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From Istanbul to takeoff: Navigating departing from Istanbul Airport with ease
11 min read
Updated on May 14, 2024

Welcome to another chapter of the "Been There, Done That" series, where I, your trusted globetrotter, dive into the vibrant heart of Istanbul to unravel the secrets of its modern marvel - Istanbul Airport.

Istanbul Airport, where the majestic Turkish flag hangs proudly above the entrance of the International Departures Terminal | iVisa

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Istanbul airport

As part of the iVisa family, I'm here to ensure your journey through this bustling hub is as enchanting as the city's rich history.

In this exclusive guide, I blend my firsthand experience with iVisa's expertise, offering a seamless passage from the ancient crossroads of East and West to the contemporary ease of your departure gate.

With iVisa's commitment to simplifying travel, consider this your all-access pass to a hassle-free experience at one of the world's most impressive airports. Let's embark on this journey together, where tradition meets modernity at every turn!

Get ready to depart from Istanbul Airport

Embarking on your journey from the majestic lands of Turkey requires more than just packing your bags. It's about preparing yourself for a smooth transition from the enchanting Turkish landscapes to your next destination.

Wrapping up your Turkish adventure? Here are essential tips for a hassle-free departure:

  • Double-check travel documents: Ensure your passport and visa are ready. Use iVisa's services for any last-minute travel authorization needs.

  • Online check-in: Utilize your airline’s app for convenient check-in. It’s faster, and you can secure your preferred seats.

  • Arrive early: Istanbul Airport is busy. Aim to be there 3 hours before your flight for a relaxed check-in and security process.

  • Keep baggage stickers: Post baggage drop-off, securely store the receipt. It's crucial for tracking your luggage in case of delays.

  • Duty-free shopping: Explore Istanbul Airport's duty-free after arrival. It’s simpler than managing extra bags through pre-departure security.

  • Final boarding check: Be at your gate at least 45 minutes before boarding to ensure you don't miss your flight.

With the boring details out of the way, let’s dive into my experience, tips, and tricks for departing from Istanbul Airport.

Countdown to takeoff: Mastering pre-check-in and check-in at Istanbul Airport

Entering Istanbul Airport Departures Terminal before my flight back to South Africa.| iVisa

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As I approached Istanbul Airport for my departure, I began writing the final chapter of my adventure. Arriving by taxi, a choice I made with our Istanbul Transport Guide in mind, I was immediately greeted by the bustling energy of one of the world's largest airports.

Despite being 4 a.m., the airport was buzzing with travelers rushing to and from flights. We joined the queue for the first security checkpoint inside the entry doors. Our bags (including the luggage we were checking in) were scanned for dangerous or prohibited items. At the same time, we walked through the metal detector.

The first security check as you enter the Istanbul Airport happens before you check in | iVisa

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After successfully navigating the preliminary procedures, I directed my attention to the expansive flight information screens. Istanbul Airport, being a pivotal hub for international travel, showcases an extensive array of flights.

To ensure accuracy in this bustling environment, I recommend committing your flight number to memory before consulting the screens – a simple but effective strategy to avoid confusion.

Check-in information board at Istanbul Airport displays flight details for international and domestic departures. | iVisa

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Locating my flight amidst numerous listings, I confirmed the designated check-in counter and its operational status. With the information in hand, my gaze shifted upward to the prominently displayed alphabetized signage above each check-in area.

This visual guidance system made it straightforward to determine the direction to head for the correct desk, streamlining my path through the energetic crowd of the airport.

Let’s check-in: A first-hand account of the check-in procedure

Upon my arrival at the check-in desk, I was greeted by the warm smiles of the airline staff, ready to assist. The process was surprisingly smooth and efficient, even though I hadn’t checked in online.

When it was my turn, the airline staff greeted me pleasantly, embodying Turkish hospitality. I presented my passport and travel documents. The staff member diligently entered my details into their system, asking for my seating preference, which added a personal touch to the process and allowed me to ask if my husband and I could be seated together.

As my bags were being weighed, I was informed of the luggage allowances and asked to ensure prohibited items were not in my checked luggage.

Bag overweight? Fear not; bag repack areas are equipped with a scale near every check-in block to avoid issues at the check-in counter. | iVisa

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Once I assured them that the bags contained nothing prohibited and they verified they weighed within the allowance, the lady helping me carefully attached destination tags to my bags so that they would be safely transported to my final destination.

As I was handed my passport and boarding pass, the lady casually asked, “Got any items in your bag for a tax refund?”

When I said yes, she gave me a game-changing tip: “Don’t drop your bags here at the check-in desk then. First, take them with you to the Tax Refund desk. Many travelers miss out on their refund because they forget Turkey’s tax refund policy requires customs officials to see the items you bought to approve the refund.”

Securing your tax refunds: Claim back Tax-Free shopping at Istanbul Airport

Thanking her profusely, I grabbed my bags and went to the designated customs counter. Where you need to go depends on the airline you are flying with. Your options are:

  • Check-in counters G3-4-5 for Turkish Airlines' passengers,

  • Check-in counters K 25-26-27 for other airlines.

At the counter, I presented my purchases from my checked baggage and receipts, and the staff efficiently verified each item against its receipt to validate my claim. My luggage was then dispatched (collected) from this desk instead of the airline desk.

They stamped my tax declaration form and told me to go to the Global Exchange kiosk to collect my refund.

For goods in my hand luggage

However, they would not process the items in my husband’s hand luggage. Instead, he was told to take those to the Tax-Free counter after passport control and security.

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So after he navigated through those processes, he headed to the Customs point tucked away in the right-hand corner, just after the security checkpoint and passport control.

Once again, they checked the goods purchased and the receipts before stamping his tax declaration forms and directing him to the Global Exchange Kiosk.

Getting the refund

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So off we went to the Global Exchange points conveniently situated on both sides behind the information desk, a short walk after passport control.

I had gathered all the necessary documents: the tax refund forms, invoices, boarding passes, and my passport.

The man at the counter scanned my documents and offered me the tax refund in my preferred currency. He also stated it could be given to me in cash or credited back to my card.

Since the card option would take a few days to reflect, I opted to get cash, and he quickly counted it, and I was done. Now I had some spending money for my trip home.

Passport Control and Security

Deciphering the departure board – where to go next? Istanbul's gateway has the answers. | iVisa

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As I already mentioned, before you can get your refund, you’ll need to go through passport control and security. Here’s everything you need to know to smoothly sail through like I did.

Approaching passport control, I spotted clear signs directing me to join one of the several lines designated for non-Turkish citizens.

Passport in hand, waiting in line to enter passport entrance two at Istanbul Airport (IST). | iVisa

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The queue moved swiftly, thanks to the numerous counters operating efficiently. When it was my turn, the officer greeted me courteously, scanned my passport and boarding pass, and then asked a few standard questions about the purpose of my visit and the duration of my stay in Turkey. After a brief check, he stamped my passport, signaling my official exit from Turkey.

Queueing up in different lines for security screening | iVisa

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Next, I proceeded to the security screening area. The queues were systematically divided, guiding passengers through with clear signage.

Special lanes for families and those requiring assistance, labeled as 'Family Lane' and 'Fast Track' services for frequent flyers or business class passengers, demonstrated the airport's commitment to catering to a diverse range of travelers' needs.

These thoughtful arrangements ensured that everyone, regardless of their circumstances or travel class, was afforded a swift and respectful passage through security measures.

Gliding through security without unpacking my gadgets and liquids – Istanbul Airport gets it.| iVisa

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The team at Istanbul Airport exemplified professionalism and diligence, creating a secure environment for all travelers. Their innovative "Restriction Free Travel" policy significantly streamlined the security process.

Unlike the usual routine, you don't need to remove liquids and electronics from your bag, eliminating the hassle of unpacking and repacking. This refreshing approach made security a breeze and allowed travelers to pass through with greater ease and dignity.

I placed my carry-on luggage, jacket, and personal items on the conveyor belt for the X-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. Once I collected my stuff from the conveyor on the other side, I found myself ready to explore the departure hall while I made my way to my boarding gate.

En Route to boarding: Exploring Istanbul Airport's Departure Hall

After clearing security, I glanced at the screens and figured out which boarding gate I needed to head to and what time boarding was expected to start. With some time to waste, I decided to explore the departure hall of Istanbul Airport and indulge in its unique blend of convenience with a touch of luxury.

My first stop was Shake Shack, where I grabbed a famed Shack burger and a milkshake; an odd choice for breakfast, but we all know conventional meal rules don’t apply when traveling. But if Shake Shack isn’t your thing, fear not. The culinary scene is diverse and inviting, featuring a range of other restaurants and cafes, including Popeyes, Burger King, Starbucks, Simit Sirayi, and many more, offering choices for every taste and preference.

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Istanbul airport stores

With my belly full, I continued my slow walk toward the boarding gate while soaking in my surroundings. I spotted multiple currency exchange options provided by Global Exchange. There are over 41 branches scattered throughout the airport, so accessing different currencies is easy and convenient, ensuring a hassle-free travel experience​​.

The airport's layout was impressively user-friendly, with interactive terminal maps that made locating check-in counters, boarding gates, restaurants, shops, ATMs, and pharmacies easy. This digital guide was a big help in navigating the large terminal efficiently​​.

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The shopping experience was equally impressive, with many stores and shops in the International Airside area. From high-end brands like Gucci, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton to more accessible options like Nike and Levi's, there’s a little something for everyone.

Also, don’t forget to make a pit stop at Duty Free to grab some last-minute Turkish snacks and desserts if you failed to stop at Hafiz Mustafa the day before as we did.

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If shopping isn’t your thing and you are struggling to kill time, why not explore the iGA Art exhibition on the lower floor or kick back and get some work done in the lounge in front of it.

Other things that caught my attention as I walked down the last corridor to my boarding gate were the artfully styled study/work area, the indoor jungle gym for kids, the Nap Zone, and the specially designed Ihraam room for those transiting through Turkey on their way to Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah.

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The departure hall at Istanbul Airport was not just a transit point but a destination, offering a blend of comfort, luxury, and convenience that made the wait for my flight an enjoyable part of my travel experience.

Goodbye Istanbul: Boarding my flight

After exploring everything Istanbul Grand Airport had to offer, it was time to board my flight. The boarding process is often the final stretch before the adventure truly begins. As I approached the gate, the buzz of excited travelers mingled with the last calls for boarding.

Attendants scanned my boarding pass with a smile, ushering me through the jet bridge. The soft hum of the aircraft welcomed me, a prelude to the skies awaiting. In my seat, I stowed my belongings and settled in, the seatbelt clicking like a key turning to unlock the world beyond.

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With the gentle pushback from the gate, we began our taxi to the runway. I glanced at the terminal, a silent farewell to Istanbul. As the engines roared to life and the plane lifted, the stories of travel etched in my memory prepared to make room for one more.

As the final steps of the boarding process conclude, I reflect on the seamless experience of transitioning from the bustling heart of Istanbul Airport to the calm anticipation of the aircraft cabin.

Each phase, marked by clear signs and well-organized queues, exemplifies the thoughtful design and flow of one of the world's busiest air hubs.

The journey, punctuated by quiet observation and brisk walks through the terminal, is a narrative of modern travel, blending efficiency with the human touch.

For those curious to venture further into the world of travel and discovery, I invite you to delve into the other chapters of the "Been There Done That" series and read our comprehensive airport guides for more travel insights:

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