Turkish Airlines appears to be playing a dangerous game. English language Turkish media reports that the airline announced last month that it won’t sell tickets to a politician who resigned from the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in protest at a massive corruption probe that led to the resignation of four ministers last December. The airline’s chairman Hamdi Topçu had argued on TV that the politician in question gave the crew hard time when a certain (opposition) newspaper he asked for was not provided – it has been reported that the airline has, for the past few months, placed an embargo on several newspapers critical of the government of strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
There has also been speculation that airline has not been allowing the tickets to be purchased with credit cards from Bank Asya, which is affiliated with the opposition and which the government has allegedly tried to force into bankruptcy.
An airline with the global ambition of Turkish Airlines plays these political games at its peril. The Turkish Government’s recent attempt to ban Twitter and Youtube tells us all we need to know about its approach to civil society. Ironically, the airline that makes the most use of YouTube worldwide for its creative campaigns (principally built around its expensive football sponsorship deals) is, of course, Turkish Airlines.
The company is desperate to promote itself as a modern international carrier but cannot escape the fact that it is based in a country that is sliding back to the mid twentieth century. If it’s not careful it may soon have scheduled services disrupted with planes requisiitioned at short notice by Turkey’s political elite – unflattereringly reminiscent of Air Zimbabwe.