Every #AvGeek has an aviation dream. For some, it's the opportunity to fly every type of aircraft in operation. For others, it's collecting amenity kits. My dream is to experience every First and Business Class product on the market. It's a tall order but I'm committed to finding a way to fulfill this dream and luckily my other passion for loyalty points has given me a jump start.
To date, without truly counting, I would guess I'm 15-20% of the way there. I've experienced United Airlines First and Business Class, Asiana First and Business Class, Lufthansa First and Business Class, American Airlines Business Class, China Airlines Business Class, Cathay Pacific Business Class, Thai First and Business Class, Swiss Business Class and Turkish Airlines Business Class. Sadly, many airlines are eliminating their First Class product to streamline operations as they face downward pressure from low-cost carriers.
That said, there's a real opportunity for airlines to reinvent and modernize the Business Class product with newer generation seats, elevated menus, and a redefined ground experience. Many have already begun to do so, like Turkish Airlines, who's current Business Class product is outstanding. I booked this flight for 70,000 MileagePlus Miles + $56.50.
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Flight: Turkish 79
Route: Istanbul (IST) - San Francisco (SFO)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Duration: 13h 20m
Service: Business Class
The morning started very early out of Milan-Malpensa Airport (MXP) with a 6:45AM departure and a 10:45AM arrival into Istanbul (IST). While the meal service on this flight was quite good - which included a two-course breakfast - the seats were beyond disappointing. For a scheduled 2h 30m flight, I expect the comforts of a non-Economy seat and extra legroom. However, as is the case with all intra-European flights, a regional "First Class" seat is simply an Economy seat with a blocked off middle. This gives the airline added flexibility to quickly turn the aircraft into a high-density flight to accommodate leisure markets. The flight took-off and landed without a hitch.
For me, the highlight of this trip report was to experience Turkish Airlines stunning Business Class flagship lounge at Istanbul International Airport. Definitely my own opinion, but I would argue this lounge stands alone as the best Business Class lounge around the world. To give you the full review, I've broken out my lounge experience in more detail in a previous post titled Turkish Airlines Business Class Review: The Lounge. I spent nearly 2 hours in this space and enjoyed it very much.
The Airport + Boarding
The footprint of Istanbul International Airport is enormous, but simple by design. There is one L-shaped terminal for both Domestic and International flights. They've allotted a significant amount of space for duty free shopping, restaurants, and, of course, the massive Turkish Airlines two-story lounge. While the terminal offers 30+ feet tall and airy ceilings, I'm afraid the airport and space may be at capacity. I was very overwhelmed by the number of people in this terminal. Perhaps it was the wave of International departures but the entire terminal was packed.
This was certainly reflected in the gate area and the boarding process, which could not have been more chaotic. Due to heightened security, each gate area requires two additional passport checks: 1. To enter the gate area, and 2. To board the aircraft. The line for the first passport check was about 15-20 mins. Once in the gate area, there was simply not enough seats for an entire Boeing 777-300ER worth of passengers. Folks were sitting and standing everywhere. On top of that, the gate area was uncomfortably warm from the sun shining directly through the oversized windows. It was not the most pleasant boarding process.
Boarding began promptly with Business Class and Star Alliance Gold, followed by everyone else. The entire cabin boarded through door 2L. And, I love it when airlines name their airplanes, with this one being Zigana.
The Cabin + Seats
Turkish Airlines Business Class consists of 49 seats in a 2 X 3 X 2 configuration, split between two cabins. The forward Business Class cabin located after Door 1 has 4 rows of seats and the aft Business Class cabin after Door 2 and before Door 3 has 2 rows of seats. The airline utilizes forward-facing Zodiac Aura lie-flat seats, which you can check out here. On this flight, I was seated in 3A, a window seat on the far left side of the plane in the forward cabin.
My initial reaction of the seat and cabin was meh. While the cabin felt spacious, featuring Boeing's next generation Sky Interiors, the cabin layout itself and color choices have not aged well. This style seat is now considered last generation's news, which are fine for a long-haul flight. Sadly, there is virtually no privacy and not all seats have direct-aisle access, which is becoming increasingly rare for new generation seats.
What I did appreciate was the softness of the seat cushion and the ample space between the seat and foot rest, which was about 4-5 feet. Each seat comes with a personal, inflight entertainment system, USB port, international electrical outlets, and two personal reading lamps. Each seat's controls are located in the center armrest.
Storage was relatively decent, with your carry-on bag going in the overhead bin, and smaller personal item likely to go into the ottoman in front of you. In bed mode, the ottoman doubles up as an extension of your seat.
Like the airline's flagship lounge experience, the list of amenities and service-offerings for a Business Class product was unmatched. Waiting at our seats were a pair of slippers, a day blanket, and a lumbar support pillow. The lumbar support pillow was made out of memory foam, which was firm, comfortable and provided the perfect amount of support for your back.
Once settled in, the flight attendant working our aisle introduced herself and handed out a Jaguar amenity kit, a pre-flight beverage, and the menu. While the airline's hard product was underwhelming, I knew the service was going to be top notch. The entire cabin filled-up shortly after, the safety video planed, and we were promptly on our way.
Parked next to us was a special Turkish Airlines livery, promoting the new Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Turkish Airlines was named the Official Airline Partner, who made a lengthy (and expensive) cameo in the final cut. Have a look below.
After a slightly longer taxi time, we made our way to the runway for a smooth take-off and climb out. The sun was shining gorgeously over the city of Istanbul, which I had to snap a few photo of.
Now, onto my favorite part: the meal service, which began shortly after take-off. Working our cabin was 3 Flight Attendants and an onboard chef. I loved to see the onboard chef walk around the cabin and creepily snapped a photo. The novelty of having an onboard chef was just so fun, even if it was merely to don a chef's hat and pretend she cooked all the meals over a piping hot stove at 35K feet. It was a fun visual to have.
I've decided that I'm completely obsessed with Turkish Airline's meal service. What sets Turkish Airlines Business Class apart is their catering and food presentation, which is an innate reflection of their culture. Unlike most airlines, Turkish Airlines serves a complete and generous 4-course meal. Even better, the appetizer and dessert course was served from the most beautifully-presented trolley. This trolley literally rolled down the aisle with trays upon trays of food for you to choose from, and you were encouraged to select as much food as you'd like, which I obliged.
For my appetizer course, I literally asked for a bit of everything which included the seafood salad, salmon tartar, mini meatballs, marinated artichokes, hummus, beet salad, eggplant, and a tomato salad, which was followed by a roasted pumpkin soup. Not only did everything look incredibly appetizing, it was all so delicious and flavorful. As a foodie, I thoroughly enjoy when airline's represent their country and culture in their meal service - and Turkish Airlines did not disappoint. Here's my embarrassingly full plate.
For my main course, I went with the Yoghurt Kebab, which was cooked and seasoned to perfection.
And, for dessert, while I was immensely full at this point, I again opted to try a bit of everything which included a selection of traditional Turkish desserts, a raspberry tart, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ball with mango. I was astonished by the level of complexity of these desserts, particularly the chocolate ball with mango which was served as a hollow chocolate shell with a delicious mango filling hidden inside, once you cracked the ball open.
I ended my wonderful meal with a Turkish tea, which was served in the most beautifully designed cup. The exterior shell was made of a custom Turkish Airlines-designed metal frame to keep your tea warm. Did I also mention the airline includes a small flickering tea light to simulate a candle-lit meal? I'm gushing all over just thinking about the entire meal service.
Prior to landing, we were served a hearty lunch, which I selected a delicious pork and couscous dish.
The Entertainment + WiFi
Turkish Airlines offers a decent inflight entertainment selection including first-production movie runs, TV shows, video games, audio entertainment, and a cool flight show with different camera views from the aircraft. While the TV itself was quite large, the overall system seemed a bit buggy and clunky. I wouldn't consider this to be the airline's strongest suit. Unfortunately, I did not connect to the airline's WiFi but have read decent reviews about the service, speed, and cost.
Turndown service is typically a feature exclusive to First Class, except for a few airlines out there who offer it in Business Class. Turkish Airlines is one of them. After the meal service concluded, about two hours after take-off, the flight attendants passed out bottles of water and offered to make our beds. The turn-down service included a mattress pad, full-size pillow, and duvet! In fully lay-flat mode, the seat itself extends to be quite long which is comfortable for anyone, of any height. Talk about sleeping on Cloud 9.
With the final meal service completed, it was time to bid the airline a farewell. Despite being a biased Northern California-raised guy, our decent into San Francisco was gorgeous as we headed from the North and over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Turkish Airlines Business Class service can easily pass for a First Class experience. While the hard product leaves much to desired, the soft product and service was absolutely phenomenal. The crew was very polished, friendly, yet professional and efficient. I wouldn't say the crew was personable, per se, but they were certainly a pleasure to be around. Some airlines rest on their laurels with the latest and greatest seat, leaving the service aspect of the flight unpolished. However, Turkish Airlines service is top-notch and once the airline introduces a new generation seat, I'm convinced they will be the world's best Business Class product, hands down.