As usual, all menu pictures will be at the end of the post
For my return journey following my Christmas 2019 following my 6 day trip through Uzbekistan I opted to book a confirmed ticket from Samarkand to Atlanta via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. I used points and miles to confirm into business class, as I had never experienced Turkish’s business class known for its stellar catering, hit or miss service and insane lounge at Istanbul International Airport. I have always had good experiences in economy on Turkish, especially with the catering, so I was looking forward to this journey.
I had a healthy amount of American Express Membership Rewards in my account. Upon searching Air Canada’s Aeroplan I found a one-way Samarkand to Atlanta via Istanbul in business class for 85,000 miles. While not quite the same as the Turkey or Europe to North America for 57.5K miles, considering the early morning flight from Samarkand to Istanbul was almost 6 hours and considered Asia, this was still a good value in my opinion, plus it allowed for a 5.5 hour layover in Istanbul to really soak in the lounge. I was short a few miles, so I topped off for CAD$160.85 in addition to the CAD$64.50 in taxes and fees. I was confirmed within minutes and was able to select my seats using the given Turkish Airlines confirmation PNR. Strangely the middle section of the 787-9 for ISTATL was blocked off from selection but all windows were available.
As mentioned in many reports to date, the best seats on the new Turkish Airlines 787-9 staggered 1-2-1 Business Class cabin are the even numbers window seats for the most private and true window seat experience. Unless you are a couple, in which case an odd numbered middle section seat would be ideal as they are the adjacent “couples” seats. As such, I chose seat 4A. For my Samarkand to Istanbul I chose seat 3A on the 2-2 737-800.
Samarkand to Istanbul
Date: December 25, 2019
Aircraft TC-JVN, Boeing 737-800
Route: SKD – IST
Time: 6:35AM – 9:20AM, 5 hours 45 minutes
Seat: 3A, Business Class
Distance: 1,998 miles
As I mentioned in my Uzbekistan Airways domestic flight review, there is a ton of security checks one goes through, Samarkand International Airport is no different. After being dropped off at 4:30am and passing through the perimeter check, and entry security check, I proceeded to the Turkish Airlines Counter. Except at Samarkand International Airport, there are no signs or indications as to which counters are for what airlines, the check-in area is also quite sparse and has only around 4 counters with a handful of seats. I only spotted the TK counters once I walked up to them and saw their placards, including a sign offering business class upgrades for USD$250. There was no separation of business and economy, I just went straight to the first available agent. It appeared that my agent was a tad unsure of how to process my through ticket to Atlanta in business, thankfully her supervisor was right there and assisted and he ensured that my bag was tagged through to Atlanta with priority tag. Otherwise, the check-in process was straightforward. As indicated on the TK app, website and confirmed by the check-in agent, Samarkand airport has no lounge (though there clearly were signs and a dedicated space on the second floor for a lounge but it was not in operation, and according to TK it was not up to TK standards.
I proceeded through immigration, where I did not need to present my hotel registration cards but only needed to confirm verbally my duration of stay and was stamped out of Uzbekistan in seconds. At security, the item in addition to my razor that raised an alarm was my Bose QC35II noise cancelling headphones to which the security team asked what it was (another indication that Uzbekistan is only just opening up to the world). The international departures area is split into two levels. A smaller lower level where the boarding gate is, only a single one. and an upper level accessible only by stairs it appeared, where there were many more seats and a small duty-free shop that clearly did not go by any logical hours of operation, as it closed before any of the flights departed and of course I saw some military security personnel walk in and either sample or simply take an item. Also, there is no functioning wifi. Again, on each level there was only one departures screen, but thankfully announcements were made in both English and Uzbek/Russian.
After about an hour of people watching, it was time for us to board. Boarding was as chaotic as expected. People from a later departure to Russia lined up with the TK passengers. There was no separation of premium and economy, though there really isnt space to do so. This time there was more of an gate area, with carry-on luggage measurement box, a counter and agents in vests and security personnel. TK contracted employees came through to check boarding passes and kicked the non-TK passengers out and made announcements to clarify again. Can you blame them though? There was no screen or sign above the boarding door to indicate what flight was boarding! A check of my passport and boarding pass, again no scan, and I was out walking on the tarmc towards our 737-800 aircraft.
I boarded and settled into seat 3A. Shortly afterwards they announced that boarding was complete. The FAs came through to introduced themselves and offered us pre-departure beverages, while no alcohol, the selection was quite awesome and well presented, lemon mint, raspberry juice, orange juice or water. They told me and the other 1 pax that we were the only 2 in business so the 16 seat cabin was our’s. At the seat was my blanket, pillow and headset. Shortly after drinks and macadamia nuts were served they brought out the menu and our Molten Brown amenity kits, which included stickers to place on our seats should we want to not be disturbed or be woken up for a meal. There was to be one main breakfast service, of which they took our order for the main dish, followed by a small pre-arrival snack. And an extensive drink list, including alcohol. Both business class crew members were fantastic throughout this flight. Smiling, addressing us by name, as it was easy enough to do with 2 pax, proactive in refills or offering more food/drinks and just friendly!
Soon we were in the air and I said goodbye to Uzbekistan. Shortly after the cabin lights went on and we were free to move about. Then my appetizers and orange juice were served on a tray. Once my cheese and tomatoes were cleared, they served me my Turkish cheese stuffed puff pastry, or cheese Borek, it was delicious. The accompanying honey comb and Trabzon Butter, olives and sundried tomato spread were simply fantastic as well. Following the meal, they brought out nightcap cart with some tea/coffee and/or cognacs and sherry. I opted for Turkish coffee, served with Turkish delight followed by herbal tea. After finishing up my movie, I took a short nap before waking up to a sunrise wherein I ordered a glass of cognac. The seat has a nice comfortable recline, though the footrest could go up a little more in my opinion, nonetheless with extra pillows from my neighboring seat and a nice blanket, I was able to fall asleep.
Following another nap, I woke up with around 1.5 hours to go. The crew brought out the options for pre-arrival snacks, still wrapped. It was a simple cheese sandwich and cake. At first I said sure, but at the end I did not unwrap and eat the snack as I was preparing myself to feast at the lounge. After another Turkish Coffee and water we began our descent into Istanbul, flying over Ataturk Airport was also a nostalgic treat. We landed a tad bit early but then began the long taxi from runway to gate. Istanbul’s new airport is massive, depending on the wind direction, it can take up to 30 minutes to taxi to your gate upon arrival or to taxi to takeoff on departure. We landed due south, closer to the terminal but our gate was on the far side, which meant it was still a long taxi. We deplaned by stairs as the plane was gated at a domestic airbridge. There was a business class bus awaiting me and the other business class passenger to take us to the international transit/arrivals hall.
Up the escalator and another long, but short for this airport, walk and we arrived at the transit area. I went to go reprint my boarding pass to get an official TK boarding pass before proceeding to fast track security. From there I headed up to the massive departures hall and after some window shopping headed straight for the Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge, located opposite gate E3 (there is a separate entrance by the shops for handicap passengers).
Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge Istanbul Airport: a Foodie’s Paradise
At the top of the escalators is a set of gates next to the service counter. I tried scanning my boarding pass but was quickly asked to see the agent at the desk, even though a few passengers after me simply scanned their boarding pass. Somehow, I needed to be check with my passport before they let me scan through. I though this was just a normal process until I saw other simply go through. Didnt question it though. Upon entering, there is a wifi code generator right by the gates, simply scan your boarding pass and it prints a slip with wifi access, much like at the Priority Pass IGN lounge at the other side.
As many have written, this lounge is quite massive and has a lot of features. I walked around to see the various types of seating areas and the amazingly extensive selection of food, all freshly made in front of you. There is a baggage lockers area, an automated piano that plays music, ironing station, bar carts throughout, coffee/tea stations, bottled/canned drink stations, a 12-screen TV area where you grab a headphone to tune in to selected TV, a virtual golf booth, a small gaming area, a children’s play pen area, a toy race car track, nap pod type areas, conference rooms, a Western Library themed seating area, a Turkish teahouse themed one, a mediterranean themed dining area, and open lounge seating throughout, a modern art gallery curated by the Istanbul Modern, and massage therapists who walk around and will give you a massage right at your seat. There is one main restroom area, and then there are the long layover bedroom suites and shower suites. Showers are available to anyone, bedrooms are available for anyone with at least a 4 hour layover and maximum 8 hour stay. While I qualified to use the bedrooms, they were fully occupied and I also preferred to pig out on the Do&Co. catering. From food to amenities to space, this is far better than the Priority Pass IGN lounge, although for a priority pass lounge that one is also quite exceptional.
Following my walk around, I went to the concierge and luckily a shower suite was available. I took a nice shower and locked my carry-on bag in the lockers before heading to a seating area. I found a nice window facing seat in the Turkish Teahouse themed area that overlooked the gate and departure hall below. The lounge itself does not “kiss” the terminal windows, as it is on a more mezzanine type floor. The lounge was not terribly crowded in the late morning hours but began to fill up just after noon as more transit passengers and local passengers trickled in for North America and late afternoon Europe departures.
My first round of food was breakfast, just before they cleared it away to transition to lunch. I had some tea, Turkish spinach and feta stuffed pancakes, menemen and simit. Then the began transitioning to lunch. I took this time to check out the art gallery, which actually was quite nice. Each food area began preparing. There was hand made manti, kebab grilling, Pide making, pasta making, stir fry frying. The dessert stations were soon filled with baklavas of all sorts, the mezze center was soon filled with giant bowls of various Turkish mezzes. The fruit juices and cold brew teas were topped off. It was beautiful.
My first round of lunch was a full plate of mezzes, Turkish spiced bean stew with rice, and steamed manti with tea, lemonade and a glass of Turkish white. I followed this with some pide, kebab Kofta (meatball) and veggies, stir fried noodles and chicken. Rounded it all off with Pistachio and walnut baklava with Turkish coffee (came with Turkish delight). I spent the rest of my time in the lounge drinking water, trying a few wines, having more lemonade, and constantly topping off my tea while trying to stay awake from severe food coma. The food was all fresh, delicious and authentic. Turkish food is among my favorites in the world, and the lounge offered all of the key highlights of the Turkish palate.
I would say this is definitely the best business class lounge food I have ever had, and quite honestly to date, may even be the best first class lounge food. Sure its nothing fancy or artfully plated like at the SQ Private Room or EK First lounge, but its fresh, delicious and comforting, and quite honestly that is all thats really needed on a long journey. I also appreciate that they stay true to showcase and represent their home base and culture by sticking to almost all Turkish foods rather than bend over backwards to cater to Western tastes and needs. I am sure this also helps keep costs down and officials happy.
With around an hour left before scheduled boarding time, I began my walk to the gate. Istanbul Airport is massive and it can take a while to walk to your gate, added to the fact that flights departing for the U.S. have added security checks. Further Istanbul Airport and the lounge do not make system wide boarding announcements.
Istanbul to Atlanta
Date: December 25, 2019
Flights: TK 31
Aircraft: TC-LCC, Boeing 787-9
Route: IST – ATL
Time: 15:40 – 19:50, 11 hours 10 min
Seat: 4A, Business Class
Distance: 5,752 miles
After a 15-20 minute walk I arrived at the gate. I proceeded to the handicap/ priority lane for my passport/document security check. Here you answer questions about where you are transiting or coming from, your length of stay there, your final destination, place of residence, if your bags have been with you…etc.. I believe all passengers traveling to the U.S. get the dreaded SSSS on their boarding pass as following the initial doc check, everyone is then filtered into the lines for extra bag checks. Thankfully these ones just involve the agents looking through your bag contents and doing the explosives/drug swab. The only thing that raised an alarm was my two heavy loafs of Samarkand bread.
I proceeded into the secure departures seating area to take some pictures of the beautiful Turkish 787-9 taking us to Atlanta. around 20 minutes later boarding began with special assistance/ extra time as well as priority boarding.
The Turkish 787-9 Business Class cabin is quite nice. The black and chrome gold/copper scheme gives an elegant sophisticated touch. At my seat was my pillow, blanket and slippers (which were very plush and comfortable). There is storage under the ottoman, in the cubby which includes charging stations and a pull-out mirror, and a small seat pocket. There is a multi-function light feature on the padded large cocoon that blocks one of your windows, with seat controls and console underneath the main counter. I settled in and noticed that indeed the seats are a tad on the narrow side, especially around the shoulders for larger build folks (however, I later found it to be ok in flat bed mode), the true window seats offer a couple inches of extra space in bed mode as well, so ideal. Shortly after, one of the flight attendants came by with the same pre-departure beverage selection as the prior flight, I again went with lemon mint. She then came by with my Denon noise canceling headphones, which were strictly collected on descent. And my men’s Versace amenity kit.
While I was in the restroom, the onboard chef came through with menus, but did not leave one for me in my empty seat even though he had introduced himself to me earlier. I asked for a menu as he came through for orders and he expected me to have made a decision right then and there! He did not walk through in detail, instead a blunt “we have a fish and a beef and salad.” He made it clear he was annoyed that I was slowing down his flow and went on with the other passengers, there were only like 14 business class passengers! He then came back and took my order, I went with the sea bass. I was no impressed with this chef, throughout the flight he was rude, arrogant, blunt, careless and didnt seem to care about his job or the passengers.
After a decently long taxi, we were airborne.
Shortly after, the crew got to work. The crew and purser, minus the chef, were are very friendly, wore smiles all the time and very willing to meet your needs, however, they were also very absent at the same time. They did not proactively top of my beverages or offer me some more unless I asked or rang the call button, basically if I wanted or needed something I had to ring but they swiftly emerged from the galley with a smile and very happily obliged to the request. Frustrating on the one hand but at the same time, at least they came out with smiles and still happily served. Something tells me that is might have to do with a majority Muslim population, but alcoholic beverages were always poured in the galley and brought out.
Even before reaching 10,000 feet, the wifi became available. Business class passengers get free wifi throughout the flight by logging in with name and seat number. And its quite fast. The entertainment system on TK is always extensive and up to date with a wide variety of new releases, classics, and foreign films.
Hot towels came through followed but nuts and beverage. I first went with one of the Turkish whites, love that TK’s wine list features mostly Turkish wines which themselves are very good but underrated. Next up was some amuse bouche.
Then my table was set for dinner. A fake candle, simit, butter, salt and herbal spice and olive oil were laid out. I switched to a Turkish rose. Next up was the very exciting and well presented appetizer cart. I love how Turkish still rolls out the cart for appetizers and allows each passenger to pick and choose which item they’d like. I went for…everything, including the soup service out of a cauldron and into a gold inlaid bowl. Everything was divine, the roasted red pepper soup was especially delicious. My appetizers were cleared away and shortly after my main was served. I then switched to a Turkish red to go with my Sea Bass en Papillote, perfectly cooked moist and tender sea bass, one of the best fish I’ve had at 36,000 feet.
The desert cart rolled through as the sun began to set. The careless chef spilled something all over the passenger in front of me in the serving process. There were only three passengers ahead of me but by the time the cart got to me they had run out of Baklava. I asked if they had any left in the galley to which the annoyed chef said no, and when I asked him what each item was he simply said we have some Turkish sweets. Sure, I had the menu to reference, but what on earth is the point of having a “chef” onboard if they cant or dont even want to explain the food they are serving? I just went with the other sweets and Kaymak, Turkish clotted cream and some fruits. I also asked for some Turkish coffee which needed to be prepared in the galley. What made me really mad was that once they finished my aisle they brought the cart back into the galley, restocked and came out the other side, and guess what, I saw pistachio baklava glistening on the cart! At this moment the purser came to give me my coffee, I asked him if they had Baklava left, to which he so kindly said he would check, and sure enough the chef gave him a plate with a piece of Baklava from the cart and I was served my Baklava. I was deeply unimpressed with this chef. The baklava and coffee though were both delicious.
Upon returning from the restroom I asked for my bed to be made, again TK is not proactive. The placed the bedding over the seat and pillow case over the pillow. To cap it all off, I asked for Turkish tea and a glass of Glenfiddich 15 year neat, it was a very healthy pour. With that I reclined into bed mode and went to bed.
Halfway through the flight I woke up and asked for some herbal tea. There was no midflight snack option, though I imagine they would have had some small sandwich of sorts should you need it. There was also no self-serve snack basket of sorts laid out in the galley either. But this was fine by me as I was still feeling full from both the lounge and large meal. After another movie, I went back for another couple more hours of sleep.
I woke up just before descent. Hot towels were distributed, drink orders taken. My tray of pre-arrival appetizers and orange juice arrived. Followed shortly by my main: Meat stuffed melon, eggplant and grape leaves with yogurt, it was delicious, tasted just like eating at a local restaurant in Istanbul. After another round of Turkish tea we began our initial descent. In the process of preparing for arrival the flight attendants came by to collect the Denon headphones and offered the cheap plastic economy class headphones to use during descent and taxi, better than nothing.
We touched down in Atlanta at around 7:30PM, a couple minute before schedule, and pulled into the gate right on scheduled arrival time. I was relieved to see by checked-bag come out of the baggage claim as I sometimes get concerned when its either a super short layover or a super long layover that my bag might get lost of not put on the right flight.
I would not hesitate to redeem on Turkish again. Generally they have good redemption rates and over all a solid product and experience, especially when it comes to food! It is also always an experience flying Turkish and through Istanbul. TK flies to the most cities and countries of any airline the world, making their flights and Istanbul airport a very diverse crowd, its great people watching as well as learnings about norms, customs and behaviors from all around the world.
Turkish Airlines generally offers a pleasant experience. The main thing they do incredibly well is catering, thanks to Do&Co. and their focus on Turkish food. It truly is some of the best food in the skies from front to back. Beverage selection is also quite fantastic, I love the fresh squeezed juices on offer in both business and economy. And for business class to serve Glenfiddich 15 is quite impressive in my opinion as most serve at most 12 year (not that year matters but for common brands like Glenfiddich it does). It is rare that you want to lick off your plate for an airline meal, Turkish manages to do just that.
The crews were hit or miss. My SKT to IST flight had a fantastic pair serving business class. My IST to ATL had friendly and professional crew but they were not proactive at all (something I commonly read in regards to TK) and then there was the abysmal chef. But over all they exuded Turkish hospitality and that I appreciated and enjoyed.
The lounge is an experience in itself. Primarily for the food, I cannot say enough about the selection, quality, freshness and taste, also that every item is made fresh before your very eyes. Further there is a little something for everyone to do during a layover, even the youngest of travelers. Though the airport itself is really quite big and transit process can be tiring.
The new 787-9 business class seats are over all not bad. Yes in the upright position they are a bit narrow, but once in the fully flat position, I found it to be ok. It helps that I was in a true window seat with the couple inches of extra space which helped with my knees when I was sleeping. But otherwise the seat has some neat features, could use more storage though. Turkish also provides great amenities, while no pajamas, the Versace kit is quite nice and they had some of the best slippers I have worn inflight, even in comparison to some first class ones. Further, free wifi and a good entertainment selection never hurt.
Stay Safe, Stay Home but dream about Travel!