BREAKING: Istanbul Airports Closed Due To Military Coup, Flights Canceled

Filed Under: Travel

In the past few hours, a coup attempt has taken place in Turkey. Information is still limited, but explosions have taken place in Ankara and Istanbul, with sections of the country now under martial law. Military operations (and counter-operations) are underway in various areas, and many media outlets have been taken offline.

Both the US State Department and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have issued advisories, and are providing updates on Twitter:

The US Embassy in Ankara has also issued an emergency bulletin:

U.S. Embassy Ankara informs U.S. citizens that shots fired and explosions have been heard in Ankara and both bridges in Istanbul, the Bosphorous and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, are now closed. Martial law and a curfew have been imposed in Turkey. All flights at Ataturk Istanbul Airport have been suspended.

We urge U.S. citizens to contact family and friends to let them know you are safe. We have seen reports that social media is blocked, but you can contact friends and family by email, telephone, or SMS. We encourage U.S. citizens to shelter in place and do not go the U.S. Embassy or Consulates at this time. Monitor local press for updates, avoid areas of conflict, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity of any military or security forces.

This is particularly upsetting following the explosions at the Istanbul airport earlier this month, and the attacks yesterday in Nice. My heart breaks for all those impacted directly, and I know many other travelers share feelings of concern and powerlessness.

Istanbul airports are closed

While a handful of flights were reported to have departed Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), the main Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) is certainly closed.

There are no air traffic control services, and based on live video streams from around and inside the terminal, there doesn’t appear to be any airport security.

If you are in Turkey, you should avoid going to the areas around the Istanbul airports until further notice.

Should you change your travel plans?

If you are planning to visit or connect in Istanbul in the next few days, yes. Absolutely. Nearly all flights for the coming days have been canceled, so you may not have much of a choice.

If you are traveling in the coming weeks, I would begin researching options, but wouldn’t change plans just yet. There is very limited information regarding the situation at present, and as such travel providers will be limited in the alternatives they can provide. There should be more clarity in the coming days.

If you are traveling later this year, I would also hold off on making changes for now. Broader waivers may be issued which allow you to change with no penalty, and keeping the phone lines clear for those with immediate travel will help everyone.

For reference, here are some of the current travel notices and waivers that have been issued thus far:

Sadly, Turkish Airlines will probably be one of the last airlines to issue an alert. They are operating at a tremendous information disadvantage under the current conditions. As an indication of the communication situation, they just dispatched their flight from JFK:

[UPDATE 7/16/16: Turkish Airlines has now issued a notice, allowing waivers for the immediate future, but not addressing the banning of flights to the US.]

How to change Istanbul flights

This is trickier than usual, as the three main US airlines don’t fly to Istanbul directly. Many of their partner carriers, however, do fly to Istanbul.

If you have not started your travel day:

Contact the carrier who issued your ticket — they should honor their partner cancelations and help you to rebook. If you booked an Air Canada flight to Istanbul (or beyond) using United miles, for example, United should work with their other partners to book you onto a new flight.

If your airline has not yet issued a waiver for your travel dates, or hasn’t received notification of cancelations, hold tight. You of course want to be proactive, but the airline can’t waive fees or open up additional inventory until their systems are updated. At the time of this writing, no carrier has issued a waiver for travel after July 22nd, though that will almost certainly change.

If you are already checked in for your flights, or are at the airport:

Contact the carrier who is operating your flight. In situations like this it does not matter if your ticket was booked with miles or money. You should be rebooked in the same class of service, though you may have to make some schedule compromises given how many other people will likely be doing the same thing. If you are traveling in a premium cabin, try visiting the lounge. Agents there are generally better able to assist (and less busy).

For further updates

There are reports of social media being limited if not blocked entirely in Turkey at the moment, but some information is still getting through. I recommend following BBC Breaking News and Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Nissenbaum on Twitter. This Reddit thread is also doing a good job of collating information as it becomes available.

Look for updates from official channels as well, particularly if you need to contact individuals traveling in the region. If you are in Turkey (I know many readers are), please stay safe, and know our thoughts are with you.

  1. It’s 9:30 EST and I’m watching Tk4 land at IST as we speak.

    Pretty scary if this article is correct and there is no control tower, etc.

  2. @ Daniel — They have been letting (some) planes land, but not takeoff. Many pilots are asking for takeoff clearance, and have been denied due to lack of ATC — that’s all I know right now.

  3. Planes allowed to land but not takeoff. Bear in mind when these planes reach IST, it is about 12 hours later, they shd have ATC then

  4. “Turkish Airlines: All flights to resume as normal to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport Saturday at 6 am local – Anadolu Agency, Haberturk”

  5. I’m in Nepal right now until the next weekend and some members of our group are scheduled to fly through IST on Saturday. When I booked my flights here I almost booked on TK but ultimately went with other Airlines for better mileage earning opportunities.

  6. I was just about to board TK in AUH to IsT connecting to iAd. Just as boarding began I heard about the coup. I and several others offloaded ourselves. The plane left to IST about two hours late and it was eventually diverted to some other Airport near Istanbul. NOT Sabiha. Glad I avoided that mess am now on EY nonstop. Phew

  7. In a time of a lot of uncertainty, I really appreciate this well-researched and useful post. I’m sure things will become clearer in the next few days, but for those of us traveling very soon, this is extremely useful.

  8. Im here now, its a complete mess. Turkish airlines has ~3 staff for the entire airport and almost all flights are cancelled still (even though news says its operating again). The lounge is devout of any water and food and staff have no access to any computer systems and thus are unable to issue new tickets. Their advice: wait and see, maybe go to a gate with a flight to your region and they could put you on a flight at the gate.
    Last night at the airport was terrifying – people screaming and running down the lounge stairs and 2-3x sonic booms which sounded like tank fire/bombs and shook the windows… luckily just jet fighters breaking the sound barrier.
    Avoid Istanbul at all costs – I have heard from fellow passengers that arrived today that TK is not honest in outlining how the situation is here. Expect to find your connection cancelled.

  9. I am flying from IAD-IKA connecting in IST on August 4th, should I start looking for other options?

  10. Waiver notice linked on Turkish Air site, linked from here, is for dates related to the previous terror incident in June and is not for dates related to the current coup-related turmoil. Unless there is a notice I am not seeing. . .

  11. @ SEABASS — Start looking, sure, but the airlines haven’t issued a waiver through that date yet, so you might want to hold off on actually changing flights.

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