A new airport and state-of-the-art lounge take Turkish Airlines' business class up a level, says Nicola Brady
It’s not every day that a brand new airport opens for business.
But on April 6, the new Istanbul Airport did just that, throwing open its doors with a ritzy offering set to welcome up to 90 million passengers a year (rising to a stonking 200 million when the project is complete in 2027).
I flew to Istanbul last week, and got to experience the new airport first hand, as well as the business class offering from Turkish Airlines.
It’s barely been open a month, so Istanbul Airport still has that shiny, fresh out the box feeling. It’s a whopper of a thing, with more than 500 check in points, 22,000m2 of lounge space and 53,000m2 of the all-important duty free.
Despite the size, it’s easy to navigate and a dream to wander around – light floods in through the tall glass ceilings, tree-like metal sculptures are dotted throughout, and there’s a cool, space age feel to it all.
The downsides? It’s a good deal further away from Istanbul – 40km from the previous location of Ataturk Airport and, realistically, a good hour’s drive from the city. Make that journey by bus and you can expect to add at least half an hour to your journey time. When the metro service opens (which should be later this year) the transfer will be significantly quicker – you should be in the city centre in half an hour.
Now, here is where things get special.
Turkish Airlines’ brand new business class lounge is a beast, with an area of 5,600m2 and seating for 765 guests. A really nice touch is that it’s all open, on a higher floor of the airport, so you can look down on the action below and not feel enclosed.
Considering its ample size, it strikes the perfect balance – it feels more than spacious, without giving the impression that you could get lost.
As well as the facilities you would expect (fully stocked, self-service bars, ample refreshments, comfortable seating and power points) there are numerous surprises and extra touches littered throughout.
Kids will be entertained for hours in the huge play area, for example, complete with a nifty Acme style cinema for cartoon viewing (above) and a huge fuselage kitted out with top of the range computer games (and a slide for making a quick exit).
Slightly bigger kids will be kept happy with a cool model car track that zips around a model of Istanbul (pictured above), and there's a golf simulator for practicing your swing (as well as a helpful assistant to give you a hand).
And it doesn’t end there. There’s an art gallery, a cinema, a self-playing piano, giant arrangements of fresh red roses, and a huge variety of different food stalls with dishes cooked fresh to order (the gözlemes, buttery flatbreads stuffed with feta and spinach, were a particular favourite of mine – I went back for seconds).
But the clincher? The private suites (above).
These 13 bedrooms are open to all business guests on a first come, first serve basis, and have a supremely comfortable single bed, desk and space for a case. There are gorgeous bathrooms too, where you can freshen up pre or post nap. If you have a layover between long haul flights, these will be an absolute game-changer.
I flew Dublin to Istanbul on an A321 Neo and back on a B737-900, and there are no flat bed seats on the short haul flights – that’s kept for the long haul legs.
What I did get was a pitch of 37 inches (43 on the way back), which I found to be ample for a flight of less than four hours, and a comfortable recline (dubbed “half flat beds”), made all the better by an extendable foot rest.
I found the A321 to be a superior plane, with little touches making the difference – things like a little cubbyhole under the armrest for my phone (with a charging point) and the seatback screens (they were in the armrest on the way back) made for a more pleasurable experience.
In-flight WiFi was super quick and easy to connect.
There was an easy going feel to the service on board, which I enjoyed far more than the starched, fawning sense of ceremony you can find in some business class cabins.
The cabin crew were all helpful and eager to please, with a good dose of jovial chat thrown into the mix. I particularly enjoyed the chef’s whites and hat worn by the “flying chefs” who served all of the meals.
Upon taking our seats, trays of homemade mint lemonade were brought around, which were a nice touch. The first round of drink orders was taken soon after, with the typical choices on offer, including a very drinkable champagne.
A full meal was served soon after take off, and was more than substantial – think a mezze plate or grilled vegetables to start, followed by Turkish meatballs or fillet of beef with gnocchi and café de Paris sauce. The food was good, but wouldn’t stand out as particularly exceptional in comparison to other business class offerings.
After dinner, coffee and tea is served with theatrical flair, and the flying chef wielding the trolley can also add a snifter of whiskey or brandy to your digestif.
Return fares from Dublin to Istanbul start at €1,035 in business, and €325 in economy. For that extra bit of cash, you also get 40kg of checked baggage, and two pieces of hand baggage up to 8kg.
Considering the flight only lasts three hours and 50 minutes, the value depends on the price difference when booking. Of course flying Turkish Airlines business is a more luxurious experience than economy, and if you’re celebrating a special occasion, then it may be worth the extra cash.
For me, it’s the lounge that swings it – it’s one of the finest I’ve ever seen, and you’ll find yourself almost wishing your flight were delayed. If you’re heading out to the further flung destinations (Maldives, Bali and the like) it’s absolutely worth it.
Nicola travelled as a guest of Turkish Airlines. Return flights from Dublin to Istanbul start at €325 in economy, €1,035 in business. Contact 01 525 1849; turkishairlines.com.