So what is Turkish Airlines really like? Everyone asks this question. While there is alot of negative press about the airline, the simple answer is that across the board it works. My definition of working is: “It takes off, it does not crash, it lands- and generally all of this happens within an envelope of timelyness”. Turkish Airlines certainly does this. In addition to this, Turkish Airlines always feed you and the food and drinks are free. So far so good. So lets go into some greater detail on what we think of the “the glorious Turks”, because it is not all perfect by any means.
Turkish Airlines Business Class
Turkish Business class is very mixed product, but once you have worked the system out, it is quite clear. The narrow body aircraft have large seats with great recline, but they are by no means flat. The great thing about this is that if you are flying from London to Istanbul at 0600 you have a massive seat on your A321 with great in flight entertainment that blows away the British Airways competition. The crappy thing is that when you leave Gabon or Dar es Salaam at 0330 you’d like a flat bed, and you only have a large seat with great recline.
The Boeing 777-300’s have great flatbeds which are totally flat. On long haul flights they add a thin mattress and duvet which makes this an awesome sleeping experience. The food is great and the service in generally outstanding. The negative side to this however is the centre seat. There is a central seat that Qatar Airways don’t have, which is a bit less private if you are stuck in it. There are dividers of a sort and you can lay flat. So as a guy travelling back from Hong Kong to Istanbul I had no issues. But if you are a lady with two big guys either side of you, you might feel a little hemmed in.
The A330/340 fleet has the best business seating. It is quite simply excellent. Flat beds all round with 2 2 2 configuration, so ever seat is a window or an aisle. The only exception to this is TC-JIZ. This aircraft came from TAM airlines in Brazil and quite frankly, its appalling. There is literally no other way of describing the seats. The leg space is great. but the seats don’t recline at all. They look like flatbeds, but they go back less than an economy seat and the leg rest is a joke. This is the aircraft with “invest in Turkey” painted on it. So if you see this, and you are tired and want to sleep, you are literally better off walking back up the aerobridge and refusing to board. Fly the next day, or on a different airline, or downgrade to economy. Because TC-JIZ is a disgrace to the Turkish Airlines fleet. It is the ugly duckling of the fleet. Let us make this really clear- you are better off on a narrow body 737-900er than you are on Why Turkish did not retrofit flat beds is beyond us.
So really you need to know your aircraft on the route. Narrow body is fine, but know that it is not flat. B777 – great flat beds, avoid the middle one. A330 great flat beds and configuration, just avoid the awful awful awful, oh did I say awful: TC-JIZ.
Turkish Airlines Economy Class
Economy class is what most of us experience, and what we can afford. We fly economy to weddings, funerals, on holiday and on business. Economy class takes us away from failed relationships, towards new love, and to visit loved ones for the last time. I have sat in a seat on economy and never been as miserable or as elated. And here is where Turkish deliver their most solid product.
Every wide body seat has a degree of comfort. The A330’s are slightly better with 32-33 inches of legroom, but the B777’s are slowly being spaced out from 31 inches to 32. Whatever the configuration of inches, a man who is 6’2″ can fly 12 hours on Turkish in an aisle seat and not be uncomfortable. We usually choose the window as “it is the best seat in the world” but really, the aisle is sensible.
The narrow body fleet are mixed bag. The new B737-800’s are very good along with the B737-900er’s with up to 34 inches of legroom. Yes that is 34 inches.
The old A320/321’s can be a bit tight at 31 inches especially when you are flying to 4 hours to Tashkent from Istanbul, but we hear rumours that these aircraft are being changed. The old Boeing 737-800’s are also as tight, and you can be in agony on these, when you fly 8 hours to Ulan Bator via Frunze (Bishkek). So again, know your route, and choose accordingly.
You can also buy the exit row which is comfortable and excellent. Unlike other star alliance carriers, Turkish Airlines does not make these seats available free of charge to their gold frequent fliers. So you can be a platinum elite with 250,000 miles and you still have to pay $100 for an exit row to the US. ($35 for a 4 hour ride to Dubai). Either way it is an insult to the loyalty of their frequent fliers.
Food in Economy
The food on all aircraft is fine. It comes in a small size but it is hot and it comes on a tray and you generally have a choice. Drinks are free and generally plentiful. The narrow body aircraft to Africa tend to run out of beer and sometimes wine in the holiday season, but you can always ask for a whiskey or vodka tonic. They never run out of this (or raki) and the measures are free poured. If you look like a professional drinker, you’ll get a bug measure. If you look sozzled, you’ll get tonic with a smell of gin or none at all.
Crew in Economy
The crews are generally great. We have to say English can be a problem on board, some of the crew speak it better than others. All have mastered functional cabin speak, but the smaller points can go missing. You need to speak clearly to the ladies and gents in the cabin. If they ask “chicken or beef” please do not answer “yes”.
We found that the crew really want to help and they want you to have the most enjoyable experience. We’ve met a load of Turkish cabin crew in our travels, and while they lack the naughty sense of humour of the BA crews, they really do want you to have a nice flight. So be nice to them, and smile and they’ll give you back the same courtesy.
Istanbul is a hard city full of tough people. It is Turkey’s answer to New York, but perhaps slightly softer. The Turks in Ataturk airport are from Istanbul and they want to get the flight off the gate on time. That and the slightly militaristic nature of the Turkish psyche means that the ground crew get the job done, but in English it can sometimes sound a bit harsh.
When you combine this with the fact that Istanbul Yesilkoy/ Ataturk Airport is operating way beyond capacity (it is Europe’s no 4 busiest airport) you end up with a departure process that could be calmer. The queues are long but well managed and you are generally seen to quickly passport stamped and bags checked, but in the summer it can be hot and it is certainly not fun. In transit it is better, but really, you need to find a quiet bar and have a chilling drink while you wait for your gate to be announced. Have a sense of humour and keep calm and you’ll be fine.
The good news is that in October 2018 the new airport will open which is 5 times the size of Ataturk.
A better option for transit is Sabiha Gokcen, which is quieter and has much less TK traffic. Also the people who work there seem calmer.
So basically, the Turks are fine. They have an enormous airline with loads of aircraft and seats and crew. Their team seems to have a sense of cohesion that you miss in other middle eastern carriers. But they lack the exact seat/ service consistency of Singapore airlines. Turkish offer a solid product, which is above average. On some occasions it is outstanding and some rare occasions terrible.
If you have mid range expectations, and can put up with an industrial ground experience, then you’ll be fine.
Where Turkish excel is when something goes wrong such as a missed flight. Then they really try and sort out the problem. We suppose it is that which keeps us flying with them.