Air travel is often very tedious and when things go wrong we can be very quick to blame the airport or the airline. So today, in all fairness, I must sing the praises of Dalaman Airport in Mugla Province, Turkey , Thomas Cook’s handling agents, Çelebi and finally, Thomas Cook themselves.
Our flight home today from Dalaman was scheduled to leave at 16.40 so check-in would be 14.40. And that meant our driver from Volume Travel would need to be at the villa around 12.15. The last morning before heading home was a bit hectic. As usual, there was more last minute packing and cleaning to be done than we had bargained for. We knew being ready for the taxi would be touch and go. Then just before 11.00 there was a knock at the door and it was Hamdi from Volume. Would we mind if we left a little early as they had a logistics problem with their cars. No way, we said, not trying to be unhelpful but knowing that we would be very tight for 12.15. OK, he said. Little did we know that if we had taken up his proposal this blog would not need to have been written.
The journey to Dalaman was uneventful and we pulled into the departure terminal at 14.15, a little earlier than necessary. Rather strangely there was not a person in sight. No other taxis delivering fellow travellers and no baggage porters. Oh well, we thought maybe it’s an empty flight it being outside normal holidays. Our driver took our bags straight to the first security point and put them on the conveyor belt. A farewell handshake and he was away. We then looked at the conveyor belt and our bags had not moved. A security guard asked which flight we were on, checked with someone out of sight to us, then the bags moved through the screening. Warning bells were starting to ring.
As we entered the check-in hall those bells became louder and louder. None of the check-in desks were open and there were absolutely no fellow travellers. A look at the display board explained everything. TCX1557 to Gatwick was boarding and due to depart at 14.40, i.e. in 15 minutes time. The bells were now ringing at full clappers and it was now time for panic stations.
A member of the airport staff came into view we dashed over to her to explain our dilemma. Fortunately nearly all staff at Dalaman speak English, often very well. She said we should go to the information desk and see if they could help.
Gathered at the information desk were all the staff who normally man the check-in desks. I explained our problem – probably slightly incoherently – and a very polite and friendly member of the team grabbed our situation with open arms. Panic stations were now calming down a little bit.
He made a call on his walkie-talkie, presumably to the gate, then said “don’t worry”. Heaven knows how pallid and sweaty we were looking.
Another member of the team opened a check-in desk, took our passports and proceeded to issue us with boarding cards. A major step in the right direction. Our bags were labelled and a luggage porter appeared and took the bags away. By this time we didn’t care where they were going.
Then the check-in lady asked us to follow her to security – it turned out she was going to escort us right to the flight. Only one security desk was manned, presumably for airport staff as there were no other flights due out. For some reason – as so often happens – the security buzzer went into alert mode for each of the three of us as we passed through. More sweating! But a quick, manual bodyscan and we were all cleared. On to passport control and we were now technically out of Turkey.
Our lovely check-in lady now set off at a quick walking pace, breaking into running and we followed not wanting to lose sight of her. Sods Law of course dictated that our gate was at the far end of the terminal, so more sweat had broken out by the time we got there. Then calmness started to return. Although we would be the last people through the gate we had to join a very short queue. This was our first queue since arriving at the airport. Somehow it was very comforting and we knew the plane would not be going without us. And we would make it home for our granddaughter Martha’s 1st birthday, the whole reason for travelling today.
As we walked down the air bridge, I realised we had not been given our pre-purchased seats. No big deal given that we were within a gnat’s whisker of missing the flight altogether. However it seemed worth asking the flight attendant on the plane if our original seats in the front cabin were still free. She looked at her lists, checked that the seats were indeed empty and changed the numbers on our boarding cards. A small point, in the scale of things, but a final positive touch at the end of the trauma.
So a very big thank you to everyone who helped us through our near-nightmare. The Dalaman Airport staff couldn’t have been more professional and efficient. Their ability to calm us down and deal so effectively with the problem – in what to them is a foreign language – deserves serious heaps of praise.
Also a big thank you to Thomas Cook who must have sanctioned us being rushed through the system and onto the flight at the very last minute.
ps I think I have now worked out what went wrong. Today’s flight was booked whilst we were still in the UK. I put it into my Microsoft Outlook Diary using the flight-times provided by Thomas Cook. On arriving in Turkey I set the time on my PC and SmartPhone to Turkish time, i.e. 2 hours ahead of UK time. The system then adjusted ALL diary times including, crucially, our flight times. I hope there is a way of stopping this from happening again. Answers on a postcard!
pps The alternative title for this blog could be “How to get from kerbside to your seat on the plane in 15 minutes” but I don’t recommend trying it. You might not meet as helpful staff.