everybody. Just in front of me were 3 girls flying to Antalya and he told them "have a lot of fun und bring us back the sun when you return (it was really terribly cold that day in Germany). However only 2 passport desks were staffed and it took ages to get through, since there were a lot of non EU-passport holders (I heard the stamp used at almost every passengers, and EU passport holders aren't stamped), and also the PIA staff cutted the line short. There was a lady from Oman Air escorting to french young girls that must have checked in very late. They were able to cut lines short as well and proceed directly to the gate.
Once through I wanted to get something to eat at the relatively new Burger King, but they were closing, since it was a few minutes past 10. I must say that I enjoy Terminal 2 a lot. It's much better than T1, ways are much shorter and waiting areas nicer. However sometimes if one must reach the "sattelites" at the end of the corridors (often used by AF
) it can be long, but it's still better than T2
). Priority Pass Lounge was closed (8pm) and therefore I decided to sit down at the gate area and look the Oman Air depart. I muss say I like this livery a lot. I'm looking forward to read the first trip reports on their new long haul service to Europe! In order to reach the gate area one must pass security. 3 or 4 gates share one security Checkpoint, which makes lines short and I think this is rather good. Security staff at Frankfurt tends to be very strict and bothersome, but this time they were cool and friendly. One of the guys giving you the baskets to put your stuff even called for the next passengers jokingly "next victim please".
Terminal 2 Airside:
Waiting area for our flight:
Nice beauty departing at the neighbouring gate:
Soon enough the same young lady that checked my in called for boarding. We were bussed to a remote position and had to wait a few minutes before being able to leave the bus. Boarding was completed within minutes and I was really surprised to see so few people on that flight. I am used to flights to Turkey full of turkish families heading home but this time there were only 40 passengers, approx half of them German tourists and the rest Turkish people. I grabbed a newspaper and settled on 31A, the second-last row. Of course I had the whole row for myself.
Nice yellow TUifly-aircraft:
I boarded using the rear door:
I always like the cabin of TUIfly. Their Recaro-Seats are great and despite having 32 rows the 737-800 has a decent seatpitch due to the seat pocket being actually over the fold down table.
As always LCD
-screens have been down showing X3
-welcome-onboard commercials and playing the TUIfly-song. The cabin looks bright with all this yellow elements (seat covers, sickness bags and inflight magazines etc). Announcements were made in German and english and the crew (2 male and 2 female) was very kind, like always. I never had a rude f/a on TUIfly (and I flew them a lot). Some of them are average, but most of them go the extra mile and really make me feel that they live their slogans in the ads ("with us you get smiles for free", "we speak english, german and friendlyness" etc). Once I made a mileage run to Olbia/Sardinia and on the way back a crew member told me that he is convinced that I had been on the plane on the outbound flight, I confirmed this and the agent asked why I was just staying 30 minutes in Olbia. I told them that they were giving extra miles and I needed this flight to reach Gold status. The flight was almost empty and I was in the back, the crew member told this to the other f/a's and they were all coming by during the flight having a chat, they always brought me extra drinks and one of the f/a's brought me a hand full of mini Mars-Chocolates. This was really nice and I felt flattered. I'm telling you this just that you see how those people treat their passengers and it makes me very sorry that those people will be wetleased to Air Berlin and will serve in an Air Berlin uniform in less than 2 weeks. I really hope they will keep on with their positive attitude since they beat the average AB
crew any time!
We had a few children on board and toys were handed out to them. Captain came on the P/A to inform us about a short delay due to missing push back trucks (they were all handling the bigger planes that time) and he expected a 20 minutes delay. Luckily just a few minutes later we were on our way to the far away located runway 18. Safety Video was played in German with English subtitles and cabin was darkened. One of the F/A's got through the cabin to check if everyone's seat belt was closed and what I thought was a nice touch: she turned on the reading lights of the passengers that were reading.
The crew kept the cabin darkened throughout the flight, which I really enjoy. I hate this phosphoric white light of a full illuminated cabin at night. It makes no sense to me.
Soon after the departure the service began. On this sector TUIFly serves free non alcoholic drinks and food. However the chronology of their service was strange. Usually they give you a snack, then drinks and later in the flight a small Mars bar. This time they first gave you the Mars bar out of a basket, then brings you drinks. And I thought that's it since they disappeared in the Galley. I was a little bit disappointed. But luckily a few minutes later they started to serve a snack tray with a nice cheese sandwich and a chocolate cake (called "Guglhupf" in Germany). They also served a second round of drinks.
First I got this:
And then this Sandwich:
Lateron they passed through with the board shop, but nobody bought something (not even Cigarettes). Usually TUIfly makes a lot of advertisement on board for their boardshop, they tell which kind of very special offers they have on the P/A etc. This time this wasn't the case (and I won't complain about it).
Then an announcement was made that Health Questionnaires concerning Swine Flu would be handed out and that it was a requirement by the Turkish Authorities to fill this out since they would need to give it to a sanitary officer upon arrival in Istanbul. I thought this was rather strange since it's not requested for flights going to Germany, at least not for flights coming from a country with a very small risk of Swine Flu. But on the other side, better be prudent.
The pilot came also on the P/A and informed us that the route was Frankfurt-Darmstadt-Munich-Ljubljana-zagreb-Sofia and flight level would have been FL390 if I remember correctly. Flight time would be 2 hrs 30 minutes.
Route was very direct:
The flight was very bumpy at first and I had to hold my cup of tea in the hand in order that it wont spoil out tea, but it got better once we had crossed the alps. The rest of the flight was uneventful. We reached Istanbul soon enough and we flew over the south of the coastline of Istanbul. This was impressive. The city is huge and all the lights at night are very beautiful. We were able to see Atatürk airport and there were dramatic thunderstorms in the background. It also got quite bumpy. We made a left turn before landing and i didn't remember that Sabiha Gökcen airport approach was so impressive. Actually we flew over housings and got very low and it seems that the housing areas end at the airport fence. This airport is definitely built in the middle of the city, although it's not Kowloon. Still it's very nice.
We reached our parking position a few minutes late, next to another TUIFly 738 from Hanover. Other planes were a TK
737 on her night stop as well as 3 Germanwings (bound for Stuttgart, Cologne and Dortmund I think) and a Easyjet 737 (bound for Berlin Schönefeld). They all left quite soon and then it got calm in the terminal. Next flight would not be until the next morning.
Deboarding at SAW
We were bussed to the arrival area and there everybody had to walk in front of a body temperature camera. Immigration was a breeze, the girl in line in front of my was redericted to get a Visa, however this is not a big deal in Turkey since most of the nationalities can get it for a few bucks/euros on arrival. The officer gave me a stamp on the page of the passport which should be used for amendmends! But then it was too late. One must say that the German passport is really bad since this page is actually just in front of the first page for visas and stamps and looks exactly the same, only the text in the header of the page is different. Well nevermind.
Baggage reclaim area just after passport control:
So I was in Turkey. I got some Lira from the ATM and bought a 1,5 liter bottle of water for some 2,5 Lira which is ok for an airport I guess. Then I checked in for my flight to Van on the self-check-in-kiosk of Pegasus. They crashed a lot but finally I found a kiosk that worked and got my boarding pass (actually it's a regular one, not that receipt you get with some other airlines). However the font lookes like Times New Roman which is rather odd on a boarding pass I think, but who cares. By the way, I only got one boarding pass for the whole flight from Istanbul to Van, therefore I guess the stop in Ankara is defenitily only a stop and no aircraft change. Most likely I wil be able to stay on board while on ground in Ankara.
By the way: I had the chance to see the new Terminal while taxing, it's huge. The existing one is not bad, it's rather modern and pleasant, but the new one has like 8 jetways and is much bigger! I took a picture of a model shown in the airport. It looks almost finished and should be opened soon. I wonder what will happen to the existing terminal.
I looked for a Wireless LAN access point, but they charge a little for that. Nevetheless took half an hour with my credit card in order to check emails and so on. Then it was time to get some sleep among others staying in the terminal. The seats are fine, however there are armrestes between each seats which is rather bad if one wants to lay down on several chairs...
I managed to get some sleep and woke up around 7am, making roughly 3 hours of sleep. However I woke up quite often since there were the first departures around 5:30 and they made announcements.
By now the checkin-desks of Pegasus were staffed:
These are by the way the self check in kiosks, a lot of them not working:
Nice domestic departure screen, look at this private flight to Atatürk airport:
Pegasus Hava Yollari Flight H9
Istanbul Sabiha Gökcen - Van Ferit Melen Airport (via Ankara Esenboga)
Boeing 737-400, TC
-APD, Seat 29A
Security check was opened at approx. 09:00 and was a breeze. I love that they have no liquid restrictions in Turkey. I was able to bring my bottle of water on board.
The waiting area is rather small and has a few gates:
I felt asleep and woke up with an announcement that my aircraft had 20 minutes delay due to late incoming aircraft. Who care... I felt asleep again and when I woke up they were already boarding
We needed to walk a few meters to our plane. A really shabby looking logojet advertising a company that I've never heard of. on the tail the paint started to go away and the whole aircraft looked in a bad shape. Unbelievable that it had only 10 years of Service. It was in Service with Pegasus since the beginning, but was leased a lot to other companies, including Oman Air and Khalifa.
Sabiha Gökcen international arrivals (domestic arrivals have a own little terminal):
Boarding through the rear stairs:
Man this plane looked also shabby from the inside. The seats where of leather (although for sure not real one) and looked very uncomfortable (however actually they were not bad). Some of the seats had broken recline and could not fix in the upright position. Furthermore some could been pushed afront (like on soviet-built jets) and the whole thing looked very chaotic. Thats the way the seats looked like:
Staff was not greeting a lot. However their uniform was nice.
Old overhead console:
Flight was almost full. However the row in front of me remaint empty and the two guys next to me moved there after boarding was completed so I was lucky to have a row for myself although the flight was nearly full. No tourists on board, however announcements were made in English (which was with strong turkish accent but nevertheless understandable and therefore fine).
We taxied next to this beautiful IzAir and Tailwind aircrafts:
Safety demo was made manually and soon we took off, giving us nice views of the terminal which should be opened in less than 2 weeks:
I felt asleep immediately so I'm not sure if they made some service. Nothing free anyway on this carrier, so I don't care. Prices for food and drinks were very expensive for turkish standards.
When I woke up we were already near Ankara:
We were approaching from the south. This must be a part or a suburb of Ankara:
Defenitely not Europe anymore:
I went to Ankara one year ago and their terminal is huge and ultramodern and nice. However it's much to big since they only have a few international flights and the domestic flights are never filling the amount of gates.
We taxied to a gate near these 2 TK
Ankara-bound passengers (which were a lot) disembarked through a gangway and announcements were made that Van-bound passengers should remain on board. A security check was performed, cabin luguage needed to be identified by the passengers and headcount was made. A few minutes later new passenger boarded. The flight to Van would be at aroung 75% full and I kept my empty row for myself. After not even 30 minutes we were ready to go again.
They came with the buy on board service. The views outside were not really interesting since everything is very dry and brownish, at least it's different from the green I always see in Germany.
However it got interesting when we approached Van, since there were no clouds and we got nice views, i.e. from this river:
This military airport:
Westerns shore of lake Van near Tatvan and we already have started our descent. Lake Van is really huge and the biggest Lake in Turkey:
One we reached the eastern shore we made a left turn to Van:
The approach vas imho visual since there were a lot of corrections and throttles given before landing. Not sure if Van even have ILS.
Shortly before landing we made another correction to the left as the runway got close:
Which was very strange is that obviously the Captain forgot to inform the crew to take their seats for landing! Actually they were perfoming that everybody had fastened their seat belt and wandering around the cabin while we were actually touching down! Never experienced that before. One must have seen the face of this poor T/A which got really worried to be smashed down the cabin when the aircraft was decellerating.
Anyway they managed to grab a seatback and everything went fine. We taxied back the runway:#
Deboarding in Van:
Another aircraft was there, which was a Sunexpress jet that departed shortly after us to Van, howevet they arrived earlier since their flight was nonstop.
Walking to the terminal:
The arrival area was very small. There were some kind of customs check point, however there were unstaffed and actually I guess Van never receives any international flight (unless maybe from North Cyprus, which is considered international by Turkey), but maybe these counters are also to check arrivals when there are security issues and van entering this area is not allowed unless you live there.
A lot of armed security guards and police around there, however this was only at the airport. In the city there was not more police than anywhere else in Turkey.
There were a lot of Taxis waiting for passengers, but I prefered to walk for 10 minutes down to the main road and catch a cheap local bus there. It is reported that there is a public bus to the airport as well, but since there is no bus stop nor schedule I thought I would be better off getting to the main road.
Sights to the terminal:
Both jets through the fence:
While walking down the airport road the the main road I passed a lot of military areas.
Reaching the main road and took a bus for 1 Lira to the city center:
After approx 20-30 Minutes the bus reached exactly the place I wanted to go. Hotel Büyük Asur!
As I wrote earlier it's almost impossible to book any hotel online. Therefore I checked tripadvisor and this hotel had good reports. Just in front there is the tourism office. Don't expect anyone to speak english there (nor anywhere else in the city), but the people were friendly and I got a map:
Hotel Büyük Asur:
The staff was speaking english and gave me a single room for 50 Lira (approx 25 EUR). I'm sure I would have been able to bargain a little but actually the price was fine for me, they showed me the room and I accepted. Breakfast is included as well. Now don't expect any luxury hotels or quality chain hotels in Van. This hotel had a local 2 star rating and was more than fine. Although it was in need of a refurbishment it was clean enough and rooms where airy and comfortable. When I was in me room I realized also that they had free and very fast state of the art realiable Wireless LAN.
What's more is that you can't beat the location, It's absolutely in the center, in front of the post office and in the middle of the main shopping roads.
View out of the window with a main shopping road:
It was aroung 3pm by now and actually I wanted to go in the city but felt asleep until 7pm. When I woke up it got dark, but it seems that the roads are still as full of people as during day time. I got a shower and walked down to the streets to get something to eat. I love the turkish food.
But first I wandered aroung. There are so many shops, a lot of bus companies bringing you aroung all Turkey, a huge amount of travel agents, bakeries, hairdressers and restaurants. I was impressed of how much people are in the streets and how long shops are opened.
Here are some pictures:
Would this Anadolujet-A380 fly me back to Ankara tomorrow?
I must say that there are no tourists at all in this place. People are incredibly friendly and i felt safer than in my German home town. Everything is very relaxed, even at night.
But no it was time for food. I settled in a restaurant and the waiter didn't speak any english but was very kind and I choose my food from what was shown in the kitchen.
I took different dishes, actually some kind of Ratatouille and a chicken kebap. They also served me two side dishes, one was like some sort of cold couscous, and the other one was similar to a mexican salsa. They also served water and self baked turkish bread. in the end I got a traditional Turkish tea. This was all so yummy:
This was a rather upscale restaurant and in the end I was surprised to pay some 15 Lira for that, which is roughly 7,50 EUR/12 USD. However I'm not sure what they actually offered me for free. Nevertheless it was very tasty, food was fresh and my stomach had no probkem with it. highly recommandable.
I went back to the hotel and bought some chocolate and a bottle of water in the nearby supermarket.
Then I went to sleep in the very comfortable bed.
Well folks this is the first part.
Stay tuned for the 2nd part, with my daylight visit of the city, my flight with Anadolujet to Istanbul via Ankara and the flight home with TUIfly to Frankfurt.
Hope you enjoyed!