A political crisis in a foreign country has had a Boston woman and her family doing battle with a major airline.
What is now anger started within hours of the coup attempt in Turkey last month. Kate Akkaya made it out of Turkey with minutes to spare, but was then held hostage by an airline policy.
Now back in Boston and holding her 5-year-old son, Akkaya recalls from the afternoon of the attempted coup in Turkey, "I didn't see the tanks rolling up, but if I looked out the window maybe I could have".
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The Northeastern University law student, in Turkey on a fellowship, had booked a weekend getaway trip to Paris. On that Friday afternoon, the streets and the airport were packed. She says her escape on one of the last flights came down to 6 minutes, saying, “It was 5 to 6 minutes between me being on that flight and not being on that flight.”
Two hours later, chaos in Turkey erupted.
"We landed in Paris and I turned my cell phone back on and it exploded," Akkaya says of the number of texts and missed calls. Tanks and gunfire filled the streets of Turkey. Hundreds were killed.
Just the day before, her son and his father had left Turkey for Boston, so for her, “It was a little too close for comfort".
Two days later, Akkaya was supposed to be back in Istanbul for her flight home to Boston.
"There was chaos in the streets, people facing tanks and bridges shut down," she says. The U.S. government was urging travelers to find an alternate route.
Instead of flying back to Turkey, she wanted to catch her Lufthansa flight to Boston on its layover in Frankfurt, Germany. Remember, it’s a ticket she had already purchased.
"I spent half hour to 45 minutes on the phone and then the call would drop. I just want to get home and I don't want to have to go back through a closed airport that's not allowing any planes in or out," Akkaya says. "It's impossible."
Not getting through, her cousin Jim Kaboski in Chicago tried calling.
"I talked to a customer service person and they said she could pick up the flight in Frankfurt but it was going to be $3,600, and I said 'You got to be kidding me,'" he says.
A Lufthansa supervisor told him the same. He remembers, "I was just thinking to myself when I was on the phone with this guy, 'If your daughter was stuck in Paris, would you expect her to fly back to Istanbul to catch a flight when there's people being killed?'"
Kaboski ended up using his frequent flyer points from another airline to fly Akkaya home. She gratefully says, "I'm just lucky to have family that was able to step in when a major international corporation decided they didn't want to bother."
After our sister station NBC Chicago contacted the airline, Akkaya received the $741 refund for the original flight.
Is there anything else she could have done? necn Investigates contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation and found that the best she can do is file a complaint.
If you’ve had trouble with an airline complain here:
You can also call 202-366-2220 (TTY 202-366-0511) to record your complaint. Calls are returned Monday through Friday, generally between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.
PERSONAL TRAVEL ADVICE FROM KATE AKKAYA:
- Be aware of your exit plans, especially if something happens and you have to change plans quickly
- Take all documents with you, even if for just a weekend
- Be sure to have all phone numbers - including your airline - already logged in your phone. "No internet, no phone numbers and a dead cell phone battery were easy to prevent," Akkaya says.