For my return from Europe to the US I had booked an Aeroplan award for 45,000 miles and $92 from Berlin to San Francisco via Istanbul and Houston. I had originally contemplated booking an AAdvantage award, but availability was just horrible over the Atlantic and even worse connecting from the East Coast to the West Coast.
I arrived a bit early at the airport and at 2 hours out the counters were just opening. While the airport is clearly overwhelmed, the short waits usually make for a pleasant experience. Turkish Airlines has its check-in at the far end and for some reason it’s always crazy-crowded. The business class line was long so I kept shopping until it dwindled somewhat.
Just after a few minutes’ wait it was my turn and the agent jut yelled, “Passport!” at me. The next shriek was “Final destination?” Those were just words, not even sentences. If it was a language thing I was happy to try in German but that did not change anything.
Without any words or facial expressions she then ordered me to weigh my carry-on. I was happy to comply but she mentioned 10kg as the max and I argued that if necessary I could reduce the weight. Maybe she hadn’t heard me, but she put the boarding passes (for all flights, including my United flight) in my passport and gave me a ‘cabin luggage’ tag. It all happened so fast – less than a minute – but boy, could you be any more rude to business class passengers?
While I was still collecting my passport she yelled “Next” and ordered another person from a different line (nobody was behind me) to come forward.
Now I spent several weeks in Turkey this year and also managed to travel all over Russia with a big mix of airlines (both good and bad) but that was just such a rude experience. Keep in mind that it was almost two hours to the flight and nobody was even behind me in line.
Of course she did not mention any lounge location, so I must say I was a bit startled, even though it just so happened that I knew that the Lufthansa Senator and Business Class Lounges were just a floor above. The Senator Lounge is accessible for Star Alliance Gold members, while the Business Class Lounge can be accessed with a business class ticket. I reviewed the Senator Lounge before and it still puzzles me why paid business class passengers get worse food than frequent flyers flying in economy; most airlines (namely Qatar) do the exact opposite.
Security is done at the gate in Berlin and I was literally the last person to go through security and immigration. I had fully expected a secondary screening but no such thing happened. Given how small the gate area is, there is no priority boarding and everyone just wanted to get out of there.
The seat configuration was like domestic first class and for this 2.5 hours flight it was just perfect (Qatar chained me to a similar seat for 8 hours 3 weeks ago!)
As anticipated, things were hectic from the moment of boarding and English was a foreign language. I’m always amazed that Turkish Airlines staff barely look at you and seem to have so many things to do, despite the fact that there is a chef flying with them prepping and serving the food.
After takeoff, the cold appetizers came out really quickly and were as delicious as expected. I got the beef kebap for my main course and liked it. It wasn’t as good as many of the fantastic kebaps during my time in Istanbul and Izmir in the summer but they were good enough.
All seats in business and economy seemed taken, remembering that Lufthansa had cancelled almost all flights and Turkish was often their preferred re-booking option.
I tried to get the IFE to work and had no trouble watching shows and movies. Turkish also adds a noise-cancelling headset for these short flight, which works well (especially now that I do not have my Bose headset anymore!) However, you can’t really listen to music, since a playlist with like 20 songs would only play 2 or 3 and then just stay silent for some songs – so you just hear a bunch of silence.
We arrived ahead of scheduled time into Istanbul and the mad crowds started – what a crazy rush to the transfer gates! That was just insane. Immigration was crowded, but courtesy of my German passport I was able to go through in seconds with just a stamp and no annoying visa requirement.
The ground experience at Istanbul Airport is becoming a real issue, with the facilities being strained even on a good day. Turkish seems overworked too, with just too many people racing to the bottom of service and the basics of human interaction.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
This post has been tagged with: Best Airline | great airline | Turkish Airlines