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Having had the opportunity to try out all 3 Middle East Big 3 airlines I really wanted to know what Turkish Airlines would be like. An airline that has been rated consistently high on several occasions, within the top 10 in recent years (going off of what Skytrax says, which I know isn’t the most accurate…) Some say they count as Middle East Big 3 + 1 given their rapid expansion and being (relatively) close to the middle east, while others say that they are completely different given their mild presence in some destinations, being served only with a 3 or 4 weekly flight instead of daily, and of course not being very competitive on the India - USA market with just the daily flight each to New Delhi & Mumbai, versus the double digits for EK/EY/QR. Some others also say that they are a direct competition to the European airlines (LH/LX/BA/IB/AF/KL) given that, well, their primary hub is in fact in the European part of Istanbul. A fascinating case, and here I wanted to give this a shot.
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THE HUNT FOR THE A350
For this trip itself I started looking at possible itineraries back in late-February/early March 2018. I really wanted to log a A350 flight, finally. Singapore Airlines by far had the best chance with it’s non-stop from SFO to SIN, with a quick layover on to a SilkAir 737-800 to Kolkata. On the way back, SilkAir 737-800 back, and then a 777-300ER via either Hong Kong or Seoul. This was a little north of $1000 but I didn’t really fancy SilkAir’s 737-800s, given that Singapore Airlines also has A330s to Kolkata, but at a more expensive price point. In addition, I have already flown SQ.
The 2nd one which looked far more promising was Qatar Airways. 3 x A350s on ATL-DOH-DEL, and DOH-JFK, while BOM-DOH would be on a 777-300ER. Some miscommunication happened leading to this decent fare to be gone, long gone. Oh well, I wasn’t missing too much given I have been on QR in the past too.
The final option worked out to be with Turkish Airlines, a suggestion by my father. Why I did not think of it in the first place, I do not know. Multi city has always been nice to me - more often than not these throw up some pretty nice fares, and given how outrageously expensive USA domestic flying is the fare difference on getting to a USA departure point is negligible. Miami - New Delhi & Mumbai - Atlanta worked out to be the cheapest, just north of $900 for a mid-July to mid-August round trip itinerary. This is what it looked like:
TK78 Miami to Istanbul, 17th July 2018 dep @ 2055, arr @ 1515+1, B777-300ER, 11hr20min
TK716 Istanbul to New Delhi, 18th July 2018 dep @ 2020, arr @ 0435 B777-300ER, 5hr45min
TK721 Mumbai to Istanbul 15th August 2018, dep @ 0625 arr @ 1040 A330-300, 6hr45min
TK31 Istanbul to Atlanta 15th August 2018 dep @ 1405, arr @ 1950 hours A330-200, 12hr45min
Well, no A350 this around I suppose. But hey - a new airline in Turkish Airlines, one that has been rated quite highly, new airports in Miami, Istanbul & Atlanta (in addition to Dallas/Ft. Worth already!). Boring 777s, and Yawnbus 330s….
It was at this moment I realized thunderstorms were going to be an issue at Miami, leading to possible delays. Well, good thing I had a 5.5 hour layover at Istanbul…
TURKISH'S TECHNINAL WOES
Not so much the technicals of a plane, but more so a rather weak IT department. While booking was relatively easy the manage my booking section was all over the place. Turkish allows selection of seats on international flights 100 days prior to departure, which is fair. However when I tried to do this online all seats were taken, and not much could’ve been done about it. A tweet to @TKHelpDesk did not do much, as I was directed back to the website and/or the call center. So the latter it was: not too bad, but it seemed the staff were confused that I wanted to select my seats. And, after a while, felt like they were a touch rude. I somehow got my preferred seats for the 777 flights at least: right behind the wing for MIA-IST, and in front of the massive GE90s for IST-DEL: always wanted to sit in front of them monsters, but I can’t afford a premium ticket, yet. Thank you, Kenya Airways leased 777!
Seats selected, thanks to some very strange calls to the TK call center…
Anyone know what an Airbus 77K is? I am throughly confused….
Turkish also decided to revise the Mumbai - Istanbul flight’s schedule, delaying it by 5 minutes, and getting back to the original schedule again. Very 9W of them, reminding me of when 9W changed flight timings and making Manage My Booking a dud… This meant I received no less than 4 emails asking me to reconfirm this, but of course when I did this online the only option I had was to cancel it, and nothing else. Manage my Booking was effectively dead. All sorts of doldrums. Another phone call was made, another rude-ish call center person, but hey I could now select seats for the A330 flights…. and I got what I preferred. Not too bad, I guess…. Despite these woes, I was counting on what matters most: the flight(s) itself, but definitely not the ideal first (second?) impression.
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WEB CHECK IN
Web check in was done & complete until I realized my boarding pass would not be issued online. I was okay with that - I like my boarding passes to be real and not a mall receipt. This was done at the motel in Fargo. Prior to heading out for AA3418 I checked that TC-JJY a 3.4 years old Boeing 777-3F2/ER on it’s way to Miami, and that it was well on time.
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Airbus 77K has changed to a Boeing 777-300ER, it makes sense now!
THE DAY OF: JULY 17TH 2018, KILLING TIME @ MIA!
At Miami airport, I had a 6 hour layover, around about. I needed to make it to Dallas on time on a short layover to make the Miami flight, and both of them went off without a hitch: I say that in hindsight, [url=https://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1418677]AA3418 was quite stressful with the app deciding we’d be late so the connection to Miami would be missed. But anyway, $11 spent on WiFi because, anxiety. Half an hour end from disembarkation to getting my suitcase, and another by talking to my girlfriend on the phone. Knowing Turkish opens check in 3 hours prior to departure I was in a pretty good place to kill just over an hour and a half.
A long walked followed. All the way from the end of the North Terminal to the end of the South, and on the way I even managed to help some people out because looking at the signs are not that hard a thing to do….. I found the international airline check ins, but it was time for lunch. Another slightly long walk later I decided for Chilli’s. A nice burger there, given this was the first proper meal since dinner at Fargo.
An hour killed, easy. I wanted to repack a few things until I realized the TSA took away some of my things. No wonder it felt light, damn it. ☹️
CHECK IN, SECURITY
A quick bathroom break later I lined up for check in. People of several different backgrounds were taking flight which is a true testament to Turkish's network. While the line was quite long, I managed to beat a big group at check in which was quick for me, and then TSA.
TSA up ahead, but I was ahead of several of the big groups checking in on to TK78
The ID check person was surprisingly nice - quite unlike a normal experience, in addition to the scanning being pretty pain free. A dream come true?! It was 1832 hours, just over 2 hours till departure: with check in taking 10 minutes, 20 minutes at security.
Gate J5 was empty for the moment - the bay that is: people slowly starting taking up seats at the gate area. Spotting yielded largely South American wide bodies, something quite unique for me but common in this part of the country.
Pretty soon it was 1855 hours - time for TK77 to arrive, and FlightRadar24 showed TC-JJY was in fact taxiing after landing in Miami. I took a spot at J5 to photograph & film the magnificent beast taxi in: such is the size of the 777-300ER gate J4 is deemed unusable at this point in time. Other passengers also took selfies and/or pictures of TC-JJY taxi in to the gate. Sure, I called this a ‘Boring’ 777 earlier on, but just looking at it so close made me realize what a true beast this plane was. Chocks on at 1859 hours, just 4 minutes after scheduled arrival time. A LATAM 787-9 pulled in to the gate nearby.
I spy with my little eye, a European Airline…or 3?
Quite the looker!
Walked over to Concourse H which looked like SkyTeam domination…with the odd United flight heading to San Francisco. A solid panorama from the food court, great place to spot from. Airport employees were on break here.
LATAMs, a lot of them!
SkyTeam in Concourse H
UA583 to San Francisco
On further walking I was vindicated by the decision to fly out of Miami for the cheap fare, while forgetting about the potential thunderstorm: the entirety of East Coast was engulfed in a huge storm, airports like New York JFK, Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC all saw significant delays and several cancellations. Here are 2 Delta planes that were caught out by this, passengers were frustrated and helpless (something I have faced all too often…), but Delta had provided free pizza it looked like. An MD-88 showed up from Atlanta that would do a quick interstate run to Orlando next.
Both JFK bound, both delayed
MD-88 from ATL, will head to MCO next
Looking good, looking good
Quick bathroom break later I headed back to gate J5 where the gate was filling up, but it didn’t look overly full. The seat map did show a full flight, so perhaps there were some people still checking in or at security. Pre-boarding was called 50 minutes to departure time, I decided to line up so to get overhead bin space on the long haul flight. Ground staff had a tough time lining up several people at the gate in to the main walkway, requesting all to line up against the wall but that was easier said than done.
Boarding was called, and it was pretty orderly for the most part. Documents checked, headed down the jet bridge where newspapers were set up. I was really excited to see if the hype was in fact real! Onboard at 2013 hours where the wooden flooring looked really inviting but less so of the crew who felt a little robotic to begin with. Nothing too warm, but that’s okay.
Business Class looked quite inviting as did Economy with a light blue seat cover, dark blue headrest, 3-3-3 onboard a 777 (winner!), and the end of a cabin section had a pretty cool design with Turkish’s logo on it. I liked what I saw.
Seat 35A is located in the 2nd Economy class section of Turkish’s own 777. Pillow, blanket & headsets were provided on every seat.
View from 35A
In a round of roulette where the lady assigned to 35B set herself up at 35C, the gentleman assigned to 35C in 36A, there was quite a bit of movement and change in seats: the lady’s reasoning being she’d get up several times during the flight so she should get 35C…. all said & done once boarding was complete the guy assigned to 35C moved to 37D, and lady 35B moving to 35C, leaving 35B empty. Winner!!
IFE on this one was simply gorgeous. HD screen, easy to touch, tonnes of content, and even better, different onboard cameras! I was quite excited to try this out, but more later.
Hmmm, I think I know what I'm gonna watch next!
Sun had set completely at this point while the announcements were done, followed by the safety videos. Of course, with no one paying attention to the videos, and seatbelt signs on (which means people do not sit their butts down…). But doors were closed & pushed back at 2042 hours, 13 minutes before time. Pretty quick turnaround! I liked the safety video in that ASL was used to address deaf passengers. Nicely done, Turkish!
The best part of any 777(-300ER) flight, the start up! The massive monsters otherwise known as the GE90-115B engines were fired up, and it just so happened the LATAM 777-300ER nearby also had its engines fired up - what’s better than listening to 4 (!!) GE90s fire up early evening! During this however I saw the crew member aggressively take another passenger’s phone and do something with it, which I found to be very very weird. Nothing against me though, even if the START UP VIDEO is a little broken up, unfortunately..
I did like Turkish’s hard product so far, but oh boy was it about to be a new level of crazy onboard here. If I thought the American Airlines 777-200ER mood lighting was crazy, the rave that Turkish Airlines had planned was just about to get started: some pretty absurd colors of moodlighthing including green and light pink and bright orange, this was actually pretty painful to see and did not really add to any comfort, nothing beyond an eye sore to be honest.
Was a fairly long taxi to Runway 9, which is when the first officer welcomed us onboard, props to Turkish Airlines for addressing the young flyers as well! It would be a 10hr55min flight (read - 11 hours) over to Istanbul Ataturk, at 33000 feet, where slightly cloudy skies & temperature of 75F/24C were awaiting us, a little bit of a bumpy flight at times but not too bad, and estimated arrival at 1505 hours, little ahead of schedule.
A Rogue One from Canada, heavily delayed
Lined up with Runway 9 at 2102 hours which was followed by the monstrous sounds of the GE90s helping TC-JJY pick up speed and were airborne at 2103 hours, 8 minutes behind schedule.
It was a very smooth climb out over Miami Beach. Night life was just about to start but here we were a bunch onboard a Boeing 777 bound for Istanbul tucking in to what would hopefully be a comfortable flight.
Spent some time looking at the information screen, which is where I’d spend most of the flight looking at, given how tired I was. The day started off as a sleepless night in preparation for the FAR-DFW flight, I was looking forward to getting some rest here, even if it was in Economy. A long way to go though, still.
That groundspeed though!!
As I had seen on several occasions menu cards were handed out to each and every passenger. In Economy. Not a whole lot of airlines do that still, was nice to see. Initially the options looked a little ordinary, but I’d wait till dinner to make a decision.
What followed next is even rarer in Economy class and definitely of a top standard was the amenity kit. Institut Karite (which, to be honest I have no idea what the standards are amenity kits up in front) pouch had the typical eye shades, socks, tooth brush & toothpaste, in addition to slippers & a lip balm which is not normal for Economy class, pretty sure.
And within the first half an hour of the flight a warm towel was passed. So far so good from Turkish Airlines: on time, great hard product, IFE had great content, and solid amenities.
However, it felt like the crew were lacking a little bit. Helpful, courteous, but robotic & nothing too extravagant, but maybe I had my expectations a little too high?
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Once the towels were cleaned up and special meals handed out carts were rolled up. Half of them were for drinks, the other half for dinner. I watched a Formula One-type documentary, sold on seeing a 1960s Ferrari in the thumbnail while service happened. The crew seemed to break a smile or two here and there which was nice. Now I did mention the options seemed uninspiring: it was to find out for real if hype was true. Do&Co, show me what you got!
I got my meal at 2217 hours Eastern, 1hr14min in flight. The set up itself made for a visually stunning look: Turkish use very specific and oddly curved bowls for appetizer/salad/dessert, and the main course container being on a different level altogether. Condiments, a napkin & silverware were neatly packed in a box rather than wrapped in just plastic. All of these had Do&Co branding on them which made me wonder where the catering was from.
A fresh bread roll was offered, alongside my drink choice: Eefes beer for me, time to Mediterranean it up here!
The meal started off pretty well with moutabel/tabbouleh, a nice way to set things up.
The salad was a nice juicy slice of smoked salmon alongside grilled artichoke and garden fresh salad. I was looking forward to the main course.
At the end of the day, the options were really just chicken or pasta, aka the standard TATL fare. Turkish however had an ace up their sleeve: a delicious juicy tender grilled chicken breast with rosemary butter cooked to perfection, and reheated just fine. Sautéed carrots and broccoli were quite nice. Not the usual mashed potatoes, but the potato gratin was a first for me which was also really nice. I was quite satisfied with this meal! Dessert was a raspberry chocolate cake which was a satisfactory end to an otherwise great meal.
My luck with the WiFi was not very good this time around: it would just take me to the checkout page, and wouldn't move an inch from there. This was going to be a recurring thing on al 4 Turkish flights that I took, making onboard connectivity one of the weakest links onboard Turkish, unfortunately. The supplier for this was Turk Telekom…
THE SLEEP, THE HALF AWAKE, THE STRANGE THOUGHTS…
I tried to keep myself awake but this was turning out to be quite difficult. I did the noble thing of staying up to hand over my tray, before finally calling it a night with the documentary on there. Little did I know this was going to be one the best naps I have taken onboard a plane. Oh, who even knew an empty middle seat would make such a difference!
It was a solid 7 hour nap. Not undisturbed, but when I did try to sleep again I fell asleep just fine. I suppose this meant that there was no need to get myself the tuna sandwich and/or cherry cake. I was okay with that. There were two instances I do remember waking up to - the first being a middle aged gentlemen singing the ultimate meme song of 2018 to the lady on 35C - Despacito - more like WHAT-THE-F*CKO! Such was my shock I had to rub my eyes in order to believe it…. Still pretty impressive that this had happened haha! Another part of this sleep that I vividly remember was a cruise climb when we went up from 33000 to 37000 feet. The power up during this phase got my sub-conscious mind hearing my flight instructor say ‘use a bit of that right rudder when applying power, remember the left turning tendencies of the propellor?’ Yeah right, took me another little bit to realize I was onboard a Boeing 777 with 2 massive GE90s, aka - no need for right rudder on board this big beast!
IT'S A NEW DAY!
Flying over the Netherlands, I finally decided to use my one get out of seat free card, which I usually do half way in to the flight, but it was 8hr15min in to the flight to head to the restroom. The restroom was kept pretty clean for the most part, and I did appreciate the lotion & cologne.
Freshened up quick before heading to my seat - less than 3 hours to go, this was going to be relatively easy. From what I noticed on the way back to my seat it did look like rare couple of seats were empty & passengers sprawled out, but I was pretty content with where I was at. The sun had risen far high up, but here we were in a completely darkened cabin.
I decided to dip deeper in to the fantastic IFE that Turkish has. As is expected from a proper global airline like Turkish, movies were aplenty, an abundance of music, several TV shows, etc. Turkish also passed the Metal test as they had Hardwired….to Self Destruct by Metallica, Dystopia by Megadeth, and Lovedrive by Scorpions! All in all, an easy way to survive 12 or 13 hours, aka most of Turkish's long haul network.
It wasn't going to be long before the lights were turned up for breakfast, and so this helped with pulling up the window shades and getting in some natural light in to the cabin.
BREAKFAST WITH A VIEW
We were overflying the Alps as breakfast commenced. People lined up in front of the restrooms, which was an annoyance for the crew unfortunately, but normal way too often. Just like BA142 from a few months ago this turned out to be another breakfast with a view!
Breakfast tray was quite tiny compared to the dinner tray, but just the one option for everyone.
For breakfast there was fresh fruit salad & assorted cheese - these were pretty standard but different compared to other airline’s breakfast. The entree was mushroom & cheese omelette, sautéed potatoes and roasted tomato. Unfortunately this was quite the huge letdown, omelette being synthetic and reheated potatoes were just horrible. I had to pass these, hoping this wasn’t Do&Co’s own catering…. The oven-fresh bread was nice & warm, and I appreciated it. I was hoping this was quite the one off. I had a cherry juice to go along with it.
The rest of the flight went along quite uneventfully, and this definitely was up there with one of the more comfortable flights I have had. About 45 minutes before arrival Captain came around giving us information about arrival: there were winds from the North/NorthWest, broken clouds and showers in the vicinity. Temperature was 28C.
I spent the rest of the time looking at the magazines, always fun to look at the information with fleet, terminal info, etc. Istanbul’s Ataturk airport has one old circular terminal for the domestic flight, and the bigger ‘inverted L’ (depending on what angle you see it) for the international flights. However, it’s anyone guess as to where we’d park… I also took my time just looking at Turkish’s route map, and it is nothing short of impressive. 302 destinations in 120 countries, wow! Interestingly, some of them being a one-stop flight (IST-HAV-CSS, IST-MLE-CMB, etc).
As the cabin crew were slowly done with setting up for arrival the light show eye sore that I would otherwise refer to as mood lighting came up. Blue to green to yellow to orange to red to purple… oh dear.
DESCENT & ARRIVAL
Soon, power reduced, nose pitched down, descent had well and truly commenced. I was quite intrigued to pinpoint some landmarks of this interesting city - doing so with minimal success. Descent was quite smooth for the most part, but we had to negotiate through some weather up in the clouds. Unfortunately however the nose camera broke - I am not sure why I have such terrible luck when it comes to landing nose view videos!
If you look closely, there *is* a wing there…
Lined up with Runway 23 and a generally smooth landing at 1445 hours local time, after flying for 10hr47min. Took most of the runway as we passed by the cargo terminal, and some abandoned birds - Bosphrous European Airways A300s which I found out of afterwards. Soon taxied towards the ramp, but it was evident it would be a remote bay parking.
Istanbul, busy as ever!
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While 23 was in use for landing, there were long lines of planes up in Runway 35R/L, but it looked like take offs were from Runway 17R/L: it looked like the planes were barely moving. Hmm, was this a bad sign? Amongst the Turkishs of different sizes was the Etihad A330 to Abu Dhabi, EY96, EgyptAir and Ukrainian International…
Look at that, 35s were in use for take offs…..NOT!
Parked at a remote spot close to the domestic terminal, was cool seeing us being marshaled in with the nose camera, but the person was standing on a ledge to guide the big beast in! Chocks on, doors open, 1458 hours - we were 17 minutes before time, a layover extended to over 5hr20min now. So guess who waited to let pretty much everyone disembark, in addition to formulating a game plan(e) to take pictures on the ramp. A couple of black coaches came in to pick up the business class folk, before we were taken in cobuses.
Thanked the crew and exited TC-JJY at 1507 hours, with not a whole of passengers around. This was the first time I was disembarking a Boeing 777 on the ramp without the fear of someone telling me not to photograph (Dubai being the last time…)
Clouds looked ominous, but I hoped it wouldn’t have too much of an impact on Istanbul’s traffic flow. Being one of the last passengers to disembark we had to wait a little bit to make sure everyone did in fact get off, and that no more coaches would be waiting. Perfect, more time to get amazing pictures of TC-JJY!
We eventually got going, past the domestic terminal where several Airbus and Boeing narrowbdoies were being prepared for their mission as we negotiated through the ground traffic - this was an accurate representation of Istanbul Ataturk’s current overcapacity - the vehicles looked like a swarm of ants going across a colony, with gusto.
Got off the bus at some international arrivals section, where someone checked our boarding passes before we were let in to the terminal. It was cramped with people going everywhere. I was in for an interesting layover ahead, and I could only hope that this wouldn’t take long at all…
Well, quite the roller coaster, I guess! From a seamless booking to the messy call center and manage my booking experience, and finished off with a pretty comfortable flight. Turkish Airlines is in fact an airline, so their first duty would be get passengers from A to B safely, first things first. In this day and age, given that Turkish is indeed one of the world’s biggest airlines, in a major alliance, etc etc, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of the information technology part of things. However, looking at the flight itself, I can tell you I was impressed with Turkish. A comfortable seat (helped by the empty middle seat), great IFE, amenities and a friendly crew. The first meal was quite nice, but breakfast was not so great. WiFi onboard was pretty much non-existent for me, for whatever reason. I was looking forward to see if Turkish’s product and offering was to change significantly on the Istanbul - New Delhi route.