16 Hours in the Turkish Coup

When revolution hits you in mid air, what do you do?

NYC, 9am — JFK to TLV via Istanbul

New York was boiling, it was so hot and humid I just wanted to get out of there and get to the cooler JFK airport.

“You are gonna have the best food in the world!” said the Lyft driver on the way to the airport. He kept on talking about the last Turkish dinner he had with his friends last week and what they talked about in details… I kept on wanting to get to the airport.

Mid Air, 3pm Friday — Turkish Airlines has the Best Economy Food

The flight is going well! First time flying Turkish cross atlantic and it is delightful! The Lyft driver was right — I will have a great time on this flight :) Also, managed to nail a front row seat so I can sleep all flight.

Mid Air, 1am Saturday — Something Strange is Happening

Slept for a while, I go to get a water bottle. The crew is talking very loudly and aggressively in Turkish, in the back of the plane. “Welcome to the Middle-east” I remind myself. I have spent too much time in California and probably became soft…

I can’t go back to sleep, so I go on the Internet (expense reports are best done while in flight). I check twitter before hitting the joy of doing the report and see something strange:

WTF? I go on to CNN and confirm that there is a revolution attempt in Istanbul. Seems like there are attacks on bridges, gov buildings and even the CNN office in Istanbul.

“Well, that explains the loud crew discussion!” I think to myself. Everyone around me is either sleeping or watching movies. I need to let my family know this is happening!

I try to ping my wife over Hangouts (I was a Googler for 5 years after all) and nothing, she is probably sleeping. Email works! I send her an email alongside a few of my friends.

Talking to the crew is frustrating — “We know it is happening, nothing we can do about it!”

Mid Air, 2am Saturday — Facebook and Twitter are Dead

Well this is fucked up, I need to let all my friends know I am heading into this. I go back to my laptop and try to open Facebook, it does not open, neither does Twitter now that I hit refresh. HTTP pages still work, and so do some of the other HTTPs like Google search. Then it hits me, they’ve blocked Social.

Luckily I installed a PHPProxy on one of my servers once (long story) and can now tunnel through it. It is slow, it is ugly, but it works!

Yes, I see the typo, really wish Twitter would add the Edit functionality some day. I also post on Facebook:

Google Plus is not blocked but nobody is there…

Mid Air, 3am Saturday — We are Going the Wrong Way and the Captain isn’t Talking to us.

We are over northern Europe heading to Turkey, this is not funny.

“We do not know what is happening, waiting for the captain”

“The captain is awaiting instructions from Turkish ground control“

“We are continuing to Istanbul! Please sit down.”

At this point most of the airplane is aware and is connected to their laptops or to the news that is being broadcasted on the TV screens. Everybody is agitated and stressful. My awesome Slack team is pinging me worried and Slack security is monitoring the situation and giving me valuable tips.

We are heading head on to Istanbul, the captain had not said a word since we took off. There has been no announcement of any kind. The plane is not following its original course, but is in the general direction of Turkey. We hear we might land in Morocco, but we are landing in Turkey…

“Ataturk airport is closed, we are landing in an alternative airport in Istanbul” the captain is saying laconically. Everybody is anxious as we land.

Istanbul Airport, 5am Saturday — The Chaos begins.

We head out of the plane, there is an unhappy person standing in the lobby, he points left to security checkpoint. Someone is asking him about their connection, but the guy does not know English and just keeps on pointing.

The security process is a joke: everyone is beeping, everyone is yelling, and the security guards are ignoring all the metal detectors warning and just instructing into the waiting area. No one until now admits to know English.

The airport is not too bad, looks like any small European airport. We finally see a Turkish Airlines representative who asks everyone to be quiet and updates us:

“We do not know anything!” he starts reassuringly. “Please wait here. We will fly you from here when we can. We think we can fly you to Ataturk at 1pm, maybe. We do not know. All flights are now grounded in Turkey, we can not fly you out until the lockdown is over, it might be a few days…”.

When I asked why they have not landed us in any of the other countries in the way, where there is no lockdown, he shrugs…

Istanbul Airport, 6am — 1pm Saturday — the Long Wait.

We sit in a local cafe in the airport and start to get to know each other. A lady returning to Turkey after years in NYC. Another two men coming back from work in Nigeria, another coming back from vacation in Brooklyn.

The Turkish at our table are saying they are hoping the revolution is successful. The rest just hope it will be over.

6:30 am — Riot in the Airport?

We hear riot noises coming from downstairs:

We are not sure if this is related to the coup as they are yelling in arabic, rather than Turkish.

7:30 am — All of Turkish Airline Staff Just Went Home

Well this is unnerving, all the staff has gone home. Someone said that traffic is halted everywhere so we should not expect the day staff any time soon. It is not fun to see no one from Turkish Airlines.

9:00 am — more flights coming in, all flights are canceled

More people are pouring in, it is becoming hot and a crowd is forming in front on the flight screens, all showing red.

Still no one from Turkish Airlines staff to update us.

11:30 am — The morning staff has arrived

And with food! It is bagels and bottled juice but it gives people something to focus on.

On the other hand the Turkish Airlines manager brings bad news: All flights are still grounded, it might take a few days before anyone can leave Turkey. Some people comment that that is also true for the airport, as they tried to leave and were instructed to stay in the airport by the guards.

The current plan, the manager says, is to fly us to Ataturk, once the lockdown is opened, and to take the connection flight from there. Reading a little in the news and my social feed, I figure that that is a bad plan. I ask him if there is a flight direct out of here to Tel Aviv. He says yes, but later — he humors me and replaces my ticket to Ataturk (and a connection to Tel Aviv) with a direct to Tel Aviv.

At this point people are pretty tired and depressed, the time is 1pm, we are 8 hours in, and it looks like we will be here for a while.

3 pm— Light at the end of the Tunnel? or is it a train coming in?

News and social are starting to light up. The first flight (not Turkish) leaves the airport. Now the chaos is at its max and the heat is getting to everyone, the air condition is already dead in several areas in the airport. People are yelling and pushing and trying to re-book their flights. Ground staff has totally lost it in a few occasions: I saw a tourist ask a help-desk person “how are you doing?” and the answer was “very bad, I am here.”, I also saw a staff member standing in a crowd saying “I had enough, I am going to smoke” and leave everybody hanging.

The flight to Ataturk is not on the board. Our flight to Tel Aviv is marked Canceled Then Delayed, then disappears from the board. The grounds staff answer is “You might see it back in an hour, but you might see it tomorrow.”

5 pm — Getting better.

Now that some of the flights have gone out (mainly to Arab and northern EU counties) the airport is becoming cooler again. With less travelers, the ground staff is able to manage more and our flight is on the board. Set to leave at 5:55. We are getting out of here.

6 pm — Delayed Again.

We are going through very rigid security, I haven’t been touched by so many people since I was 18…

Every 30 min we get another 30 min delay, but we are hopeful.

7:45 pm—We are out of here.

The flight is half empty, the crew is dead tired but so are we, so we do not mind. The Turkish flag on the red wing seems symbolic to me.

9:35 pm — Landed safe and sound in Tel Aviv

Happy, tired, in desperate need of a shower and a bed, I go out of the plane. I get out of custom and hit by media outlets asking me “were you hurt?” “were you scared?” “did you see violence?”

I tell them I was not hurt or scared, just tired. They quote me to be scared and worried. But as Stewart Butterfield once told me - you can not control what other say you said :)

I am happy to be home, super touched by the love and support of my friends and family and very glad this is over.

CPO and co-founder of Reshuffle.com

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