For my flight to San Francisco from Europe, I was hoping to get on the direct flight to San Francisco from Istanbul but no such seats ever opened up. The best I could get about a week out was for the Aeroplan agent to put me on the Houston flight.
I had spent a night at the Radisson Blu Istanbul Airport and was looking forward to my time at the Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge. The free airport shuttle only went once per hour, though, cutting my time rather short.
The Business Class Lounge now has a separate immigration and security line since its extension last year. I had totally missed that and fought my way through the regular business class immigration and security which had a lot of pushy folks.
As usual, the crowds were unabated and there was a line of 50 people to get some pide at 11AM – oh well! I eventually got a small snack and a cup of espresso and explored the rest of the shops a bit more (nothing else has changed at Istanbul Airport though).
The gate opened early and it was right under the lounge – so far I only had the most far-out bus gates at Istanbul Airport, so this was a welcome surprise. At the gate another thorough security check would be done (security is first done when entering the airport and a second check is done after immigration) and now a third manual check and bag check for every passenger. It was like secondary screening in the US – just that it was for everyone.
Just before boarding started I asked the gate agent to change my business class seat since I wanted to have no seat neighbor. She replied without even looking at me or the computer with, “Business class full” and made sure I did not get any of her attention.
To my surprise, no plane was at the end of that walkway – it was an old, crowded and hot bus. Business and economy passengers were all on one bus and, as it so often does, it waited 20 minutes until enough passengers were in that bus to make the air full of carbon dioxide. We eventually made it to the furthest position out to find a random 777ER (or so it seemed) that was parked at the end of the airport (you could see cars behind the airport wall) and walked up.
I was shocked to see that the business class actually had a 2-3-2 configuration, with me in the middle seat. On top of that, my seat neighbors would be the folks that usually book two economy seats.
I asked if seats might come available and the flight attendants had no idea. I still assumed it would be full but made my way to a (so far) empty row. After being pushed around the cabin several times I found a seat with no seat neighbor and when “Boarding completed” was announced, business class was maybe 70% full. So much for, “Business class is full”!
After all this excitement we kept waiting for more bags and set off about 45 minutes late into the Istanbul skies.
As usual with Turkish Airlines Business Class, service started immediately. While the flight attendants barely speak English, they move fast and sprint down the cabin to make that food ready for you. Drinks were served quickly and an hour later the delicious appetizers would arrive. Turkish Airlines has some of the best catering around and this flight was no exception. I loved pretty much all the items.
This would be a 13-hour flight all the way across the Atlantic and, believe it or not, there was no turbulence until the last minute when landing in Houston.
There were a number of movies that I hadn’t watched yet and the IFE worked very well. The handset and the main screen can both be used for the same menu items and they respond somewhat unpredictably, but it all worked eventually.
The WiFi (free for business class passengers) would work as well after several reconnects. It’s fast enough for a few Instant Messenger chats, but certainly nothing you can browse the web with.
I actually got a couple of hours of sleep and woke up hungry. For long flights like this it would be great to get a hot snack item in-between the two meal services, but that wasn’t an option. There were plenty of potato chips and chocolate bars though.
The seat is a bit small, but better than, say, Swiss Business Class and goes fully flat.
Eventually the second meal service came around, which wasn’t as good. This seems to be a theme with Turkish Airlines – during another recent flight with the airline, the two meals were also starkly different in quality.
I did expect the worst at immigration because I was already on the ‘selectee’ list and had now just arrived from Turkey again – the very reason I had been listed in the first place (since I went to Istanbul, Izmir and Bodrum this summer).
However, to my surprise, the kiosk printed my Global Entry receipt right away and the officer waved me through. I also had United reprint my boarding pass and as another surprise this day, no SSSS showed up there either. I wanted to make sure and asked the lounge attendant the same thing (including a seat change) and, voila, no SSSS on this flight.
The ground experience in Istanbul has gone from bad to worse and the manic crowds, rude staff, fellow passengers, overcrowded airport and the strained capacity all make it an ordeal. Once you are airborne, Turkish offers a solid business class product with great food. The flight attendants are always hectic (for no reason on a 13-hour flight IMHO) but are much friendlier than the ground staff.
I’m not so sure if the excellent food makes up for the many shortcomings – maybe it’s worth trying out something new for my next Atlantic crossing.
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