The Travel Adviser: Don't be a Turkey!

The downside of fabulous package tours to Turkey is that one must take a charter flight.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Many of us have experienced first-hand the joys of holidaying at Turkish resorts. Innovative properties - some emulating the Kremlin, others modeling themselves after the cruise liner QE2 - all designed to give the traveler a few days of paradise. Several of these all-inclusive properties put our Eilat competitors to shame with water sports abounding, acres and acres of land and an abundance of food that leaves most people seriously contemplating a strict diet regime upon their return. The downside of these tantalizing resorts is that to enjoy their benefits one must take a charter flight from Israel - and that entails an adventure all in itself. We're talking about a package tour; one that combines a charter flight with a hotel stay. These are marketed exclusively in Israel through Israeli wholesalers, and while the prices are fair, the path is not always straight. Some basic facts: The number one foreign carrier to fly in and out of Israel is not a European airline like Lufthansa or even an American carrier like Continental, but rather a charter airline plying the skies to and from Turkey under the name Onur Air. With a timetable rivaling most trains, one would think that making the two-hour journey would be as easy as driving from Jerusalem to Haifa. Read on naïve reader, read on. A traveler recently purchased a package to Bodrum, Turkey, through a Jerusalem travel agency that was put together by a wholesaler called Flying Carpets. They were six passengers, each couple with a child. Their agent was quite knowledgeable about the different resorts, and they felt confident they had made an intelligent choice. She even went so far as to warn them that while the airline flying them had a strong safety record, it was notorious for delays. Keeping that in mind the morning of the flight, they spoke to her and she told them there was a two-hour delay. Having not yet left for the airport, they smugly congratulated themselves and delayed their departure to the corrected time. Upon arrival at Ben-Gurion, they discovered that the plane hadn't even left Bodrum. They called their travel consultant who confirmed the information but sadly told them the Flying Carpets office in Israel had no firm time when it would arrive. The representative at the airport, whom they finally tracked down, told them this was a common occurrence. They asked for some type of compensation, or meal voucher, but were told that a charter had no such obligation. Fortunately for the travelers, they had procured a pass for the business lounge using points from their Israeli credit card and managed to silence the rumbling in their stomachs. The wives, however, were getting restless and decided to spend the next five hours supporting the duty-free stores. Finally, 10 hours later than planned, they were in their hotel. Suffice it to say that, while the resort was indeed fantastic, the return trip was never out of their minds. So, with the foresight that Bodrum Airport offers none of the charms of Ben-Gurion, they decided to cover all bases before their planned 9 a.m. Friday morning departure back to Israel. They told the Flying Carpets representative they had no intentions of checking out of the hotel until they knew the plane would depart on time. Bright-eyed and cheery, he met them in the lobby at 7 a.m. to inform them that all systems were go. Saying a tearful goodbye to their accommodations, they made their way to the airport. Through passport control, checking in their luggage, getting their boarding passes, they finally approached the gate only to find - nothing. No air hostess, no ground hostess just a flashing neon sign: "boarding delayed." The numbers continued to grow as more and more passengers completed the check-in process and, they said later, you could actually sense a mob mentality fermenting. Not being permitted back to the main terminal, they paced from one side to the other until, two hours later, an airline official materialized. The problem was simple, he explained in poor English. On Fridays they don't have that many flights to Israel and the crew that was scheduled to fly hadn't arrived from its last flight. They were due to land at noon and he promised that they'd be on the plane at 1 p.m. and off the plane would go. You could hear the murmur of the observant passengers. Instead of landing Friday morning, they'd be landing around 2:30 - still a good four hours before Shabbat began. When they asked about getting some food, sandwich vouchers were provided. Pity the options were turkey and cheese or some beef product. So down the gate to the plane they went and, just as they were about to board, they were stopped: "Sorry, the crew is tired and wants to go the hotel to rest for a few hours." Here's where the fun really began. When it was explained that a sizable percentage of the travelers would not travel on Shabbat, the group was asked to contact the local Jewish community to host them! Seeing that matters had reached a level of absurdity, they demanded to see the head of operations of the airline. Pleading patiently that they must get this plane to take off, he personally intervened and got the crew to waive their siesta and reluctantly fly them home. Then, of course, those passengers not privy to the conversation with the head of airline operations become agitated that perhaps the crew was not fit to fly the aircraft and that the safety of the passengers was being risked by forcing them to do so. So they elected the traveler as their delegate to go into the cabin to inspect the crew. Foolishly agreeing, he entered the inner sanctum to find three pilots telling him that yes, while they had flown the night before, they had no concerns about making the 90-minute flight to Israel. Each promised they had slept four hours. They simply asked that he do his best to calm the other passengers. So, walking out of the cabin, he held his head up high and told all that in his opinion the crew was fit to fly, and at 3 p.m. they touched down safely. He contacted Flying Carpets after this saga to find out about compensation. The response - and this only after threatening letters were exchanged - a 10 percent discount on the next package to Turkey. The vast majority of passengers were not amused by this token offer. One final nugget in this woeful tale... I was the passenger. My family continues to hold me personally responsible. Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. E-mail him at: [email protected]