As Istanbul’s beautiful new airport opens for business, it serves as a reminder of how state-backed airlines serve to advance the power of the regimes that fuel them.
The Financial Times shares a fascinating account of the history of Turkish Airlines. The carrier’s recent history of robust expansion all began with a promise from then-Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2012 that “every Turkish citizen will fly at least once in their life.”
And as Turkey, under Erdogan, has tried to resurrect its influence lost after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, one way it has done that is through growing Turk Hava Yollari, what we know as Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines serves 252 international destinations and serves more countries than any other airline.
Part of that is explained by geography:
Almost 50 countries can be reached from Istanbul on a flight that lasts three hours or less, allowing them to be served by narrow-bodied aircraft that use less fuel and require fewer passengers to fill up.
But what I found stunning was how far Turkish has come in so short a time. Take Africa, for example.
In 2003, Turkey had 12 embassies on the continent and Turkish Airlines had five destinations. By March this year, those figures were 40 and 52.
Indeed, Turkish Airlines has become “Turkey’s first and best known international brand.” Put another way, Turkish Airlines is used to exert Turkish influence around the globe. Turkish Airlines has opened the door of Africa for Turkey.
The Turkish Puppet
And over the years, as Erdogan has consolidated power, Turkish Airlines has more closely followed the lead of the national government:
Over the years, as Mr Erdogan has stood accused of growing intolerance towards his critics and became bolder in imposing his conservative values on a country founded on secular principles, the airline has also faced criticism. It stopped serving alcohol on domestic flights and ceased offering critical newspapers.
Following the July 2016 attempted coup, the carrier mimicked the state’s purges of public servants suspected of supporting the plot by dismissing staff. The airline, which declined to be interviewed for this article, did not respond to a request for comment on why it acts in line with the government.
That’s why the latest airport project is so important. By 2027 (at least that’s the plan), Istanbul’s new airport will have six runways making it “the largest airport in the world” (according to the Turkish government). Look around the new airport and you’ll see the following signs:
This is not just an airport…It is a monument to victory.
I’m not complaining about the byproduct of this government influence, which is one of my favorite airlines in the world. Good quality food and service is not just a business decision, but a political one. But it is interesting to think about what Turkish Airlines would look like today if the government backing it only had running an airline on its mind. Instead, the airline is just a sword in the toolkit of a state yearning to regain glory on the world stage.
Different nation do different campaign with their airlines. Some campaign hospitality, like Garuda; some campaign sophisticated cabin like SQ; some goes to luxury like Emirates, Etihad, Qatar. Some still famous for national delays like BA or passenger beat up like United.
Applies to many airlines I guess, they often are the business card of,the country:
Garuda – hospitality
SQ – efficiency and sofistication
Turkish – grand
Qatar – grand and luxurious
KLM – friendly and down to earth
Lufthansa – solid but without any fantasy
AA – superficial, in demise, customer unfriendly
Finnair – trendy cool
United – rude
Thai – friendly
If you not complain about the product, why you wrote the political article in travel forum? Qatar is one of the top airlines in the world but they do have a Taliban official embassy there. Saudia is goverment owned, they do have a solid hard product but sometimes they eliminate their enemies in their territory(embassy). I do not quite get the halo about it. That journalist was a personal friend of Osama bin Laden and a high ranked member of Muslim Brotherhood. Every year too many journalist has been killed, why he is so special?
Turkish Airlines has always been a good airline even before Erdogan. I remember the first time I used it was in 2001 to fly from Istanbul to Frankfurt.
I don’t have experience flying Turkish Airlines before Erdogan, but I did read that it used to be horrible and the joke was that THY stood for “they hate you”.
I have been flying for 40 yearsTurkish airlines and could not agree with any of your hear and say.
YES, YOU HAVE RIGHT.
I AM FLYING THY SINCE 1990 AND EVERY YEAR IT IS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER.
What will happen I wonder when the economy falters and the government must shunt money away to other national interests? We’ve seen the Lira tank in value recently and the economics in Turkey are ripe for a major correction, will Erdogan still want to invest in making sure every Turk flies once when they are struggling to make ends meet inside of Turkey? The emergence of Turkish Airlines is great for competition and putting downward pressure on airfares, but ultimately national flag carriers are subsidized vanity projects, and when times get tough those are the first casualties.
Some corrections….Turkey should not be referred to as a regime. Western media points to Erdogan as if he has made life hard. He promotes TA just as he promotes for all people to have the right to practice their own faith. Old Turkey would let everyone EXCEPT Muslims to practice their faith. Now, Erdogan has allowed for everyone to practice fully and freely.
He promotes for TA to grow since he realizes it will help the growth of the economy. Making Turkey an ideal place for all international business to call home. He promotes for all infastructure projects to move forward.
The US should learn from this instead of wasting time pointing fingers at successful models such as Turkish Airlines.
I love Turkish Airlines, one of my favorite airlines in the world. But Erdogan has cracked down on civil liberties and instituted reforms that would make Ataturk roll over in his grave.
If Turkey (or the UAE or Qatar) wants to spend a bunch of their tax-payers’ money for a prestige project of a national flag carrier and by extension create a ton of consumer surplus (ie. subsidy) for foreigners, that’s totally fine with me. I’ll take that deal.
I have used Turkish airlines and it is very impressive with regards to the level of service and value that the customer are receiving. I am glad to see that Turkey is creating more opportunities for people around the globe and providing exceptional opportunities for travelers.
Keep up the excellent work in serving your citizens and people around the world.
Yeah good quality if you are flying on business class. Because they treat economy passengers as shit. Two weeks in advance i asked for a celebration cake on board because on flight day was our anniversary. Well, no cake was boarded that day even i got a confirmation 2-3 days upfront. And when i called for a complaint they just said a simple sorry and gived me useless 3000 bonus miles points that you can not use anywhere. I am saying you can not use anywhere because if you buy a regular ticket it will cost 140$, if you buy a ticket using $+bonus points it will cost you 160$ . Ohh, by the eay. They censorship one of the biggest newspaper in Turkey, Cumhuriyet, who is clearly not supporting erdogan and this is the main reason why they dont provide that newspaper on flights. Isteae they have only newspapers that are full of propaganda stuff of erdogan and his minions. This is clearly going under human rights since we are living in 21 century, no censorship like this should happen.
So… They are bad because they forgot your anniversary cake? Or maybe they just don’t want a drunken passenger due to some lame anniversary? Touche!
How did you related the drunk passenger with the cake? Do you use to get drunk with a small cake?? It would be an interestin superpower of lame people like you !
It was my bad experience and YES, they make them bas if they dont resolve this situation in a way it should be? And i am sure its not only me who they treas bad. If you know turkish you can just check sikayetvar.com (a corporatd complaint website) and you can see that there are thousands and thousands of complaints about turkish airlines (thy) treating customers badly !!
I did my thesis on the connection between flag carrier and National Reputation. I used Turkish airlines and it was very interesting to learn how it is used by the government to promote interests and a better image of Turkey.
I find it amusing that the author seems a bit biased against Turkey in general and President Erdoğan in particular. In the US, we use everything from pornography to military”adventurism” to promote US influence and interests throughout the world. Türkish Airlines as a “sword”? Indeed.
I love Turkey and Turkish Airlines. One of my favorite countries to visit and favorite airlines to fly. I am far less sympathetic toward the administration.
Your country assuming you’re American is extremely biased towards the very toxic terror exporting Saudi regime. Turkey & Iran are saints compared to the repugnant Saudi thugocracy. The hypocrisy of the “west” is equally repugnant.
I’m not defending Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen or repugnant crackdown on civil liberties. Indeed, the U.S. overlooking that shameful and blatant violations of human rights is deplorable…and hypocritical.
I find it interesting they haven’t given the new airport a name. I suspect that this is so that at some point in the future it can be named for Erdogan.
Firstly if one wishes to criticize Erdoğan one might start at home and address the erosion of civil liberties for the past 17 years.
Secondly, if one wishes to advance the argument of political tools, what is more a tool of the US then the TSA, the onerous Rapiscan/prison security machines advancing at airports around the world, the humiliation of having to remove shoes and belts, the prohibition of every IATA carrier from allowing flight deck visits , all done ostensibly for “security” but in reality to enforce fear and power.
None done by Turkey, the ME3 but rather by the bastion of “freedom”.
The growth in which THY has gained in the past 10 years is equivlent to the growth and GDP of the country as a whole. Turkish Airlines with or without the help of the government has been around for almost a centry now and knows a little bit about how to fly people around. Before Erdogan, Turkish Airlines was there for passangers in need including the 215 Japanese passangers left in Iran during the Iran Iraq war in 1985. Turkish Airlines was the only international carrier to fly to Somalia and provide tons of aid while they where at it. The unfortunate events that took place during the July 2016 coupe was felt in every corner of the country as the roots of this organization was deeply embedded in every large corporations in the country.