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36 Hours Spent In The New Istanbul Airport

It’s virtually impossible to travel by air anymore without encountering a giant headache of a problem, whether it’s weather related or a mechanical problem or perhaps there is no explanation at all. You just get stuck.

In fact, getting on a plane and taking off on time and then getting off where you were supposed to is a big deal these days. It’s a big wow. It’s something to brag about.

So, it was no surprise to me when traveling to Armenia last week to lead a tour that I got stuck in Istanbul for 36 hours. It happened because someone in an airport in the United States told me that my bag would be transferred the entire way to Armenia, even though I had a layover in Istanbul. The guy looked me square in the eye when he said this.

The truth is, Turkish Air doesn’t have an “agreement” with my second carrier to transfer luggage, and when I found that out at the gate in Istanbul, I decided not to take the flight and go find my luggage.

This cost me the price of a new ticket to Armenia and a hotel for the night, but the truth is, you don’t want your suitcase lost in Turkey. You might not ever see it again. Or if you do, you’ll see it the night before you’re due to fly home.

I know this from experience.

The good news is that the new Istanbul airport is open for business, and folks, it’s really something to talk about. It’s basically a posh mall the size of Texas with planes pulled up along the outside.

I got to spend a lot of time eating Belgium chocolates and looking at Gucci purses.

Welcome to the world’s new Goliath airports, especially those in Istanbul and Beijing, which are among the world’s largest. In the next 20 years, air travel is expected to double and the global aviation system is trying to keep up. “Super airports” are all the rage now.

When the next phase of the Istanbul Airport is completed, it will be the biggest airport in the world, able to host 200 million people yearly along with 100 airlines and flights to more than 300 destinations around the world.

It’s being dubbed “the world’s new hub.” And at a cost of $12 billion dollars, it is the world’s most expensive new hub at that.

Impressive yes, but I’d say it’s more like a beautiful mess. Beauty doesn’t trump convenience for the passenger. The airport covers 1.44 million square meters (818 million square feet or 18,780 acres) but there’s no train to take you to your gates. You have to walk it, and there are not enough moving sidewalks to help with the distance. One end of the terminal to the other for a fast walker is 25 minutes. That’s without kids and strollers and elderly grandparents.

People reviewing the airport complain about exhaustion and missed flights. They talk about a space so big they feel lost inside it, uncomfortable and overwhelmed.

Shopping in airports is a big money generator and an important part of their profits. Analysts call the time you leave security and board your plane the “golden hour.” Airports want to increase the time you spend in the golden hour because the more time you spend waiting for your flight, the chances of you spending lots of money will increase. So for this reason, they’ve streamlined security checks. They want you to spend less time at security and more time shopping at the duty-free.

And the more relaxed you are, the more you tend to spend. So, airports around the world offer facilities like sleeping pods, showers and massage chairs to make the passenger feel relaxed and happy. I thought they were just being nice to us, but the truth is, they want to create a stress-free environment for you to spend money buying gifts for your family and friends.

According to research, relaxed travelers at the airport spend 7% more on retail and 10% more on duty-free. And the Istanbul new airport is really just all about the shopping: duty-free has a total sales area of 55,000 square meters (approximately 600,000 square feet) as well as elite boutique shops and a bazaar area of approximately 32,000 square feet, where local products are offered.

Do you ever feel like a mouse in a maze conditioned to do certain things, like spend money at airports? Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we spend a lot of our lives being sold to.

I thought the Istanbul airport is a work of art in some ways, with soaring ceilings, unique flora and fauna and some truly amazing restaurants and eateries.

As for my trip to Armenia and Georgia, were these countries on your bucket list? I didn’t think so. I will let you know what life is like in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. So far, our trip has been marred by the visit of Soviet President Vladimir Putin. His arrival to Armenia to attend a conference coincided with ours and is causing some headaches for us.

But it’s nothing a little eating and shopping won’t cure.

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