Flying high (and cheap) in Turkey

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Turkey is a vast country, spanning 2000 kilometres from west to east, and aviation plays a key role in its society. The vast majority of the Turkish population however has long been unable to fly due to high fares. The national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines, has always dominated domestic air travel. With the lack of competition, air fares remained high. But, following the success of budget airlines in the United States and Europe, a number of low cost carriers (LCC’s) have started operations in this country on the border of Europe and Asia.

Many airlines have come and gone in the Turkish aviation scene, trying to get a share of the stream of tourists visiting the country. Istanbul Airlines, Air Alfa, Air Anatolia and TUR European Airways are just a few of the carriers which no longer exist. Turkey’s current LCC’s are airlines which were active in the charter market previously rather than carriers being set up as LCC’s from the start. Onur Air, Pegasus Airlines and AtlasJet had been flying to European destinations for some time before starting up domestic scheduled flights. While Onur Air and AtlasJet are based at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, west of the city, Pegasus Airlines has chosen Istanbul’s newer second airport Sabiha Gökcen, on the Asian side and about forty kilometres from the city centre, as the centre of its network. The carriers serve a wide range of domestic destinations, including Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, Adana, Trabzon and Diyarbakir. Turkey’s flag carrier Turkish Airlines has, facing the competition of the “new” low cost carriers, also lowered its domestic fares and offers domestic flights from both Istanbul airports.

Turkey has always had an excellent network of bus services, with comfortable long distance coaches reaching every corner of this huge country. But bus travel is slow and dangerous; thousands of people die on Turkey’s roads each year. Train services are quite limited and, except of the Istanbul to Ankara run, not a very good option for travel. The rise of budget airlines in Turkey is good news or air travellers, both locals and visitors. For the Turks, it means that many more people can afford to fly now, and they can drastically reduce travel times. And for the tourists, the lower ticket prices now make it possible to discover much more of the country in a shorter period of time, and for less.