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Traveling is well, weird right now. Sputtering amid a pandemic major international hub Istanbul is open and Turkish Airlines has resumed flights (still no refunds) meaning a larger portion of air traffic is flowing through the world’s largest airport these days. Having recently made such a journey, here’s what you can expect if you’re flying through Istanbul Airport.

Packing

For those of you flying out of Istanbul Airport be aware there are new packing restrictions mainly around carry-on luggage. The weight is restricted to 4 kilograms (8.8lbs) for carry-on luggage; so for those of you who travel with electronics, camera gear, or other heavy equipment, it will have to packed into your checked luggage. Carry-on bags weren’t routinely weighed so you may be able to get away with a heavier backpack but there are no guarantees.

Getting There

For starters, you’ll need to wear a mask during your entire time in the airport. All the airlines operating out of Istanbul Airport recommend arriving 3 hours before international and domestic flights. You’ll notice long lines at check in starting 4 hours before most flights and keep in mind there’s security to get into Istanbul Airport. The domestic terminal was operating at what seemed like normal capacity but there was clearly less activity in international departures.

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istanbul airport gate

Passport Control And Security

Going through passport control hasn’t changed due to COVID-19, there was already a plastic barrier between passengers and customs officials. Once past there the security lines enforce (to vary degrees) social distance in the line but take one person through every 10-15 seconds. Tray tables are individually cleaned by staff after each use – nice touch – and overall the process carefully considers sanitary concerns.

In Istanbul Airport

Once you’re past security you’ve got a few options. Since the gates aren’t all full, you can find a quiet place to sit with a bit of searching. Oh, there’s no free wifi but WiFox can help you get online. Every other seat has a sign on it to enforce social distancing and the lounges are open as an alternative. No matter where you sit though, keep your mask on and wear it properly. Staff zip around on Segways to enforce the rules.

bathroom occupancy

Some of the shops and cafes are open, though I wouldn’t hang around them too long as they tend to get crowded.

On The Airplane

Once you’re in the air your flight may be empty or full, depending on sales not enforced distancing. I’ve seen it both ways but in either case you’ll need to wear your mask for the entire flight. Turkish Airlines will supply extras in hygiene kits along with hand sanitizer and wipes.

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One thing that is different, is how often the bathrooms are cleaned. Flight attendants were sanitizing the bathrooms and doors, leaving them spotless at least once an hour. Unfortunately, on the flip side, the food was limited to lunch boxes without any beverage service. I’d recommend bringing your own snacks from the airport unless you want to be stuck with stale sandwiches and juice.

Should You Fly Right Now?

Upon arrival, procedures will vary based on the destination. In some ways flying now is more comfortable, with extra sanitation measures reminding you how dirty planes have been in general. Still though given the added hassle, potential for canceled flights, and ever-changing pandemic situation unless you really have to fly somewhere, it’s best to wait for less turbulent times.