Up until a few weeks ago I’d only ever flown to Turkey with the usual holiday airlines, Easyjet, Thomson, Thomascook, Monarch, and once with Pegasus. I’d never flown with a slightly more higher class scheduled airline like Turkish airlines, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the stopover at Istanbul. However, in January there were no other options unless I flew to Antalya which was far from ideal, so after much persuasion from friends who have done this same journey many times, I plucked up the courage to book my flight from London to Dalaman via Istanbul Atatürk.
I panic about the smallest of things, and having to find my way around a strange new, very busy airport was my worst nightmare. All sorts were running around my head, would I have to pick up my suitcase between airports, how long would be enough time between flights, what would happen if I missed one, what if I got lost and ended up on the wrong plane… some really irrational thoughts went through my head! I can honestly say though, even with the stopover in Istanbul, Turkish airlines are the best airline I’ve ever flown with and they were the best flights I’ve had.
The biggest bonus about Turkish Airlines is the fact you get free food and drink on board. I haven’t had meals on planes for years, I never bother because I think they’re very overpriced and not that great. But these Turkish airlines meal options were really impressive, although definitely very ‘Turkish’ so may not appeal to all tastes. Just after take off on the international flights we got given a little menu with 2 different meal options listed (but I believe there are more meal options available if you specify you require a special meal in advance when booking). The menu had a meat dish and a vegetarian dish, and you just tell the air steward your choice when they bring the food trolley out. On my flight out to Istanbul we had a choice of pasta or meatballs. I had the kofte (meatballs), served with rice and kuru fasulye (beans), patlican (aubergine), cream cheese and crackers, a bread roll, butter and a berry yogurt/mousse. This came with a choice of drinks, including alcoholic ones, but I settled for orange juice and water. Also quite excitingly, the cutlery was ‘real’ and made of metal, instead of flimsy plastic.
Coming back from Istanbul to Gatwick, the meal wasn’t quite as nice, but still amazing considering it was included in the price. This time it was a choice of fish or pasta and I opted for the fish – grilled salmon, served with mashed potato and black lentils, along with cacik (garlic, mint and cucumber yogurt), cream cheese and crackers, a bread roll, butter and a chocolate mousse.
On the internal/domestic flight we also got a mini-meal which I wasn’t expecting! The flight was an hour long so as soon as the cabin crew’s seat belt lights went off they grabbed the food trolley and began serving us cute food packages, designed to look like picnic baskets with little handles. On the outbound Istanbul – Dalaman flight we got given a turkey, cheese and salad sandwich, a pot of aubergine and a banana and chocolate mousse, and on the return flight we got a cheese and salad sandwich, a pot of olives, cucumber and tomato and a slice of vanilla chocolate cake.
The cabin crew also served tea and coffee throughout the International flights, and gave us a small, well presented piece of Turkish delight just after take-off, which was a nice touch. The crew were really friendly, smiley and helpful and I liked the way the chef stood with his white hat on at the entrance to the plane welcoming everyone aboard too. Another nice touch was the way they played a bit of music when landing, it’s such a small thing and a simple concept but it really made me smile.. although not so much when I was landing back in the miserable UK!
The other main bonus when flying with Turkish Airlines is the fact each seat has a personal entertainment system built into them. Normally I just sit and entertain myself by watching a film on my iPad or listening to music and doing a puzzlebook, but I really enjoyed having the entertainment system to use. It had the most recent movies, even ones not yet on DVD such as the new James Bond movie, lots of movies of all different genres, TV programmes, music and games… great for keeping kids amused too. My favourite part was the tracker telling us how far into the flight we were, which countries we were flying over, the altitude and how far to destination we were.
The seats had a bit more legroom that I normally get flying with Thomascook etc, although Easyjet are pretty good in that department too. The only one negative thing I can think of is how hot it was on board the plane. Normally when boarding I’m always a little hot and bothered, but mid-flight I’ve usually got my blanket or jacket out and like to get cosy – but all 4 of my flights with Turkish Airlines were hot and stuffy and that made it rather uncomfortable towards the end. It was so hot that at one point I was fanning myself with the ‘what do to in an emergency’ card and fellow passengers were asking them to turn down the heaters – I think it must be a Turkish thing, they’re afraid of a tiny bit of cold air, especially if its being blown out through vents like the ones above the seats on planes. It was bearable but definitely a problem, and I’ll make a note next time to wear removable layers rather than just a long sleeved top or jumper!
The best part of all was that the stopover at Istanbul wasn’t nearly as traumatising as I thought it would be, and it also meant I got to see Istanbul, even if it was only from above it still looked beautiful! When we got off the London-Istanbul flight we exited the plane via steps which was quite exciting as I haven’t done that for years. Then we got on a transfer bus which took us from the tarmac to the arrivals section of the airport, it was well signposted for international arrivals and for those of us with non-Turkish passports. I queued up with my visa and passport and went through passport control then exited the airport and followed signs to the domestic terminal, it only took around 15mins to walk to it. I didn’t have to collect my suitcase or check in again as I already had been given my boarding pass for the 2nd flight when I checked into the first at Gatwick, so I just went through security and found my gate. I had 2 hours to wait til my flight so I found a free wifi-spot to catch up on some internet time! (Note – Starbucks and Cafe Nero use the same free wifi host and you can register and join the network for free.. I didn’t even buy a drink, just stood outside for an hour taking advantage of the connection!) Also worth noting that even though my 2nd flight landed at the domestic terminal of Dalaman, we had to board a bus to be taken to the international terminal as our luggage still had to clear customs. It led to some confusion for Berkay because despite me researching this before hand and telling him, he was parked up waiting at the domestic terminal! D’oh! The return journey was pretty much the same and just as easy – I flew from the domestic terminal so all I had to do was check in and go through security, no passport control until I landed at Istanbul and entered the international terminal. International departures at Istanbul Atatürk is HUGE, very busy and quite overwhelming. I had a 4 hour wait so again found a spot next to Cafe Nero and sat on the floor next to the escalators using the WiFi. There were a few duty free shops, as well as several designer shops like YSL and Chanel, and a lot of cafes.. I didn’t explore much but I realised how large the airport was when I went to to the toilet and it took me 10-15minutes to find my way back to where I was previously sat. There were hundreds of flights departing too so the departure board looked quite impressive! When my gate eventually popped up I made my way to it and we were taken onto another bus from there and driven to the plane where we boarded up the steps, so much more satisfying than walking through the usual covered walkways to the plane!
All in all, my experience of Turkish airlines was a good one and I will recommend them to anyone and everyone. If you’re in two minds about whether to book with them because of the stopovers in Istanbul, don’t let it put you off, it really wasn’t that bad. When booking your connecting flight make sure you have around 2 hours in between them so that you are able to find your way through the airport and to the correct gate without getting too stressed out and rushed.The best part of all for me, is how cheap the flights were – I paid £141 return, for effectively 4 flights with 23kg of hold luggage, 8kg of hand luggage, inflight meals and drinks all included. Despite my original fears and usual dismissal of Turkish Airlines purely due to the stopover, I would have no hesitation whatsoever about booking with them again, if they worked out cheapest, and I’d probably even choose them if they were slightly more expensive that other airlines as I feel it’s worth it. The only real problem is the length of time it takes, as the stopover does obviously lengthen the journey, but if you see the whole journey as part of your holiday experience it can all be part of the fun. If they flew direct to Dalaman it would be a no brainer and I would book with them every single time. It’s easy to see why they have won awards for being the best airline in Europe for the past few years!