ISTANBUL – Turkish police deployed briefly to Istanbul’s main international airport Tuesday, after passengers stranded there because of an unusually heavy snowfall staged what appeared to be a protest in the airport’s cavernous departure hall.
Passengers chanting “we need hotel” marched through the hall, near the duty free shop and luxury stores, according to a spokeswoman for the airport and videos posted on social media by passengers, some of whom said they had been stranded in the facility for more than a day with no help from staff and no provision of food or water.
Other videos posted by local news channels showed dozens of black-clad police officers in the departure hall, as the chanting continued. A spokeswoman for the airport said that the officers worked at the facility, and had not been brought in from outside.
A spokesman for Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comments on the delays or the passenger complaints.
Heavy snow beginning Sunday evening blanketed Istanbul, snarling roads and briefly halting ship traffic through the Bosporus. By Tuesday, local authorities had banned private cars from roads and told public servants to stay home.
Officials at Istanbul airport – among the world’s biggest, and one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vaunted megaprojects – announced Monday evening that flights would be suspended until early Tuesday morning due to “adverse weather and heavy snowfall.” The roof of a temporary cargo building used by Turkish Airlines collapsed due to the snow accumulation Monday but caused no injuries, an official from the company said.
The suspension of flights was later extended, until midnight Wednesday, as crews worked to clear what the airport said was 16 inches of accumulated snow on the runways and other parts of the airport using nearly 200 snow removal vehicles. On Tuesday evening, as videos of the protest and the police response circulated, the airport said on its Twitter account that it was providing thousands of free blankets and lunchboxes to passengers.
In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Seyda Yilmaz, the airport spokeswoman, said that the situation at the facility was “under control” and that 11 flights had been able land, and one had departed, since noon on Tuesday when one of the runways was reopened. She said that some passengers had been in “limbo” because their airlines had not provided hotels, but denied that was the fault of the airport, which was providing a 50% discount on food inside the terminal.