We had one singular reason for flying Azerbaijan Airlines. It wasn’t an interest in transiting through the capital city, Baku, or experiencing Azeri hospitality. AZAL had the cheapest flights to Ankara and we bought the tickets the very day we saw other airfares jump by almost $200 per ticket. Requesting vegan meals and a baby bassinet for our flight tediously involved several days of attempted phone calls to a U.S. phone number routed to Azerbaijan with repetitive caller menus, multiple extension transfers, and at least half of the calls ending in the silence of a dead line. When faced with unavoidable visa delays, it took several calls to change our flights, but our new tickets would only be issued after paying the relevant fees in cash at the airport prior to our flight. Clouds of regret started to loom when Urbndervish told me the ticket agent offered him a handwritten receipt on notebook paper, then left to board the day’s flight. Much like our last experience with a small national carrier, I pondered if the saved money was worth the hassle.
Surprisingly, our check-in process was smooth. All six of our bags, containing four seasons’ worth of clothing for four people, remained under the dreaded 50-pound weight limit. All of our possessions for the next year of life– books, learning supplies, vitamins and supplements, clothing, coats, shoes, a few towels and a cast-iron skillet—were surrendered in about fifteen minutes. With our backpacks and laptops in tow, we proceeded to our gate. The call to board was made, so I quickly made my way to the restroom just before hearing my name over the announcement system. I was summoned for an important matter—another random U.S. customs and border security interview to verify that we weren’t carrying large amounts of cash out of the country and inquire about our interest in Turkey. The questions never change and neither do the answers, so I was cleared to board and so our journey began.
Though Azerbaijan Airlines scored low for customer service in our book, our flight experience was redemptive. Flight attendants greeted us warmly in an inviting lounge area situated between the business and first class sections of the plane. We received the usual complimentary flight accessories—headsets, night masks, toothpaste, and toothbrushes—as well as pillows and blankets. Just before our refreshments were served, we were handed heated disposable washcloths, a bassinet for Moulay was installed and our vegan meals were delivered as requested. Lil’ Z enjoyed the inflight games and magazines about the competitive European Games held in Baku earlier this year.
Our transit through Azerbaijan was efficient and brief. The small yet modern international airport was spotlessly clean, serene, and well-equipped with WiFi. We sent emails to our family and before we knew it, were embarking on the last leg of our trip. Lil’ Z finally rested after more than 13 hours of travel and we arrived in Ankara without incident or delay. For our very first experience in Turkey, we were quite impressed. Urbndervish’s employer welcomed us warmly, loaded our luggage, and swiftly delivered us to our new apartment. For now, in sha’ Allah, we will call Ankara home.
As we often tell people, we didn’t choose Turkey, Turkey chose us and we were glad to oblige. Much like our last post in Morocco, sometimes there’s only one train moving and it’s yours. However, unlike Morocco, we are prepared to stay for the next two years. We needed a nest to settle ourselves for a while, an opportunity for professional development, a new landscape to explore and this is where we found it. Our suitcases are unpacked and out of view, our shelves and closets are filled, and we are relieved and grateful to have our own space again. Slowly, we are meeting our neighbors, discovering the city, and finding our groove. All that’s left for us to do now is find some wholesome, good company for Lil’ Z and ourselves to make our hearts feel at home here too.