After a very short stopover at home after making it home from Asia, it was time for my final adventure of 2015, a quick jaunt over to Europe to try some new products. And thus…. welcome, dear reader, to the first trip report of that three-flight series, covering my exploration of Turkish and LOT in longhaul business class. Here’s the rundown:
Although this was my final adventure of 2015, booking this short trip to Europe actually was quite early by my standards. December is, generally speaking, quite a slow time work-wise for me, to it was a “safe bet” that this week was a fine time to get away. I really wanted to find some combination of LOT and Turkish, to try two new carriers with interesting business class products, and with low (LOT) or no (Turkish) carrier surcharges on Aeroplan. So when I found these flights available, I snapped them up early in 2015, well before Aeroplan decided to raise rates for business class redemptions to Europe, once one of the greatest sweet spots on its award chart.
I arrived in plenty of time, about 8:00 for this 10:30 departure, and there was no line for the premium check-in counter for Turkish. While checking in, the agent explained that she wouldn’t be able to print out my onwards boarding pass on LOT, so I’d just have to get it at the transit desk in Istanbul. But then, when she printed my boarding pass, the LOT boarding pass came long with it.
The lineup for premium security at Pearson’s T1 international gates was short, but it seemed to be taking a long time to get each passenger through, not at all aided by one passenger who didn’t seem to get the idea that metal detectors detect metal. But soon enough, I was down the long hall of the “Hammerhead” at Pearson, and arriving at the International Maple Leaf Lounge.
This lounge has been included in a lot of my flight reports, so I’ll keep this one brief. This is AC’s flagship lounge, and while it’s not on par with some lounges we’ll see on this trip, it’s pretty good. It consists of two large rooms filled with about the kind of seating you’d expect from a lounge. The biggest downside here is that electrical plugs aren’t particularly prevalent, a major oversight in my view.
Showers are available, WiFi is solid and easy to access, and food and drink are definitely a cut above the other MLLs at Pearson.
There are a bunch of salads, including a new quinoa salad from their partnership with “celebrity chef” David Hawksworth.
Some dips and… uhhh… usually there are some chips here. You know. To go with the dips? Clearly, they’re changing things here, because there’s no salsa, which is always on offer. And I notice, to my dismay, that my lounge favourite snack, humous, seems to have been replaced by a parmesan dip of some sort. A bit of a disappointment.
Some desserts. And coffee to go with it.
And a decent self-serve bar, including taps.
Back over on the main buffet island, there’s a make-your-own pho section that I don’t find particularly good. I love pho. I don’t love this pho, in my past experience.
A number of hot dishes, starting with some chicken.
Some Spanish rice, and a choice of beef or cheese ravioli.
And some soups.
I try a bit of both of the pastas, and a chicken breast, and pour myself a Guiness to go along with it. All of it is quite edible, although I don’t want to fill up before what I’m expecting to be a fantastic flight from a culinary standpoint.
But there’s still room for a bit more snacking, so I grab some chips (which have at this point re-appeared) and some salsa, and try some of the new dip as well. It’s not bad. But it’s not my humous.
I head towards the gate a few minutes about 10:00, a few minutes before boarding is slated to begin. The little alcove that houses gates 77 and 79 here at Pearson is a mess, just crawling with humanity, and it’s soon clear why — a Turkish 777-300 and a LOT 787-8 are sharing this area, and neither has started boarding yet, despite the fact that LOT is supposed to be out of here in about 10 minutes. It makes for a very chaotic gate environment, although it is kind of neat that my flight to Europe and my flight back from Europe area right there, side by side.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get a good picture of the plane at 77 because of the way the building is structured. But here’s a look at 79, where the LOT Dreamliner awaits its passengers.
You’ll have to trust me… that’s my ride to Istanbul behind that jet bridge.
There are a lot of wheelchairs going onto this plane. I counted about 20.
Flight: TK18 From: Toronto Pearson (YYZ) To: Istanbul Ataturk (IST) Date: 12/9/2015 Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER Registration: TC-JJG Seat: 2A ATD (STD): 22:58 (22:45) ATA (STA): 14:55 (15:30)
LOT starts its boarding, and I don’t hear an announcement for Turkish, but the lineup for business class starts moving, so I figure it must be going. I join in, and am actually about the fourth person in line. Fortunately, from the jetway, it’s possible to get a little bit better look at my ride to Istanbul, TC-JJG.
On board, I’m immediately struck upon entrance at L2 by the nice visual touches Turkish puts into its entryway. It looks very artistic and well-designed. Not a usual galley look. I could take or leave the faux-wood floor, but hey, at least it’s something different, something memorable. The little things.
A youngish flight attendant shows me to my seat, 2A, a window seat in in the second row of this 2-3-2 configuration. Middle seat in international long-haul business class. There’s something wrong with that in 2015, I think. As expected, aside from visual differences, this is almost the same product as I’ve seen recently on Air China, and about the same as what I’ll see on LOT in a couple of days.
The seat comes with a rather odd presentation — a small, very firm pillow that seems more suited to lumbar support than headrest, and a bagged very economy class blanket. Surely, this isn’t all TK is going to offer, is it? It can’t be, right?
The seat’s ottoman, which makes up the end of the “bed,” is looking a little worse for wear. A pair of slippers sits upon it.
Here’s a look across the cabin as it begins to fill in.
Taking a look around the seat… as always with a forward-facing flat bed seat, legroom is not an issue.
Various ports and plugs are located as one would expect in the centre console, as is a remote for the IFE system.
And intuitive seat controls (except perhaps for the M+ and MR buttons) are located in the top of the centre console.
Here’s a look at the fancy rear bulkhead of this cabin, which shows the same design flair I touched on in mentioning my arrival onto the plane.
Headphones offered aren’t the best you’ll see, but they do fine.
The IFE screen is a decent size and resolution. I found the interface a little clunky at first, but got used to it quickly enough. The selection wasn’t great, and I’d seen a lot of what was on offer, but eventually select a film I’d not heard of before called Where Hope Grows. A definite one to miss. But worth noting that IFE works at the gate, and picks right back up again after the safety video.
A look out my window as boarding continues.
Service begins with a pre-departure drink. No booze on the ground with TK, it would seem, but some interesting fruity beverages, including this deliciously tart mint lemonade.
After drinks are distributed, we’re given this.
A-ha! So there is more — much more — to the bedding. Things are looking up. The pillow offered at the seat, by the way, turns out to be the waist support pillow described here. The real pillow was much much better.
Boarding is quickly complete, and we push back from next to this AC 767-300 — the exact type that is in co-opetition with TK on this route.
It’s hard to tell, but that’s the LOT 787 pushing back as we taxi away. Clearly, we’re a lot closer to on time than our Polish friends are tonight.
There are a lot of kids in the business class cabin, compared to what I’m used to, including at least two infants, and a number of kids aged 4-7, I’d guess. There’s a lot running around, and some wailing during boarding, pushback, and takeoff, and it has me a little bit concerned. But soon enough, they all seem to be off to sleep, and aren’t any issue for the rest of the flight.
A short taxi, and we’re up and away into the night sky over Toronto and on our way east.
Once the seatbelt light it turned off, I begin to get settled in. Checking out the slippers, I see this note on them.
I love little touches like that.
In-flight, service begins with a hot towel, presented on its own dish. Another nice little touch.
I take this moment to explore the offered amenity kit, which is in a nice black leather pouch, one that will likely be useful. It has all the expected components, and neither overwhelms nor underwhelms.
Here’s one little detail I haven’t seen before. This is a pretty good idea, I think. Again, Turkish is getting great marks from me for thoughtful details.
Next up on the service, this tasty little morsel of Turkish delight to welcome us on board.
Then menus were offered. An interesting layout and design. Turkish has decided to do the configure-your-own-breakfast, with the added touch that the personal details — the passenger’s name and seat number — are already filled out. Again, the little things.
Orders are taken almost immediately afterwards. I take a risk and choose the beef — for both the salad course and the main.
A table cloth is offered, and the pre-meal service kicks off with a nice glass of champagne, accompanied by mixed nuts.
Canapés are then offered. All three are quite tasty, but especially the meat canapé, which I presume was kafta or something similar. In bringing the canapés around, I’m introduced to the onboard “chef” for this flight. It still seems a bit gimmicky to me, but it’s something different I suppose.
The table is set, and bread is offered from the bread basket. Not only is there a dish for your bread, there’s a little cloth “cozy” inside it. Unfortunately on mine, it wasn’t set up properly, so the bread isn’t in the cozy. But still. The little things.
Speaking of the little things…. this is a big little thing, in my opinion.
Out come the starters. The mesclun is nothing too exciting, but the rest of the dish is quite good. The beef is tasty, and the artichoke and peppers are delicious. Although I’m a bit disappointed. Having seen pictures of what looked like an amazing cart chock-full of various Middle Eastern appetizers offered on other TK flights, I was hoping for the same. Perhaps it’s only on flights out of Turkey? I was quite looking forward to that.
The pumpkin soup was amazing. Is it something to do with altitude and pressure that makes soup taste extra-good on planes? Or have airlines just not figured out a way to massacre soup? Because I’m consistently wowed by soups I have on planes.
And finally, the main course. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. A bold choice to present the beef without drowning it in sauce. It’s a very tasty cut, but a little overdone and not very tender. The potatoes were excellent, though, and the vegetables perfectly done. I’m on the fence about this dish. I think I’d think more highly of it had it been from any airline other than Turkish, whose catering is so heavily hyped.
Dessert and cheese come around on a cart. Uncharacteristically, I forego the cheese. (I know… what’s happening to me?) But I get a few sweets to finish my meal. There were a few of the small Turkish desserts, which were excellent.
And then berries and whipped cream. Because you can’t screw up berries and whipped cream.
With dinner coming to an end, I put my seat into a lounging position and continue watching A Walk in the Woods, based on the book by Bill Bryson. Turkish clearly opts for “family friendly” language, as witnessed by this exchange, wherein two characters discuss the necessity to carry a little shovel with you on the trail, since there’s no outhouses, much less bathrooms.
“You know what they say. Leave only footprints. Keep only memories.” “No … kidding.” “Yeah, that’s the idea.”
Somehow, the joke falls short.
With my second movie over, I make my way to the lav, which has a fancy sink, some nice amenities, and the same TK-signature design hints used elsewhere on the plane. Again, very nicely done.
As I return, the flight attendant working my side of the business class cabin asks if I’d like my bed made up yet. Why yes, I would. It’s very late, and I’ve already had to jump over my seatmate once to get out, so by all means, let’s get some sleep.
I’ve heard mixed reviews on the service offered by TK. I found our particular flight crew excellent — attentive without being obtrusive, and friendly without being over-the-top. They seemed quite genuine, and were great with the kids in the cabin when the kids were awake.
With the mattress pad and duvet, this is a pretty comfortable bed, despite my earlier concerns. Privacy is not perfect in this kind of seat, but it’s not too bad. You’re recessed low enough in the bed that you don’t see much of your neighbour. I sleep for about five hours with an eye mask and earphones on, and when I wake, breakfast service is beginning around me.
A quick check of the moving map shows we’re well on our way, just about 75 minutes out of Istanbul. I like the extras offered on the Airshow screen in terms of data, but I don’t care for the way it takes screen real estate away from the map. I didn’t figure out any way to “maximize” the map.
Another grey table cloth is laid down, and breakfast service begins with… well, everything. I’d selected fruit and muesli along with the main course for my breakfast, but apparently I looked hungry, because I got everything — the chicken and turkey breast, the cheese. The fruit and muesli are both excellent, and are accompanied by a glass of orange juice and a pretty good coffee. I love that coffee cup!
I’m asked what I’d like for the main course of breakfast — which makes me wonder why the breakfast cards were collected in the first place? I reiterate my request for the mushroom and cheddar crepe, and it’s very good. The tomatoes and potatoes that accompany it are excellent as well.
Breakfast service ends with a hot towel, and a chocolate for later. To be honest, I forgot about it until I wrote this report, so I decided to take a break at this point and enjoy it.
I kick back, and not finding anything on the IFE that will entertain me for the short time left on this flight, I decide to check out the on-board WiFi service. Business class passengers get it free after entering their name and seat number. At this moment, it’s working pretty well. But I can’t be bothered getting out of my seat (or disturbing my neighbour) to get my laptop to enjoy it more fully, so this corporate screenshot will have to do.
As we’re getting into our decent, I pull open my window shade to see what I can see. Clouds. Lots and lots of cloud.
Pretty soon, the clouds are getting bigger, and this flight is almost over.
We break through the clouds over the coastline, and soon enough, we land at Istanbul.
It’s a long taxi, but once we arrive on the apron, we pull right in, arriving next to this winglet-equipped A321.
We’re all wished a fond farewell, and disembark through L2, into the main hallway at IST, where I finally get a decent look at the plane that’s just taken me across the Atlantic.
We end up arriving about 50 feet from a transit security check, and I join the line at a good time. It’s about 10 people long, and moving quite slowly, but it’s a lot better than when I look back a few minutes later, and there are 30 or more people behind me. Eventually, I’m through security, and up the escalator towards the terminal, in search of what I suspect — and hope — will be the main event of this trip.
We’ll pick the story up there next time. Thanks for reading!
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge International
Toronto - YYZ
Istanbul - ISL
A great first impression of Turkish, with a great crew, and pretty good catering. Of course, 2-3-2 in J in 2015 is a bit meh, but it's still a pretty good flat bed.
In all, Turkish lived up to expectations and I'm looking forward to flying them again soon.
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TK's catering is second to none. As I discovered recently A3 is another European carrier whose catering is almost as good as that of TK. If TK J cabin switches to an all aisle access configuration, then it would be the perfect airline for me.
As you have stated, the little details can sometimes make a big difference.
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