Is This Europe’s Best Long Haul Airline?

Who is that handsome devil sipping a Woodford Reserve and pretending to work...?
Who is that handsome devil sipping a Woodford Reserve and pretending to work…?

I don’t write airline or hotel reviews on my site. My focus is travel literature.

But I had such a great flight on Turkish Airlines last week that I wanted to share it with you.

If you haven’t flown Turkish Airlines, then I recommend you give them a try. In my opinion, they are the best long haul airline in Europe in terms of hard product, catering and service.

I flew Turkish economy class last year to Chad (Malta – Rome – Istanbul – N’Djamena), and I was pleasantly surprised by both the legroom and the quality of catering. I think we’ve all become pessimistic with air travel, given that we seem to be paying more for so much less. But Turkish raises the bar here and reminds me of what air travel used to be like 10 or 20 years ago.

Last week I had the pleasure of flying Turkish again, for the short direct 2 hour hop from Malta to Istanbul, and onwards for 11 hours to Tokyo.

These days I only fly business class for long haul. Now, any business class flight (outside of intra-Europe business class, which is in serious need of improvement) is better than being herded into the increasingly cramped back of the bus. But Turkish takes it to a higher level on their 777 service.

Turkish Airlines flagship Istanbul lounge
Turkish Airlines flagship Istanbul lounge

It begins with a stop in the massive Turkish Airlines flagship lounge in Istanbul.

You really have to see this place to believe it. They have all the usual things you expect to find in a lounge: free food and complimentary premium bar service, wifi access, comfortable chairs, showers, lockers to store your luggage, and a quiet place to work.

But the Turkish lounge also has coffee bars (Turkish coffee, espresso or filter), a baklava bar, an olive bar, freshly baked pretzels, and Turkish bagels made by a chef while you watch.

And if you’ve got time to kill, you can play billiards, get a massage, play with the model car racetrack, watch a movie in the film screening room or test your skills on the putting range.

A three hour layover passes very quickly, even if you’re just sipping a Woodford Reserve bourbon and pretending to work, like me.

...or you can have Turkish tea if wine or cognac aren't your style...
…or you can have Turkish tea if wine or cognac aren’t your style…

The only thing about flying through Istanbul’s sprawling Ataturk Airport is that long haul’s tend to depart at strange times. Ours left at 1:10am.

Just walking to your flight is a trip through a vast range of cultures that you don’t tend to see in other European airports. Istanbul serves as a hub for flights to Africa and to obscure Central Asian cities. So it’s a bit like a caravanserai on the Silk Road.

Turkish has an outstanding hard product on the 777.
Turkish has an outstanding hard product on the 777.

We boarded our 777 from a remote gate, and took our seats in their spacious, well designed business class cabin. Seating was 6 across (2-2-2), but it was staggered such that, when looking to the side, you have a clear view right across to the windows on the opposite side. This gives the cabin a very open feel that I really appreciated. (Contrast this with British Airway’s far too crowded 8 across cabin, which I discuss below.)

There were so many highlights to this flight that I’ll confine myself to pointing out the parts I appreciated most.

Reading Geographical magazine as I wait for my pre-flight glass(es) of Tattinger...
Reading Geographical magazine as I wait for my pre-flight glass(es) of Tattinger…

The first was the staff. We were looked after by Mustafa, whose attention to detail and genuine sense of hospitality and enthusiasm made the entire journey a pleasure. He and the two female attendants who looked after our area (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch their names) were outstanding. The best service I’ve experienced in the air.

Next, the catering. Their menu, especially for flights out of Istanbul, is absolutely first rate. I don’t know what to say except this simply doesn’t taste like airplane food.

The pumpkin soup made an excellent starter...
The pumpkin soup made an excellent starter…

Each meal begins with a nice fresh assortment of Turkish mezza, and then a chef in a chef’s hat comes down the aisle to take your order. The fish was better than anything I’ve eaten in Malta — yeah, in the Mediterranean, at a seaside fish restaurant.

And when it was time for dessert, they brought out the dessert trolley, as you’d expect in any fine restaurant. They didn’t just offer a choice of foil wrapped packages or prearranged plates. Mustafa assembled a dessert plate for each of us, from a selection of Turkish sweets, cheese, chocolate and fresh fruit.

This fish was better than anything I’ve eaten in Malta — yeah, in the Mediterranean, at a seaside fish restaurant.
This fish was better than anything I’ve eaten in Malta — yeah, in the Mediterranean, at a seaside fish restaurant.

The wine selection was excellent, featuring Turkish, French, Spanish and Argentine wines. I laid the foundation with a pre-departure glass of Tattinger champagne, which I decided to continue once in the air. I enjoyed a very nice Chateau Lamothe with my meal, and then rounded things off with The Glenlivet 15 year old single malt, aged in French Oak.

There were 3 Scotch whiskeys available, as well as a bourbon, cognac, Turkish raki, and the usual gin, beer, vodka, etc.

Perusing the wine list. I'm anticipating a busy night...
Perusing the wine list. I’m anticipating a busy night…

The hard product was also among the best I’ve experienced. Seating is extremely spacious. My feet just reached the fixed ottoman, and I had 4 windows to look out of in my personal section. When I wanted to sleep, Mustafa brought a soft padded cover for my seat and a duvet. And the flat bed was long enough that I could stretch out completely, all 6’3” of me.

Compare this to British Airways 777, my most frequent long haul carrier. THIS review sums it up nicely. BA crams 8 across in their business class cabin. Yes, they’re fully flat, which is the least I expect on long haul business class. But the seat is narrow, it’s not quite long enough for me, and the cabin feels claustrophobic. Flying in an aisle seat — which seems to be inevitable when traveling alone — means very little privacy or space. And the food is consistently “just okay”, though the service tends to be very good.

But it does get worse. Though Emirates A380 service boasts a stand up bar in business class and the most comfortable flat bed I’ve ever slept in, their 777 service still has angled rather than fully flat seats. And because the entire upper deck of the A380 is business class, the service I experienced on a flight to Tokyo was far slower and less responsive than it should have been This despite Emirates being one of the more expensive business class products in the air.

Much of Lufthansa’s fleet also uses the older angled seating for business class. And their ticket prices can be even more outrageous.

Yeah, Turkish does candlelight dining...
Yeah, Turkish does candlelight dining…

Turkish Airlines doesn’t just deliver a far superior hard and soft product. They also undercut British Airways, Emirates and the other European flagship carriers by a wide margin on price.

The next time I visit home, I will seriously consider flying the extra 2 hours east to Istanbul to pick up the Turkish flight to Toronto, rather than taking the much more direct and far shorter Frankfurt (Air Canada) or London (BA or Air Canada) routes. The price and the superior service are worth a little extra time in the air. In fact, that’s almost a perk in itself.

If Turkish is an option on your next long or short haul route, give them a try. I guarantee you’ll be a fan.

I enjoyed a very nice Chateau Lamothe...
I enjoyed a very nice Chateau Lamothe…
Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2016
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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

1 Comment

  • Wow!

    Sounds amazing! Will look for one when i travel in about 8 weeks

    Reading this makes me want to fly somewhere tomorrow! Oh well…i’ll just have to wait for it


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