Call us crazy, but James and I snatched up Turkish Airlines’ recent promotional $575 fare from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Istanbul (IST) and headed to Turkey for less than 48 hours. Not only was it a fantastic deal on airfare to Europe, but it was a fast way to rack up an additional 10,000 United Airlines MileagePlus elite qualifying miles for 2012, as Turkish is a member of the Star Alliance. We will be posting a review of the Georges Hotel Galata and tips for what to see and do in Istanbul in the coming days. Istanbul is an amazing city.
IAD to IST
The daily non-stop Turkish flight to IST departs IAD at 11:25 p.m. and arrives at 4:40 p.m. the next day. It is scheduled for 10 hours and 15 minutes. Leaving so late in the evening, IAD was not crowded when we arrived to check in for the flight. Several weeks before, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Turkish working to get us bulkhead seats at the front of coach. Because I booked the flight through Orbitz, I could not change the seats on Turkish’s website. Upon check in, we were moved from 7J and 7K to 33J and 33K…four rows from the very back of the plane. It seemed the airline was letting us know where we stood on their priority list with our rock bottom fare. I would not have minded so much if I had not invested so much time on the phone with the airline listening to their “Globally Yours” jingle on continuous loop.
Boarding was relatively efficient and began one hour before departure. The boarding cards were marked with boarding group letters, but the airline disregarded them and everyone boarded at once. Business and coach boarded from separate gates. The plane was an Airbus A340-300 named Kocaeli. Glancing into business after stepping onto the plane, it appeared the aircraft had Turkish’s latest business class product. With no business class for me and my $575 fare, I kept moving into coach. The interior was clean and outfitted with Turkish’s bright turquoise seat fabric. The seats have good 33-34 inch pitch and a footrest that folds down, which seemed a bit pointless for anyone tall. Being an older Airbus model, the overhead bins were really small compared to those on a Boeing 777. Although Turkish has a one piece carry-on baggage allowance, it did not seem to enforce the policy.
Overall, the coach service on Turkish was significantly better than what is offered by U.S. airlines on transatlantic flights. The flight attendants were pleasant but not overly friendly. When we boarded, every seat had blankets, pillows, and headphones. Unfortunately, James’ seat was broken and did not stay locked in the recline position very well. As it was a completely full flight, he was stuck. Luckily, he improvised a way to make it work. Shorty after takeoff, flight attendants came through the aisles with amenity kits and menus for the flight’s meal service. This was a very nice touch, as this does not happen on U.S. airlines.
Although I was not sure about eating a full meal on such a late evening flight, I was curious to experience Turkish’s food. I selected the salmon option and James the chicken. Both were actually quite good considering their mass production. Flight attendants preceded and followed the meal service with the drink cart, offering complimentary French and Turkish wine, as well as spirits. It was nice to not have to break out my credit card for a glass of wine with my meal like on U.S. airlines.
After the dinner, I settled into my seat for the next 8 hours, watched a movie, and slept. Flights attendants set out snacks and water in the aft galley, which was very convenient considering our seats’ location at the back. Two hours before landing, flight attendants passed through the aisles with a second full meal service. This time it consisted of cheesy eggs, potatoes, fruit, and a roll. Again, this was a significant improvement over U.S. airlines that typically throw you a questionable warm pastry at you before landing.
Every seat had a personal television screen with on-demand in-flight entertainment. Please note that many of the seats have large under-seat boxes for the entertainment equipment, which restricts legroom. Check SeatGuru for the recommended seats on the Turkish A340-300.
The on-demand entertainment options were good, with plenty of new release and classic moves from which to select. I also enjoyed the forward and downward facing cameras, which you can watch on the personal screen and provide an interesting view during takeoff and landing. In general, the system is somewhat dated, with okay screen resolution and you cannot use your own headphones. The seats have a special jack that requires you to use Turkish’s uncomfortable headphones with poor sound quality.
We arrived in IST an hour early thanks to strong winds along the route. We parked at a remote stand and walked off the plane and onto buses bound for passport control. The 10+ hours from IAD flew by and we were excited to explore Istanbul for the next two days.
Flying IST to IAD
After a quick 48 hours in Istanbul, the return flight to IAD was a repeat of the positive experience on the outbound. In fact, it was the exact same A340-300. Flying time was a long 11 hours and 48 minutes. This time, however, we had seats toward the front of coach. The flight attendants were noticeably friendlier, which may have been because it was not an overnight flight. Also noteworthy, the meal service on the return flight was really good. We both had the chicken kebab with rice and Swiss chard. It was served with a small portion of smoked salmon, dill yogurt sauce, and vanilla custard for dessert.
I really enjoyed my experience flying Turkish’s coach product and would definitely recommend it. The service level is significantly higher than what is offered by U.S. airlines. The plane was in fairly good shape, but the A340-300 is showing its age compared to newer Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. I would like to see how Turkish’s new 777s compare, which are currently flying the Los Angeles and New York (JFK) routes to IST. Turkish is in the midst of an aggressive global expansion plan, working to make IST a leading hub for connecting flights from the United States to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The in-flight product on Turkish is strong, and the company seems ready to do battle in this highly competitive market.