We’re on our way! Whew. It’s a shame that Turkish Airways which excels in so many ways as an airline to take to the Maldives, especially with its sparkling new Istanbul hub, is so Byzantinely archaic with its website and ticket purchasing.
Seriously, Turkish Airlines online system is a disaster. It took me 2 hours to purchase the ticket. And then, because of a fault in their system, the booking required a repair that took (no exaggeration) over 4 hours of my patient time on the telephone to fix. Here are some of the most glaring problems that hit me…
- English Illiteracy – The biggest problem of all that triggered so many problems is that Turkish Airlines considers ALL of your forenames (ie. your first name and any middle names) to be your “First Name”. When it asks for your “First Name”, it wants you to enter them in one big string. So for me, my “First Name” is “BRUCECHARLES”. Maybe this is some sort of Turkish language convention, but it is not English. And if they want to follow this esoteric grammatical convention, then they need to be much more explicit about it on their website. Instead, it just shows the following…My “Name” as shown in my Passport is “Bruce”. But when I entered that, all hell broke loose. It did not match mile Miles & Smiles record (which had me as a “Bruce”). As a result, half of the functions didn’t work in the online booking (eg. seat selection, passenger passport information).
- Poor Data Integration – So I call the Miles & Smiles programme on the phone. When you call, they ask you to enter your membership number and then they laboriously repeat it and ask you to confirm it. When you get through, what’s the first question they ask you?…”What’s your membership number?” (which you have to laboriously repeat to someone for whom English is not their first language).
- Poor Customer Service Training – I called their Customer Service center before I had completed my ticket booking due to the problems of putting “Bruce” as my “Name” for some guidance on how to resolve the problems it was presenting. The useless Customer Service rep then told me to do something which was the exact opposite of what someone should do and something which ended up costing me 4 hours of further aggravation. She told me that if I just went ahead and paid for the ticket, all the issues would resolve themselves. Simples right? So I followed her instructions. The issues did not go away.
So I called the service centre again. This rep informed me of the huge problem that I now had on my hands. He explained that for Turkish Airlines, “Name” meant this conglomeration of all your non-surnames (ie. “BruceCharles” in my case). He said that I would have to change the name on the ticket or else at the airport I would be refused getting on the plane (because the “Name”…well, Turkish Airline perverse notion of what a “Name” is).
- “Ok, got it…let’s fix the name.”
- “Sorry sir, I can’t do that. You will have to go onto our website and fill out an online complaint form and then in 7-10 days we will get back to you as to whether we determine that your request to change you name is approved and then you can call back with your reference number and the name might be able to be changed.”
- “What if someone determines that it can’t be changed?”
- “Then you lose the entire ticket and the £2000+ you paid
#facepalm (I did not go into an apoplectic fit of rage because I still had confidence that sanity would previl at some point
- Antiquated Computer Systems – After 10 days I got an email saying that my application to change the name on my ticket from “Bruce” to “BruceCharles” had been approved. All I had to do now is call their customer support center and sort everything out. They explained that their (medieval) computer systems would not allow them to change the name on the ticket so we would have to cancel the old tickets, arrange for full refunds and then book new ones from scratch. Good grief.
- Using American Express Confuses Them – As I had faced when I booked, they seem to have no idea how American Express works. When I booked my tickets, the website asked for the “3 digit security code the back of the card”. Well, lacking all confidence in their competence at this point, I went ahead and put in the FOUR digit security code which is the convention for Amex cards (even though they do have their own 3 digit on the back of the card) which worked. Also, American Express cards can be used for booking flights, but not for booking seats. Which I discovered through trial and error. The customer service rep didn’t have a clue. He knew that Amex was accepted for some things and not other…but he didn’t know which things.
- Even More Antiquated Transaction Systems – It turns out that for some reason they could not process the new credit card charge in one transaction. Instead, I had to enter my credit card details once for my new ticket and one for Lori’s new ticket. Each time, the service rep switched me to an over-the-phone system to tediously enter (and confirm) my credit card details. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had purchased extra-leg room seat and those purchases all needed to be paid for individually. That’s 2 legs (Istanbul flight change), 2 directions (going and returning) for 2 people. I had to go through the torturous phone credit card entry EIGHT times (hence the 4 hours on the phone).
It is a shame that the process of buying a ticket on Turkish Airlines is so painful, because the process of actually travelling with them is really quite a treat. Speaking of treats, the food served is actually quite tasty. Nothing Cordon Bleu, but I found everything from the Mediterranean salad to the mousse dessert to be very palatable (I usually find something in an airline’s food service that I just can’t stomach).
But it is the transfer in Istanbul that really distinguishes Turkish Airlines. With the rise of Asia, the Middle East is indeed in the middle of everything. The junction of these two continents (not to mention emerging Africa to the south). Hence, the race by Emirates (Dubai), Qatar Airlines (Doha) and Turkish Airlines (Istanbul) to establish themselves as the hub of the eastern hemisphere. Despite, the former two airlines extravagant airports and extensive service, Turkish Airlines is now really winning this race by clear blue water.
Turkish has long been able to exceed all other in service options. This means that you have the most choice of flights to suit your schedule and the shortest lay-over times (I can always find Turkish Airlines flights with a total travel time of about 13 hours, while the shortest I can find with the competition is about 15). It has flights leaving every couple of minutes in and out of Istanbul 24 HOURS A DAY.
In most other airports, things are shuttered up late at night and the floor polishers are out by the janitorial staff. When we did our transfer at 2:00 am, Istanbul airport was like Grand Central Station buzzing with passengers filling its cavernous terminal packed with more extensive stores than Westfield shopping centre. Istanbul has always had a busy terminal, the epitome of late-night shopping and round the clock bustle. But recently it just opened it state-of-the-art monstrosity Istanbul Airport which took their hub game to a whole new level. More space, more amenities, more stores, more restaurants, more inviting architecture and décor (see photo below).
Ever since BA stopped its non-stop service to the Maldives in the summer months, we have been using Turkish Airlines more or less satisfactorily (we especially appreciate its in-flight entertainment system which shows a live video of the plane landing), but after the ticketing fiasco this year and the plans for BA to resume direct service next year, I suspect that our Constantinople stop-over will come to an end.
The best part of our journey was being greeted at Arrivals by Maldives’ own digital ambassador, Bunyamin Ahmed (see photo below). Maldives and Bunyamin…#WeMeetAgain!
Post Script – And the Turkish Airlines technical/Internet problems continue. I just got my phone bill and it had a £27 roaming charge for when I was on the flight to Istanbul. Turkish has introduced in-flight Internet. That can be a very handy service, but I had no need for it. But when I found the data roaming charge, the O2 representative explained that the airplane’s service can upload and download data from the user’s phone even without the user’s authorisation or even knowledge. This data will be charged to the user at a premium data (my roaming bolt-on did not apply). The O2 website has no information about this possibility. The customer service rep says you need to turn data roaming off every time you get in an airplane or you might get hit with it. Good grief.