Felicity Long
Felicity Long

I was sipping champagne and chatting with colleagues somewhere over Spain on Turkish Airlines flight 11 on my way from Istanbul to JFK on June 28 when the Istanbul Ataturk Airport was attacked.

I'd spent most of the day in the airport's business class lounge, touring and enjoying the facility in the company of Ajdn Zekirovski, a marketing representative for Turkish Airlines who had been with us all week during a press trip to the Four Seasons Serengeti in Tanzania.

Because we had our phones turned off during flight, we didn't know what had happened until we touched down in New York, at which point our phones began to resonate with the bings of frantic incoming messages from concerned family and friends.

Once I had a chance to settle down and process our too-close-for-comfort brush with the attack, I spoke again with Zekirovski, who, while understandably somber, voiced his optimism about the future of the airline.

"We think any drop-off from North America will be temporary, partly because we are not dependent on the Turkish [destination] market," he said.

In fact, about 80% of Turkish Airlines passengers fly somewhere other than Turkey, including Africa, he said, noting that the carrier flies to 293 destinations in 110 countries.

This was not always the case.

About a decade ago, the airline catered primarily to Turkish passengers flying to and from Turkey. Nowadays the vast majority of its customers are international, Zekirovski said.

As to the airport's ability to rebound, he pointed out that flights resumed a mere seven hours after the attack, and that the facility is now fully operational.

Interestingly, before setting out on our trip, one of my kids and I had discussed any concerns I might have had about being in the Istanbul airport for so long on the way home, given the number of terrorist attacks in the country over the past year. I remember telling her that on previous trips through the airport, I'd been impressed by the tight security.

In fact, I was in Cappadocia during the 2015 attack in Ankara that killed more than 100 people, and the security at the airport a few days later on my way home had been rigorous.

That remained true of this flight, as well. I went through three layers of security: one entering the departures terminal, another at the main security checkpoint, and a final, and very thorough, screening at the gate.

However, this recent event showcased a vulnerability in many airports. The main focus of the attack was in the arrivals terminal, where security personnel were shot at the entrance.

To that end, the Istanbul airport has now added another level of security at the airport access road designed to screen incoming taxis, he said.

Zekirovski's other point of optimism is the airport currently under construction on Istanbul's European side, set to unveil phase 1 in October 2017. Fittingly dubbed the Istanbul New Airport while under construction, the facility is expected to serve 90 million passengers a year during its first phase, which will include the Turkish Airlines terminal, and 150 million passengers by its final completion in 2021.

New Airport will replace Ataturk, which Zekirovski admits is groaning at the seams, handling millions more passengers per year than it was designed for.

As to whether Turkey as a destination, and most specifically Istanbul -- in my opinion, one of the great cities of the world -- will rebound from the troubled year it has had, Zekirovski is hopeful.

At this point, he said, terrorism is a global problem and one we have to work on together. And, he added, if we don't keep traveling, the bad guys win.

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