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Atlanta (ATL) - Istanbul (IST)
Scheduled Departure: 22:35
Scheduled Arrival: 16:40 (next day)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (TC-LLC)
Seat: 1K (Business Class)
Turkish Airlines is a Star Alliance member based in Istanbul, Turkey. They recently moved their main operation to the new Istanbul Airport and have taken delivery of 6 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners so far. These new aircraft feature a brand new business class product that consists of 30 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. This is a great upgrade from their older business class products on the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777, which do not feature direct aisle access from all seats. Read on to find out what I think of this new product, and stay tuned for a giveaway later in the post!
I wasn’t originally planning on booking this flight, but my mom wanted some Turkish delights from Istanbul so I figured I would pick some up and get to try a new product while doing so. Win-win!
Flights between North America and Turkey (which is in “Europe 2” on the Aeroplan Redemption Chart) cost 57,500 Aeroplan miles each way in business class, or 80,000 miles each way in First Class (a booking I made on the way home from my European adventure earlier this year). Aeroplan miles can be earned through TD and CIBC partner cards, as well as through American Express Membership Rewards which transfer over at a 1:1 ratio.
Turkish is well-liked among award travellers since they don’t levy any fuel/carrier surcharges, meaning I only paid about $66 in airport taxes and fees in addition to the miles. For those in the know, Aeroplan can offer exceptional value flying from North America to Europe, and Turkey in particular. 😉
This flight can also be booked through United Mileage Plan for 70,000 miles each way and through most other Star Alliance frequent flier programs. The round trip flight originating in Atlanta retails for $5,750, meaning I got 11.4 cents per point in value from this redemption.
I booked a separate flight on Alaska Airlines from Seattle to Atlanta and spent a night in the city before catching the 787 to Istanbul. When I made my booking with Aeroplan, I scheduled a one-night layover in Istanbul on the way to my final destination, and I wanted to collect my bags for the overnight layover. I asked the check-in agent to short-check my bag, which he couldn’t seem to handle. He ended up printing 17 (no, that wasn’t a typo) bag tags before eventually giving up and tagging it to the final destination. He then told me to speak to a TK rep upon arrival and they could retrieve my bag from the baggage hold system - what a pain and not so premium experience… So much for the business class priority bag tag.
After check-in, I was sent on my way to the TSA checkpoint, where I discovered the TSA PreCheck line was closed and I was forced to use the regular line with other passengers. Thankfully the line was fairly short when I went though, so it wasn’t really a big deal.
Turkish Airlines don’t have their own lounge in Atlanta, despite flying their newest premium product there. Instead, they use a contract lounge - “The Club ATL”, which is also available to Priority Pass members. The Club is not only shared by Priority Pass holders and their guests, but several other airlines including British Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar, and a few other membership-based lounge networks.
Once inside, you’re greeted by the bar which spans one whole wall of the lounge, as well as a large open space with lots of tables for dining and a smaller seating area against the window. I didn’t see any hot food service, so the only dining options were a small buffet-style counter with a soup option, some veggies, small wraps, and some cookies. There was also a fountain drink machine with Coca-Cola products (fun fact: Atlanta is home to Coca-Cola and the World of Coca-Cola Museum) and a smaller coffee and tea station.
Immediately to the left of the entrance is a smaller section of the lounge dedicated to premium passengers on the above-noted airlines. There wasn’t anyone checking boarding passes, so in theory, anyone could really enter this space. Given that the lounge was quite busy during my stay, I wouldn’t be too surprised if some passengers ventured over to the smaller “premium section” if they found some open seats. The food offerings in this area were pretty much the same as outside, but without the cookies and fountain drinks.
Overall the lounge was a bit mediocre for an airline who seems to be focused on their premium product. It’s worth noting business class passengers would also have access to the United Club at ATL, though it’s in a different concourse and I was told it takes between 10-20 mins to get between the UA Club and the Turkish Airlines gate.
I wanted to be among the first to board so I could get some pictures of the empty cabin, so I made my way to the gate about 15 minutes before boarding was scheduled to commence. When I arrived, the gate area wasn’t super busy, so the flight surely wasn’t at full capacity. What surprised me, however, was the number of wheelchair passengers - there must have been at least 15-20 of them all waiting to pre-board.
Priority boarding started a few minutes late due to this but was fairly quick and efficient. Turkish Airlines begins boarding almost a full hour prior to departure, which I thought was a bit overkill for a 787-9. We ended up waiting on board for what felt like an eternity before finally pushing back on time.
Once I arrived at my seat, there was a short delay but I was eventually offered a welcome drink - I loved the mint lemonade!
Waiting at my seat was a small pillow, wrapped up blanket, a slipper bag, and an amenity kit by Versace. This was definitely the star of the show. In the past, Turkish Airlines have given out Molton Brown kits in business class, a brand I really enjoy, but this was definitely a step up.
The Versace amenity kit was a beautiful blue leather bag which contained fuzzy socks, ear plus, an eye mask, a dental kit, a few creams and lotions, and a small sample of Versace cologne.
On the return flight, the kit was black instead of blue but had the exact same contents. I managed to grab an extra one and I will be giving it away to a lucky reader! You can find out how to win it at the bottom of this blog post, so keep reading!
Turkish Airlines has done a great job when it comes to the visual aspect of this seat, but it’s definitely form over function. The seat is fairly narrow, and the footwells certainly aren’t meant for someone with feet larger than a size 10 or so.
Window seats alternate between being closer to the aisle (odd-numbered seats), and closer to the window (even-numbered seats). For those closer to the aisle, you still get a decent amount of privacy since the rows aren’t completely aligned with the centre seats. The centre seats alternate between “honeymoon seats” - seats which are right beside each other with the storage area closer to the aisle, and more private seats where the storage area is in the middle. All rows have privacy dividers between the centre seats which can be raised at any time.
The storage area contains a set of noise-cancelling headphones by “Denon”, which were collected prior to landing. The Versace amenity kits were placed on the small table prior to boarding and were different colours for males and females.
The seat controls are on a small haptic-touch panel which lights up when in use and totally disappears otherwise. It’s an okay system, but its very easy to bump with your elbow and accidentally move your seat. I had the same problem on Singapore Airlines on their 787’s as well as their A380’s, which feature the same touch panel.
Singapore Airlines has the same business class seat on their Boeing 787-10, although they only really use them for intra-Asia flights and some Australian destinations, with the longest route being SIN to NRT.
Turkish on the other hand plans to use this seat as their best premium product on some of their long haul routes such as Istanbul to Bali, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Mexico City, Cancun, Bogota, and Panama City. They will also be flying their 787-9’s to some shorter haul destinations such as Amsterdam, Dubai, New Delhi, and London.
As with any international business class seat released in the last 10-15 years, the seat converts into a fully flat bed. The flight attendants came around with a mattress pad which just attaches to the seat with a little strap at the headrest. It was fairly thin and seems to be there more for the look than for comfort. They swapped out the original pillow and placed a nice matching quilted blanket in place of the thin one you usually find in economy.
The east-coast to Europe flights are notorious for not getting great sleep, and I only managed to get a few hours in. This was partially due to the flight timing and length, but mainly because the bed and footwell especially is very narrow when compared with a reverse herringbone product like Cathay Pacific. The bed is also shorter than some competitors; I wasn’t able to lay fully flat without my head and feet both being a bit squished (I’m 6’2”/188cm for reference). Either way, you can’t really complain too much when you’ve got a bed at 35,000ft.
FOOD & BEVERAGE:
Turkish Airlines is one of just a few airlines with an “In-Flight Chef”. It’s honestly more of a novelty since they mostly just do what a regular flight attendant would be doing in the galley. It is kinda fun though and makes for some great photos.
Business class meals are catered by the gourmet Do&Co, who also provides food for the world-famous TK Business Lounge in Istanbul, as well as Lufthansa's First Class Terminal and Lounges. The food options were good, and the meal started off with a very tasty crab cake ball as the amuse-bouche. This was followed by a soup course, and then the main. I ordered the Steak & Salad, medium-rare. When it arrived, it was way overcooked and quite dry, but I finished it anyways due to the mediocre food offerings at the Atlanta lounge. On the return flight, I ordered the same and was informed the steak was pre-cooked well done - what were they thinking?! It was at least a little more flavourful and less dry on the way back, but still way overcooked. For dessert, I had the cheese plate and a few small traditional Turkish pastries. When your table is laid, they deliver a cute little electric candle to simulate a romantic dinner above the clouds.
The food overall was decent, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that dry steak. The other options did look good and Turkish is well known to have one of the better dining experiences in the sky.
This is where the airline really falls short in my opinion. Maybe its due to a new work environment since Turkish has only been flying the 787’s for less than 2 months, but the service on this flight was almost non-existent. The crew welcomed you onboard, the chef delivered menus and took meal orders, they delivered the food, and then just kinda disappeared. Plates weren’t cleared proactively, and I had dozed off with the table still set before it was all finally taken care of, only to wake up to the dessert cart rolling through. I asked for the bed to be made and made a quick visit to the lav, and there was no progress whatsoever by the time I returned. This lack of service wasn’t unique to the outbound flight. The return was quite similar, and when I asked for a glass of water, it didn’t show up until about an hour later and 2 more requests, despite them passing through the cabin from the forward galley to the rear. That’s a totally unacceptable level of service for economy class, let alone business. Yes, I could’ve gone to the galley myself and asked, but I didn’t want to intrude in their workspace while they were preparing meals.
I’m all for new products, and it’s so great to see an airline coming out with a new flagship product. It seems to be the “in” thing this year, between British Airways new Club Suite, Virgins new Upper Class, ANA’s new “The Room” and “The Suite”, and several more. I appreciate the upgrade to all direct-aisle-access, a huge improvement for solo travellers like myself.
For those departing Istanbul and have access to the dedicated premium check-in, security, and lounge access, it’s a totally different experience. I would highly recommend trying this product out ex-IST if you’re heading to that part of the world anyways.
That being said, Turkish has a long way to go on the service front. From the check-in experience in Atlanta to the onboard experience, a little more care could go a long way. The seat and cabin may be beautiful, but there’s far more to a good business class product than just aesthetics. I would give the airline another try long haul, as my parents quite enjoyed their Istanbul to Toronto flight earlier this year, and many people rave about the product.
There’s a fabulous opportunity presented when visiting Europe and the Middle East for exceptional value with Aeroplan. That aside, with no fuel surcharges and wide-open award availability, it’s almost a no brainer.
As mentioned earlier, I will be giving away a Versace amenity kit from this flight. The rules are easy:
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The winner will be chosen on Friday, October 18, 2019 and announced on our Instagram page - @themastermiles. One entry allowed per person and the prize will be shipped via Canada Post anywhere in Canada or delivered in-person if the winner is in Vancouver.
Ijaaz has been fascinated by air travel since he was a child, and his goal is to become an airline pilot. Ijaaz’s family enjoys travel and takes a trip at least every couple years. His first trip to Asia was for a family wedding in 2015, when they visited Thailand and Hong Kong. Ijaaz was hooked at this point, and has since returned to Hong Kong at least a dozen times. He applied for his first credit card right after his 19th birthday, and has been in the points game ever since. His travels have taken him to over 30 countries all over the globe, and he is known to book flights last minute to new and interesting destinations.