Updated: January 2021.
This is a story of how I was denied boarding a plane to Thailand. And how I thought I am a big-time traveller. How I failed and how I decided this is just the beginning…
So one day I decided I’m going to become a professional traveller. And it was all supposed to start with my trip to Thailand. The first solo trip outside of Europe. My eyes opened the moment I was denied boarding a plane at Istanbul Airport.
It took me many years to figure out who I would like to be when I grow up. During my early years, I thought of all possibilities. A novelist, movie director, and later on, neurosurgeon or lawyer.
I ended up waiting on tables in the restaurants. For 17 years.
Life just happened, as it does for most of us. One has to pay the bills. I got promoted a few times and stepped down from the position few times as well, realising that managing people is not my thing. Took courses, seminars, read multiple books on self-development.
Then finally I managed to get the ‘real job’. The proper office job for grown-ups. This came with all the perks – more money and more leave time for my travels. Great!
But hey! Show me one person which would say that sitting at a desk for hours without producing anything useful to society is their dream job. I personally don’t know any. But we need to be responsible, save money for the house, think about the future and sign up for the pension plan.
I’m so ungrateful, I thought to myself. So many people would do anything for this job – all the progress opportunities and job security. But deep inside I wanted more but I felt like I am ungrateful. Or maybe I’m just a hopeless dreamer and I truly believe there is so much more to life.
Finally, I decided to combine my two biggest passions in life – writing and travel. I decided to become a professional travel blogger. And it was all supposed to start with this dream trip to Thailand.
We all start somewhere. And the truth is – when we start – we have no idea. And I had no idea then.
But this trip was supposed to be the beginning of something great. The first solo trip outside of Europe – the comfort zone. The first time I was going backpacking, even if only for a couple of weeks.
This trip was meant to be the stepping stone. So many articles, memories, photos and stories could be produced out of this one trip. Travel tips and useful information. But more than anything, I just really wanted to be there. My dream holiday. Beautiful Thailand – the land of smiles, crystal blue waters and white sands.
Months of preparation and planning. Additional camera gear was purchased. I bragged about my trip to everyone. I was so excited. I saved money and booked all my accommodation and transfers. I chose no free cancellation options (!!!!) as I wanted to save money.
Little did I know!!!
Few ‘good lucks’, and ‘have a good time’s later I boarded a plane from Malta to Istanbul to change for a Bangkok flight there. It’s happening! I’m going!!!
I arrived at Istanbul Airport. Excited and happy.
As I approached the boarding gate i was told to wait. They took away my passport. People talking. The language I don’t understand. Boarding is closing. What is going on????
My passport is actually ok. At least in my opinion. It is an 8 years old document, heavily used, especially during the time I lived in Spain and worked in Gibraltar. Having to cross the border every day to travel to work left the mark on it. I naively thought I am saving it by taping the corner of it so it doesn’t tear anymore. An important tip – you are not supposed to do that!
‘I’m sorry you cannot travel to Bangkok with this document, it is damaged and therefore not valid’ – I heard.
‘But I travelled with this passport so many times! To Spain, Italy, Malta Poland!’
‘Europe is different, madam. You were within Schengen Zone, no one cares about your passport there. You are going to Asia, they are very strict – your passport needs to be valid.’
‘But it is valid! It has another 2 years on it. And yes maybe there is a slight tear – but I was using it heavily for the last 8 years! It’s not falling apart!’
‘I’m sorry, Bangkok will not accept you with this document. You Are denied to board this flight.’
Hot air entered my body and quickly left, leaving me feeling like I was dreaming. I must be dreaming.
This has never happened to me???
And what did I do? I started crying. From frustration. Explaining, begging, pleading, explaining again and trying to be reasonable. Nothing worked.
‘Come with me – the lady said. Oh, I thought – she’ll help me! There is a chance, there is another plane in 4 hours!
She didn’t help me. She dumped me at the Turkish Airlines desk, talked to them in their own language, told me to wait and that someone will call me.
This is where this story really begins
My experience with Turkish Airlines in Istanbul:
I waited. I would not take my eyes out of the service desk in fear I would miss someone calling me. I memorised all their faces. I know it sounds spooky. But I still had hope.
I went there few times during those 4 hours I was waiting. Every time I heard that they send a copy of my passport to Bangkok and they are waiting for the approval.
Then the shift changed. I went back again, and no one knew who I was and why I was there. So I explained again.
Finally, after around 6 hours I was told that Bangkok came back to them and that I cannot fly. I need to go back. Oh, and I need to buy a new, very expensive ticket just to fly back to Malta.
A part of me was hoping until the last minute that I will still be able to go. Maybe that’s why stuck to it for so long. I refused to give up. I refused to give up on my dream. Not very reasonable, I know. I should have just paid the bucks, get on the plane back and learn from the experience.
But I didn’t.
Until now, I don’t believe this mail was ever sent to Bangkok. They were just hoping I will give up. They promised my luggage is still at the airport – yet it arrived 3 days later. I didn’t go to Bangkok – but my luggage went. That for sure.
I used to work in customer service. And I know that if you really want to do something – you can. But there was no way they would change my return ticket from Bangkok to a return ticket to Malta. This ticket was nearly the price of my return flight to Thailand.
But this wasn’t all.
I could rant here for hours about how ignored and mistreated I felt at Istanbul Airport. How no one would even look at my face when talking to me. How I would see them laughing and looking down at me. An infinite amount of times I was asked to wait, promised help, and then left alone and forgotten.
I knew I won’t board that plane to Bangkok. But I was not prepared to pay so much for 1.5-hour flight back home.
Then I thought: if I’m here, I might as well stay in Istanbul for a few days. Guess what, they denied me that too. Like a criminal. I wasn’t even allowed to leave the airport in order to go to Polish Embassy.
I was sent from one desk to another. No one wanted to talk to me, no one was even willing to look into my face. This is what struck me the most. And what I will never forget. The horrible attitude, arrogance and rudeness of most of the Turkish Airlines crew.
This is how the night passed.
Finally, one of the clerks behind the desk showed mercy. I was told that the only way I could get out of this airport without paying a fortune for a new ticket was to hand myself into the police and got sent back as an inadmissible person.
Don’t get me wrong. I had money to pay for this ticket. I was going on holiday. And maybe if I was spoken to differently, maybe if any kind of humility was shown to me – I would eventually pay for it and humbly go home.
But I vowed that this company will not see a penny from me – ever again.
And they didn’t. I was admitted to the detention centre as an inadmissible person and spent the night with refugees where I waited for my flight the next day in the evening.
And this experience opened my eyes even wider.
I met people trying to flee their countries in order to better their life, or at least make it bearable. I saw people fighting for a chance of a new life. I felt ashamed.
Who am I? Complaining about my lost holiday to Thailand? Those people would rather fight, get arrested and be locked up as a result rather than go back home.
It made me realise how lucky I am – I can just go back home and try again.
We spoke, and they told me their stories. I lent them my phone and listened to them talking to their loved ones in their countries. If I paid for my ticket and went back straight away – I would be stripped of this experience. It was needed. So I understand.
48 hours of hardly any sleep, stress and frustration later – I was going back home. Escorted to the plane with all my documents confiscated – an inadmissible person. A priority boarding with a class.
And yes. I felt sorry for myself. I could not help it. And then this thought came upon me.
Internet and the whole world of social media are full of professional travellers. And they really know what they doing. I keep reading those articles and watching YouTube videos and ask myself how am I ever going to become like them.
And the answer is – never.
Because I am me. I make mistakes, make numerous plans and don’t execute them too well. I overestimate my abilities when hiking the mountains. I decide to use public transport for a learning experience and then, having to take a cab back instead as I got lost. And those mishaps – sometimes, put me in the situations I learn from the most.
How many people sing about their failures? Not too many. I decided I will.
I will also tell you about all the trips which went well (there are few in fact) but I will not shy away from sharing my setbacks and mistakes. At the end of the day, I think there are more of us out there. Amateur travellers, just trying to see the world and be happy.
“IT IS NOT THE DESTINATION WHERE YOU END UP BUT THE MISHAPS AND MEMORIES YOU CREATE ALONG THE WAY.” ~ PENELOPE RILEY
From every failure, there is an opportunity to learn and grow. I would not be true to myself and my readers if I didn’t honestly share it. Disappointment is a bummer. Especially when we are disappointed in ourselves. This road forks into two possible directions – to give up and settle or to go on and try to be better and better every day. I choose the second road. One day I will succeed. And so will you!
Few Important learnings from my failed Thailand trip:
- Always make sure your travel documents are in the required condition. What is fine to Paris might not be fine for Bangkok or Istanbul
- When the worse comes to worst – don’t cry. No one cares. There are thousands of people like you. Put your foot down and fight for what you believe is right. You will achieve more with this kind of attitude (note to myself really)
- Choose wisely the airlines you are flying with – in particular on long-haul flights. It does matter. The extra pillow or amenity kit, not so much. Check how the airlines deal with complaints. Airlines I flew with on that day have amazing reviews, that’s when everything goes well. With any kind of problems, customers were only met with rudeness, arrogance and complete lack of willingness to help. I observed a lot while sitting there for hours. Never seen to many unhappy customers. Also, unfortunately, I did this kind of research few days too late. You want to choose the company which employees will treat you like a human being if anything goes wrong. This is when you need it the most.
Other than that – go travelling! I’m off to Rome next – watch out for the guide and stories from the Eternal City!