I’m halfway through a flight from Tbilisi to Istanbul. It’s the final day of a two-week holiday with Les. I’m in the window seat. There are two Turkish men next to me. I’m not seated with my husband. This isn’t because we refuse to pay to sit next to each other on budget airlines. It’s because I’m flying alone. Let me explain…
Less than a month ago, Les announced he’d managed to book time off work. I quickly followed suit and we got down to the important business of Deciding Where To Go. I’ve always had my eye on Israel and have just finished reading ‘Hezbollah Hiking Club’ by Dom Joly, which documented his trek through Lebanon. Given the two nations border each other, we decided to spend a week in Israel and a week in Beirut. I booked direct flights to Tel Aviv from Manchester and locked down accommodation in the capital, as well as in Haifa and Jerusalem. It was all so easy.
Not so Diplomatic Relations
With the first half of the trip secure, I checked for flights from Tel Aviv to Lebanon. There aren’t any. Every flight connects through Limassol or Athens. This seemed like an outrageous diversion for such a short trip. However, as they were the only choices, I opted for an early flight into Athens with Ryanair and a late flight out with Aegean. This gave us eight hours to explore a bit of Greece before catching the connection to Lebanon. Boom!
Around the time we were arranging our trip, there’d been news reports about trouble in the West Bank. I checked Gov.uk for advisory warnings and was horrified at what I found. As well as Israel and Palestine not getting along, Israel and Lebanon don’t get along either. They dislike each other so much, in fact, they have no diplomatic relations. This is the reason there are no direct flights.
What we also didn’t know was that they hate each other so much, authorities have been known to refuse entry to Lebanon (and even detain) anyone with an Israeli stamp on their passport. GIven we were flying in and out of Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, we weren’t able to guarantee some stamp-happy border control guard wouldn’t brand our passports with his nation’s name. We had a major problem.
As we’d paid for flights and accommodation, we made the decision to abandon our plans for Lebanon. Although we may have managed to sneak in and out of Tel Aviv without passports stamps, if we did end up getting one on the way to Athens, we’d only have an eight-hour window to book new flights and accommodation somewhere else. It was too risky, so we had to look for an alternative destination. It was a minor annoyance, but at least it wasn’t a disaster, I told Les. ‘Stop panicking!. I’ve got it all figured out…’
Number of flights we paid for but could no longer use: 2
Georgia On My Mind
We scanned our usual travel websites and eventually settled on the idea of spending the second leg of our trip to Georgia. The prices I found on Skyscanner were excellent and so I did something I’ve never done before and booked flights through a third-party website. I’m one of those people who asks my laptop to recall every bit of information about me, including all my passwords because I have a memory like a…wait, what was I saying?
Anyway, the lovely memory function helped me set up a shiny new account with Lastminute.com by automatically completing the fields for my name, address and credit card number. And just like that, we were heading to Tbilisi.
While I was in the mood for booking flights, I also purchased the home leg through Lastminute.com. This would take us from Tbilisi to Manchester with a short two hour connect via Amsterdam. The other choice was a flight through Istanbul, an airport we’d been to before and absolutely hated. We took the Amsterdam connection. This not only allowed us to avoid Istanbul, but both flights offered free food. The Turkish flights let you starve to death, slowly, at 30,000 ft. It was no contest.
The first leg was operated by Georgian Airways, with the final leg with KLM. Keep this information in your back pocket. There’s a reason I’m boring you to death with these details.
A Tale of Two Cities…and two names
As our flight from Tel Aviv to Athens was booked directly with Ryanair (and I refused to pay extra for early check-in), we only do it 48 hours before take-off. On our second last night in Jerusalem, as we sat relaxing, I logged on to my account, confirmed our details and checked us in. Shortly after, I received an email from Lastminute.com informing me I could also check-in for the leg from Greece to Georgia.
‘So Les logged on to confirm our details and suddenly turned very pale…’
‘What’s up?’, I asked. He made *that* face. ‘Did you know your ticket’s booked under ‘Tam’?’. ‘Can’t be’, I replied. ‘I’m always really careful when I book as my passport’s the only document I have in my maiden name’. ‘Well, it is’, he responded, spinning the laptop around so I could see it with my own eyes.
And it was. As it turned out, while I’d been delighted at the time-saving memory function on my laptop, I’d completely overlooked one small fact. Everything I buy on the internet is paid for with cards in the name of a Mrs. S Tam. Every order I schedule is delivered to a Mrs. S Tam. Every bank, social media and online shopping account is set up in the name of a Mrs. S Tam. My laptop, rather unsurprisingly, thinks I am this person. And it’s right. Most of the time.
I Got 99 Problems and a Passport’s…all of them
My passport was due for renewal a few months before Les and I married in 2016. It was too early for me to meet the window where you can change it before you marry but too late for me not renew it all. Before we tied the knot, my name was Ms. S Gorman. After paying £80 for a brand new passport so we could travel to the U.S to get married, I was adamant I wouldn’t be coming home and shelling out another £80 just to change my last name. Not five months into a ten-year term, anyway. I’m not an animal.
So I kept the passport because I’m a conscientious and frugal individual. I’ve been happily booking flights for three years without issue. Until now. Now I had flights from Greece to Georgia for Mrs. S Tam and a passport for Ms. S Gorman. For the second time in the space of a week, we were faced with the prospect of being stuck in Athens.
I stand behind my decision to panic
We tried, unsuccessfully, to make contact with Lastminute.com. Their website’s FAQ section directed us to the airlines, while the airlines directed us to Lastminute. It was a vicious circle from which there seemed to be no escape (a bit like Athens, really).
With time steadily marching on, we faced the possibility of arriving at the airport and not being able to change my name. This would leave me scrambling to find another flight, quite possibly while simultaneously breathing into a brown paper bag. Leaving it until the airport may also mean flights were full and I’d have to stay in Athens while Les moved on to Tbilisi without me.
‘With the possibility of a nervous breakdown increasing by the second, Les found direct flights from Israel to Tbilisi…’
This would cut out Athens entirely, but seats were available and we’d be together. So we booked. Also, even though I’ve never been to Athens, it was really starting to piss me off. It’s like my own personal Bermuda Triangle. The cancellation fees for both legs of the trip to Georgia were more that we’d paid for the flights, so we left them be.
Number of flights we paid for but could no longer use: 6
The Last Leg
In the stress of trying to navigate our route to Georgia in the air and from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the ground (Israeli transport is confusing AF), we kinda forgot that I’d also booked our flights home through Lastminute.com. Obviously, these tickets were also for a Mrs. S Tam. When I remembered, I contacted the site, who told me to contact the respective airlines (Georgian and KLM). Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall the password for my phone provider to top up, so that took another hour and got us nowhere. I turned to email. That also got us nowhere. I resorted to screaming.
With a little over 12 hours until our flight to Amsterdam was due to take off, we were ready to hop the bus to Tbilisi airport and beg for a name change.
‘By this point, I’d be happy to be known as Mrs. Boris Johnson if it got me home. ..’
According to the individual airlines, the charges for changing your name would be around $70 each. This meant paying $140 for the same seat on the same flight I’d already paid for, but I could see no other way. Until I checked Skyscanner. Skyscanner could offer me a flight to Manchester with Pegasus Airlines for just £105.
It was a different route and timing from our original flights, so I suggested I bit the bullet and book us both. This was in case a) we arrived at the airport to find Georgian Airways wouldn’t allow me to change my name or b) Georgian Airways would let me change my name, which allowed me to get to Amsterdam only to find out that KLM wouldn’t let me change my name and I had to stay there. FOREVER. If nothing else, I surmised, at least it wasn’t bloody Athens. Also, at least we’d be there together.
The Final Straw
I pounced on the Pegasus flights, being uber careful to put in my passport name and not my actual name. I got through the process, checked the times, names, dates and clicked ‘BOOK NOW!’.
‘I waited. Nothing happened. After the longest 30 seconds of my life, Pegasus informed me that there weren’t enough seats left on the flight…’
I did that thing where you bang the keys on your laptop in the vain hope a miracle will occur, but it didn’t. I was back to square one. I rechecked Skyscanner only to find the flights were still being advertised, so I decided to book them one at a time. It worked! Well, when I say it worked, I mean it worked for one flight. It wouldn’t let me book another. I had just snatched up the last remaining seat on a flight home.
You may recall how, earlier in the saga, I told you about my hatred of Istanbul airport? No? Anyway, I did. It’s right up there, about three hours of your life ago. Well, Istanbul and I were about to be reunited. My flight took me from Tbilisi to Istanbul, left me there for 2.5 hours and let then me board another flight to Manchester. But I was going home. Also, I have a lounge pass and I wasn’t afraid to use it to consume as much free coffee and food as I could handle in 150 minutes to make myself feel better about being there. Take that, Sabiha Gocken Istanbul International Airport.
Number of flights we paid for but could no longer use: 8
So, here I am. Up in the sky with my new Turkish friends, gently tapping on the keyboard, constructively using the time I usually spend annoying Les by demanding we play I Spy: ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘S’! I wonder how he’s coping with the lack of fun airplane games and those lonely seats next to him where I should be. I cheer myself up with the thought he’ll make the most of all the free food. And possibly the lack of fun airplane games. And possibly those lonely seats next to him where I should be…