A suicide attack Tuesday night at Istanbul Ataturk Airport killed dozens of people and wounded more than 200. Here’s what travelers should know about the terrorist threat in Turkey, including updates on flights and areas to avoid.
Is the Threat Ongoing?
Yes. The United States Department of State updated its existing travel warning regarding Turkey on June 27, one day before the attack, warning tourists of increased threats throughout the country, and that many attacks have taken place in recent months.
“Foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations,” the State Department stated.
In January, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district that killed 10 foreign tourists.
In total, there have been 14 terrorist attacks in Turkey since June of last year.
What Parts of Turkey Are Most Dangerous?
The State Department is advising caution throughout the country, but there is a particular emphasis on southeastern Turkey, especially near the Syrian border.
Britain’s Foreign Office advises against all travel within six miles of the Syrian border, and all but essential travel to the remaining areas of Sirnak, Mardin, Sanlurfa, Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay provinces.
No matter the region, the State Department advises staying away from large crowds and popular tourist destinations, political gatherings and rallies and to monitor local media.
Can I Fly Through Istanbul?
Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Europe’s third busiest airport, has reopened, but airlines are suggesting travelers check with them regarding possible delays.
The Federal Aviation Administration has also lifted its ban on flights between Istanbul and the United States.
Turkish Airlines is allowing passengers booked on its flights to or from either Ataturk or Sabiha Gokcen airports from Tuesday through July 5 to rebook or reroute their flights without penalties until July 31. Refunds were also being offered for unused tickets. Passengers should also allow for extra time prior to check-in and boarding.
But other airlines have canceled flights. Air France canceled all but one of its Wednesday flights to and from Istanbul Ataturk Airport, but planned to operate its normal schedule on Thursday. It also was offering to let passengers postpone their trip until July 12 at no extra cost in the same ticketed cabin. After that date, passengers who no longer wish to travel can get a nonrefundable voucher valid for a year on Air France or KLM or Hop.
British Airways canceled its Wednesday flights to Istanbul and offered what it called “a more flexible rebooking policy” for ticketholders heading to or from Istanbul through Sunday, allowing them to rebook for a later date or apply their ticket cost to an alternative destination.
What Security Measures Are in Place?
While there was an increased police presence at Ataturk Airport on Wednesday, other areas of the city had already seen an expanded police presence following the earlier attacks.
Security measures at Ataturk were already considered stronger than at many other airports, as travelers must go through two security screenings and there is a vehicle checkpoint near the international terminal, though only suspicious vehicles are stopped. Tuesday’s attackers arrived in a taxi, according to Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim.
The attacks inside the airport took place before a security screening could happen. According to Turkish government officials, the police fired on two attackers at the entryway to Ataturk’s international terminal in an attempt to stop them from reaching the security checkpoint. The two attackers then blew themselves up. A third attacker detonated explosives in the parking lot.
Elsewhere in the city, some events have been canceled, but not all because of security concerns.
A concert by the Eurovision-winning Sertab Erener at the Zorlu Center was canceled on Wednesday night out of respect for the victims of the attack. The Jockey Club of Turkey also canceled horse races for the day. Some smaller galleries postponed openings, but major art centers like the Sabanci Museum, remained open.
Are Travelers Avoiding Turkey?
Not surprisingly, the continuing violence has hurt the country’s once thriving tourism industry.
According to Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of visiting tourists in May dropped 34.7 percent to 2.48 million, compared with the previous year. It was the biggest decline in 22 years, according to Trading Economics. May also marked the 10th consecutive month of declining tourist arrivals.
Where Can I Find More Information?
The State Department’s website will have the latest information regarding the travel warning to Turkey.
You can contact the United States Embassy in Ankara at 90-312-455-5555, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul at 90-212-335-9000; and the U.S. Consulate in Adana at 90-322-455-4100.