Turkey is prepared. They have a prosperous Muslim democracy, based in manufacturing, technology, agriculture and tourism. They have friendly natives, excellent infrastructure, and awesome weather. They have Greek and Roman ruins, in aggregate lined up along their coast, unsurpassed even in Italy. And they have their long, island dotted coastline on the beautiful Mediterranean. Their airports and harbors are new - built for expected crowds of tourists.
But in the single-most important aspect of becoming tourist-friendly, they get an F-. Ease of access. I wrote at length about the difficulties getting here. First impressions last. But last impressions... they last longer.
Today we arrived at the airport 2:20 early. No signs for Pegasus in a HUGE airport, almost empty of people. At the far end was Pegasus. "Your flight leaves at 2:55" the agent proclaimed sourly and then just looked at us. "OK, now what?" I asked. There was then a 3 agent huddle to decide. We were to pay 41 Lira (US$19) because our bags - which had been fine on 2 trips on Pegasus this week - were suddenly overweight. I had checked: 31 kg per person was the weight allowance. Ours totalled about that - so half of the allowance. We would have to cross the huge airport, find the ticket office, stand in line, pay the fine, and return. But wait! She said she could take the payment if we used a credit card. Problem solved. Or so we thought. Her credit card machine was suddenly broken, so off we went.
A tremendous hassle on the way in to collect $68. A tremendous hassle on the way out for them to collect $19. So less than $45 per person. Why don't they just add it to the $200 airline tickets. A 20% tourist tax.
No restaurants in the airport. None. No news stand. No wifi. A sandwich shop open to the outside so everyone - everyone - was smoking. We took a pair of unnamed sandwiches and 2 bottles of water and a cup of coffee (US$18) and sat in the airport, eating and waiting for our flight.
I love Turkey. I HATE the airports.
Memo to Turkish govt: hire American or German or French or Japanese or Korean or Qatarian airport service management. In fact, just about any country west of Hungary, east of China, north of here.
PS. When we arrived in Istanbul, we waited 20 minutes for our luggage. Then boarded the shuttle bus - which the driver promised would leave in 20 minutes - for 40 minutes. We left at 5:19 for a 45 minute ride to a 5:30 appointment. "The bus/train/airplane will leave when we all get there" - does not work.
PPS. The bus driver, driving a huge new-ish bus packed with passengers going downtown in this ancient city of narrow winding roads kept taking telephone calls and chatting with great animation as we swerved through traffic.