By: Peter Marshall

We all know how each of us have been affected by Covid over the past 18 months. Well, happily, I had the occasion to fly to Miami last week from Istanbul and never realised how the process of flying is now so off-putting. Patience and acceptance are key. The challenges and frustrations were significant and it’s easy to see why so many people have decided to staycation.

It all starts with Turkish Airlines. I first went online to look at the prices some weeks back. They were reasonable. I didn’t book at that time because the project had not been fully confirmed. When it was, I went back, only to discover that the price going to Miami had increased by 400%, whilst the return leg remained the same. This was in less than a week and I was advised that the plane was completely full. When I finally got onto the plane, this was not the case. I understand how the system works, but this was unacceptable.

At the airline sales office in Fenerbahce, Istanbul, I asked what paperwork was required. I knew about the ESTA and PCR test requirements, but what else was needed? The staff there – two people on two different occasions – simply did not know. I then phoned the Turkish Airlines Call Centre and they didn’t know either. This was extraordinary – how Turkish Airlines, an excellent airline, could completely fail to communicate the full passenger requirements to gain entry to the USA to their front line staff, I do not know. Utter failure here.

So, I had to communicate with the US consulate here instead to find out, then ran off and completed the paperwork for submission at the airport.

Checking in at Istanbul airport itself was another experience. I flew economy but my Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles Card entitled me to check in at Business. You would have thought that the process would have been smooth. If only! I reckon I queued for at least 30 minutes –  as much a result of the check-in desks being seriously under-manned as anything else. Then there were the many mandatory paperwork protocols – checking the ESTA was valid, showing PCR negative result, ensuring that your passport showed no stamps of black listed countries etc. Mine was copiously studied. In fairness all the Turkish Airlines staff there were very helpful. Theyalso provided an Assertation form, which you had to sign to confirm that your health was good and not subject to any Covid restrictions on entry. So simple. But the question remains: how did the Turkish Airlines Call Centre and the sales office in Fenerbahce fail to communicate this?

What followed was Immigration, another longish queue, then security, same again. In all, it took around an hour and a half to get into the Departures area. It would have taken anyone checking in at the economy desks considerably longer. Stressful, certainly, and little chance of enjoying any dwell time in Departures to either shop or eat. 

Well, you’ve all seen images of the size and scale of this airport. It’s a major statement. The airport has been fortunate during Covid to have done better than most because of its international hub status as well as having a very active domestic travel scene. Still, very sad to see that only half the departures area was open and many of the original stores were no longer there, replaced in part by fast food outlets. However, for a Sunday, Departures seemed busy. Sadly, passengers were generally walking past the stores, not walking into them. Things will improve slowly, for sure, but I am uncertain whether any of the retailers still operating there are enjoying any rent relief. Sources advise that they have not.

Onto the plane and social distancing went completely out of the window when boarding. This was in forced contrast to the general efficiency of the crew, who reminded passengers endlessly to wear their masks properly. I have to compliment the staff – they were genial and helpful to all throughout the 12 hour journey.  And the food was decent, too.

Arriving at Miami, we initially encountered the same undermanning problem as Istanbul. There were 20 Immigration desks with only 3 being staffed. But processing was relatively quick after extra desks soon became available. When you hear of the nightmare stories elsewhere – Heathrow for example – the outcome here was excellent.

And paperwork on return to Istanbul? Just a PCR test within 72 hours of flight. MiamiDade County have truly nailed this process and are to be congratulated. You can have a PCR done at the airport for a fee. Or – with no booking required – you can walk into one of a number of centres located in the city and get your test entirely free of charge. The result is emailed to you within 72 hours max, although mine took just 24 hours.

Check-in at Miami International Airport was equally good and efficient – fully manned counters and very helpful staff. No issues.

It can be done.

Flying back with Turkish was also fine – although it was an overnight flight and the staff seemed rather disengaged – a contrast to the outgoing flight. But arrived on time at Istanbul and in good health.

Why did I go in the first place? Well, watch out for the next blog coming your way in the next few days. I was filming for the first time in a year and what we recorded in Miami forms an important part of the major video I will be airing early next month.

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