???? ???! ????? ?????? ???? ???????????? ?????? ??? ??? A3 ????? ???? IST-ATH. This is the fourth flight in this itinerary all taken on August 2014. A bit of a warning, this post may contain a lot of photos. ????!
For those who are joining us today and have not checked out my other reports of this trip, feel free to check among the following:
The nice thing when planning with miles on UA, you can plan an itinerary on one-way segments rather than round trip. This gives greater flexibility in finding desired flights and making interesting itineraries. Since my round-the-world birthday trip in 2013, I wanted to return to Vienna and spend a few days enjoying the city. So now I needed to find a way to get from IST to VIE. Surprisingly when looking for flights, there was no available nonstop flights using mileage from IST to VIE either on TK or OS, with a slight preference to TK as I would be OS a bit later in this trip. Some interesting itineraries popped up including flying the 9W-leased 77W with TK in J from IST-LHR and then LH doing LHR-FRA-VIE or TK A332 IST-BCN and then LX doing BCN-GVA-VIE. This is the one itinerary I actually took my time researching because I could not decide on for the longest time. I ended up letting the LHR option slip my hands until I came across this option.
Out of nowhere one day, I noticed an interesting itinerary pop up. I could leave IST late in the evening and be in VIE in the afternoon the following day. I remember it came up when I extended my vacation an extra day. It would also mean flying on a brand new airline and revisiting two airports. This trip report would now cover my very first trip on A3 from IST to ATH.
On my last day in ?stanbul, I woke up early for a quick trip to Asia going via the ferry and returning via the brand new Mamaray Line. This was my first time in a predominantly Muslim country and it was very interesting to see how secular life and traditional life cohabitate.
To back up a bit, A3 allows one to check-in 48hrs before the flight, so I had already checked in just under the 48hr mark. The J cabin looked full via online check-in with only 2 rows for J. I initially reserved 1D when I checked in. I was able to get a Passbook version of my A3 boarding passes saved to my iPhone.
My current collection of Star Alliance Passbook Boarding Passes
Initially I wanted to have taken the tram/train option back to IST as the tram was just a few steps away from my hotel. However, when I experienced how crammed it can get in there, especially in the direction to Zeytinburnu, I opted for taking a car service back to the airport. Because I did not know how bad traffic would be to IST on a Saturday afternoon, I left the Sultanahmet area around 18:00. The ride took about 45min and not bad for 52TRL.
Passed by this, the bid logo for ?stanbul 2020, which ended up going to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
We arrived at Entrance B of the Check-in Hall, which had lots of people packing, unpacking, and repacking prior to going inside. All bags needed to go through an initial x-ray screening. One side was busy with tons of travelers heading back to Central Asian destinations, while the other side was rather empty. I chose the empty side since it did not matter which side you chose.
Buses dropping off hordes of passengers
It only took about 5min to get through the initial xray security. This initial screening is nothing new to me, but it would be a pain if I was stuck behind the hordes of Central Asians that went shopping. Once through, I made it to the rather expansive, and a bit drab departure hall. It reminded me of BKK’s, with less of a metallic feel.
TK check-in desks and self-service kiosks.
Hundreds of passengers trying to check in at many TK Y desks
I tried to see if A3 opened their desks early so I could check out TK’s ?stanbul Lounge, but I feared the desks would not open until 2hr before the flight, rather than 3hrs. Thus, I walked around and check out the layout of the departure hall. I noticed the food hall upstairs and in a rare chance decided to get something to eat as I had eaten a very large breakfast at my hotel, but only snacked on some simit and roasted corn from the street vendors for lunch. I noticed the airport has a viewing deck, however, I saw it packed with employee workers in need of their nicotine fix. I guess a few male agents were stressed out as they would be smoking two cigarettes at a time. With my luggage and again the crowdedness, I passed on the viewing deck.
When I would visit HKG, I would be tempted to try Popeyes at the airport, but I end up not doing it. I had seen a few Popeyes outlets during my visit, but there would be no way I would try that while visiting the city. Once I got to the airport, there were no Turkish options that intrigued me, so I figured I might as well try it out and see if it is like anything that I am used to back home.
Do I love that chicken from Popeyes in Turkey?
My “spicy” meal
I will say, I know Turks like a bit of heat in their food, but I was slightly disappointed that this was nowhere near spicy. I did ask if it was spicy, and the guy exchanged it with spicy, but it just did not have that heat that I like with Popeyes. It was still good for fried chicken, and it helped pass the time while I watched check-in lines grow and shrink as people made their way airside.
View during late afternoon snack
Once done, it was time to check out where people were heading, especially with those with carts full of bags! Among the sounds heard were the sounds of bags getting plastic-wrapped along with the loud screeches of packing tape.
Airline ticket counters and food hall above.
Mini art gallery in the center of the Departure Hall
I wonder how much they will charge for overage fees, if they do?
I do have to comment on the hundreds of passengers with ridiculous amount of checked in baggage. I learned, at least in ?stanbul, that August is a big shopping month where all retail outlets have tons of sales. These people bought a lot, and probably will bring them back home to sell. The majority of these passengers were women who did more than the normal ladies shopping holiday. Some men and kids did join them, but mostly women.
TK queue for ASB (Ashgabat, Turkmenistan) separate from the normal TK counters probably because of the baggage fees.
Check-in line for SCO (Aktau, Kazakhstan) with DV (SCAT). It just sounds a bit wrong to say “I’m flying SCAT!”
At this time that I visited IST, they have some interesting airlines flying to some interesting destinations. Again, SCAT Airlines of Kazakhstan is one of those I have only read about, and discovered its an acronym for Special Cargo Air Transport. While I would see these people check-in, by the time I would get airside, it would be too dark to get any decent pictures since I preferred to hang out at the TK lounge than walk around the airport.
J check-in for J2 to GYD (Baku).
Y check-in for J2 was previously the Y check-in for EK.
Special passport control and security for TK priority fliers.
J check-in for KC to ALA
Long Y check-in line for KC to ALA.
Empty ME counters for flight to BEY.
A3 counters setting for tonight’s flight to ATH.
FIDS indicating check-in counters as well as status.
Self-service kiosk that would allow me to check in for my A3 flight. If only it would also let me drop off my bag right now.
SV counters for MED.
A bunch of Americans getting bumped or displaced by TK.
Around 19:50, the Celebi ground handling staff started to set up the A3 counters. Ten minutes later they started checking in passengers. A *G member had already queued up before me on the the J line. There had been a sizeable group queuing up for Y check-in.
Greek lady queuing early at A3 counters.
J counter for A3
When it was my turn, the agent smiled, and I greeted with Merhaba. As he was typing away, I hear the boarding pass printer spit out two A3 cardstock boarding passes. He noticed that I have a long layover in ATH and asked if I would like to check my bags all the way to ZRH or not. I asked if I could pick it up at ATH. I then hear the buzz of the baggage tag machine spit out my tag to ATH. He put a priority tag on it and I watched it make its way underneath the bowels of IST. He put my connecting boarding pass inside my passport and showed me my IST-ATH boarding pass with the baggage tag receipt stuck to the back of it. Finally he told me about the Fast Track lane I could use to get airside a bit faster. With that he wished me a good flight. Minimal, but effective interaction. I kept my cardstock boarding pass and utilized the kiosk-generated one.
Kiosk-generated boarding pass and a Fast Track card
I tried to go airside through the special TK ?stanbul Lounge channel, but I was turned away since agent said only for TK priority passengers. She did say I could enter the lounge once airside. I did not mind because I was curious anyway to see how crazy IST is once airside on the departure side of things.
HY 274 (Uzbekistan Airlines) check-in counters still open checking in passengers to TAS (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
It took a while to find the Fast Track lane since it was very unassuming on the farthest lane. They had an agent that checks to see if you have the appropriate voucher to use the line. Then you walk a couple of steps to where an agent takes the voucher, while another agent checks to ensure I have a boarding pass. I am then directed to the bored passport control officer, who checks out my passport, scans it, stamps it, and nudges it to indicate he’s done with it. Finally, I make it to a rather empty security line. A total of 4min and I am finally airside.
First view airside.
I was actually amazed at how massive it feels airside. I wish I could have checked in early and be airside when many of the European flights departed. While it was still crowded, it felt relatively calm. I checked out what was on offer while I made my way to the lounge.
Is my flight listed?
It’s listed by no gate yet.
Any last minute gifts that I forgot to buy?
Families waiting at a Caffe Nero waiting for their flights to list gate numbers.
Hmmm … Victoria’s Secret or Simit Sarayi? I’ll go for the simits, thank you!
Airside entrance to TK’s ?stanbul lounge.
It was finally time to check out what has been billed as one of the best airline lounges in the world, the TK ?stanbul Lounge. Upon entering, most of the lounge agents were busy trying to help passengers who would like to enter the lounge, but had no status at all. Another agent was available to guide those entering by showing them where to scan their boarding passes. It feels like you are going through a long subway-like turnstyle, but there was no turnstyle, and the 2D barcode scanner seems oddly placed on the side rather than on the top.
My little hand carry in a glass locker and walked around just to soak up the entire lounge.
When I entered the lounge, I was amazed at the arrangement. I will just let the pictures do a bit of the talking.
Upon entering from the locker area, view to left.
Library and pool table
The wall of TV’s on various news channels from around the region and world.
“Cool” drinks. Most drink stations had just been replenished, so there were rarely any cold drinks on hand.
Çay (Tea) Station
Hot station behind the glass window
Do&Co Desserts Gallore!
Jellies and Pistachio Lokum
Tonight’s selection of hot items.
First round of food.
My minor complaint of the first round of my meal was that the lamb was just a bit too dry for me while the chicken was juicy. The desserts were delicious, but I had to be careful eating them because of the almonds. The lemonade was nice and refreshing. Was hoping they had some sort of fresh cherry drink, but all they had were the “cool” juice cans. After finishing the first round, I got a second helping of the chicken and tried a couple of the mezzes. However, I did not take a photo of the second and third rounds. I was already full from the Popeyes, and I doubted I would get anything to eat tonight on my A3 flight. To take a break, I continued walking around both floors.
I like to call this part “The Global Stairway”.
The location of this piano makes it feel like it’s in a wintry setting.
Fresh fruit stand.
Yum … Limonata!
A delicious sour cherry, chamomile, and lavender tea.
Another delicious tea with mint, fennel, and date syrup.
Small salad bar
Another view of the “Global Stairs”
Lower level TV area
Snack lounge and the TK racecourse in the distance.
The TK Open, Closed.
TK 77W model on the racecourse.
Another piano area on the lower level
Computer area and snacks on the lower level
Fresh Ayran, very interesting and probably would have made the lamb meatballs a bit more enjoyable.
Pasta of the Day
My flight will depart from Gate 220.
Lahmacun, a Turkish pizza with different toppings
Trabzon butter, I did not try it.
Yum! Simit! Well, Simit Sarayai is a lot better.
An interesting collection of teas promoting wellness.
I noticed I was running out of power on my iPhone and iPad, so I took a break while I was on the lower level to let them recharge while I relaxed and collected my thoughts to write my reports. The lounge offered free WiFi and I used the opportunity to do a bit of FaceTime with my parents and to check-in on my dog. The one thing I did not do that I should have so I would have felt squeaky clean was to have checked out the shower facilities. I will say the lower level WC felt like a lounge in itself when I made a quick pit stop. In terms of my fellow travelers, the lounge was not busy at all. I image it would be, especially around the time many of the North American and European flights depart. By 22:00, I decided to go ahead and make my way to my gate since I was not sure how far I would have to walk.
I just want to take a feather and tickle his feet just so we don’t have to see those piggies.
TK … Widen Your World. I thought it was Globally Yours!
My second minor complaint of the lounge is the lack of views, whether it is the busy departure area or any aircraft movements. I appreciate a lounge that has an amazing view of airplane movements. The only view you could peer out to would be the driveway to departure drop-off.
Pool table and library
Apparently they were doing some filming, but I did not see any filming going on.
At this time, the airport started getting quieter. I guess I kept on expecting that the airport would be packed. Probably at this time, fewer flights depart. I had expected for a long walk to my gate, but I lucked out that with the lounge being relatively close to my gate.
Heading towards the gate on a travelator. The lounge is seen on the right.
Hey! It’s my gate, just on the other side of the lounge.
My flight is code-shared with OA as well as TK on my flight ATH.
When I got to the gate close , the Celebi ground staff had just arrived via the jetway. They actually gave a message about a 10min delay in boarding. Tonight's flight actually had a nice mix of passengers. I would say just about half of those flying that night were Greek nationals returning home from holidays in Turkey. A quarter of the flight composed of fellow Americans who came off TK-North American flights. I walked around the gate lounge to see if I could capture a photo of any aircraft movements.
Blurry pic of the SX-OGB taking me to ATH tonight.
KC A320 to ALA finishing up boarding at Gate 219, a possible W5 A310 heading back to THR, and a TK A330 at Gate 218.
Passengers waiting to board my A3 flight to ATH.
By 22:15, the Celebi staff had finished setting up for the flight and called for pre-boarding of J passengers, Miles & Bonus Gold, and *A Gold card members. Since I was the closest person to the boarding area, I was the first one to board. I handed over my kiosk-generated boarding pass for the agent to scan and then I was on my way down the jetway.
Glass jetway attached to the building.
Covered jetway connecting to the plane.
A beautiful younger FA and an equally beautiful Purser saw me approaching and welcomed me with “???? ???!” and in kind I replied “?????????!” which brought a smile to them. Immediately I am amazed by the beauty of the FAs on this flight. While it was Summertime, I understand the ladies not needing to wear something to cover their arms. However, I do wonder what do they wear when temperatures get colder. Do they wear tight-like material that OS FAs wear underneath their sleeveless dresses.
View of cabin from my seat.
Like my LX flight from ORD-ZRH, I was actually rather excited to be flying A3 for the first time, and wished I would continue on A3 to VIE, but did I could not find a decent flight arrival into VIE. Once I got situated, the FA that welcomed me asked if I would like a pre-departure drink, suggesting if I would like to try some Greek wine. I said thank you and asked to try the white wine. As she went to fix my drink, I checked out my surroundings.
Front view from my seat.
For a couple of minutes, another passenger and I were the only passengers to have pre-boarded. I took that time to take some extra pictures. In the mean time, the FA brought over my Greek white wine, while Purser Maria welcomed me on board and handed out the menu for tonight’s flight. Wow, for this evening flight, I would get an actual meal? After Maria handed me the menu, the FA held out a basket if I would like any boiled sweets.
Middle-seat tray table
White wine, menu, and A3 some boiled sweets
About five minutes later, the rush of Y passengers boarded the plane while I perused the items in my seatback pocket. We would have a decent load tonight to ATH. Within 10minutes, the majority of passengers had boarded and we waited a bit for paperwork to be finalized from Celebi to the flight deck and to Maria.
Celebi ground staff waiting to finish up loading up before pushback.
At the time of of departure, 22:40, they had closed the main cabin doors while Maria called for doors to be cross-checked. Maria then powered up the safety video while the FAs took positions during the video, similar to UA FA’s. When the video finished, we still sat at the gate. The captain had announced that there would be a slight delay because of a bit of traffic in the taxiways.
TK 738 getting ready for departure somewhere.
I believe HY 767 heading back to TAS.
Finally we started our way towards towards 35R. The other FAs ensured everyone was belted in and ready for the flight. As they walked up and down the aisle, they looked like fashion models walking up-and-down the runway. Their uniforms and their presentation enhanced this fashion model look. All were nice and smiling. The one thing I was curious about is whether there is any significance to the color of scarf they wore. Maria and the FA who offered me the wine wore white scarves, while the other 2 FAs mainly in Y wore blue ones.
While we had a slight delay because of the traffic in the taxiway, once we pushed back, we immediately leaped into air on our way to ATH. Maria gave her welcome in Greek and English, followed by messages from the flight deck. Immediately after the FAs were released and the seat belts turned off. The FAs did a full service run. With only 4 in J tonight, Maria mainly worked our cabin, while the FAs had their own cart and section and did a speedy service giving a sandwich, nuts, and a drink.
Oshibori and drink run
Maria first did an oshibori that was rather lukewarm, which was fine. It was still hot in the cabin and wish she used iced-cold water on the oshibori. Next, Maria went to each customer and asked what they would like to drink and if we would partake in the small meal available tonight. It was nice that we got menus for this flight. However, the catering that A3 uses at IST did not load anything mentioned in the menu with only one chicken meal and the rest seafood meal, which included items I could not eat due to my food allergies. Either way, I asked for the meal so I could add to this lengthy trip report.
After ordering the meal, Maria placed this white A3 mat down.
Tonight’s meal. While it looked appetizing, I ended up not eating it because of the pinenuts. The creamy dish was OK. Either way, this seems a lot better than the snack given on a 3hr+ flight on UA domestic flights in F.
If I remember correctly, this was the only flight that utilized fancy-looking plastic utensils. I was getting a bit tired and I believe I passed out while during the meal as I did not really the meal. Probably Maria or one of the wondering FAs saw I had fallen asleep and picked up my tray and returned my tray table to its upright position. Before I knew it, I could hear the dings and the heavy walking of the FAs to indicate we would soon be arriving into ATH.
Peering out of the window, I could see the lights of the suburban towns of Athens. I tried to take a video of the arrival, but it was too dark to catch anything. I then noticed the IKEA as we touched down on 03L. As the wheels touched the runway, a couple of passengers in Y started clapping, just like my TK flight. We taxied around, passing by the rather empty satellite concourse as we made our way to the hard stand on the opposite side of the main terminal.
Finally we pulled into hard stand while we waited for the ground staff to set up stairs and whatever else. The FA who served me wine back in IST closed the curtain to the F cabin to let the 4 of us in J deplane at our own leisure. When I collected my stuff, I thanked Maria with “E???????? ????!” and she graciously smiled and replied “????????!”
After stepping of the plane.
SX-OGB had the pleasure of taking me to ATH tonight.
I was the last one to deplane from the J cabin. I tried to take a few pictures as I was walking to the bus, but one of the A3 staff kindly ushered me into the bus. What I did not know was that we would have our own bus back to the terminal and they were waiting for me to board so they could then deplane the rest of the passengers. This was a first getting such a big Cobus bus to take me and three others to the main terminal.
In terms of highlights being bussed to/from a plane, this has to rank and the second most memorable one. The first one was at CDG many years ago flying CDG-IAH on an AF A340-300, the day the Concorde returned back into service. I noticed a bunch of people on the ground getting all excited and then I immediately noticed AF employees surrounding a Concorde. I excitedly grabbed my camera and was about to be admonished by the Asian ground staff until I pointed to the Concorde, and she allowed me to take a few pics. On the downside, I cannot find those pics I took. On the plus side, all passengers on my flight were given a small model Concorde to signify its temporary return to the skies.
Hologram prior to Greek Immigration.
After the bus ride, we immediately end up at passport control. The area had 6 desks and only 2 opened, one just for EU passport holders, and the second for all passport. I got directed to the EU lane as the officer had not been ready for me. The officer at the EU line had no problem with me there, and then just stamped my entry into the EU.
Baggage Belt 1 at ATH
It’s all Greek to me! ;-)
Since I was among the first off the plane, I waited about 10minutes before the bags started to appear. My suitcase immediately showed up and it was time to find a place to hangout while I wait for the LX counters to open up.
My trip so far courtesy of gcmaps.com.
Turkish Airlines Lounge
Istanbul - ISX
Athens - ATH
A3 really impressed me. The Celebi staff were efficient, yet once I stepped on board SX-OGB, Maria and her beautiful co-workers truly impressed me. Their warm smiles and happy attitudes seemed to infectious on this flight. Now I had read trip reports with great A3 staff, and it is nice to know the staff on this flight are proud of their airline, even on a late night flight home. I hope to fly them many times as I have become a new Miles & Bonus member as I give less and less to UA.
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