You can just get on a plane and fly to Iraq. Same as anywhere else. I was slightly thrown when I tried to checkin online and a little pop-up appeared saying something along the lines of “this passenger is denied online checkin for security reasons” – I’m not sure of the exact wording, it was in Turkish. I was mostly worried they were going to charge me a ridiculous sum at the airport, a la EasyJet. In the checkin queue I saw 4 people in front of me get charged for overweight baggage, 2 for offline checkin and one group got told their ticket wasn’t valid at all. And that was just for the desks I could overhear. On reassessing how heavy my case was (very), I was not exactly awash with confident assurance when it came to my turn. Yup, I’d failed to checkin online. Yup, the name on my ticket was incomplete. Yup, my bag turned out to be overweight. And I could just have hugged the guy on the desk when he let me off all 3 and gave me emergency exit seats, no charge! Pegasus, you get my endorsement.
4 hours on an Istanbul airport layover was not an overwhelmingly pleasant prospect. However, the logistical machinations of Istanbul Airport ensured that it took at least 1.5 hours to get through transit security. I reckoned I could happily kill the remaining 2.5 hours with a bloody mary or two and some free internet in a handy sports bar that happened to be there. I never actually got to use the free internet – turns out lovely people frequent sports bars at Istanbul Airport, so it was more of a drinking and chatting affair. Then a massive last minute rush to purchase a bottle Glenfiddich and something called a Turkish bagel, which turned out to have a consistency half way between stone and rubber, but did a marvellous job of soaking up the bloody marys.
The plane was full – I was pleased to see other women on it, both Kurdish and from all sorts of other places by the look of them. Though admittedly they were a bit fewer and further between than the men. The main thing I noticed as we were coming in to land, was the darkness. There was just nothing below at all – it was like we were flying over the sea on a moonless night. Then a few dim light clusters came into view, but really dim. And then we could see Erbil, which was also dim. It was like seeing a town from a plane in the 1980’s. Or wearing some really dark sunnies to look out of a plane window at night now. My guess is they don’t have fluorescent lighting in Kurdistan, so there simply isn’t the light pollution that’s so evident everywhere else I’ve been in the last few decades. I started to get excited at the prospect of some epic star photography opportunities.
Erbil Airport was mostly just like every other airport you’ve ever been in. With the exception of Miami. Miami is the most awful airport on the planet. Erbil is not. There was a big kiosk next to passport control, with “Visas” written all over it. It was disconcertingly unmanned. But then it was 3am. I vaguely wondered what would happen if passport control required the visa kiosk to administer visas. I was kinda relying on the visa on arrival thing you see and had no visa. A mugshot, a thumb print, a smile and a Stampstamp later confirmed there really is no point worrying about these things. My case appeared later than ideal, but seemingly unscathed and I was done. Except I wasn’t. Luckily I had been forewarned that Erbil Airport is in two bits, the security/baggage claim bit, and the actual terminal bit, which is a bus ride away. I squished myself onto the bus, amid much laughing with a French man and arrived at the terminal to be greeted by Florian, which was awesome. I have no problem with getting myself around most places, but a friendly face to meet you at the airport is always such a good feeling. We discussed the weirdness of the two bits of Erbil Airport on the walk to the main road to get a decently priced taxi. Coming to the conclusion that actually it’s sensible in the circumstances – Bit 1 would need to be overwhelmed and the distance between the two covered before Bit 2 could come under fire – giving Bit 2 that extra time to do whatever it needed to do in the event of a take-over attempt. At this point my bus buddy Frenchman showed up in a taxi and offered us a lift.
I think this has to be right up there with one of the most boring blog posts ever. But that’s kind of the point. As suspected, going to Iraq is no different to going anywhere else.