Turkish Airlines, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Istanbul to Basel

INTRODUCTION

I’ve been travelling for a week now. My journey started last Sunday when I took a HOP by Air France flight from Basel to Paris Orly to attend a meeting with the ICAO Regional Office on Monday and Tuesday. The meeting went rather well I’d say. As for HOP, to be honest I don’t see the difference. It felt like a normal Air France regional service.

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Then from Paris I had to go to Istanbul to attend a conference that was being hosted by Turkish Airlines. As I wasn’t sure if the Paris meeting would really be taking place, I decided to book myself from Paris via Zürich to Istanbul on two separate tickets. That way, I would not need to buy an entirely new ticket should the trip to Paris not go through.

The trip from Paris Roissy to Zürich was with Swiss International Air Lines on an Avro RJ100. Although the service was fine and the crew were very friendly, I really do think those Avros have reached a state of repair which is simply no longer acceptable for the passenger. From where I was sitting on row 18, towards the back of the bus, the smell of shit emanating from the toilet was disgusting and nothing else.

And then from Zürich to Istanbul I took the evening Turkish Airlines flight, operated by an A321 aircraft. The aircraft did not have the standard Turkish Airlines cabin and, if I’m not mistaken, I think it may previously have been in service with Kingfisher Airways.

This trip report covers the return leg from Istanbul to Basel, also with Turkish Airlines.

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Airline: Turkish Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing B 737-800
Cabin: Economy
Seat: 18A, window
From: Istanbul Atatürk Airport
To: Basel Mulhouse
Date: 05 October 2013
Departure: 11:55
Arrival: 14:00

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

The venue of the conference is the Radisson Blue Istanbul Airport. The hotel is located at the north end, slightly to the side of the two parallel runways at Atatürk airport, which is rather cool if, like me, you like watching planes. Here’s the view from my window this morning.

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However, if you have a light sleep, perhaps this is not the place for you. Istanbul has no night ban and the sound of departing aircraft is rather loud, given that they pass nearly directly over the hotel at very low altitude.

The only downside really, is that the hotel is quite far away from the splendid sights of the city of Istanbul. To get from the hotel to the city there are basically two options. You can take a taxi for about 50 Turkish Lira. Keep in mind however, that the journey is likely to take you up to an hour or even more from the hotel to Taksim square or Sultanahmet, due to the really appalling traffic in Istanbul. You may also not necessarily want to fork out the money to spend an hour surrounded by the stink of stale cigarette smoke which seems omnipresent in Turkish taxis.

The other option is to take the hotel’s shuttle bus to the airport terminal. From there you can either take the Havatas airport bus to the city or the underground. Unfortunately the shuttle only runs once an hour.

I check out of the hotel just after 10:00 in the morning. Of course, I’ve just missed the shuttle. To take the one an hour later would probably be cutting it a bit fine. So instead, I’m going to have to take a smelly taxi for the short drive to the airport. I can always hold my breath to avoid the smoke stink.

CHECK-IN

Istanbul airport is quite a mess when I arrive. Evidently, the airport was never intended to endure the droves of passengers Turkish Airlines is currently feeding into the facility. To enter the building you need to queue at security. The lines are orderly and move relatively quickly. But even so, it takes me 15 minutes to reach the head of the queue. There are simply too many people.

Once inside the terminal, I head for the Business Class and Star Gold check-in counters, where there are also queues, but at least not as bad as for the Economy Class counters. My suitcase is tagged and I’m good to join the next queue for immigration and another queue for a further security screening behind that. And then, finally, I am airside.

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THE LOUNGE

The last security check ejects me into the middle of a big square within the terminal. There are people everywhere, making it quite impossible to take a pleasant stroll through the terminal. Very quickly I decide to retreat to the quiet and calm of the Turkish Airlines Lounge. Or so I thought.

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But the situation here is not much better, and although the place is really huge, it’s still nearly impossible to find a place to sit for all the people everywhere. A lot has been said and written about the legendary Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul. And although the food and beverage options are indeed quite impressive and the place is elegantly furnished, I can hardly say I like it. It’s just too big and too hectic to be able to offer a decent respite from the stress of air travel.

BOARDING

At about 40 minutes before departure, I leave the lounge and slowly make my way to the gate.

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I’m not sure how far it is to the gate and with all the people, it’s difficult to walk briskly. Eventually, I reach gate 210, from where my flight will depart and just a short while later, boarding begins.

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THE CABIN

The first impression of the aircraft is good. There is a dedicated Business Class cabin that is separated from Economy by a fixed cabin divider. The seats are black leather, with the headrests alternating between black and red. Each seat has its own personal video screen, which can be operated by using the remote control or by touch screen.

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SERVICE

The purser is a middle-aged gentleman. And then there are also four very attractive and oriental looking ladies as cabin crew on the flight. The Turkish Airlines crews are a bit strange in that they don’t really smile much, interaction with the passengers is limited. At the same time however, they are very obliging, polite and attentive.

DEPARTURE

Fortunately, at this time of day the amount of departing traffic is not so bad and we make our way to the runway for an on time departure towards the north. Our route today will take us from Istanbul to Belgrade, onward to Zagreb and then from there due north of Zürich and eventually to Basel.

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THE MEAL

The meal service starts about 30 minutes into the flight. The first course is smoked salmon on a green bean and yoghurt sauce with black olives. It’s quite tasty and the smoked salmon is obviously of the good quality variety.

For the main course, there is a choice of minced beef in aubergines or a chicken kebab with rice and vegetables. I have the chicken, which is okay, although the spinach is really very bland and boring.

With the meal there is a bun. Also, inside the small box that arrived with the tray there are savoury crackers and cream cheese and butter. For dessert we have a vanilla pana cotta with chocolate shavings.

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Once the meal service is over, it takes a while for the crew to come through the cabin with tea and coffee. But this is hardly their fault, as the service has had to be temporarily suspended due to the severe turbulence.

ARRIVAL

For the rest of the flight, I watch a few episodes of Big Bang Theory, until eventually it is time for us to land. Our arrival takes us on a somewhat circuitous route, mainly due to the fact that a storm is passing over the area. Subsequently, we begin our descent too late and have to execute a whole series of turns with the spoilers deployed before eventually we are able to make the approach.

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CONCLUSION

My previous experience with Turkish Airlines was a short hop in Business Class from Bangkok to Saigon on an ancient A 340-300, and I was not at all amused. This time round, I must say the over all impression was much better, even though I was travelling in Economy. The flight was uneventful and pleasant.

Turkish Airlines certainly has ambition and I think it is quite apparent that the powers that be are willing to invest heavily to ensure these ambitions come to fruition. But with its rapid expansion, Turkish Airlines is at risk of falling into the same trap as Emirates, who – at least in my view – have been unable to maintain service standards as the workforce expands. I also have my doubts if the development of the infrastructure will be able to keep pace with the airline’s rapid expansion.

Turkish Airlines, Business Class – A 340-300: Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City

Date: 3. September 2012
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Aircraft: A340-300
From: Bangkok
To: Saigon
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1H, window


GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I arrived in Bangkok the previous night on the Egypt Air flight from Kuala Lumpur. Not really in the mood to cart my stuff all the way into Bangkok only to have to cart it back to the airport the next day, I spend the night at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at Bangkok airport.

Around noon I pack my bags, check out and make my way to the terminal using the underground, and above all air conditioned tunnel from the Novotel.




CHECK-IN

Turkish Airlines uses check-in row S at Bangkok airport. When I arrive, there are already quite a few people checking in for the flight. It looks like there’s a larger group travelling today.




The check-in agent conscientiously checks my visa application for Vietnam and then duly issues my boarding pass. Today I’m on 1H, a window seat. He also hands me a priority pass to get me through security quicker. And indeed, for a change security is a breeze. Immediately behind security is passport control and then I’m airside.


I return to the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge I sat in a few days previously as I waited for my flight to KL on Royal Jordanian. I’m feeling much more awake today.

THE LOUNGE

When I arrive, the lounge is very quiet. There are only two more passengers there, which gives me an opportunity to take some more pictures without irritating anybody.

















BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure the flight shows up as ‘BOARDING’. Time to head for the gate. Once I’m inside the holding pen, it’s not that easy to take pictures of the aircraft. It’s an A340-300 and I’m delighted to see it’s wearing the STAR ALLIANCE livery.

There are some passengers wearing a Turkish Airlines sticker on their t-shirts, presumably in transit from Istanbul to Ho Chi Minh. I take this to mean that all passengers disembarked in Bangkok for the aircraft to be cleaned.

However, later on when I enter the aircraft as the first passenger through the L1 door, I am surprised to find that many of the seats in Business Class are already taken. I can only imagine that these were transfer passengers who simply elected not to deplane during the turnaround.




THE CABIN

The cabin is a huge let down. Of course I am aware of the fact that the A340-300 still has the old Business Class. But that’s not really the issue. The cabin is just in a very sad state. First of all, there are bits and pieces of food littered around the cabin and the seat. And I don’t mean the ‘short turnaround, no time to clean’ variety of food, but more of the ‘can-anybody-even-remember-when-they-last-gave-this-cabin-a-good-scrub’ variety.




The arm rest on my left is broken. You can fold it up to reveal the remote control for the IFE and the power plugs. But mine won’t lock in the ‘down’ position. Every time I try to lean on it, it if flops open again.





Another interesting point is that the overhead bins of the middle row only reach halfway up the Business Class cabin, starting at row 3. Seeing as Turkish Airlines never had a First Class on this bird, I’m assuming this means that in its old configuration the aircraft only had three rows of Business and the rest was Economy Class.


As you may have gathered by now, I am not amused!

DEPARTURE

Oh, for heaven’s sake. You’d think we were departing for the long flight all the way back to Istanbul, judging by the pathetic crawl and subsequent climb we are treated to on this bird.



SERVICE

The crew is perhaps the biggest let down on this flight. I’m not entirely sure if they are uninterested in the passengers or in their job in general. When I step on the plane there is a flight attendant standing by the entrance. But she’s giving me the silent treatment.

Before we push back, the crew distribute the earphones for this leg. And what a low quality product they are! Honestly, I really don’t understand why they even bother at all, if this is the best they’re willing to do.

Generally speaking, the service is chaotic and unorganised. The male attendant working the left aisle starts serving the first three rows on his side with food. Half way through, he disappears and instead, out comes a female flight attendant distributing the hot towels, which they then forget about altogether on my row.

After that, the male attendant resumes his service, while the other side of the plane is still staring at an empty tray table.

THE MEAL

Eventually, another female flight attendant appears and starts serving the food on our side. There is no ‘would you like something to eat’ or the likes, instead she silently plonks down the icy cold plate and moves on to the next row. And then nothing. At some point during the flight, she does manage to open her mouth to ask me what I’d like to drink. I ask for a diet coke. She vanishes again for quite some time. When she returns, she silently plonks a glass of sparkling water on my tray table, just as I take my last bite out of the sandwich.

Later on when the crew come round to collect the dishes, she removes everything without even saying a word. ‘Have you finished’ might have helped, as the guy next to me still has half a glass full of drink, which apparently he was planning on drinking, he tells me. Not quick enough, gone! Better luck next time.

The meal is okay, given the short duration of the flight and considering the Business Class cabin is nearly full. It consists of a sandwich and a piece of apple pie with crumble on it. I wasn’t expecting the full Do & Co experience on a flight of only 75 minutes, but when the sandwich is still so cold it hurts your teeth and gums, I draw the line.

The apple pie looks rather nice. It’s just a pity the crew doesn’t find it necessary to distribute a fork to eat it with. Of course, one might argue that I’m being picky here. But in  fact most passengers in Business Class request a fork in the end, which leaves the crew running around the cabin with cutlery as the passengers get started on the dessert.

After the meal, we still have about 40 minutes to go to Saigon. As the crew don’t seem to be volunteering coffee, I use the call button to summon a member of the crew. To give them credit, two of them immediately appear from two different directions, which is more than you can say for some airlines. I ask for a coffee and get a reproachful look from the crew…
Eventually, the coffee arrives – with a plastic spoon. At the risk of sounding overly critical, I must say I really do think that plastic cutlery, plates and drinking equipment should not be allowed in Business Class. No matter how short the flight.

ARRIVAL

Eventually, we start our descent and I’m glad to see the end of this flight. At least the views outside are nice.


Ho Chi Minh airport is surrounded on all sides by densely populated areas, and on the approach we come in very low over a residential area that only ends just before the perimeter fence.


As we taxi to the terminal, I sight a few soviet-built rare birds from days gone by, most of which don’t look as though they’re going anywhere any time soon.


I collect my visa, go though immigration and then take a taxi into the city.

CONCLUSION

To be fair, one should not generalise based on the experience made on one flight alone, especially such a short one as the Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh sector. Nonetheless, as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I am quite disappointed by the performance Turkish Airlines gave today on this flight. The hardware was old, dirty and worn and the crew very evidently couldn’t care less. Would I fly Turkish Airlines again? Hard to say, for sure they will not be my first choice when booking future travels.

EPILOGUE

Saigon is a charming city. I really like it. It has an old fashioned character about it that is an interesting mix of French architecture and red flags with the hammer and sickle I remember seeing on TV when I was a kid during the cold war and which I had already nearly forgotten had ever existed. How quick we forget!


The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Saigon.

Driving in Vietnam, one of the last great adventures of our day. Whatever you do, just don’t stop

Uncle.