Turkish Airlines Horror Story

Why We Will Never Fly Turkish Airlines to Africa Again: Our Nightmare Experience

By: | January 25th, 2017 | 8 Comments

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Turkish Airlines has been chosen as “Best Airline in Europe” for the last 5 years based on a survey of 13 million people from around the world. We have flown Turkish Airlines on numerous occasions and had wonderful experiences with excellent service from the friendly flight crew, delicious inflight food, generous amenities and special gifts for our children like toy airplanes and coloring books. For our recent trip to Africa, we were a group of 7 and persuaded our family members traveling with us to fly Turkish Airlines rather than Air France or Brussels Airlines because of the better prices and outstanding service we had previously received. We unfortunately did not have such a pleasant experience this time around, and are still in disbelief over the poor service we’ve received concerning our luggage from start to finish. We feel that our experience defied the basic expectation that is to come from any reknown airline, let alone Europe’s best airline. We hope that our review will put some pressure on Turkish Airlines to improve on their customer service regarding delivery of luggage. We also would like to provide all those who may run into similar problems some suggestions for a smooth resolution of their issues. We want you to learn from our mistakes, and hope that this never happens to any of you.

Our vacation to Cameroon to visit family and attend Bertaut’s sister’s wedding started off on the wrong foot at the Dulles airport in Washington D.C. We had called Turkish Airlines ahead of time to verify the weight limit for our checked luggage, but were not informed about the strict weight limit of 8 kg for carry-on luggage. Having flown internationally and domestically many times before, this was the first time we’ve ever had our carry-ons weighed in the United States. Since all of our carry-on suitcases were over the limit and the crew member checking us in had already sent our checked baggage down the belt, we were unable to transfer any items to our checked bags and were forced to check all but one of our our carry-on suitcases. We hurriedly took most of what we had carefully planned for our carry-on luggage out (toiletries, change of clothes, some electronics) and crammed it into the carry-ons that had to be checked while keeping a few essentials in our single allowed carry-on suitcase. It was a chaotic experience and the crew that was checking us in was clearly irritated with our large group for not having been prepared for the carry-on weight limit. Nonetheless, we made our way to the flight and had a great first flight from Washington D.C to Istanbul. Our 2 year old son was well-behaved and slept more than we had hoped for, and our 4 year old daughter was a perfect angel.

Turkish Airlines Inflight Chef World Travel Adventurers

Fun Turkish Airlines chef and a sleeping toddler

All smiles on the flight with Turkish Airlines

Things went downhill on our second flight from Istanbul to Yaounde. The flight made a stop in Douala before continuing on to Yaounde, where we were supposed to land. After two unsuccessful landing attempts due to poor visibility on the runway, our flight returned to Douala where we sat on the tarmac for roughly one hour while the captain decided what to do. The pilot later announced that we were to exit the plane since the fog had not cleared in Yaounde and landing would not be possible there. We were taken to a room at the Douala airport and waited for a few hours for a bus to arrive to transport us to Yaounde while our luggage was supposedly being removed from the plane to travel with us. We were given bottles of water, Fanta and cheese sandwiches, which was greatly appreciated having been traveling well over 24 hours at that point.

We went to claim our luggage at the Douala airport but NONE of our 14 pieces of luggage and 2 car seats (for 7 travelers) had made it. In fact, none of the passengers on our outbound flight from Istanbul had received their luggage. We later heard that the airline purposedly placed the passengers luggage from the previous 2 days flights and left the luggage behind for those on our flight to be on the following day’s flight. The baggage claim area at the Douala Airport looked like a total disaster with people’s luggage scattered all over the room. Other passengers grew visibly upset when they realized that we had been flying without our luggage. It is also worthy nothing that unlike Air France or Brussels Airlines, there is NO representation of Turkish Airlines at the Douala airport. You are on your own! A gentleman working at the airport told us to check back at the airport in Yaounde as our luggage should be on the next flight.

After more than 24 hours of traveling with 2 preschoolers, the last thing we wanted to hear was that our luggage had not arrived. We were growing anxious because we had only packed enough diapers for the journey in our single carry-on that we were able to keep, and didn’t know how long it would be until we would see our luggage again. Furthermore, since our carry-on luggage had to be checked at the last minute, we did not have our toiletries and extra clothing. We had 5 diapers to last until the luggage arrived. We climbed on to the bus and took a 5 hour drive to Yaounde, arriving more than 10 hours after scheduled arrival (thus increasing our travel time to 33 hours from the time we left our house to the time we arrived in Yaounde… OUCH.)

The following night, Bertaut went to the Yaounde Airport to search for our luggage, hopeful that it would arrive on the next flight. It had arrived, however, ALL 14 of our bags were drenched and some were even covered in ice!!! It was clear that our luggage had been left outside in the snow in Istanbul but we were never given any explanation as to what had happened. There wasn’t even a Turkish Airlines representative at the airport to receive our complaint or file a report regarding the delay and damage.

Bertaut brought the wet bags home to his parent’s home where we were staying and woke me up in the middle of the night with the good and bad news. I was happy to have our luggage, but furious that our belongings were all wet. Each of us went through our bags and pulled out sopping wet clothing, books, laptop, expensive jewelry, designer shoes, makeup, and other electonics like Bertaut’s DJI Phantom 4 drone and DJI Osmo that got damaged. We had to hang every wet article of clothing outside to dry and several items had been damaged from colors bleeding from the fabrics. Our brother Loic was furious about his designer suede shoes and laptop being wet (which was originally in his carry-on but since it was too heavy he had to check it). I won’t even get started about Bertaut and his electronics. We spent hours going through our bags, hanging clothing up to dry, sorting items that needed laundered, taking photos of the damage, and making lists of how much everything cost for our damage report. It was not a fun morning, especially being jet-lagged and functioning on a few hours of sleep.

Turkish Airlines Luggage Neglect

All 14 pieces of luggage left outside in snow in Istanbul

Turkish Airlines Luggage Damage Neglect

Damage to electronics from being left outside in snowstorm

Turkish Airlines Luggage Damage Neglect

So now I’ll fast forward to the end of our vacation, two weeks later. We were scheduled to leave Cameroon on January 11th but our brother Loic was scheduled to return on Jan 7th since he had just started a job and didn’t have any paid vacation time. He showed up to the Yaounde airport for his flight on the 7th to find out that it had been cancelled due to a snowstorm in Istanbul. He had not received any advanced notice and was irritated about making the trip to the airport in the middle of the night for nothing. The next night, he was told he wouldn’t be able to fly as there wasn’t enough space available on that flight. The following day, he and Bertaut went to the Turkish Airlines office in Yaounde and spent several hours discussing alternative options to make sure he would get home as soon as possible. He was promised to fly once again, and then a few hours later heard that the airport in Istanbul had been closed due to a massive snowstorm. So once again his flight had been cancelled and there wasn’t any attempt by the airline to put him on another airline’s flight.

The next day, Bertaut spent all morning at the Turkish Airlines office explaining the importance of us all flying out that day so that we wouldn’t be bumped off of that flight. He also expressed dismay to the director of the sales office that Turkish Airlines had not dispatched an additional plane at that point to accomodate those passengers who hadn’t flown for the previous three days. He explained that from all his years traveling, this was the first time he witnessed such delay. He informed them that we would be thoroughly documenting our experience on our travel blog for our followers to know what kind of service to expect when flying with Turkish Airlines to Africa. I think that helped because we received a call a couple of hours later confirming that the airline was sending an additional plane and that our seats were confirmed on our original flight. We also received priority check-in, which saved us hours of standing in a non-moving check-in line at the airport. I was afraid a brawl was going to break out at the airport because people were so angry about the line not moving for hours, and were all yelling at each other. The guy standing in line behind us started yelling at us too because it was taking so long to check us in, as if that was our fault. I didn’t understand either why it was taking so long to check our bags, especially since Bertaut had already checked us all in that morning at the office. We came prepared this time with our carry-on bags weighing in under 8 kilograms, which meant we had to check many items that we normally prefer to keep with us. I prioritized my breakable souvenirs and changes of clothes for the kids in the carry-ons.

After a tense check-in process, we waited for several hours at the airport since the flight had been delayed. Apparently it had left Istanbul late, and prior notification would have been nice to allow our kids a few more hours of sleep before the chaotic airport experience. Once we boarded the flight, we discovered that our seats were already occupied and there was no room for our carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. We scrambled to find empty seats so the 6 of us traveling together were separated. A nice lady moved to allow me a seat next to my 2 year old son, which was a necessity. Bertaut walked through the aisle moving items in the overhead bins to make room for our carry-on suitcases. The flight attendants wanted us to check them, but we refused, and thank goodness since our checked bags were lost for almost a week (more on that later).

The 8 hour flight to Istanbul was fine but the crew seemed tense probably because everyone was stressed out and irritated about the delays. I had pre-ordered children’s meals for my kids, which I received for my son since I was sitting with him. My daughter was sitting with my friend at the back of the plane and did not receive her child’s meal, so did not eat any of the food they served her, which was way outside her comfort zone. So she arrived hungry to Istanbul, where we had to run through the airport to catch our connection to Washington D.C. We were supposed to have a 3 hour layover, which would have allowed us to shower and have a nice meal and cocktails in the lounge (we have the Priority Passes for lounge access). Due to the delayed flight, we were unable to freshen up in between flights and barely made it to the gate before they shut the doors. We would have missed the flight if we hadn’t gone through the fast track line and skipped the long line for security checkpoint. Our brother Loic, who was on a separate flight from Yaounde which had also been delayed, did not make the connection and had to spend the night in Istanbul. He had to spend $60 for an overnight visa to leave the airport and was too exhausted to take advantage of visiting the city. What a shame!

After an excruciatingly long flight from Istanbul to Washington D.C. (nearly 12 hours) with a tantruming 2 year old and fussy 4 year old, we were so ready to be home. It had been 20 hours of flight time and 28 hours of travel time since leaving Bertaut’s parent’s home in Cameroon, so we were exhausted and the kids were cranky (ok I was cranky too). We didn’t expect our luggage to arrive this time since we barely made it to the gate in time, and we were right. We filed our lost baggage report and then asked for loaner car seats for our drive home. The woman at the desk stated that Turkish Airlines does not have loaner car seats. I am normally a very polite person, but at that moment the stress of the journey and mama bear instincts took over. I raised my voice and explained that we would not be leaving the airport without car seats for our children, so they had better go find some. I took a seat and waited for them to work it out, and about 30 minutes later they had 2 car seats which they borrowed from American Airlines.

We finally took the 1.5 hr drive home from the airport in the large van that we had arranged in advance for all our luggage, which it turned out was not necessary since our luggage had not arrived. I spent several hours shopping during an ice storm to replace some of the essentials that were lost in our luggage. After 6 days of waiting and spending hours on the phone with Turkish Airlines trying to find out where our luggage was, we finally received our luggage and car seats. However, our excitement was short lived when we realized that every single one of our bags had been rummaged through and several expensive items had been stolen including our DJI Phantom 4 drone with all of its accessories and professional travel gear. We had to file several claims for the delayed and damaged bags on our way to Cameroon as well as the delayed and stolen luggage on our return, as well as file a police report for the theft from our luggage. We also asked for compensation toward our fight there due to arriving 10 hours after schedule, and for our brother’s return flight which arrived 4 days after schedule resulting in almost a week of unpaid work for him (remember he just started his job). We also filed claims through our credit card which we used to purchase the airline tickets (it was the Chase Sapphire Visa), which has travel insurance that is secondary to what the airline covers. The whole process was extremely time-consuming and stressful, and was made worse by all of us coming down with colds after the flight home.

We are waiting for the response to our claims and would like to be able to share in the near future that Turkish Airlines has redeemed themselves by compensating us for the delays, damage, and stolen items from our luggage, as well as reimbursed us for our essential expenses while we waited for our luggage to arrive. We actually have a trip already booked with miles on Turkish Airlines in Business Class in June to travel to Italy, but after this terrible experience I’m wary of traveling with them again. It is going to take a lot to make this up to us and deserve their title as Europe’s best airline.

What should you do if your luggage is delayed, missing or stolen?
We understand that situations arise while traveling and luggage gets delayed and lost. When traveling outside of North America and Europe, expect customer service to operate a a slower pace than in the United States. Should you find yourself in a similar situation as we did, or would like to prevent this from happening to you, the following suggestions might help:

  • Buy travel insurance prior to your trip. Check with the credit card that you used to purchase your ticket(s), which often includes travel insurance.
  • Make sure you have a full inventory of the items in your luggage prior to traveling in case your luggage is stolen. Otherwise you may not remember everything when filing a claim for compensation. Keep receipts for as many items as possible, which will be requested when you file a claim.
  • Know the weight limits of carry-on and checked luggage in advance so that you do not have to check any bags last minute that contain valuable items.
  • Cover your luggage with waterproof covers or have them wrapped with plastic wrap, which may also prevent theft from your luggage.
  • Invest $40 on a luggage tracking device that will tell you where it is located should it get lost. We plan to do this for our next vacation.
  • Take pictures of the damage for your claims. It is hard for the airline to argue when photos show clear neglect of your property.
  • Make sure to keep your baggage claim tags and boarding passes since they will be needed to file a claim.
  • Utilize the power of social media for quicker resolution of the problem. We had a claim created once we tweeted to Turkish Airlines about the damage to our luggage. No airline wants bad publicity, so they will work harder to make things right (hopefully).
  • Check your luggage upon receipt. If anything is missing, promptly report it to the airlines and file a police report in the airport where you landed.
  • In the event of luggage delay or damage, make sure you file a baggage irregularity report at the airport. Failure to do so means you may not be compensated.
  • Know your rights as a traveler and don’t settle for less. You have the right to cash compensation if your luggage is delayed, lost, or damaged, up to $3,300 depending on the duration of the delay and value of your luggage according to Airfare Watchdog.
  • Be persistent to get your problem resolved. If the person you spoke to on the phone didn’t give you an acceptable answer, call back and speak to another person. We were given different information from different customer service agents, some of whom were very helpful and others who simply said “Our colleagues are looking for your luggage”.

Now we would like to hear from you. What is your worst luggage experience with an airline, and how did you get it resolved? If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to our email newsletter and RSS feed for more travel tips and inspiration.

About Bertaut & Alexis

Why We Will Never Fly Turkish Airlines to Africa Again: Our Nightmare Experience
Travel addicts and proud parents of two young kids who make exploring the world a priority while working full time. Bertaut & Alexis enjoy traveling like millionaires without spending a fortune and share their tips on how to get luxury for less.
  • So thankful you guys had travel insurance!!! Thanks for sharing, I will definitely think about this before choosing to fly with them.

    • BAT

      Thanks Steph. We were fortunate to have used our chase sapphire card when purchasing the tickets. We had thousands of dollars of gear/personal items stolen and are still dealing with them. Such a shame as Turkish Airlines hard product and inflight service are excellent. Such a shame.

  • Ugh! I hate when they weigh your carry-on. So pointless!!!

    • BAT

      Right Collette, that threw us off big time! We don’t recall ever having our carry-on weighted.

  • Kallsy

    SERIOUSLY… WHAT A NIGHTMARE. My jaw dropped more and more with every sentence. We never go anywhere now without travel insurance, I’m glad your Chase card helped out in the events.

    • BAT

      Thanks Kallsy, we are still going through the process but Chase has been far more helpful than Turkish Airlines. It is pretty unfortunate as we’ve had excellent experiences with Turkish Airlines.

  • Victoria

    What an absolutely horrific story!!!! This makes me scared to fly them! And yes, a lot of airlines these days weigh your carry on too. Ugh!

    • BAT

      We would like to think that this was due to the mess around the terrible weather but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the luggage was left outside in the snow in Istanbul. Thousands of dollars worth of gear were also stolen from our luggage while the bags went missing for almost a week. We have a couple of friends currently in the Maldives whose luggage went missing as well. They traveled with Turkish Airlines… Yikes.

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