In Transit – Istanbul Ataturk Airport

I’ve passed through Istanbul Ataturk Airport eight times since early February, so was stung even more than usual when learning about yesterday’s bombing attacks that killed at least 42 people and injured more than 230 others.

That those of us who transit through the world’s 11th busiest airport do so on the safer side of security checks is of little consequence or consolation to the families and loved ones of those who perished yesterday.

Yet the fact remains that those in transit through the majority of modern airports these days are almost always very far removed from attacks like this. In Istanbul, that means the majority of the 61.3 million passengers the airport served in 2015, in Europe a number that trails only London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

We’re kept in sealed off areas that are more malls and food courts than places of transit. They all bear a striking monotone similarity, with little beyond the signs in local languages –and even those oftentimes secondary after English– to distinguish one from another. Even to frequent travelers passing through for the first time, international transit areas in Dubai, Doha, Bogota, Hong Kong, Moscow, Brussels, or Istanbul all bear a monotonous familiarity.

In Istanbul Ataturk, my favorite haunts are the sports bar-style restaurant and café on the second level, the smaller of the D&R book stores, and a couple of the sprawling duty frees. The first for its fish & chips and free wifi, the second because it’s the only airport bookshop on the planet where I can browse and page through Noam Chomsky books, and the last for the mountains of free Turkish Delight samples available, in a variety of flavors, sizes and colors.

When I last passed through, in mid May, I was mildly accosted in one of the duty frees by a drunk Russian traveler who, refused service by the cashier, asked me to buy him a bottle of cheap Scotch. He was bouncing off of shelves as he tried to follow me, waving a 50-euro bill. It was just as I turned to tell him one last time to stop following me, that he began to sneeze. Large, loud, productive sneezes that launched chunks of whiskey-marinated phlegm towards crystal bottles of cognac, towards a shop employee reaching out to contain him, towards a tray of pistachio Turkish Delight. Towards my back.

In Transit - Istanbul Ataturk Airport
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The sneezing continued, nearly unabated, staccato-like, as two employees finally managed to pull him from the store, at that point little more than a limp sneezing slab. That’s the scene that first came to mind when I watched a video this morning from one of last night’s airport blasts.


Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 908th straight, was part of a brief series I snapped during a four-and-a-half transit at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on 13 February 2016.




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  2. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    Si, those backflashes can be sobering, and of course this news has affected you deeply. thank you for sharing your stories/feelings for those of us who have not traveled in that area.

    news of jama continues to get worse, news of others that i knew who died, of buildings still standing yet marked to be torn down.. the finale today was hearing that thee big excavators are pushing down the trees along the river near the bridge while trucks dump fill in place of the trees.. (if i understood correctly…)

    sigh.. our beautiful world is hurting, as are we..

    1. Bob R says

      So sorry to hear about the tragedy in Jama. When do you plan to visit? I know it’s not your primary concern there, but I was nonetheless happy to read that your house has and will survive.

  3. jacquelineobyikocha says

    It’s just sad really!

  4. paula graham says

    Indeed, my heart bleeds for the unfortunate folk who were there at the wrong day at the wrong time.

  5. Alli Farkas says

    Interesting that the perpetrators of this abomination apparently used one of the oldest tricks in the book to get past security–create a diversion in an adjacent area then sneak on through in the chaos that follows.

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