Turkish Airlines Business Class Review

15 September 2013

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 September 15, 2013
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First a bit of background.  When planning this trip I was constantly asked why would I fly to Geneva via Istanbul?  Well, first I am a complete aviation geek and had never flown Turkish Airlines before.  Second, the business class ticket price (less than a month before departure) offered significant savings over the SWISS non-stop and the connection times were actually better on TK that on some other European carriers.  So, via IST it was – not to mention I was really looking forward to paying the Turkish Lounge in IST a visit.

Check-in at Terminal One was pretty uneventful.  When we arrived at check-in we were the only people on the business class line but had to wait a bit because I think that the agents were taking non-business passengers as that line was quite long (and clearly the business line was previously empty).  After a few minutes we were at the counter.  I did find it a bit odd that I had to show the credit card the tickets were purchased with which the agent then took to another desk and came quickly back.  All bags were tagged priority and transfer at Istanbul.  We received our boarding passes for our IST-GVA flights as well as our lounge invitations to the Alitalia Michelangelo Lounge.  All in all check-in was quite painless.  There is a dedicated premium security channel but at this hour (12:50 p.m. departure) there was no one actually on the security line so we just took the nearest entrance and were through security in mere minutes.

The Turkish Lounge at JFK is the Alitalia Michelangelo Lounge and well, let’s just say it was a bit underwhelming.  It wasn’t bad per se, but was lacking any real character.  Non-alcoholic beverage offerings were pretty decent (with some nice Italian brands in the mix) but the alcohol selection was miniscule – not to mention it was paper and plastic cups for beverages.  Food-wise there was a limited selection of nibbles but there was a refrigerator with pre-packaged sandwiches, hummus, etc. but looked more 7-Eleven than business class lounge.  Perhaps the one saving grace was the fantastic espresso machine they had.  Well, that and the fact that it did have a pretty good view of some of the gates so it allowed for some really up close and personal views of various aircraft.  After about an hour or so we headed to the gate only to find that the flight had a slight delay – so rather than going back to the lounge we just walked around a bit until it was time to board.

Alitalia Michelangelo Lounge

Alitalia Michelangelo Lounge

Turkish Airlines
Flight: TK 4
Depart: New York JFK
Arrive: Istanbul Ataturk
Equipment: A330-300
Class: Business
Seats:  4J and 4K

Boarding was somewhat chaotic with lines forming well before the flight was even called for boarding.  There was a dedicated Business line so it helped a bit.  Passports were checked while were we on line prior to the gate opening so that we’d just need to have our boarding pass ready at the jetway.  There was at least 10 wheelchairs (probably more) and they were all lined up off to the side for priority boarding.  Though I had to wonder how many actually needed them because after five or so people who clearly did and had reserved them in advance – more and more people kept coming up and asking for one.  At one point the gate agent had to send for more because they ran out.  Business was called first and we were able to quickly take out seats and settle in.

The Business cabin on the A330 is in a 2-2-2 configuration and the seats are actually quite spacious complete with a small ottoman facing each seat.  The seats reminded me quite a bit of LAN Premium Business but were I think a bit more comfortable.  The cabin itself was in pretty good condition and felt newish.  After seated, we were welcomed but a friendly flight attendant and offered a welcome cocktail.  The raspberry-mint soda is simply amazing and made for a refreshing start to the journey.  Turkish Airlines has chefs on-board from DO&CO and the chef came around with some Turkish delight and the small boxes of Godiva chocolate while the aircraft was still being boarded.  Menus and amenity kits were also distributed with a selection of reading materials offered.  Multiple hot towel services were also offered throughout the flight.

Here’s a view of the takeoff from the front camera:

The menus were actually quite beautifully presented in a heavy card stock folder personalized with the passenger’s name and seat written on it and for this flight featured:

Assorted Canapés (presented with the first cocktail service)

Selection of Appetizers Served from Our Trolley
Smoked salmon; Curried chicken salad; Turkish style bulgar salad with grilled chicken breast; White eggplant salad; Green beans marinated in olive oil; White cheese and tomatoes; and Zucchini puff pastry

Butter Bean Soup with Herbed Croutons

Main Course Selection of: Grilled beef filet of beef in thyme sauce with sautéed okra with tomatoes and gnocchi OR Chilean sea bass with lemon butter and zucchini with thyme and roasted cherry tomatoes with lemon pepper risotto OR Spaghetti with tomato sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula with roasted pine nuts and parmesan

Assorted Cheeses Served from Our Trolley

Dessert Selection Served from Our Trolley including: Turkish desserts; Sour cherry strudel with vanilla cream sauce; Passion fruit panna cotta; and chocolate ice cream

Coffee (including Turkish Coffee) and Digestives Served from Our Trolley (which were presented with an additional selection of mini-sweets

As a food allergic traveler with Celiac disease (and a severe shellfish allergy) I pre-ordered gluten-free meals for all of my segments and on this flight was offered:

Mixed green salad with grilled vegetables and sliced chicken breast

Grilled chicken breast with mixed vegetables over basmati rice

Sliced fruit assortment

Yes, it was definitely a bit more streamlined than the main offerings but I am completely used to that and honestly prefer a meal I know will be safe for me.  As far as special meals go, this was actually among the top that I have had in a long while.  It was well-prepared and tasted very good.  I am just happy to have something during long-haul flights and because of my restrictions don’t hold the airlines to produce culinary masterpieces – it is, after all still in-flight catering.

There was a bar set-up at the front of the cabin where flight attendants mixed a very good cocktail and there was a selection of drinks and nibble available throughout the flight at the bar.

Included with our menus was an extensive order form to pre-order our breakfast prior to arrive.  Turkish Airlines offered two full meal services so breakfast also included hot selections.  I do not have the form provided (because I placed my order) but it included pretty much anything you could want from baked goods and smoothies with hot offerings of an omelet or fried eggs.

My travel partner had the omelet and I had the fried egg which was served with grilled mushrooms and asparagus.  Both were actually quite good.

The cabin crew were extremely efficient and did a great job of making sure that all passengers were well looked after.  Service was solid without being overly intrusive.  After catching a few hours of sleep I awoke to find two bottles of water had been placed at our seats and when crew saw you were awake they would ask if anything was needed.

Arrival in Istanbul was on-time and transfer was very easy thanks to a dedicated premium security line.  The main line was completely jammed packed and would have taken quite a long time to get through.  We were soon in the main terminal and on our way to the Turkish Airlines Lounge.

The lounge is located at the far end of the terminal and is quite possibly among the most stunning I have visited in my travels – not to mention it is massive.  Access is via gates with boarding pass readers and once inside it was clear that this place was hopping.  There are several food stations (including a Panini station) all making fresh offerings.  There are several different seating areas and a shower suite area manned by a concierge to assist with any needs.  Staff was constantly making rounds to clean-up glasses and dishes so the lounge was extremely well-kept for being so very busy.  There is a piano area (which actually plays) a billiards room, and even a movie theater complete with a self-service popcorn machine.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul

Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul

Turkish Airlines
Flight: TK 1917
Depart: Istanbul Ataturk
Arrive: Geneva Cointrin
Equipment: A321
Class: Business
Seats:  2E and 2F

The next flight in this itinerary would take us to Geneva.  We made our way to the gate where there was an ID check prior to entering the waiting area.  After a bit of a wait boarding was finally called and business class was invited to board first though we did have to make our way through a sea of people who had all started to queue as soon as boarding was announced.

We were warmly greeted and took our seats.  What is nice about the A321 is that it has a 2-2 business cabin with recliners vs. the more traditional middle seat blocked flexible business class cabin.  Seats were comfortable and the cabin seemed relatively new but the seat controls were manual and a bit cumbersome to manipulate and my partners seat seemed to have issues with recline.

Welcome drinks were offered and I once again went with the raspberry mint soda.  Hot towel service was also offered.  Being a bit tired we opted to sleep a bit on this flight though a full hot meal service was provided.

The regular menu was:

Fresh Fruits

Homemade Yoghurt with Muesli

Chicken and Turkey Breasts

Assorted Cheeses

Followed by a choice of: Turkish cheese savory scrambled eggs with grilled green pepper and cherry tomatoes OR Potpourri of toasts with turkey, ham, Kasar cheese and arugula with white cheese, black olive tapenade and tomato with herbed sautéed mushrooms.

All was served with oven fresh croissants and bread selection.

 The gluten-free option was:

Fresh Fruits

Gluten-Free Cornflakes with Dried Strawberries

Home Made Yoghurt with Raspberry

Grilled Chicken Breast with White Cheese, Kasar Cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers

Followed by: Cheese omelet with sautéed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes

Best of all the meal came with gluten-free bread.  The bread could have used a warning in the oven but due to cross-contamination concerns I opted to eat it without and it was a bit solid but appreciated the offering.

Arrival in Geneva was on-time and we were bused to immigration where there was no line.  By the time we got to baggage claim the priority tagged bags were already on the carousel which was amazing given that from plane to baggage claim it took perhaps ten minutes tops.

Turkish Airlines
Flight: TK 1918
Depart: Geneva Cointrin
Arrive: Istanbul Ataturk
Equipment: A321
Class: Business
Seats:  2E and 2F

We arrived at the airport a bit before check-in opened but were coming from another part of Switzerland so better safe than sorry.  We were the first in line at business class check-in and within a few minutes an agent had arrived to open check-in (Business only opened, Economy would not open while we were there).  Bags were quickly tagged and sent on their way.  Boarding passes were accompanied by Fast Track immigration passes for Istanbul which while appreciated was not necessary because we were just transiting).  We were told what lounge Turkish uses (SWISS Business Class Lounge) and were familiar with it having used it on our previous SWISS flights.

Security has a dedicated premium channel that you just scan your boarding pass to gain access to.  Security was super quick and we were soon on our way to the lounge.  The SWISS Lounge is comfortable and what you would expect in Swiss efficiency.  Good food and beverage offerings in quiet surroundings.

Boarding would be from one of the satellite terminals (about a ten minute walk) so we made our way a bit earlier than usual as you must also clear immigration prior to arriving at the gate.  TK 1917 arrived while we were at the gate area and the aircraft was quickly turned around for our flight.

Business was invited to board first and we again were warmly welcomed on-board and took our seats.  Welcome drinks, Turkish Delight, and Godiva chocolates were offered and shortly thereafter we were on our way to Istanbul.  Again the DO&CO chef was on-board and before departure confirmed that my gluten-free meal was on board and hot towels were distributed.

The main menu for this flight was:

Assorted Turkish Appetizers

Marinated Green Beans

Followed by a choice of: Mediterranean prawns with tomato sauce served with sautéed leaf spinach and buttered rice OR Turkish style grilled minced beef with sautéed zucchini, red peppers, and bulgar OR Homemade artichoke ravioli with pan fried artichokes, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan.  All accompanied by oven fresh bread.

After the main course assorted cheese and homemade profiterole with vanilla cream and chocolate sauce.

My gluten-free meal was:

Fresh Fruits

Yoghurt with Cucumber

Shepherd Salad

Grilled Zucchini, Eggplant, and Peppers with Fresh Green Leaves

My main course was grilled lamb chops with tomato sauce and sautéed leaf spinach with steamed rice.  Again, a gluten-free roll accompanied the meal.  I am not a huge fan of lamb but these chops were wonderfully seasoned and cooked to pink, yes pink, perfection.  I ended up cleaning my plate.

Before landing a selection of packaged Turkish snacks including apricots were offered as on the previous hop to Geneva.  Upon arrival we made our way to a different transit area than we’d been through on our last visit and after a quick security check were back up in the main terminal and on our way to Duty Free (which is massive) and ultimately the Turkish Lounge (which I was able to explore a bit more during this layover).

Turkish Airlines
Flight: TK 11
Depart: Istanbul Ataturk
Arrive: New York JFK
Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Class: Business
Seats:  3A and 3B

We made our way to the gate and as it was a U.S. departure there were multiple security checks but it was quite painless and did not take very long to get to the actual waiting area.  The gate area was chaotic and there communication from staff seemed to be lacking.  We finally saw the gate appear to open and made our way to the actual boarding area.  Unfortunately it was a complete mess and when I asked when Business would be boarding (we were already well past schedule boarding time and it looked like people were making their way onto the jetway) I was met with a somewhat abrupt response from the agent and shortly thereafter boarding appeared to finally begin and First (there is no First Class on this aircraft, only Business) and Business were called.  There was still Comfort Class (Premium Economy) on this aircraft though it is being phased out so that is all I could think the agent meant.

There is no boarding pass check to get onto the jetway and of course when we got to the bottom of the jetway the aircraft was not ready so the chaos continued as the jetway quickly filled-up and we stood there for about 10-15 minutes while motorized wheelchairs honked their horns to get by but there was truly nowhere for anybody to move.  The aircraft appears not to be ready and the woman at the front apparently had no boarding pass (remember no check to get on the jetway) so that had to be sorted and it was clear that this was a free for all as the twenty or so people in front of us turned right and were not in the business cabin.  The crew seemed take off-guard and were rushing around trying to continue their prep of the aircraft and seemed a bit distracted but this would change once things got settled.

The layout of the 777-300ER is 2-3-2 in Business and thankfully we were in the A/B seats because that middle seat, while equally as spacious was flanked by two people and seemed awkward.  There was a bit of a shuffle when a middle seater wanted to sit by their friend and the ground staff could find no one to switch – you think?  There were a few empty seats in the cabin but for some reason those were not an option (I believe that they might have been inoperable seats as they remained vacant throughout the flight).

TK Boeing 777-300ER Business Cabin Panorama

TK Boeing 777-300ER Business Cabin Panorama, Click for Full View

Welcome cocktails were offered and the service was exactly the same routine as the New York to Istanbul leg with the exception of Porsche Design amenity kits on this flight and Crabtree & Evelyn on the flight into Istanbul.  Crew was friendly and efficient and did their best to make everyone feel welcome.  Thankfully this was one of Turkish’s aircraft with free Wi-Fi (and Live TV) which actually worked surprisingly well for the duration of the flight.

The regular menu consisted of:

Assorted Canapés

Selection of Appetizers from Our Trolley

Smoked salmon with horseradish sauce; Seafood salad; Chicken Caesar salad with croutons; Stuffed grape leaves w/Imambayildi” stuffed eggplant; Creamy yoghurt with garlic and herbs; and Herbed white cheese with Kalamata olives.

 Traditional Turkish Lentil Soup with Olive Tapenade Bruschetta

Main course selection of: Pan-fried sea bass w/sautéed vegetables and herbed potatoes OR  Lamb shish kebab w/grilled tomato and green pepper and creamy eggplant puree and Turkish-style rice OR Rigatoni w/creamy tomato sauce and pesto, sun-dried tomato, olives, arugula and Parmesan.

Assorted Cheeses Served from Our Trolley

Dessert Selection Served from Our Trolley including: Turkish desserts; Chocolate mousse; Sour cherry strudel; Vanilla ice cream; and marinated berries.

Coffee (including Turkish Coffee) and Digestives Served from Our Trolley (which were presented with an additional selection of mini-sweets

Prior to the second meal service there was snack service of: Potpourri of “Pride” w/white cheese and chicken breast; and DEMEL’s petits desserts (but I apparently slept through this).

The second full service consisted of:

Caprese Salad

Marinated Fresh Artichoke

Herbed Smoked Curried Chicken Salad

Main course selection of: Eggplant stuffed with minced beef, tomato sauce and buttered rice OR Pasta trio of gnocchi with mornay sauce/rigatoni with tomato sauce/cheese ravioli followed by a double chocolate parfait.

My gluten-free meal was:

Fresh Fruit

Yoghurt with Cucumber

Shepherd Salad

Mixed Salad with Radicchio and Grilled Vegetables

My main course was the grilled lamb chops again with the sautéed spinach and basmati rice.  I didn’t mind and the presentation was very nice so I appreciated the effort.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream with berry compote.

 

My second full gluten-free meal service was:

Homemade Yogurt with Raspberry (an interesting choice as the rest was savory)

Mediterranean Salad

Mixed Salad with Mozzarella Pearls and Tomato

Main course: Grilled chicken brochette w/marinated red peppers, gilled zucchini, and tomato rice (all of which was delicious) served again with a gluten-free roll

Boeing 777-300ER Cabin Views: Chef, Cocktail, and Mood Lighting

Boeing 777-300ER Cabin Views: Chef, Cocktail, and Mood Lighting

Upon arrival in New York, immigration was a bit of a mess with all lines (including U.S. Residents-only) taking all visitors.  It was not too bad of a wait and didn’t matter because luggage delivery at JFK leaves a lot to be desired.  It took a good 15-20 minutes after clearing immigration for the first bags to arrive and it was one bag then a pause then another.  Priority bags were intermingled with non and the process took quite a long time to finally retrieve all of our bags.

As you can see from the meal services, going hungry on a Turkish flight is not going to happen.  All in all the flights were very good and in-flight service consistent across the board.  Ground-service was a bit hit or miss but nothing that unbearable.  I would not hesitate to fly Turkish Airlines again and would definitely recommend them.  Their service took me back to when airlines were actually about providing an exceptional on-board travel experience and their premium cabin is indeed just that – a premium experience.

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