This was my second trip in less than a year and I must confess that I have fallen in love with Istanbul. For me it's not only its architecture, food, or sights that make this place so compelling, but the element of surprise that wows me when I least expect it.
Being surprised at the sight of something unexpected when you turn around a corner, the recipient of someone's kindness or invited into a restaurant's kitchen to select the day's specials are moments that make up for unforgettable memories. More than anything Istanbul can sometimes feel edgy around the edges which makes it exciting and real. Istanbul has bewitched me and will be back for more.
I thought this is meant to be when I came across a $642.90 RT total from SFO to IST on TK back in June on cheapoair's site. The fare was available for Nov/Dec. and I immediately booked it for mid November. Since I am a foodie and was already intrigued by Turkish cuisine through a visit to Asitane restaurant back in March, I decided to concentrate more on the city's culinary side on this trip. As a result I made a list of a couple of places that I wanted to visit on my own and booked a half day tour with Istanbul Eats towards the end of my stay that took me through its markets and eateries.
I was looking forward to flying TK, even in Y as I was somewhat familiar with what to expect from them. I knew that the hard product was going to be very good based on previous reviews from Flyertalk.com and other sites. As a regular contributor to sites like airplanefood.net and airlinemeals.net, the meals that I saw from TK did not disappoint and actually looked excellent compared to its competitors.
I flew SFO-LAX via AA and the flight was uneventful. Since AA's T4 is next to Tom Bradley, it was an easy walk that took about 5 minutes (maybe I walk fast). The TK counter was not too busy and I was waited on in a couple of minutes. Today's flight was not very full and I inquired about an upgrade to Comfort Class. The agent said that there was no problem and directed me to the ticketing line at the end of the counter. The line was not clearly marked and I saw two agents in charge of ticketing. As more people came to the line to pay for upgrades and excess baggage charges, the single line transformed itself into 2 lines with some people jumping ahead of others confused as to where to go. TK should really post clearer signs and cordon off the lines better.
Once at the front the ticketing agent was polite, smiling and processed my upgrade manually since they were having problems with the computers. I paid $300 and she referred me to another agent in a different counter for seat assignment. I was given 19G which is an aisle from the center row. Seat configuration is 2-3-2 just like in J. For an international terminal serving a major hub LAX TBIT sucks. I forgot my guidebooks when I rushed out of my place and wanted to buy a new one at the airport. TBIT only has 1 bookstore outside of security and they did not have any travel books on Turkey. Over at the Compass bookstore inside AA's T2 in SFO, I was able to find 3 different publications on Istanbul and this is a domestic terminal.
Security was quick and once inside I felt that I have stepped into a secondary airport somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Is this an intl. terminal? One long hallway with a few rest rooms scattered around, a very small duty free/souvenir shop and maybe one or two places to grab something to eat.
At the gate, people were filling in and at around 1810 boarding has started. The first boarding group was D which is reserved for J and Elites. Since I am *A Silver through UA, I inquired if I could join this group and the agent obliged gladly. Once I stepped inside the jetbridge I saw a lot of families with children in the line as well. At the plane entrance, there was a cart on the side of the jetbridge with newspapers and other publications. Two female FA's were welcoming pax. One in regular uniform and the other dressed as a chef. I was directed to the right side of the plane and settled in my seat quickly. A package with blanket and pillow, along with headphones were on each seat. I noticed towards the end of boarding that the last row with seats 20AB was empty. I inquired about switching and one of the FA's advised me to wait until after take off. A few minutes later FA's distributed the amenity kits and slippers from a cart. The Comfort cabin seems very spacious for a Premium Economy product and the seats are the old business class ones that have 46 seat pitch with great padding. You can find more information about Comfort class http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-int/travel-experience#ComfortClasshere.
Comfort Class cabin
Amenity kit and slipper
Once the door closed, the FA's turned on the mood lighting feature while the plane headed to the runway. During take off lights were turned off and the cabin was dark. Lights were turned back on when the plane reached cruising altitude after one ring. At this point I grabbed my things and moved to seats 20AB. FA's started the service with hot towels followed by printed menus. The one working on my side was very accommodating and smiling, although her English skills could be better.
Drink service followed and when I asked the FA for sour cherry juice she advised me that they were out of it, so I was offered tomato, orange, apple or peach flavored ice tea instead. Sour cherry juice is almost a national drink in Turkey, how can they run out of it, especially this early and in a premium cabin? I wonder if the LAX kitchen even provisioned it correctly. I opted for peach flavored ice tea since you don't see this everyday flying domestically and a glass of water. TK uses regular plastic glasses here so don't expect any glassware. Minutes later the FA appeared with a plate of canapes which consisted of 3 items (zucchini rolled up with cheese, smoked salmon with a filling of cheese with capers and onion, and a piece of bread with perhaps more cheese smeared on it) along with with a bowl of cold hazelnuts. The canapes were a nice introduction to the meal service but they did not come with a fork or toothpick to pick them up. On that note, I think a couple of napkins would be nice as well.
After the canapes plates were cleared, FA's offered our meals from a cart and refreshed our drinks. The onboard chef offered freshly baked rolls from a basket. There were 2 choices (chicken rigatoni or prime beef burger) and the meal came with a large salad and appetizer which were very well presented. Salad was fresh and crisp and the grilled artichokes were a nice addition. The scallop ceviche appetizer served with tabbouleh and humus was equally brilliant and the grilled chicken rigatoni was the best pasta dish that I have had on a plane. Afterwards a dessert tray composed of 2 petite cakes, cheese, and fresh fruits was distributed along with tea or coffee. Once the dinner service concluded, the FA distributed individual small bottles of water (Saka brand) throughout the cabin. For those that love to nibble after the main meal, there were Sara Lee banana muffins and small cheese sandwiches in the galley.
Appetizer with salad
Dessert and cheese plate
Snacks from the galley
As a Comfort class pax, I could access the J lavatory and it was well stocked and spacious. The sink reminded me of the ones that CX has in F. There were toiletries from the Turkish brand Natural Creativity Selection EST. 1923 in Verbena with Citrus scent. However, towards the end of the flight, I feel that FA's could have paid more attention to the cleanliness of the lavs.
FA's practically disappeared after the meal service with a very occasional presence walking back and forth between cabins from time to time. At around 1.5 hours before arrival, the mood lighting was turned on to gently awaken pax for the breakfast service. Hot towels were offered again and FA's removed the foil from your dishes before handing the tray. FA's were polite for the most part if not overly engaging. However, I felt that the chef could have been a bit more customer friendly. She felt very aloof and robotic in her tasks.
The breakfast was a mushroom omelette served with fruits and cheese with cucumber, tomato and an olive. By the time I got the omelette, it was lukewarm and not very hot.
Cabin with mood lighting
We descended into Istanbul in the late afternoon just as the sun was going down. Passing through Immigrations and Customs was pretty quick and US passport holders need to pay a $20 upon arrival visa before going through Immigration. There is a desk opposite Immigrations where you can get this.
Los Angeles - LAX
Istanbul - ISX
TK's Comfort Class is an excellent product and is comparable to what airlines used to offer as Business Class in the 1980's. I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience this cabin on TK's longest route. Catering is excellent and my upgrade for USD $300.00 was very well spent. This cabin is the best in its class.
I find it puzzling that TK has plans to eliminate Comfort Class in the future. There is definitely a market segment that is willing to pay for a bit more comfort without spending money for a full business ticket. Several Asian carriers like JAL, EVA and Cathay offer Premium Economy between the US. and Asia, especially West Coast so the market is there. I honestly think that TK has not marketed this product well. Just look at how many airlines are installing a Premium Economy cabin nowadays. TK should capitalize on its hub @ IST and offer it as a free stopover to attract passengers from the USA to Asia and India in conjunction with Comfort Class fares. I hope that TK starts flying from SFO - my hub airport soon.
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