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Denied Boarding Flight To India, I Spent 24 Hrs At The Istanbul Airport: What Went Wrong And How I Fixed it

Updated: May 14

You'd think as someone who had traveled to 35 countries by then and crossed as many borders, I'd know a thing or two about visas, country borders, and all the immigration protocols. But every once in a while, even "seasoned travelers" like me make faux pas. And this time, I goofed up big time!

Denied Boarding Flight To India Stranded at airport

What happened?

So after a happening exciting 10-Day Turkey trip, which I've written in detail about, I got back to Istanbul Airport on the last day to catch my flight back to Dubai and then to India. But at check-in counter, they looked at my passport and denied me boarding the flight!

I did as all travelers in this situation would do - explained, begged, pleaded, asked them for explanations, but nothing doing -- they made it clear that I was not going to be allowed on this flight, come what may. The reason? I didn't have a valid UAE visa for a stopover in Dubai for my flight onwards back to India.

Here's how I had booked my flights and went about the visa situation:

  • To travel to Turkey in a low budget while still hoping to spend a day in Dubai, I booked two sets of return flights. 1. BLR- Dubai- Blr (Etihad airways) 2. Dubai-Istanbul-Dubai (Royal Jordanian Airlines). There was a gap of 4 hours and 12 hours between the two sets respectively.

  • Note that Blr to Istanbul or the return ain't connecting flights with a stopover in Dubai but rather 2 separate flights (with different airlines) with a different PNR for each leg of the trip.

  • Now my idea was that on my way to Istanbul, once I landed in Dubai I'd immediately transit to 'departures' again to my onwards flight to Istanbul and on my way back, I'd fly from Istanbul to Dubai, and since I had a 12-hour gap, I'd step out of Dubai airport and do a day trip, and get back to the airport in time for my flight back to Bangalore. So I got myself a 3-day Tourist e-Visa for UAE on the return leg of this trip.

  • When I reached Dubai from Bangalore, to reclaim my baggage, I had to clear immigration and at the immigration checkpoint, they did NOT ask for my Dubai evisa. (I had a printed copy of it.) I found that strange but figured since my outward trip was just 2 hours away, they didn't need it. So I cleared immigration, got an entry stamp on my passport, collected my bag and again checked in for my Istanbul flight, cleared immigration again and proceeded towards my flight. This leg went smooth, without a hitch.

The fatal mistake I made here was that I CHECKED IN a bag at the Bangalore airport instead of having only a carry-on. If I didn't have a checked-in bag, I didn't have to come to immigration at all, and could've straight away proceeded to the "transfers" section at the Dubai Airport. This used up my Dubai evisa.

  • Now on my return leg, when I presented my passport to the check-in manager at the reception, they figured that I didn't have a valid visa for Dubai since I'd already used up the one I had on my way here so they denied boarding me. Even though I assured them that I was only going to Dubai for a connecting flight to Bangalore, they'd have none of it, and much as I hate to admit it, they were right.

  • To make matters worse, since it was during Covid, Dubai wasn't handing out visas-on-arrival anymore and the minimum time it'd take to get an evisa is 3 working days.

  • So now, stuck at the airport, what do I do? Do I book a direct flight from Istanbul to somewhere in India since I don't have a valid visa to make any non-connecting flights. But those were crazy expensive. At least $1000.

  • Another option was I could spend another 2 days in Turkey since my Turkish visa had that much longer but there was no point as I still had to eventually come back here and do the same thing. So I got thinking. And then a glimpse of genius in the middle of a disaster struck.

Since I had a flight from Dubai to Bangalore on Etihad airways nearly 24 hours later, I could perhaps still use it. And luckily, the next day, there was an Istanbul-to-Dubai flight on Etihad. So this is what I did. I booked that Istanbul to Dubai flight for the next day in time to make it to the Dubai-to-Blr flight. I then went to the Etihad airlines' kiosk at the Istanbul airport, explained them my situation and requested them to "connect" my two separate flights. They asked me to wait while they checked internally. The flight was next day and I could leave the Istanbul airport and come back the next day, but I didn't want to miss anything again so I stayed put.

And thus, I spent the next 24 hours at the Istanbul airport, anxious, angry and and telling myself "Here's that disaster I face every trip! Was just waiting for the last minute to rear its ugly head."

(I mean I don't think I've had many international trips that have gone without incident - I did get robbed in Thailand, lost my gold ring in Europe, had my phone stolen in Rome, and so much more.)

Thankfully I had my laptop and phone and there was no lack of Wifi, charging points and food and water - even if expensive. So I did spend a lot of time reading, chatting, researching and had my lunch, dinner and the breakfast next morning at the airport. I met a few other "stranded" travelers like me who too were denied boarding for various border dispute and visa issues. One of them offered me a dessert and coffee, perhaps feeling sorry for me, while reinstating my faith in the kindness of strangers.

denied boarding, stranded in airport

While the day passed rather easily, the night at the airport was rough. Despite how fancy the Istanbul airport is, there were no loungers like in many Indian airports, so I had to squat myself on a bunch of regular chairs to get any sleep at all. To add insult to injury, I was woken up and interrogated many times by the security and housekeeping as though I was a hobo looking for a free crash pad, not someone who'd just added about $1500 to their country's economy, especially when the Turkish Lira was having a free fall and every $ counted.

When I woke up in the morning, I only had one thought that dominated my mind -- Will Eithad give me the good news? Multiple trips to the Kiosk didn't yield much.

Finally, 24 hours later, it was time for my flight to Dubai again, this time a different carrier and I was shit****g bricks! I stood in the check-in queue nervous and scared, dreading if the same thing would happen again, but I guess praying at the Haga Sophia just a week ago did pay off. Etihad manager scanned my ticket and passport and checked me in, no questions asked! They really did rise to the occasion and what COULD have been a much bigger and costlier disaster, turned out to be one that cost me 24 hours at the airport, no Dubai day trip, and an additional $150 for the last minute flight. In the larger scheme of things I consoled myself thinking "this could've been worse".

Lessons from my visa goofup?

  • Never take country borders and visas lightly no matter how well-traveled you are and how full of stamps your visa are.

  • The immigration folks know a lot more than they let on. While it looked like they didn't need a visa in Dubai, they had it all along in my records. When in doubt, don't book that flight.

  • If the flights don't connect and don't have the same PNR, you cannot do an internal transfer without clearing immigration. Keep that in mind when booking multi-country trips.

  • Travel with a carry-on! When on my 10-day Egypt trip a year prior and was stranded at the airport because my checked-in bag didn't come along, I'd sworn to never check in bags again, but I guess someone needed to repeat that lesson. Other than a few more clothes, nothing good ever comes out of checking-in a bag when backpacking international.


Get toknowme

 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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