The recent troubles at Dalaman have been around for some time as our influential contributor writes and likens it to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ that famous cold war border crossing!

The recent troubles at Dalaman have been around for some time as our contributor writes and likens it to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ that famous cold war border crossing from West to East!

I am a normally a quiet, reasonable person. Sometimes, I may go a bit off the deep end, even raising my voice over my electricity bill or when I have been without water for five days in a row. But, after 18 years in Turkey, negative beginnings happily end in drinking tea and friendship and smiles all round.

One area of discussion, however, renders me a virtual demon where drinking tea and friendship are beyond the pale. This is transport at Dalaman airport. Three years ago I came to collect a friend there in a taxi. In the back of the taxi, I put my (empty) suitcase and pretended (!) to be an outbound passenger. At the entrance, we were grilled, interrogated and spent a full ten minutes kowtowing. On eventually gaining entry, I shook my head sadly and said to my taxi driver,

“What other airport in the whole world interrogates you, searches you and decides whether you can or cannot enter their private domain, even if you are a passenger?” Few airports could survive this attitude.

Dalaman is better known by foreign and coastal residents as Checkpoint Charlie.

Airports are public domain and can be freely entered by passengers, coaches, taxis, people collecting friends or relatives and/or people accompanying other passengers. The customs and passport area is inside the airport and is administered by the Turkish Interior Ministry. There usually is, and should be, security at the entrance but at Dalaman, the boundaries seem to have been pushed out to include a private security consortium controlled by taxi drivers. As you pointed out in a recent article, this “crackdown” exists only at Dalaman. World class, prosperous airports support diverse transport systems and the more ways there are to access an airport, the more everybody benefits.

How can foreign visitors comprehend that an airport like Dalaman is run and operated simply for the benefit of taxi drivers? Not so long ago, Istanbul taxi drivers ruled the roads at Ataturk Airport. Chauffeurs’ Unions and Cooperatives successfully held up the ‘last mile’ of the Istanbul light tramway system from the World Trade Centre to Ataturk Airport for years, believing that they were skimming the cream off the top all for themselves. Once it became clear that Ataturk Airport was a world class airport, run by an international consortium, (Swissport/Tekfen) a more mature mentality prevailed.

And guess what? Once the monopoly mob was brought under control everybody benefited. More people came to the airport. More people used taxis – not because they had to but because they wanted to. Revenue from parking charges increased and relatives accompanying passengers purchased coffee, newspapers and cigarettes and other items outside of duty free. Taxis were shown not to be the lifeblood of the airport. Now, chauffeurs’ associations are grappling with Havas, who has embraced private enterprise enthusiastically and are determined to offer the customer (remember us?) what he wants at  reasonable price. I love them and use Havas all the time because they give such smart, wonderful service and treat me as a valued customer.

Moreover, Ataturk Airport is a fabulous airport with great facilities. Unlike most European airports, duty free is open 24 hours. This is Turkey, where saying “gule, gule” is one of the most enduring customs and the more people who come to say it and kiss you goodbye and sprinkle water on the ground, the merrier and more sincere the send off.

So, Dalaman, you have a spanking new airport, new runways, with facilities never imagined twenty years ago. It is time for the airport authority, the municipality, taxi drivers, the lot of you, to grow up and stop intimidating your customers. If you need an example of a lovely, friendly regional airport, flit up the road to Bodrum/Milas and see how graciously they treat customers, welcome visitors arriving by taxi, and how an airport really works the crowd. For the last fifteen years, I have, unfortunately, written to all my incoming guests to Turkey like this:

“If you arrive at Dalaman, then get here on your own and may God help you. But, please, please, try to book to Antalya, where you can expect a welcoming committee and I’ll be there myself – in a taxi.”

Suzanne Swan

I am a travel guide writer and the author of Dorling-Kindersley’s “Eyewitness Travel Guide: Turkey.” I also write occasional features for “Today’s Zaman” in Istanbul. I live half-way between Fethiye and Antalya in Kas. Give me Antlaya airport any day. Over half a million readers in eight languages (including Turkish) read my advice in my Penguin/Pearson book now in its third printing (2008).

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