Turkish Airlines Business Class Review 787 Istanbul (IST) to San Francisco (SFO) – was this my worst Turkish Airlines flight ever?
Turkish Airlines has been playing 'hard-to-catch' with its San Francisco flight for a long time. Schedules have changed constantly for years (and without many warnings). Sometimes it was daily, then 3x a week then 6x a week. Just a random lottery.
I was surprised to see Turkish Airlines had reinstated the San Francisco service rather quickly after the worst of the pandemic induced cancellations. Since I needed to return from Europe I jumped at the opportunity! It certainly helps Turkish Airlines that Turkey (and several other European countries to the east of the Schengen zone) are exempted from the travel ban.
Initially Turkish had scheduled the Athens to Istanbul flight but had to cancel it because of the Greek issued NOTAM. Nothing they could do about it. I instead had flown on Lufthansa's A320neo to and from Frankfurt a day earlier (my Review).
I have flown Turkish Airlines a few times (i.e. Turkish Airlines Business Class to Houston on a 777 and more recently Turkish Airlines A330 to Cape Town). While I wasn't so happy with their 'hardware' I felt the 'soft product' was phenomenal.
This time I wanted to see the new Istanbul airport, tour the Turkish Airlines Business Class lounge, and the new IGA lounges (accessible by Priority Pass members). That worked out somewhat well ...
Alas at 12.55 PM boarding time I was excited to see a 787 be ready for service (the equipment had switched between a 777 and 787 several times in the last few days). There were a few more security checks but no questions asked - just documents and carry-on luggage was checked again. The gate agents tagged my carry-on for check-in - I protested and mentioned my Business Class seat and the agents mentioned this is a new rule of 'Corona', but they let me ask the cabin crew just to be sure (nobody ever spoke of my carry-on again).
Boarding started 45 minutes before the flight and the gate agent just announced it with a shriek (no loudspeakers) and the masses stampeded (yes this flight would be almost 100% full). There was no priority boarding - everyone just ran for it (though people were not that crazy that afternoon).
The new 787 shows off a beautiful new interior in dark colors. The mini-suites are strikingly similar to what Air Canada and Singapore Airlines use on their 787/ A350. I'm not a big fan of that Singapore Airlines Business Class seat.
It comes in a tough 1-2-1 layout.
I noticed how cramped the walkways are and how tight it can be to walk in the aisles. Most passengers were still in the line at the gate so I used a few minutes to film the interior before the seats filled up.
The seat is a bit odd as it confuses you with the way you are supposed to lean - my back started to hurt from that. It twists your body. There is also no stowage. The entertainment system worked just really well though with many options and a great flight map on a brand new display.
The flight attendants seemed busy with all kinds of things - none involved the passengers. There was no greeting, no service, no assistance. Business Class passengers were left to themselves. Many other airlines had eradicated welcome drinks and snacks due to COVID-19 before takeoff, so I wasn't expecting that - but a bit of attention would have been nice.
There was also no amenity kit, pajamas, slippers, or even a warm blanket (before takeoff). This continued for 25 minutes and while some flight attendants rushed through the cramped cabin you'd only hear the safety video eventually as we pushed back. No pilot announcement either.
The taxiing took a while and since the airport is much bigger (and still quite busy) we waited another 20 minutes for takeoff. No 'human announcement' during that either. Would that change once in the air?
Well not for about another two hours. I was handed a drinks menu - which I thought was like the 'menu before the menu'. But my order never showed up until about two hours in. I asked about the lunch service and choices and was told there is no choice. Fine, I thought - maybe we are short on meals?
To my surprise, I was handed a paper box a few minutes later that was basically an Economy class meal. Indeed it was, the flight attendants confirmed - however, this was better since there was a salad (which looked like a few days old). That was easily the worst Business Class meal I have ever seen. The cabin chief told me that this would be it for now. No warm (!) meals during the pandemic. No more hot drinks. And I should basically sh*t up. Oh, well so much for the fabled 'soft product'. It's a bit like flying United Airlines which has a great seat but inedible food (well at least it looks like a Business Class meal there).
The flight attendants came by a bit later and told me that starting Nov 1st warm meals 'may be re-introduced' on some routes. No details were available.
After a bit more time spent with some podcasts, I asked the flight attendants to add the mattress cover to my seat. It is quite thin but better than nothing. I fell asleep quite quickly but woke up just 1.5 hours later. The seat felt very cramped - almost claustrophobic as we trundled towards Northern Canada. While I could stretch out completely it was impossible to turn or even bend my legs without quite some gyrations. If you can sleep on your back without moving at all - this seat is perfect. If you sleep on your side or stomach and move around quite a bit (like me) this seat is as bad as it gets (for sleeping).
I instead switched my attention to the inflight WiFi which provides a 1GB data allowance for Business Class passengers. While I had no luck to make it work on my phone I got it to work on my laptop. You had to request the router manually - as the DNS forwards never worked for me (i.e. the. login page would not come up automatically).
Once logged in it was quite fast and I failed to go through my data allowance for the whole flight. No other passenger seemed to have tried it much (I saw no laptops or phones really used by anyone). This was a treat - free, fast Wifi!
About two hours before landing 'breakfast' was served which would be a bad excuse even in Economy. I tried the fruits cocktail, literally just a few fruits...
Landing in SF was quick and immigration was surprisingly crowded given the 'afternoon rush' in SF.
In sum - this was just too strange a flight. A solid new plane delivered to Turkish Airlines, but a disastrous soft product (especially given my high expectations). The seat is great for lounging and watching TV but just too cramped and claustrophobic for sleeping.
The airlines' decision to service Economy Class meals in Business Class is just a joke. Especially in October 2020 with Istanbul airport working at a good amount of capacity ( this isn't a repatriation flight anymore!). I was shocked to see ads for the Business Class food service everywhere (incl. in-flight) after months of no Business Class food service at all. This needs to be communicated to customers more openly and generously. It makes flying Turkish so much less of an experience.
The flight attendants were a complete miss - they basically disappeared before takeoff and ever really interacted with anyone during the flight.
I'm sad to say I'd hold off on flying Turkish Airlines for the time being. Once catering returns I'd likely prefer the older seats (with their flaws) compared to the new seat (especially for red-eyes).