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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Turkish Strikes Again!

This past summer our R&R plans got changed around a bit.  We were set to fly through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines and then that coup-thing happened.  Ten days before our departure, State declared that nobody was allowed to fly through Istanbul.  Last summer was the first summer I had ever managed to get everything lined up months in advance so we could buy our tickets in the spring.  And then, ten days before our departure, we had to get everything changed.

Our departure date moved from a Thursday to the previous Saturday - and this was changed on the Monday of the week we flew out on the Saturday flight.  After a heart-stopping email listing the change fees on our non-refundable tickets as $4,000, we were assured that the embassy would cover one ticket change, especially when coups were involved.  So, after a flurry of emails and calls to my mother (yes, so you thought you had more time to unpack your house after being gone for five years, sorry about that!), all was worked out and we made it to the US a little earlier than planned.  Not before, of course, Istanbul was declared perfectly safe to fly through.

Fast forward to two months ago.  It was time to book another set of tickets to the US because flying halfway across the world with five children in tow is my idea of a good time.  As the embassy absolutely does not ever in any conceivable situation ever allow us Americans to have their babies in Tajikistan, I have to leave for three months and go somewhere with good medical care (and am I thankful to have access to that medical care!).  Because I am the primary caretaker for the children, they have to come with me.  So this means that your tax dollars (thanks, everyone!) are paying for my flights and the children's flights.  But what they are not paying for is Brandon's flights.  

The last time I did this medevac thing, Brandon put me into a cab with the girls at 2 am on a Cairo morning, and we made our way to my parents' open arms in North Carolina, very tired but intact.  This time Brandon decided that I couldn't handle flying with all five children while seven and a half months pregnant.  I disagree, but he's in charge, so we bought him a plane ticket on the same flights (and even in an adjoining seat) to the rest of our monkey circus.  And then, being the stoic male he is, he will turn around and fly back to Dushanbe so that he can work to pay off the cost of his plane ticket.

So.  To sum up, we are booked to fly out of Dushanbe the day after Christmas.  Six of our tickets are covered by the government.  The seventh is not, and more important to remember, is non-refundable and non-changeable.

Enter Turkish Airlines.  Turkish has never been known for its dependability and is prone to cancelling flights with little to no warning.  But within the last week or so, they have been cancelling four out of the five flights.  And then they just decided to stop flying to Dushanbe.  Why is this?  Nobody is quite sure.  There has been talk of a transponder needing replacing at the airport, but flights have been cancelled on perfectly clear days that provide more than the four kilometers of visibility their guidelines call for.  There is have been some cash problems for a major bank here, so aviation fuel has been in short supply.  But this is going to be cleared up, and according to rumor, Turkish is still not flying.  Also, Turkish is experiencing system-wide problems (I noticed this on my last flight when there was no Turkish delight), and maybe they're not flying those less-profitable legs - like the ones to Dushanbe.  Lots and lots of supposition with no real facts to back it up.  But what we do know is that if you want to get out of Dushanbe on a particular timeline (like one that doesn't allow pregnant women to fly after 34 weeks), Turkish isn't looking like a very good bet right now.

Brandon called and told me this on Thursday.  I, being a betting sort of girl who believes that I can bend time and space to my will, wasn't concerned.  Brandon, who factors possibility much more than probability into all his risk assessments, was.  And since he is in charge and has good sense instead of reckless belief on his side, I started thinking of options.

My first thought was of the money.  I hate wasting money.  Thankfully these days most things are irritations and not hunger-inducing, but it's still irritating to pay for plane tickets twice - especially when those plane tickets are to remote places like Tajikistan.  We are booked to go Dushanbe-Istanbul-London-DC-Raleigh (yes, that is a lot of airports), so I looked to at least salvage the last two legs of the itinerary.  

There are only a few ways you can get out of Tajikistan.  First is through Istanbul on Turkish.  Obviously if that wasn't a problem, this whole post would be pointless.  Second is through Istanbul or Frankfurt or Dubai on Somon Airlines, a podunk local airline.  This would be a good idea but for their pregnancy restrictions - no flying after 32 weeks.  Thirty-two weeks is this week, and if we want to go through Frankfurt, on Saturday.  I love my parents and they love me but I'm pretty sure that both of us don't want two more weeks of family togetherness.  And plus, we already decorated for Christmas.  Pass.  

Third is Fly Dubai through (obviously) Dubai.  So I looked up their schedule.  Oh good - they have a flight to Dubai the day after Christmas (there are very few daily flights out of Dushanbe).  And look - they have several flights a day to London.  And even better - there is a flight that gets us into London with two hours before our flight to DC.  Great.  I sent the itinerary to Brandon and got back to teaching school.

Then I started thinking about airlines and codeshares and ticketing and realized that we might have a problem.  The itinerary had us flying on Fly Dubai to Dubai and changing to British for our flight to London.  This is not a problem, as Dubai has a magical service (made operable by money, of course) that will pick up your bags from baggage claim, haul them to the ticketing desk and recheck and ticket everything for you on your next flight.  It doesn't sound that magical until you start doing math.  Two adults + five (mostly useless) children + seven bags + three car seats + one stroller + no way to get from terminal 2 to terminal 1 except a taxi = not enough hands to carry the bags or space to put them in.  Then you realize the magic.  So, Dubai layover, not a problem.

But then the same math equation had to happen again in London because once again, we were switching between airlines with no codeshare agreement, British and United.  Only this time the terminal transfer was on the Heathrow Express and we had to go through passport control before picking up our ten pieces of baggage and moving them to the next terminal to recheck, re-ticket, re-passport control and re-security before getting to our gate.  I had my suspicions, but after querying my FS Facebook group, I realized that there was no way in the world all of that would happen in two hours.  I let Brandon know.

Then I looked for anything (anything!) out of Dubai that left after 9:30 in the morning and would get us to the US eventually.  By this time I had kissed Brandon's ticket goodbye and was only looking for the cheapest way to buy a whole new one-way ticket from Dushanbe to North Carolina.  Nothing.  Turns out that Dubai is a long way from the US - just about as long as Dushanbe - and all of the flights were long gone by 9:30 in the morning.  If you want to fly to the US, you're leaving at two, not nine.

I let Brandon know.

So I started looking for flights two days after Christmas.  We always try to fly on United because seven mileage plus accounts flying halfway across the worlds adds up to a lot of miles.  I found an itinerary that went Dubai-Frankfurt-DC-Raleigh.  I sent it on to Brandon.  Then I started looking for hotels.  Because spending eighteen hours in the Dubai airport after leaving our house at 1:30 in the morning for a 4 am flight sounds like a particularly unpleasant form of torment even before you add in the children.  

Luckily, Dubai is known for having hotels and that was easily found.  And then I remembered something about Dubai: you are welcome to go to Dubai without a visa, but only if you are traveling on a tourist passport.  Brandon and I have tourist passports, but the children's expired earlier this year.  I let Brandon know.

He went to talk to our friendly consular officer while I asked around about getting diplomatic visas for the children and looked for other places to overnight.  There were other places we could overnight (Frankfurt, London), the diplomatic visa cost $150 and took two weeks, and we could get the children's passports (at $105 apiece) in 1 1/2 weeks.  We opted to overnight in Dubai where the magic service would take care of our baggage and tickets.  I spent the afternoon filling out passport applications and booking hotel rooms.  Brandon went to the med unit to get my travel orders changed so a hotel stay would be included.  I tried not to think about how much Brandon's ticket would cost.

Monday I emailed our friendly (or at least responsible) travel section and let them know of our change in plans.  They got back to me and said that would be no problem re-booking my and the children's tickets - it would just be a little matter of getting our cable changed so that MED would cough up the extra money (we're talking thousands of dollars in change fees and fare increases and hotel rooms).  But Brandon's ticket?  Completely out of luck.  The entire thing would have to be bought again, at our own expense, of course.

So Brandon trotted himself down to the travel section and signed a legally binding document promising to pay for all the tickets himself (for over twenty thousand dollars) just in case MED decides that really, there was no reason to change our tickets.  I pulled out my melting credit card and bought a whole new set of plane tickets.  Then I got out my paper bag and tried hard not to think about what I could have done with that money while thinking zen thoughts about barns and having my soul called to God that night.  The children got excited about spending five and a half hours at their favorite place in Germany - the McDonald's playplace.  French fries, milkshakes and slides!

And, of course, as always, this means that within a day of two of everything being changed, booked, and paid for, Turkish will decide to start keeping a regular flight schedule again.  Because that's the way it always works out.  

But, once again, in the end we will eventually get to the US in one piece.  It may have taken a little more trouble and money than originally anticipated, but it will happen, which is the magic of money and modern technology.  I just wish it could be a little more straightforward.

Moral of the story: Don't bother planning anything in advance.  It's just a waste of your time.

Moral of the story, 2: Pay that extra money for changeable tickets.  Especially when you're flying to Central Asia.

Moral of the story, 3: don't fly Turkish Airlines.  They may give you Turkish delight on your flight, but don't let them sucker you with delicious treats.  It won't be worth it.


Bridget said...

OK, this comes scarily close to what we had to deal with last year when we already had tickets booked back to the Emirates from the US, but I ended up taking a job in Finland and we needed to re-route everyone there. We ended up going all the way back to DXB and then on to Finland, even though there is a dreamy one-stop itinerary from PDX to HEL through Iceland (because it was on our dime, not someone else's). Jeremy did it all in one go - five flights (PDX-SEA-DXB-DOH-ARL-TKU), solo with the kids, including a terminal transfer in DXB (terminal 3 to terminal 2) with a hotel stay in the middle.

My point is that I really commiserate. And your problem with DXB is that you want east coast - if you go to SEA there is a direct flight from DXB that leaves at 9.15. :)

Patti said...

I have been stalking your blog for a long time without leaving a comment, but I am hyperventilating over this post. EEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKK!