I’m Staying Away from Turkey Now that the Government is Sending Workers’ Families Home

In July I wrote, while pointing out the great award availability on Turkish Airlines using Star Alliance miles,

This is a difficult time for the Turkish people. Erdoğan is a strong man and a disaster who invoked Hitler to justify new powers he seeks in the aftermath of the coup attempt in his country.

He was aggregating power before the coup, restricting rights, but has since been rounding up thousands of citizens and restricting freedoms even more. Of course a successful coup could well have led to limitations on freedom for the Turkish people as well. There was likely no good outcome.

While I’m not inclined to make discretionary trips to Turkey now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the huge opportunities for transiting the airport enroute to the many destinations that you can conveniently reach via Istanbul in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

I think Turkish Airlines is a very good airline overall. They have a great lounge in Istanbul. There’s billiards, golf, a race track, and a movie room with popcorn machine. They even provide complimentary hotel stays to economy passengers forced to overnight in Istanbul by the Turkish schedule.

There was an attack on the Istanbul airport this summer. Of course that was outside security, the airport’s security protocols are quite good and passengers who are airside may be as safe as anywhere.

The security situation in Istanbul appears to have degraded in the post-coup environment. And purges continue and may even have accelerated. If even a quarter of the people being purged by the government had actually participated in the coup, it would have succeeded easily.

Since I’ve felt it safe to travel on Turkish Airlines, I thought it was also important to share concerns about actually spending time in Turkey right now as an American. The US has ordered families of consulate workers there to leave (HT: Paul H.)

The State Department is ordering family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to leave because of security concerns…indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent.

The Consulate General remains open and fully staffed. The order applies only to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, not to other U.S. diplomatic posts in Turkey.

The travel warning issued Saturday updates a warning last week of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens were advised to avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the country.

I’ve been a proponent of visiting Paris in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks and indeed many places where people have safety concerns. I’ve argued that the day after an attack is likely safer than the day before. But I didn’t suggest discretionary trips to Turkey in July, and I am even less comfortable with the idea now.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    I read somewhere that if you fly to or transit IST airport you will wind up with the dreaded $$$$ on your boarding pass. Is that true?


  2. We’re currently schedualed to fly Business Class MIA-IST-BKK and returning PEK-IST-MIA. The flights are not until next summer, reward availability was amazing, and it looks like a great product. Should we be concerned?

  3. Whenever seculars turn towards radicalism it leads to violence. Too bad erdogan had effed up turkey.

    Look forward to reading bombs going of in Istanbul. Effing erdogan and his imperalist ambitions.

    While other religions have done it too, sunni Muslims currently are the ones turning enmasse to violence and pushing their religious agenda on to others.

  4. @Tom as I say I am comfortable airside, I don’t personally have any concerns with connections in Istanbul. Of course things can change ANYWHERE in the world between now and summer.

  5. I came back from IST last month and absolutely loved it. By far, one of the most beautiful places that I have traveled to and very friendly people. I wouldn’t go around shouting “God Bless America” or anything like that, but I felt that it was a very safe place. Police were visible, with sufficient firepower, I felt safe against basic crime, and I had a great time. If you are looking for a bargain, Turkey is the place to go. Going to Paris next month too. Hopefully taking advantage of “crisp” pricing even though I’m a little late. Airfare $400 round trip from Toronto (in Y) was good enough to get me off the couch. wish me luck!

  6. well I am betting hard cash that if you stumble across a IST F mistake you would fly and visit in a heartbeat… 🙂

  7. I believe it is not a good idea to use your frequent flyer miles to jet to Istanbul over the weekend just to appreciate a freshly brewed cup of Turkish coffee. However, a four star bed and breakfast in Istanbul is only $22 US dollars or $16 for a three star hotel making that a superior value over having coffee at your hometown Starbucks.

  8. Having lived in various countries subject to US State Department advisories/warnings, I have come to conclude:

    Foggy Bottom: often wrong, never in doubt.

  9. We were just talking about that last night after seeing “Inferno” But decided against it for all the right reasons. These are troubled times and no one has a crash on when anything could happen. The US Embassy just issued a order exiting families out, that should tell any reasonable traveler you might want to rethink. Having served in NATO years ago you HAD to be careful downtown walking around. but then you couldn’t mask the fact that we looked liked servicemen !

    Gary, smart advice is if the US Consulate is sending families home stay away.

  10. State Dept has issued similar orders for the consulate at Adana, Turkey last year shortly after our visit in March. Nothing terrible happened in Adana which is within 200km to the Syrian border but on the side that is not the preferred routes of terrorists traffic.

    At that time UK government deemed Adana was safe. So we kept our travel plan – flew a very long itinerary CPT-JNB-IST-ADA. The Sheraton Adana is a gorgeous property that has won multiple architectural awards by the way. The security was very tight though. They closed all the entrances except the front entrance. All cars would be screened with the underneath mirror before being let in to the parking lot adjacent to the hotel.
    We had a rental car and covered a good part of Turkey in 7 days, drove up north from Adana to visit Cappadocia, then drove south thru the central very mountainous region down to the Med coast. Eventually meandered our way up the Aegean coast where we turned in our car at Bodrum. I bet very few American tourists have done the drive. Most people just go to Istanbul. There are A Lot more to see in Turkey than Istanbul.

    We were again at Istanbul for 2 days during Aug 2015 when our 14 days Aegean Sea to Black Sea ended at Istanbul. We felt something had changed, to the worse, just by the interaction with the locals. Of course just a few months later in Jan 2016 there was the bombs at the most tourist concentrated area in the old town, killing 33 tourists.

    To us, this country is now OFF the map for future trips. We are glad we have visited it extensively during better times.

    Turkey itself is an amazing country but being in Turkey a few times over the past 5 years we definitely can feel the downhill changes that the current region brought to the country – essentially destroying what their Founder Father Ataturk had built based that had brought Turkey much progress during his era.

    We remember how enthusiastic the Turkish tour guides we met on our first trip in Spring 2010, about their prospect of joining the EU in next year or 2, Young people had high hope at that time. All their hopes of course were ruined when Erdogan gained control of the country and started to aggressive push his religious agenda. A very sad turn of the country going downhill rapidly.

  11. @Gary — I got SSSS’d on a visit to IST less than 2 years ago, but it was on a stopover to a third county (South Africa). If you read the Flyertalk thread, a “there and back” trip generally didn’t trigger the SSSS. Whether that algorithm has now changed, I don’t know.

    I also would not travel to Turkey now, and I agree that it’s very different from (say) travelling to Paris after their last bombing (which I did). Realistically, the odds of being a victim of terrorism in Istanbul is still very low. It might even be lower than driving an automobile 100 miles in the USA. But humans aren’t very good at assessing risk, and I’m human. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in IST now, and that’s good enough reason not to go if you don’t have to. Sadly, recent events have destroyed Turkish tourism, and I fear it will be a while until the tourists return.

  12. @GringoLoco I do think there’s a reasonable enough likelihood that a state department advisory is different than evacuating the families of their employees that in this case I’ll err on the side of avoiding for now, going later.

  13. I passed through IST twice in the past year going to and from South Africa – about this time last year and again earlier this year. Neither time did I have an SSSS experience. That said, the Turkish security people are very thorough at IST.

  14. I think it’s rash to make a blanket statement based on a government policy. Specifically one that is directed at foreign service workers. There are always guidelines recommending or mandating what these people should or should not do. Some may or may not even be public. Most are preposterously risk adverse.

    If you want to make recommendations based on your own analysis, which includes a government policy, I think that is fine. However this article lacks any analysis on your part.

  15. So Dan what is the difference between a family member walking the street over a tourist? Is the Embassy worker family member more likely to have an issue over a tourist? I think not.

    My gut based on military experience traveling in and out of uniform ( officially) tells me that A) reading and watching the news and B) Evacuating family members is sufficient for me. As we use to say in the AF “there are a lot of old fighter pilots, but few old bold fighter pilots”

  16. Gary –

    Thanks for pointing this out so that others are aware and can make their own assessments around the risks.

    I personally share your reluctance. Withdrawing dependents is a Big Freaking Deal for the US Government, especially from a large embassy. They don’t do that without being concerned that things have gotten really dicey.

    Does that mean an attack *will*happen? No, but it means that they have real concerns that one might.

    Everyone gets to make their own assessments, based on their own circumstances. I would pass, but I have young kids.

  17. Ugg – I am sufficiently scared away and I have a flight coming up in February using Air Canada miles that goes DEN>ORD>IST>LIS>CPH>ORD>DEN, with 4 nights in Istanbul and 6 nights in Lisbon. Do you think they would let me change the whole beginning of the trip (regardless of whether for a fee or not) to something like DEN>ORD>AMS>LIS or is that considered a completely different flight instead of a change. I don’t know whether they consider LIS the destination and IST the stopover or vice versa, or whether that matters. I would like to maintain that last part of the trip, which probably is no longer available. The other options it that I continue flying way out of the way to get to IST but then flight right out to LIS or to some other airport for a stopover and then on to LIS.

  18. would you suggest canceling my tickets for a a flight leaving this tuesday to middle east with a 2 hour stopover in instanbul?

  19. As always, I’d exercise caution and refrain from wearing clothing that’s obviously peg you as American or being, as they say, “loud and out” as an American, especially in Istanbul.

    But I’d argue it’s a phenomenal time to visit the Anatolian coast and other parts of Turkey well away from the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

    Great deals and no crowds sounds great to me. Your risk of falling prey to political violence is still lower than falling prey to garden variety crime here at home.

  20. @ghostriider

    It’s certain that some people look and act differently than others. So policy needs to be evaluated by individuals. If you feel within a class that needs to be protected then by all means fall in line. I was encouraging Gary to provide more analysis that’s all.

    It saddens me when people retire into sheeple. To each their own, but there’s no time like the preset, how about a trip to Turkey ;-0? It might do you some good.

  21. This article makes me laugh and a few comments upset. Americans blaming Muslims again and again. Man….

    I hope that Muslim bloggers will write similar articles about the US once Trump wins. Just to read in the comments that Christians are so full of hate.

  22. Looking forward traveling to IST next April for the third time. As one commenter noted: you’re more likely to die in a car crash heading to the airport than die at the hands of terrorists – or in a plane crash, for that matter.

  23. @Nono –

    Nobody here is blaming Muslims, and I read no hate anywhere on this page, other than yours. Gary provided an informational post advising people that the US government had withdrawn dependents. That is a highly relevant data point to people considering whether to travel to Turkey.

    Denying that persons (of all faiths) are at greater risk right now of falling victim to a terrorist attack in Turkey than most other parts of the world is stupid.

    How you choose to respond to that risk is up to you, but to suggest that a rational discussion of the dangers associated with the fact that there have been dozens of bombings in Turkey in 2015 and 2016 somehow constitutes hatred of Muslims is disingenousness of the worst kind.

  24. I’ve got a TK flight in Dec with a forced overnight in Istanbul–in a hotel paid for by TK. I’m keeping that unless things really change dramatically.

  25. @Gary Leff — I don’t think it’s 100% safe to transit IST now, and recent events would seem to confirm that. That said, it’s also not very risky. Every time you transit an airport, especially a major int’l airport, there is some small risk of terrorism. Right now, the risk at IST is materially elevated. Given a choice, and mostly for peace of mind while travelling, I’d prefer to transit elsewhere. For instance, I’d opt for inferior in-flight service (like worse food) to avoid IST.

  26. @greg99 you say: “Denying that persons (of all faiths) are at greater risk right now of falling victim to a terrorist attack in Turkey than most other parts of the world is stupid.”

    Stupidity is to pretend to know what the future will bring and beeing disrepectful to other cultures and religions. There are much more dangerous places than Turkey and since life is fun, the most dangerous place could also be your home since a lighthing could end your life the night before a bomb goes up in the hood. Did I say that Turkey is safe? No, but there are more dangerous places. Did you ever hear about the daily terrorism going on in Siria? This population is in real danger, they have to run away and the hole planet should reach them out their helping hand. Is the US safe? Is Europe safe? Has it ever been? Anyway, don’t go to Turkey (a place most of the blog people here know just because the nice TK lounge – insane, insn’t it)?. Not going to Turkey will help people losing their business, having less money to educate their kids and generate more hate, making it even easier to radicalize them. Je suis Charlie was enough to motive people coming to France in order to avoid running out of business. I’m missing the Je suis Turk! movement. Mass hysteria did never help anybody – except the wrong ones.

    @Credit: While other religions have done it too, sunni Muslims currently are the ones turning enmasse to violence and pushing their religious agenda on to others.

    Oh really? Whats about the Buddhists in North Thailand hunting Muslims? Whats about Christians still playing dirty games with less developed countries? Just to mention 2 religions. Come on. No need to say others religions are better in order to put a bad light on Muslims. You know, out of 100 people there is one psyco, 10 lazy people, 30 idiots, quite a few average ones and perhaps 0,01% with a big heart and a even bigger brain. I assure you this has nothing to do with religion or race. Are you more afraid of a Muslim eating his sandwich, or of an US christian full of hate and racism? Tadaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

  27. Now Gary what will it take for you to keep out of Qatar and UAE? I guess Turkey is a convenient one for you to skip since you don’t seem too impressed with TK and they don’t currently have int’l FC.

    Gary when will you review LY F? Maybe bring Lucky along he indicated to his readers he would pay a visit this year, but uses the copout that he believes photographs aren’t allowed onboard.

  28. I was in Turkey for 10 days in August 2016 and encountered no issues. I flew through several airports in different cities and felt safe at all of them. Tourism is down, which is unfortunate because of how beautiful the country is. I would go back in an instant if I had the chance. It is also very difficult to top Turkish Airlines. They offer a solid world-class product.

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