Maldives 2019 Tour: Arrival

Tour 2019 Bunyamin

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…Turkish Airlines - webform

    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!

Istanbul Airport

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 1: Sri Lankan Airlines UL502

Sri Lankan Airlines arrival

We’re back! We always make a point of going to a new island each visit. It keeps a sense of exotic adventure and discovery alive even though we have now been to 8 resort islands. We’ve just arrived for what promises to be adventure on steroids. 8 islands in 7 days. Now that the kids have grown up, we have more mobility. Most importantly, it provides a huge opportunity to scour new treasures and gems for MaldivesComplete.

The adventure started with our flights today on Sri Lankan Airlines (flight UL 502). As noted in our trip last year, we have always bought ‘package’ with the flight included. But last year’s ‘DIY’ trip planning worked really well. So well that you would wonder why we flew Sri Lankan Airlines instead of BA. BA did a great job last year and I have my frequent flyer miles with them, so why the switch?

  • Convenience – My wife Lori had fixed dates that she could accompany me that could not move. Sri Lankan had more choices of direct flights and two of those flights fit our needed perfectly. In fact, schedule constraints is the primary reason to book yourself rather than opting for a tour package since the packages typically have very fixed dates.
  • Cost – Sri Lankan Airlines was about £100 cheaper than BA and about £200 cheaper than Emirates (the other direct carrier who also happened to have fewer flight options).
  • Curiosity – I have been flying the UK national carrier for the past two decades since we arrived in the UK and I was curious about the service and approach that the local national carrier performed and approached the route.

The flight was fine. Pretty conventional amenities. The in-seat entertainment system was modest, but at least there was one. The service was especially cheerful and the colourful uniforms of the flight attendants helped set the tone for a trip to paradise.

Halloween Treat – On a 10 hour long haul flight, the first concern is seat comfort. I immediately noticed that touch extra leg room (32” versus BA’s 31”) as well as the surprisingly helpful extra seat width. Then I also quickly noticed the ‘SICMA seats and lumbar-support’ tucking into the small of my back. Along with a neck pillow, this support made it the easiest flight to sleep in the sitting position that I have ever experienced.

 

Halloween Trick – I had bought the ticket on the Internet and like many places was supposed to present the card that I bought the ticket with to the check-in desk. The only thing is that last week we lost one of our Mastcard cards and had to have it replaced (and new number issued). As a result, when I showed up with the replacement card to the check-in, Sir Lankan Airlines made me reissue the ticket on the card at an extra cost of £30. Lesson – If you have to have a new card, still keep the old card if you need to present it in order to check-in to an online purchased flight.

Tip – Get left side of plane window seat (not over wing) going to Maldives and right side departing. This way you are positioned best for one of the most spectacular aerial views as you first hit the archipelago (see below).

airline wiindow shot of Maldives

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Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 1: Flying BA’s new non-stop service

BA 2043 to Male

Hmmm. For the longest time I swore off booking separate resort bookings and commercial flight bookings. Such an approach gave one much more flexibility, but I could never get a deal that matched the complete package prices and the fine service of the tour operators. They got (a) special pricing from the resorts, and (b) flew cut rate charters like Monarch. Furthermore, my loyalty was secured a few years ago by great customer service from Kuoni. The Iraq War had started messing up air space in the Middle East and wreaking havoc with the flights. It could have been a situation of high stress and inconvenience (waiting interminably at Male airport). Instead, the local Kuoni rep was on top of everything and called us to reassure us and tell us to just relax by the pool until the update plans were sorted. It turned a potentially stressed situation into an extra free day of holiday and earned us loyalty for life.

This time, however, we were finding it difficult to locate a deal that left and returned on days which suited the somewhat less flexible family members this go around. The clincher was BAs new direct service to Male which I am flying on as I write this sentence. Today’s flight is the third one flown as it was just launched this week. BA has a number of attractive deals which made the flight portion reasonably attractive – about £500 per person.

That just meant finding a resort. I thought that this would be the easy part and was stunned at how difficult it was. First the web sites. Amazing how clumsy, awkward and difficult many of the resort’s websites were to book dates. I quickly abandoned this approach and thanks to Skype could make inexpensive phone calls to speak directly to a human being. This is where the language barrier came in. The Maldivian (and other nationality staff who often work at resorts) speak fine English for basic questions on familiar areas (“where is the restaurant?”, “how do I book and excursion?”). For more complicated subjects like discussing booking options, the conversations actually became quite laboured. In the end, I turned to Destinology which was recommended by a TripAdvisor forum member. They provided excellent service in finding a great rate for a resort and sorting out all the paperwork and logistics (eg. transfers to the island).

We are going to the 5-star resort Kurumba which also came to about £500 per person for room and board. So the whole deal comes to about £1000 per person (closer to £1200 when all the taxes, charges, etc. are loaded in) which is about a low a price as I could find for any resort. And those other resorts had a lot more constraints when I was researching the package route.

Now that I am on the BA flight, I’m not sure I will ever do package again. If the prices can stay comparable and the web makes the booking logistics relatively easy, then the commercial flight is soooo much better. More comfy seats, more service (advance online check in – no queues), frequent flyer points, in flight on-demand entertainment, amenities, free snacks and drinks. The whole experience is more relaxed and comfortable.