After banned flights, Turkish Airlines ignores customer

The Federal Aviation Administration briefly banned flights to Turkey in July after a failed military coup. That’s a fact.

Turkish Airlines doesn’t think that’s its problem. Also a fact.

Caught in the crossfire — figuratively speaking — is Arthur Buckelew.

His problem is a little complicated, although the right solution really isn’t.

About a year ago, Buckelew booked a vacation in Tanzania in August. He planned to fly through Istanbul on his way home to Miami.

“On our return leg we planned to stay a week in the city,” he says. “But because of a rash of bombings there, we changed our plans in April. We opted to stay in Zagreb instead and booked a second Turkish Airlines flight.”

Then the coup happened.

“The FAA issued a statement banning flights to and from Turkey until the end of August,” he says. “We tried to reach the airline by email, phone, and website. After several trips to the Miami office and the airport, we were finally told we could rebook for $405 apiece on one flight and $195 on the other, but we had to fly before Oct. 23.”

He adds, “We contacted the New York office you list on your website, but we were routed back to Miami. We can’t even get the tickets canceled, much less a refund.”

So, could we help?

Turkish Airlines’ cancellation terms are clear and there are no exceptions for civil unrest. Our advocacy team has been down this road with Turkish Airlines many times since the unrest in the country, so what’s one more time?

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Except that this time, Turkish Airlines didn’t even bother to respond to us. That’s a new one.

Our team is used to getting at least a “we’ll look into it,” but silence is something we’re used to getting from a trashy discount carrier or cut-rate motel chain.

In the past, Turkish Airlines has said it operated the flight safely, and that’s what matters. Your personal safety, or what the State Department or FAA may or may not say, isn’t really the airline’s concern. A credit card dispute — a real long shot — is still an option. Buckelew would have to persuade his bank to gloss over a few federal laws regarding disputes to help him, but anything is possible.

Oh, and did someone say travel insurance? Unless it’s the super-pricey “cancel-for-any-reason” variety, Buckelew would have been stuck with the bill. The restrictions on filing terrorism or civil unrest claims are strict in order to enhance shareholder value.

I don’t mind being ignored by Turkish Airlines. I mean, we’ve asked the same question over and over, and the answer is unlikely to change. I am a little more concerned about the way the airline treated a customer.

The whole “we get to keep your money” routine is getting old. There are exceptions to every rule, even an airline’s nonrefundability rule. This should be one of them.

Should Turkish Airlines ignore requests for refunds like this one?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • DChamp56

    It’s sad that “Customer Service” is becoming a lost art, so to speak.
    I’m reminded of great companies, who go above and beyond and the loyalty they get from me.. then see things like this and cringe.


    I have been very surprised by all the Turkish Airline complaints. My neighbors had booked a trip to Istanbul before the airport terrorist incident happened. They called Turkish Airlines about their nonrefundable tickets and the airline promptly refunded them. No discussions, just a request to visit Turkey as soon as everything calmed down. They had the refund back on their card in just 2 days. They were thrilled with the customer service. but it appears Turkish Airlines gave up that service. When my neighbors told me about it I was wowed. Now I am saying wow for entirely different reasons.

  • cscasi

    “Turkish Airlines’ cancellation terms are clear and there are no exceptions for civil unrest. Our advocacy team has been down this road with Turkish Airlines many times since the unrest in the country, so what’s one more time?”
    It is a shame this happened to the Buckelew’s, however, I do not see anything we can do here to help based upon the clearly stated cancellation terms which Chris showed above. Turkish Airlines seemed to have built up a good reputation prior to the last coup attempt and then because of that it seems everything went downhill. That being said, I do believe the right thing for Turkish Airlines to do in this case would have been for it to refund the Buclelews’ money for the tickets or better yet (if it were possible) put them on another carrier to get them home. I can see Turkish Airlines’ side of the story. It was not because it did not want to operate, it was because the FAA banned it from flying to and from the USA for a period of time.
    It seems like with all the terrorism and other civil unrest, coupled with airlines and trains strikes that are becoming more and more common, traveling is not as fun or as easy as it used to be.
    But, how can one prepare for these things? For one, people should carefully investigate the terms and conditions and even cancellation policies of the common carriers in order to possibly mitigate the interruption of one’s travel when something happens in the area in which one is traveling, or in the above case, affects the carrier on which one is going to be traveling. That will take some extra effort, but perhaps it it just might save travelers some aggravation and, indeed, money.

  • fairmont1955

    The country is suffering from the loss of tourism and this doesn’t help. It’s one thing to be scared for safety and not wanting to visit a location, it’s another when the airline essentially washes its hands of any engagement to possible visitors.

    Sometimes pointing at a policy and shrugging is a cop out; the more travelers who lose money because an unusual situation like this (civil unrest) the more likely they are to continue to see a slide in their economy due to a downturn in tourism. To prevent that, in extreme situations if they provided some sort of accommodation (not saying a full refund but something beyond essentially ignoring customers) they may be more likely to prevent future damage.

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, to make sure it’s clear, they were originally scheduled to fly Tanzania-Istanbul, then spend a week in Istanbul, and then fly Istanbul-USA, all in August. In April, they changed their plans to Tanzania-Istanbul-Zagreb, week in Zagreb, then Zagreb-Istanbul-USA.

    Then, the attempted coup happened in July, and the FAA barred flights between Istanbul and the US.

    The ban was lifted on July 18th, though, well before their trip, so all of their flights flew as planned.

  • sirwired

    “Fear” is not on the list of things I think should be valid refund reasons for nonrefundable tickets.. That doesn’t mean that cancelling isn’t a bad idea, just that the airline shouldn’t be expected to pay for it.

    SOMEBODY is going to be left holding the proverbial bag in situations like this, and I don’t see any inherent reason it should be the airline.

  • Bill___A

    There seem to be things that are left unsaid, so I am thinking that the passengers decided to change their arrangements whilst the flights they were booked on still flew. If this is the case, too bad for them. When there’s a problem, the airline decides what will happen, you don’t get to say you want all your money back and route on your own. It is supposed to be a cooperative effort, so when a problem happens, call them up and ask what to do…

  • michael anthony

    Before absolving Turkish Airlines, one should consider the state of the country from a few months prior to the attempted coup to present day. The government currently in charge has tried to put on a happy face that all us well, while at the same time contributing to a growing list of human rights abuses. It’s certainly not the Turkey of a decade ago, and that includes the national carrier. I’m not surprised that Turkish ignored you. It’s ironic that they continue to run their ads touting their luxury service, but if a problem pops up, they wash their hands of it.

  • taxed2themax

    For me there are two separate issues: getting an answer and the answer itself. I don’t have a problem if the answer is no – so long as that’s based on the facts, regulation or other objectively defined standards..
    What I DO have a problem with is the no-answer/no-reply. That said, I think if the airline had already answered him earlier (be that via online, email, phone, etc) then that’s not a no-answer.. By that I mean I think there comes a time where back-and-forth serves no useful purpose… but in this case, that doesn’t sound like the matter.
    So, I think TK owes him an answer – no or yes.. and the basis for that answer.

  • PsyGuy

    The airline didn’t transport the passenger. I’d file a dispute with the bank card. That said, I really can’t blame them too much, there are so many complaints responding to all of them favorably just isn’t worth it.

  • Don Spilky

    Maybe EU should let Turkey in… if only to have them on the hook for EU 261! :)

  • Lindabator

    but just because they don’t answer Chris, AFTER they already spoke with their client, that IS their perogative

  • Lindabator

    and you need to see all the alerts about the US in other countries — the ban was waived before their scheduled trip, so FEAR is not a viable excuse to expect your money back – sorry

  • Lindabator

    They DID answer the client, and told him no. Now Chris & his staff are going back to them, and they are not answering him – which they really do not HAVE TO

  • Lindabator

    doesn’t work that way – just because you chose not to go, and the flight operated, you are not entitled to a refund – and the credit card companies know that, too


    I am now very perplexed. I took the post at face value–that Turkish was not flying at the time the OP was traveling because of the FAA ban. From later comments it appears that the ban was lifted before the OP traveled and he chose not to fly on Turkish even though the flights were operating as scheduled. This is frustrating to me. What the OP says and what is implied in the post is that the flights were not operating. If they were operating and Mr. Buckelew simply chose not to travel then he is out the money. He contacted Turkish, they said no refund and that is the end. It would be professional if they answered you but if those flights were operating then I have a much tougher time laying fault with the airline.

  • Mark

    Exactly this. The flights were not during the FAA’s ban period, so Turkish is quite reasonable to not refund…

  • PsyGuy

    They didn’t “choose” not to go, the FAA suspended service.

  • Lindabator

    the flights still operated – the FAA lifted the ban July 19th, not long after they imposed it — so he CHOSE not to fly

  • PsyGuy

    I didn’t read that, my take away was that his flight was within the narrow band that the FAA suspended service.

  • fairmont1955

    Sure, lots of things are choices, and to my point, if they want to take a short term gain for longer term negative, that’s also their prerogative :)

  • jsn55

    Turkish Airlines is being very short-sighted about this case. Pretty soon tourists will just chose to travel somewhere else and Turkey will be in worse shape than it is now. Turkish Airlines will have nobody on their planes.

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