*Warning, this is also a VERY long post 🙂
I wanted to recap details of our journey to Turkey and our first 24 hours both for us to remember, and for those who are interested. Hope you find it interesting or at the very least informative!
For those who haven’t been reading along, we had to drive from North Carolina to New York in order to fly commercial through Turkish Airlines instead of on the military rotator flight due to a mistake made my our travel coordinator. In the end we’ve realized there are pros and cons to both so it doesn’t really matter which route you take.
New York, New York…Actually Queens
We were booked at the Sheraton hotel located right near JFK, and at check-in we faced another mistake by our travel coordinator. Not only had they not informed the hotel during booking that we had pets, although it was thankfully a pet friendly hotel, the restrictions only allowed for one pet of 40 lbs or less. Considering we had two, one who weighs in at 57 lbs, we were a bit concerned, but very relieved when they allowed us to stay.
The next challenge was our check-out time. Our flight didn’t leave until 6:50 the next afternoon and since we weren’t in a location that had a good walking area to explore for a little while until time to go to the airport, we were strapped for a way to spend the excess hours. Another kudos to the Sheraton for allowing us a late checkout of 3:00 at the low cost of signing up for the SPG Rewards program. We took our time and loaded on the 3:30 shuttle to the airport.
The shuttle dropped us off at our terminal and helped us unload our bags. Thanks to the help of a luggage cart and a baggage handler we made it inside with dogs in tow. I’m so proud of our dogs. There were a zillion people zipping around, and a lot of stimulation, but they both remained so calm and stayed right by our side behaving. We only had one small incident when a pug walked by and they both went a bit nuts. Another bit of luck on our side, because we got there so early there weren’t many people in line so Will was able to walk straight up to the desk to begin checking in.
Although we had the pet reservations confirmed and noted on our ticket reservations, the associate still seemed surprised when we told her we were also checking in two dogs. Jimmy pulled out his charm though and had a slew of TA associates oohing and aching over him, which unfortunately prolonged the check-in process. And even though the the pet reservation confirmation was supposed to mean that the cabin in which we had seats had no other dogs flying in it, thus allowing for our dogs, it turned out that there WAS another dog, so we had to be reassigned new seats. Both dogs had to be weighed (in their crates), then taken back out while their crates were inspected. The bell hop at the hotel had turned Jim’s crate on its end when he loaded it on the cart, so all of the towels and pads I had arranged were tossed all over the place. Nothing like being 7 months pregnant and crawling around in the airport floor rearranging a dog crate. When TSA was finally done checking the crate we taped some dog food and a copy of all of the papers that were required for dogs to enter Turkey on top of the crate and loaded Jim.
Saying goodbye was hard. You want to believe that the airline and the people handling your pet will do their job right and your dog will be fine on the other end. But in reality, you can’t know how well they will be treated. You don’t know for sure that they won’t spend too long out on a hot tarmac, or that the workers won’t handle them and their crate roughly loading them off and on the plane. You don’t get to see the cargo hold and rest your mind that it is in fact temp and pressure controlled, and that they are as comfortable as possible given the circumstances. It didn’t help that we had been told that Turkish people aren’t big dog lovers, and seeing as it was a Turkish owned airline, we were less hopeful that Jim would receive the care we wanted. We tried not to allow ourselves to think about the worst case scenario, and prayed feverishly that our beloved Jimmy Chew would make the trip just fine.
About an hour later we were finally handed our tickets and progressed through security.
Our flight was delayed by about 30 minutes, but we still ended up boarding at the normal time. Once boarded we were delayed another 30 minutes trying to take off, but thanks to a quick plane and talented pilot our flight time was cut to under 9 hours so we still arrived on time, actually a little early, to Istanbul.
American Airlines Are Doing It All Wrong
Turkish Airlines service was impeccable. All of the flight attendants were friendly, and it felt like every need we could think of had been addressed. In our seats we found packaged blankets, packaged slippers, headphones, and a pillow. Then a few minutes into the flight we were given small zippered bags containing socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, a sleep mask, and lip balm.
Dinner was served about two hours into the flight, and it was not your normal airplane food. We were first given hot towels to clean our hands, then trays with real dishes and silverware were placed in front of us. A menu of grilled chicken and vegetables, a side of potatoes au gratin, cucumber and yogurt, tabouli, a wedge of cheddar cheese, and a dinner roll, with a lemon tart for dessert. Everything tasted fresh and was delicious. An assortment of beverages were included for free including liquor, beer and wine. Will enjoyed a whiskey drink before dinner, and wine with his meal. I hated to miss the opportunity for a free in-flight drink!
After dinner everyone was given a bottle of water, then settled in for the long part of the flight. The lights were dimmed, and everyone tried to sleep. Two things I wanted to note here – a family in front of us had a newborn baby (still wrapped in the blue, pink and white blanket they give you at the hospital). The flight attendants brought over a bassinet type bed that hooked into the wall right in front of the mom’s seat (she was in the first row of the cabin), providing her the perfect place to let the baby sleep. We couldn’t get over how thoughtful that was. The other was that the seats actually reclined back, as in not just the back portion laying down, but the actual seat adjusted as well just like a recliner. They also had foot pedals that folded down so you could prop your feet up a bit. In the comfort class you could actually put your feet all the way up!
Will was able to sleep for a little while, but I on the other hand really struggled. my body chose this week to start swelling in my hands and feet. I wore compression sleeves for the duration of the flight, but my feet swelled up like sausages after a few hours on the plane. We were so lucky to have an extra seat between us so I was able to put my feet up, but that left me with nothing to support my back. I made an attempt to sleep hunched over, but didn’t really have much success. So I read on my kindle and focused on trying to get my feet back to a halfway normal size.
Every seat had a screen on it where you could watch your choice of a ton of movies or TV shows, or listen to music, or just follow along with the flight progress. The plane was accented with areas containing fresh flowers, and the bathrooms all had a fresh rose in them. Speaking of the bathrooms, they were equipped with wet wipes, lemon spray, and automatic faucets. If at any time you were hungry, cheese sandwiches and blueberry muffins were available.
Not that you could really be hungry because just a few hours after we ate dinner, and about two hours before we landed we were served a breakfast of scrambled eggs with vegetables and a half roasted tomato, fresh fruit, a small salad of cucumber, tomato, olives and two kinds of cheese (one being a really awesome feta), and a roll with jelly.
The only complaint we had was the temperature of the plane. Will and I roasted. We were some of, and possibly the only, Americans on the plane and everyone else seemed to be fine. Most of them wrapped in the provided blankets. We actually had sweat dripping down our backs at one point.
Istanbul was hot. As in we were pretty sure a good portion of the airport didn’t even have the AC running. After passing through the passport “kontrol” (also a hot box) we were guided through the correct sections until we arrived at the domestic terminals to get to our connection to Adana. We had asked repeatedly if we would be collecting our luggage (and possibly Jim) in order to go through customs, but we were met with confounded looks. Turns out you do not have to go through customs when arriving to Turkey. We did notice a sign on one of the empty tables we passed that said “Nothing to declare,” so it’s possible that Turkish customs desks are a bit different than those in other countries. Shortly after grabbing a bottle of water we got in line to board.
This plane was smaller, but comfortably cooled much to our pleasure. In fact it was a little too cool (an issue I later learned I would face often in Turkey). The flight was only supposed to be just over an hour, but believe it or not a few minutes after takeoff we were served lunch. Turkey sandwiches (how fitting right?), eggplant in tomato sauce, and a delicious panna cotta dessert. Before we knew it we were arriving in Adana.
As we were walking from the plane to the building we spotted Jim’s crate being unloaded. We couldn’t tell if he was ok, but relief washed over us that at least he had made the flight. Jeannie had been a dream during the flights. She settled down in her carrier and slept pretty much the whole way. I tried getting her out and attempting to get her to pee on a puppy pad in the bathroom in Istanbul, but she wasn’t having it.
It was at this point that I had my first real Turkish experience. I had read about how many other countries squat over toilets placed in the floor to use the bathroom. Upon entering the WC at baggage claim I was still surprised to find that all but one stall had these “hole” toilets. So I squatted and peed. I kept thinking they should have had some sort of bar or something to hold onto to stabilize yourself, and was grateful that I only had to go #1. Each stall had a broom and a small pitcher, what I assumed was meant to help clean up any mess you may make. Also to my surprise the toilets actually flushed.
Back outside Jim was brought over, though not allowed out of his cage yet, and our baggage came. We had met a woman on our first flight, an American who had married a Turk and moved to Istanbul a little over five years ago. She gifted us a few Turkish liras before we got off the plane saying we would need it to get a luggage cart once we arrived. Turns out she was right. We once again faced the challenge of getting our luggage, Jim’s crate, and the dogs from inside to the sidewalk outside. Will tried asking if he could go outside and meet Callie (his paralegal that was picking us up with the shuttle), but he was told he wouldn’t be allowed back in once he left. So we piled our bags on our shoulders, loaded up the cart, and drug Jim and his crate across the room to get it all outside.
We were met with Callie’s friendly face, and seconds later a large white shuttle bus that would take us to the base. The dogs still weren’t allowed out of their crates to pee. Jim had peed quite a bit in his crate and we were so glad we had lined it with four pee pads and some towels. Nonetheless, he smelled pretty bad. And between the jerking of the bus and having held it for 16+ hours, poor Jean was shaking. 15 minutes-ish later we arrived at the gate.
Our first 24 hours in Turkey coming up next!