In the past few hours, a coup attempt has taken place in Turkey. Information is still limited, but explosions have taken place in Ankara and Istanbul, with sections of the country now under martial law. Military operations (and counter-operations) are underway in various areas, and many media outlets have been taken offline.
Both the US State Department and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have issued advisories, and are providing updates on Twitter:
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) July 15, 2016
— FCO travel advice (@FCOtravel) July 15, 2016
The US Embassy in Ankara has also issued an emergency bulletin:
U.S. Embassy Ankara informs U.S. citizens that shots fired and explosions have been heard in Ankara and both bridges in Istanbul, the Bosphorous and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, are now closed. Martial law and a curfew have been imposed in Turkey. All flights at Ataturk Istanbul Airport have been suspended.
We urge U.S. citizens to contact family and friends to let them know you are safe. We have seen reports that social media is blocked, but you can contact friends and family by email, telephone, or SMS. We encourage U.S. citizens to shelter in place and do not go the U.S. Embassy or Consulates at this time. Monitor local press for updates, avoid areas of conflict, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity of any military or security forces.
This is particularly upsetting following the explosions at the Istanbul airport earlier this month, and the attacks yesterday in Nice. My heart breaks for all those impacted directly, and I know many other travelers share feelings of concern and powerlessness.
Istanbul airports are closed
While a handful of flights were reported to have departed Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), the main Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) is certainly closed.
There are no air traffic control services, and based on live video streams from around and inside the terminal, there doesn’t appear to be any airport security.
If you are in Turkey, you should avoid going to the areas around the Istanbul airports until further notice.
Should you change your travel plans?
If you are planning to visit or connect in Istanbul in the next few days, yes. Absolutely. Nearly all flights for the coming days have been canceled, so you may not have much of a choice.
If you are traveling in the coming weeks, I would begin researching options, but wouldn’t change plans just yet. There is very limited information regarding the situation at present, and as such travel providers will be limited in the alternatives they can provide. There should be more clarity in the coming days.
If you are traveling later this year, I would also hold off on making changes for now. Broader waivers may be issued which allow you to change with no penalty, and keeping the phone lines clear for those with immediate travel will help everyone.
For reference, here are some of the current travel notices and waivers that have been issued thus far:
- Air Canada
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Delta Air Lines
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- United Airlines
Sadly, Turkish Airlines will probably be one of the last airlines to issue an alert. They are operating at a tremendous information disadvantage under the current conditions. As an indication of the communication situation, they just dispatched their flight from JFK:
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) July 16, 2016
How to change Istanbul flights
This is trickier than usual, as the three main US airlines don’t fly to Istanbul directly. Many of their partner carriers, however, do fly to Istanbul.
If you have not started your travel day:
Contact the carrier who issued your ticket — they should honor their partner cancelations and help you to rebook. If you booked an Air Canada flight to Istanbul (or beyond) using United miles, for example, United should work with their other partners to book you onto a new flight.
If your airline has not yet issued a waiver for your travel dates, or hasn’t received notification of cancelations, hold tight. You of course want to be proactive, but the airline can’t waive fees or open up additional inventory until their systems are updated. At the time of this writing, no carrier has issued a waiver for travel after July 22nd, though that will almost certainly change.
If you are already checked in for your flights, or are at the airport:
Contact the carrier who is operating your flight. In situations like this it does not matter if your ticket was booked with miles or money. You should be rebooked in the same class of service, though you may have to make some schedule compromises given how many other people will likely be doing the same thing. If you are traveling in a premium cabin, try visiting the lounge. Agents there are generally better able to assist (and less busy).
For further updates
There are reports of social media being limited if not blocked entirely in Turkey at the moment, but some information is still getting through. I recommend following BBC Breaking News and Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Nissenbaum on Twitter. This Reddit thread is also doing a good job of collating information as it becomes available.
Look for updates from official channels as well, particularly if you need to contact individuals traveling in the region. If you are in Turkey (I know many readers are), please stay safe, and know our thoughts are with you.