When Duty Free Freezes Over

When Duty Free Freezes Over

By: Peter Marshall   •   email: info@trunblocked.com

It’s my fault, I should have known better. I had to fly on Sunday 19th August to Frankfurt to complete the film I am currently producing for AOE. It was the weekend before Bayram, a major national holiday where everyone travels to visit family and friends in Turkey as well as the Middle East (EID). So major, in fact, that banks in Turkey are closed for four and a half days out of five this week!

I am quite sure that the airport knows how busy it gets over what is possibly the most frenetic weekend of the year. Yet, amazingly, there was a significant lack of resource in almost every operational area.

The airport was simply rammed with people. The process at Sabiha is that you enter and go straight into a security check area. The queue started inside and ran to outside the building. In spite of this, no extra bays were opened to accommodate the flood of people going in. Tempers were frayed, children crying. Passengers trying to be patient. You could sense the frustration.

Getting through to the check in counter took over half an hour. Then I was faced with another queue – even longer – at Pegasus, to get my ticket. It was like looking at life in slow motion. This was followed by another half hour being processed under ‘Other Nationalities’ at immigration. Shouting and people trying to queue hop to make their planes was everywhere. Again, immigration bays were under-resourced by almost fifty percent to manage the volume of passengers lining up.

And then, after immigration, if you think that you were free to shop or eat, you walked straight into another full security check. Another 20 minutes or so of time eaten up. It’s not normally as bad as this. I thought I had left plenty of time on arrival to sit and eat. This didn’t happen – not just because the escalators going up to Big Chefs and McDonalds had broken down, but because there was simply no time. Setur run a very good duty free business there, with a large store offering an extensive range of product as well as running many specialist stores. On other days it’s always busy. Yet when I ran to departures the store was like a ghost town. Setur did not deserve to lose the scale of business that arguably they did because of the lack of resource and bad operational planning from the airport management, who should know better. The only other airport I can recall this happening is at Buenos Aires Ezeiza.

Sabiha is generally a good airport and functions well. I do not know how many passengers may have missed their planes but it was an appalling experience and something that the airport management will need to better address for the future. I made boarding with five minutes to spare and will make sure that, next time, I double check Bayram dates.

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