A while back, I booked a flight with Turkish Airlines from Dubai to Vienna. I was excited to be trying out their A350, 787, and visiting their lounge in Istanbul for the first time, but unfortunately, I caught COVID-19 and had to rearrange my trip.
As part of that, I called all of the airlines and hotels I booked to cancel my bookings. In all cases, the standard rules applied – I got no refund from Hilton and Sheraton for my non-refundable rates; Finnair and Aegean refunded my miles for their standard fees; and so on. But, Turkish Airlines said they would waive the cancellation fee if I provided proof of having caught COVID-19.
I should have expected, though, that this being Turkish Airlines, the waiver will not be as smooth and as customer-friendly as it seemed at first. After all, my previous experience with the airline’s customer support is one of the worst ones I had and resulted in one of the most-commented articles on this site.
Questioning the Validity of My Medical Certificate
Having been told by Turkish Airlines that they needed an “official document” confirming I got COVID-19, I called my clinic which offered to issue a medical certificate. Soon after, I received the certificate which clearly said “disease name: COVID-19” and included the dates I was diagnosed with it and the expected recovery period.
After scanning and sending the certificate to Turkish Airlines, I got an answer that I wasn’t expecting: we need a positive result, not a medical certificate. With that, I called the airline’s Tokyo office – which I was dealing with from the beginning and which I had a good experience with before – and explained the situation:
- Since I got fever and was introduced to the clinic via the Tokyo government call center, I wasn’t issued an actual test result
- The medical certificate I got from my doctor and sent them clearly states I was diagnosed with COVID-19
Suddenly, they came up with another issue – the medical certificate didn’t have the clinic’s stamp, only the doctor’s. Not being too familiar with medical certificates myself, after some back and forth, the agent on the phone said that if I get the clinic to put the clinic’s stamp on the same document I sent them, they would accept it. That seemed like a reasonable resolution to me.
Following that, I called the clinic and asked them to reissue the certificate. After a while, I got a call back saying that because the clinic is run by the doctor as a sole proprietorship, they do not have a clinic stamp – they also mentioned that because of that, the doctor’s stamp is technically the clinic’s stamp.
This seemed like a reasonable explanation to me and so I got them to send the explanation to me in writing so that I can forward it to Turkish Airlines.
I thought that would resolve the situation – Turkish Airlines clearly said on the phone the document would be fine as long as there was the clinic’s stamp on it and it turned out the doctor’s stamp was the clinic’s stamp.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, though…
Turkish Airlines Waste’s Valuable Medical Resources
The next day, I got an email from Turkish Airlines asking me to get a positive test result issued. The email also included a link to a press release by my clinic about them starting to offer test result certificates. That press release was about their commercial PCR testing services, though – not about the testing they do on behalf of the government.
How bored must they be to be searching this, I thought to myself…
Anyways, I responded to them saying that the link they sent is irrelevant and that in the case of patients that are tested vie the government’s call center, results are generally not issued.
I was surprised to receive a response saying that they called the clinic in the morning and were told certificates like the one in the press release could be issued. They also gave me the name of the person there to call to request the certificate.
With that, I called the clinic which agreed to issue the document that is to Turkish Airlines’ liking. “They’re quite severe,” the doctor briefly commented on the airline’s requirement during our call. That was a major understatement in my opinion.
Instead of providing good customer service with the right spirit, Turkish Airlines bogged itself in a game of paperwork making meaningless its refund offer.
Of course, they end up wasting a lot of my and their employees’ time worth way more than the refund fee they, in the end, waived. More importantly, though, they also ended up wasting valuable medical resources – the doctor’s and his staff’s time – in a situation where the medical system in Japan is already strained by the latest COVID-19 wave.
Great job, Turkish Airlines!
All in all, had I known how complicated it would turn out to be to receive the refund, I would think twice before even asking for the fee waiver in the first place. While I understand that they must verify that the person in question actually go infected to weed out any people trying to take advantage of the situation.
That said, at some point, the staff should be empowered enough to be able to say “alright, this person got COVID-19 beyond a reasonable doubt even though the document is slightly different than what we expected.” Otherwise, a situation that’s frustrating for the passenger, the clinic, and, quite frankly, also for Turkish Airlines’ staff happens.
Unfortunately, for now, Turkish Airlines remains an airline that I generally enjoy flying with but which I’ll avoid whenever possible due to the way they handle things when issues arise.