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This is more of a panic question after reading reviews on Istanbul Atatürk Airport. They said it's messy and hard to navigate, therefore I'm asking questions here in name of my girlfriend who will need to transit through this airport.

My girlfriend (Canadian national) traveling from Toronto (YYZ) to Istanbul (IST) for a couple hours (~4 hrs, so transiting) in order to come to Pristina (PRN). I would like a quick guideline on how to pass through this airport seamlessly without facing any trouble or delay.

Her tickets are both with Turkish Airlines. She purchased it via a third party (Flighthub.ca). It's only one booking and it includes both flights in it.

  1. Once my girlfriend departs, she's obviously required to follow the signs and go to the transit area. Once she's there, will she be required to present a ticket? Where does she get that ticket? Does she get it in YYZ or does she need to visit a counter in IST and get it?

  2. After she's got the proper ticket, what does she need to do exactly? Wait in line to have her passport checked? Will they also control her carryon?

  3. After this step, does she simply go to the PRN flight gate and that's it?

We're simply worried about Istanbul Atatürk Airport because of the recent things that happened in Turkey (coup attempt and ISIS attack) and she doesn't wanna somehow end up locked up there. I've read that the airport is a mess lately and a lot of people will be there waiting in line. So, another question: Are 4 hours enough?

I would appreciate a step by step guideline on how she needs to navigate and what she needs to do in that airport to have a smooth experience without facing any delays. Also some misc information on Istanbul Atatürk Airport would be appreciated.

  • 5
    Four hours is not "a couple of hours" and should be sufficient to navigate even the most baroque airport while still allowing for multiple mistakes and wrong turns. There is no reason to panic about a four-hour connection. – David Richerby Aug 7 '16 at 17:02
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For an international-to-international transit, IST is ridiculously easy to navigate, albeit often crowded. Things get a lot more complicated if you're transferring to or from a domestic flight, but you won't be.

So, this actually starts in Toronto. You're going to check in with Turkish Airlines here. Since both of your flight segments are on a single booking, you should get both boarding passes here, for YYZ-IST and for IST-PRN. Try not to lose the second boarding pass, but if you do misplace it, don't panic either. On rare occasions you might only get the first boarding pass. That's OK too.

Of course you can also do online check-in and have mobile boarding passes sent to your phone, which eliminates that potential hassle entirely.

Now, you let security poke and prod at your stuff, and get on your flight to Istanbul.

When you arrive at Istanbul, you'll be on the arrivals level at the international terminal. This is one long hallway with no turns at all, except to leave the concourse, so it's quite difficult to miss what you're looking for.

(Note that sometimes you will be allowed to exit the jetway directly to departures without having to go through transfer and security, if you already have your onward boarding pass.)

To get to departures, you only have to follow the signs that say "Transfer" or "International Transfer". They are very difficult to miss; they have a darker background.

IST overhead signs

But, at this point, if you haven't got your second boarding pass, don't go to international transfer yet. Instead, find a Turkish Airlines transfer desk. There are at least two of these on the arrivals level and they are also well marked. They can give you your second boarding pass, or reprint it if you got it in Toronto and lost it.

Turkish Airlines transit desk sign

Once you've got your boarding pass, go ahead and find the hallway that goes up to departures.

IST international Transfer floor sign

When you reach departures, you can do some shopping, visit the airline lounge if you have access, or just spend three hours doing nothing. Check the boards to learn your departure gate when it's available, and then go there and board your next flight.

  • 1
    And stand on the right on the people mover, unlike those jerks in the picture. – Michael Hampton Aug 7 '16 at 9:46
  • Just a small addition, the Turkish transfer desk is exactly behind the person who took the last photo in your answer, that is precisely in front of the access to international transit. – Martin Argerami Aug 8 '16 at 4:55
  • @MartinArgerami Yes indeed. You can even see the sign for the transfer desk in mirror image reflected on the door. – Michael Hampton Aug 8 '16 at 5:30
  • +1. Just a small bit from personal experience - Even if your TK flights are on separate tickets, TK can issue you both your boarding passes at point of origin itself (and tag your luggage through to final point). Just show your onward ticket to the agent at check-in desk at origin and he/she would be able to help. – RedBaron Oct 13 '16 at 12:09
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Michael Hampton pretty much covered it all. I just want to add that, depending on where the original flight came from, you may or may not need to go through the security again.

There are three options, although the first two end up basically the same:

  1. When you leave the plane, you're directed toward the "exit" and "transfer" door is explicitly kept closed by an airline representative. In this case, you'll have to follow the signs, just like Michael indicated, however you will also have to go through security (passport and boarding pass check and your cabin bags go through x-ray). After security, you'll turn left and use escalators or lifts to go to the departure gates. This was the case the last time I transferred in IST, about 2 weeks ago. (I was flying from Tbilisi.)

  2. Your plane doesn't arrive to the terminal, but rather is parked somewhere on the tarmac and you are taken to the terminal by bus. In this case, you will once again need to follow the signs and clear additional security. Last time this happened to me about 6 months ago, also flying from Tbilisi.

  3. When you leave the plane, there are two open doors - "exit" and "transfer". You go through the "transfer" door and ended up straight in the departure hall, right near the gates. This was the case for me about a month ago, flying from London.

Note that the queues to go through the security when transferring can be quite severe. Last time I spent about 30 minutes in the queue; at some point last year - over an hour. If you have a tight connection, let the security personnel know and they will fast-track you through. From my experience, you need at least 1 to 1.5 hours for international-to-international transfer.

  • So, 4 hours still seems to be enough in this case, right? The flight is coming straight from Toronto (Pearson Airport), do you think she will go through security again? – Aborted Aug 7 '16 at 14:43
  • @Aborted 4 hours should be more than enough. As for security, there's no way of knowing in advance. – Aleks G Aug 7 '16 at 14:55
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    Whether you arrive via a bus gate or a real gate is irrelevant as far as whether you need to clear security or not. It all depends on where your flight came from. Arrive from a bus gate and they will still send you directly to the departure area if you came from a "safe" location and you already have an outbound boarding pass. – Doc Dec 13 '17 at 20:10

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