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MURAT YETKİN > Turkish Airlines to keep its alcoholic drinks policy

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There are two debates going on in the same framework nowadays in Turkey regarding its national carrier Turkish Airlines (THY). One of them is a restriction put on alcoholic drinks for some domestic and international flights and the other one is about the new design for the outfits of cabin crews; both are debated in the modern lifestyle context.

Some critics found the proposed designs too “conservative” because the skirts for stewardesses fell to the knees and there is a small cap on top of their heads, which critics and some columnists think resemble a symbolic fez and shows the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) “desire to return to Ottoman times.” The debate heated up further when THY announced it had stopped serving alcohol in a number of domestic and international flights. THY already applies a no alcoholic beverages policy to economy class passengers like most airlines in the world.

Drinking alcohol has always been a dividing line in predominantly Muslim Turkish society. Those who adopt a secular way of life drink and observant Muslims do not. And whenever a restriction on the use of alcohol is called into question the debate turns into a secularism argument the next second. It is true that especially under the AK Parti rule it became practically impossible to find a proper restaurant serving liquor in many Anatolian towns, mainly because of social pressure. But the question is whether THY, as one of the most successful brand names of Turkey is trying to impose a lifestyle on passengers with its new crew outfits and restrictions on alcoholic drinks.

“The decisions have nothing to do with secularism or with politics,” says Hamdi Topçu, the CEO of THY. “They are totally commercial ones. The outfits that appeared in the media were leaked from the workshop of one of the designers, which we have already rejected; it would not be possible to work in the planes with such outfits. We haven’t yet decided on the design. On the [topic of] alcoholic drinks, my job is to make this airline a more efficient and profitable one.”

In January 2013, THY saw an increase in its international passengers by 34 percent compared to 2012, reaching some 3 million passengers. Under Topçu, it has increased its turnover from $1.2 billion to $13 billion in the last 10 years, with a 20 percent growth in the economic-crisis-hit year of 2012 when it was rewarded as the best airline in Europe.

So, Topçu explains the economy of it: “Out of some 220 destinations for 200 we have no change in our standard services policy. For the rest we decided to go out of routine and restrict alcoholic drinks due to the advice of the host country and obtain great benefits that some other airlines lack out of this shift. For domestic flights we only lifted the services in which there has been no demand for liquors anyway; I have to consider the load and fuel as well. There are private airlines flying to those destinations and they do not serve liquor already. Plus, there is the security factor. Do you know that it is debated in international aviation circles a total ban on alcohol, like tobacco is debated?”

No, that I did not know, but with a short search on the web, it is possible to read literature on that debate; there are airlines who discuss totally lifting alcoholic drinks from onboard, including the sales of it.

“Such stories could only be in the benefit of some of our lesser international rivals,” Topçu concludes; “The big ones know the realities and THY qualities. We will keep our policy as it is.”

February/19/2013

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