Turkish airlines are the 83rd airline I have ever flown. Member of the Star Alliance since 2008, they have been expanding rapidly in the last eight years and now fly to over 200 destinations with 160 aircraft. Turkish Airlines have been awarded Europe’s Best Airline and Southern Europe’s Best Airline twice in 2011 and 2012. Interestingly, this week, Lufthansa expressed an interest in either merging with or forming a closer alliance with Turkish Airlines.
Booking 5 out of 10
I booked through online travel agents who were offering the same flights at a much reduced cost compared to the Turkish Airlines own website. I also found the website to be slow and produced regular “page outs”.
My first actual contact with Turkish “best airline in Europe” was not good. I tried to add my frequent flyer and choose seats on my six forthcoming Turkish flights. I could not find a way of dong it on the website so I called Turkish for help. It took five phone calls. The first three phone calls were disconnected. On the fourth call, I was connected to the airline for nine minutes. The operator said he needed to place me me on hold- and disconnected me!
The fifth call took 24 minutes just to add my frequent flyer and do six seat assignments. Call quality was poor and the agent struggled to understand my English. I had to ask him to clarify himself on a few occasions. It was not at all a good introduction to the airline. The most annoying thing is that every time I was on hold I had to listening to their “Globally Yours” jingle over and over.
Check in: 7 out of 10
Online Check- in was very frustrating. The first thing I discovered, that despite my calls (see above), neither my frequent flyer number nor seat requests had been noted. The emergency exit seats were available on the second flight but I could not request them. Further, at the end of the online check in process, I found I was as not actually checked in and still had to see an agent at Dulles airport. The check in agent at Washington proved to be extremely lovely and very helpful and looked carefully for seats with extra leg room (while we chatted about Turkish food) -to no avail. She did get me such a seat on the second flight.They weighed my checkin luggage and it came in at 10kg. The Turkish Airlines limit is 8kg. She looked like she was about to say something about the weight but chose not to. I could have easily removed 2kg and carried it in my clothes or as an additional clothing layer!
Boarding: 9 out of 10
Boarding was a little chaotic in both Washington and Istanbul. Despite, my boarding pass saying “Group 2”, I didn’t experience any attempt at groupings! Instead there was lots of “subtle” pushing and jostling by passengers to get to the front of the lines. At Washington, economy class passengers were barked at to form two lines for boarding. There was also a Business boarding line.
The Flight attendants at the door were both friendly and efficient. I felt personally welcomed. An interesting touch on then Washington-Istanbul route was the presence at the door of the on board chef. I saw him circulating amongst the Business Class passengers later, welcoming them on board. The chef personally creates the meals for Business passengers. The airline came fourth in Business Class catering in 2012 Skytrax awards. I vowed to fly Business Class if I could!
Attendants greeted passengers in Turkish and English as they came through the plane. One felt very welcome. It was as if someone was inviting you into their home. It is hard to describe but I have never seen an airline staff do it so well.
On my second flight from Istanbul to Budapest, a woman strode down the aisle with two friends and they “occupied” the emergency exit seats around me. The woman placed a bag on the seat next to me and stood there next to it. As the correct seat holders arrived, the women gradually gave up their attempted seat takeover and moved to the rear of the plane.
On Board: 8 out of 10
On the longer flight, at each economy seat was an amenity pack, pillow, blanket and headphones for the entertainment system, The amenity kit in an attractive red case was very generously stocked. Toothbrush (albeit) with horrible toothpaste, toothbrush lid, lip gel, eye cover etc. The Turkish Airlines magazine “Skylife” was in the seat pocket. The magazine is also available as an ipad app. Flight attendants passed out menus just after take off.
I found the crew kept up their friendliness and hospitality for the whole flight even in deplaning. They spoke English and Turkish to passengers which is appropriate on a US to Turkey flight but I was surprised at the lack of Hungarian for the second flight.
On the Airbus 340 from Washington to Budapest, there were 34 lie flat Business class seats which have a 54″ pitch and 21″width arranged in a staggered 2/2/2 layout. 236 passengers slotted into economy in a 2/4/2 arrangement. Seat pitch (distance between seats) was a fairly generous 33″. Seat width a less generous 17″. There is a seat rest under each seat which for me was a waste of time. Seatguru warns that seats A, E and K lose half underseat space to have the entertainment system box stored there and seats B, D, F and J lose a third. Hence I chose G! Bulkhead row is Row 7 and emergency exit row 23. Seats have a brightly coloured turquoise fabric.
The cabin was very clean and feel fresh. Lavatories were spotless at start of flight but declined by the end. They did not seem to be refreshed.
On the next flight, I had an emergency exit row which was very comfortable.
There has been a lot of speculation about Turkish Airline’s safety. With three fatal crashes in 20 years, the last one in 2009, planecrashinfo gives them a much higher Accident Rate than the world average. Incidentally, the same rate as Singapore and Thai airlines and lower than Air France. Some say Turkish expansion is putting safety at risk and others note that many pilots are Turkish military trained. The airlines’s commentary on safety is here.
I was surprised on the second flight to see a father and his child in the exit row. The cabin crew moved them to another position after a while. I wonder how that mix up happened? There were a couple of small niggling things like ignoring mobile phone use or passengers moving around the cabin on taxi (more on that later).
The safety briefing is pre recorded and plays in Turkish and English. There was no staff accompaniment. I like to have this as to me it reinforces the importance of safety, may get people to pay attention to the safety procedures and identifies who I may be needing to watch to get off the plane in a hurry.
I was interested that after a spate of turbulence on the first flight, the captain left the fasten Seat belt sign on for most of rest of the flight.
The very laden A340 seemed to take to the air very slowly out of Washington.
Meals: 12 out of 10
There are four types of Economy Class meals in the world today:
- Non existent (eg Virgin Australia domestic, Jetstar, Most US domestic services)
- Poor (eg United and American airlines long haul).
- Okay (eg British Airways)
- Good (eg Qantas and Air New Zealand).
Emirates breaks the mould by having amazing meals. Turkish trumps them. Turkish Airlines was the 2010 recipient of the World’s Best Economy Class Catering Award from Skytrax (Thai won it in 2011 and Singapore in 2012). Dinner was a choice between a beef burger and a chicken dish. The beef was like no other burger I had ever tasted. It was so delicious. The servings were generous and the meal was accompanied by a fresh bread roll. Often airlines will provide a roll which feels stone cold and/or which is hard as nails. Air France always gets it right. Well Turkish had them beat. On both fights the roll tasted as if it had walked out of the bakery minutes before. For me, this is attention to detail and a desire to make the flying experience better. The meal which came with salads and dessert, as very filling. All Turkish airline food is halal which means you will never see a prok dish. Alcohol is served on the flights.
Through the night, there were sandwiches and marble cake available in then galleys. Frankly, the sandwich presentation left a little to be desired but the cake looked nice.
About two hours before landing on the Washington to Istanbul flight, the cabin crew brought a full breakfast with eggs, potatoes, fruit salad, and a croissanty roll. Delicious!
On the shorter Istanbul to Budapest flight, there was no choice of meal but it was the best the Economy class meal I have ever had on an aeroplane. Starter was smoked salmon with a cucumber and yoghurt sauce. Stunning! The main was stuffed eggplant, their signature dish. Tender and delicious. The dessert was some sort of runny custardy type dish, which I devoured.
With every meal came a refresher towellete.
Entertainment: 10 out of 10
The A340 came with Turkish Airline’s Planet digital system. It was a very intuitive easy to use system which operated very well. The airline promised 450 films and TV programs as well as 600 albums. On the 777, the airline has installed free wifi. I will get to test that out on the way back to Los Angeles.
For the air nerd like me, you can watch the takeoff and landing via cameras mounted at the front and back of the aircraft.
Both landings were brilliant. The thing that astounded me, however was how many people left their seats on both flights, after the landings. They grabbed luggage, chatted to each other or on cell phones and went to the rest rooms. There was an appeal twice over the PA on the first flight but the cabin crew largely ignored these passengers. This is surely a safety hazard? See safety above.
My Flight Rating: Overall 89% (4.5 out of 5).
My Overall rating of Airline: 4.5 out of 5 (based on my two flights)
Skytrax Rating of Turkish: 4 star
Positives: Staff, amazing meals
Negatives: Website, telephone reservations
Would I fly them again? YES!