My Comfort Class seat on my Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300ER

My Comfort Class seat on my Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300ER out of LAX

Introduction

When I first saw I was booked in Comfort Class on Turkish Airlines, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew it was a premium economy product, but that could mean anything from a few inches of extra leg room to having an almost-business-class experience.

Being able to check out the product during my recent flights to and from Los Angeles to Istanbul, I was impressed overall by my whole experience.  I enjoyed the comfortable seat, my amenities, the delicious food, and the access to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. However, I felt let down by the service that I received during certain points of my trip, which left me wanting a bit more.

Turkish Airlines' Boeing 777-300ER sitting at Istanbul

Turkish Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER sitting at Istanbul

It was nothing that horrible, but just added up enough to make me disappointed overall about the experience. I think some of the things could easily be avoided or changed to make the passenger experience a bit better, and make people who feel like they shelled out some additional money for a premium product feel a bit more special.

One of the main reasons that I was flown to Istanbul was to work with Turkish to help them look into the future of their business – and part of that was related to customer service. I am grateful to work with an airline wanting to learn, and I hope that they are listening.

The Istanbul Airport

The Istanbul Airport – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

The Check-In Process

One aspect of the product that disappointed me was checking in at Istanbul. As you can imagine, there were many Turkish Airlines ticket counters, and I went back and forth hoping to find a counter for Comfort Class, but did not find any. I only had a carry-on, but was not able to check in at my hotel, so I tried my luck at one of the kiosks.

I was quickly greeted by a very nice service agent at the kiosk who asked if I needed help, but I had it under control – at least I thought. However, the kiosk had another plan and told me that I had to check in at one of the counters. This meant that I had to cue up in a line of over 50 other Economy and Comfort Class passengers. Not the worst thing in the world, but if I am a passenger paying for a premium product, I wouldn’t have minded having a dedicated line.

Lucky for me the line moved quickly – it only took about 15 minutes to get to a ticket agent. I let him know I was heading to Los Angeles and then he told me I was in the wrong line – he could only help passengers heading to Europe. Sigh.

I quickly looked up and only saw “Economy Class” in English, but nothing indicating it was for “Europe Passengers Only.” Maybe it said it in Turkish, a language I do not know well. The agent nicely informed me that I would have to go to the counters located behind her to check in for my flight to the US.

The line was short, but I encountered two more stages of security, which overall took another ten minutes. First was a nice gentleman who met me in the line and started to ask me questions about where I was going. Then I went to a friendly security lady who scanned my passport and again approved me moving on (this is all within the standard check-in line, mind you).

Finally, I made it to a ticket agent who could actually help me check me in. He handed me my boarding pass reading 14E. Crap! I forgot to inform him that I was hoping for a window seat. He told me that no window seat were available, but said I was given an aisle seat. That’s odd.

I did my homework before the flight and remembered that “E” was a middle seat for Comfort Class (they are in a 2-3-2 layout on the 777). I politely double-checked with him that “E” would be on the aisle, and he confidently assured me that it was indeed an aisle seat.

Well, it turns out my memory was spot on, and 14E was a middle seat - there were no open aisle or window seats. Either the guy was misinformed, was trying to keep my hopes up, or was hoping it would become someone else’s problem.

I was so "off" after getting into the lounge, I only took one photo with my iPhone

I was so “off” after getting into the lounge, I only took one photo with my iPhone – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

No Lounge for You!

Unfortunately, a Comfort Class ticket does not give one lounge access. However, I heard some pretty amazing things about the Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul, so I made a request to the airline in advance to be granted entry, which they were more than happy to do.

This scenario happens quite a bit for me. My ticket status will not grant me access to a lounge, but the airline will give me access to experience and write about it. Normally, I just show my ticket, ID, and I am welcomed with open arms. Sometimes I don’t make it on the list, and the people at the lounge do what they can to verify I have access and it is not a big deal. My experience trying to get into the Turkish lounge was probably one of the most embarrassing experiences I have had while traveling on behalf of AirlineReporter.

At the front desk, I showed them my ticket and started to let them know I should have access via their list and was interrupted and very rudely told that they were a Star Alliance member lounge and that I could not get access.

One of the beautiful views in the lounge - Photo: Turkish Airlines

One of the beautiful views in the lounge – Photo: Turkish Airlines

Okay. Let me try this again. I kept my smile on my face and let them know I was media, I know my ticket does not get access, but a person called earlier that day to give me access. Without missing a beat she told me again, even ruder this time, that I was only an Comfort Class ticket holder and would not be given access. They took my ticket, pointed to my class level, in case I didn’t know where to find it.

At this point there was a line of five passengers waiting behind me, watching this go down. I know it is best to always keep your calm in situations like this and getting angry does nothing and I asked to speak with one of the managers. “Do you have Gold Access? Do you have a premium credit card? No? Then you cannot enter.” People that know me understand it takes quite a bit to get me frustrated or angry. I once again explained the situation and asked to speak to someone else, she pointed me out the door.

Wow.

I figured I could surely fix this problem. I reached back out to my Turkish PR contact and within fifteen minutes I was back at the same desk to go into the lounge. This time it was granted (unfortunately the woman who I dealt with before was no longer there), but there was no apology by the other staff who just witnessed what happened a few moments before. The woman called over to the security guard, “this gentleman only has Comfort Class, but has been granted access.” Really? Why not just say I have access to the lounge? Anyhow, I was finally allowed into the lounge, but not made to feel welcomed.

Now with all that negativity behind me, I have to say it was mostly worth the effort – the lounge was very impressive. I wanted to spend more time in the lounge, but I only had a little bit of time before heading to my flight (would love to do a full review in the future). I left with impressive visual images in my head (and some good food in my belly), but with a very bad taste in my mouth with the level of service coming in the front door.

Sitting in my window seat for my flight from LAX to IST

Sitting in my window seat for my flight from LAX to IST

The Boarding Process

I don’t mean to keep sounding negative with everything here, but I was also a bit disappointed with the boarding process.

On each ticket you are assigned to one of four groups: Business, Group A, B, or C.  Business Class boards first (makes sense), then A, B and C. The problem is that Comfort Class is Group C. Those who spend more money to upgrade are the ones standing around waiting for all the other Economy passengers to board first. Typically, when flying a premium product, you get advance boarding to get settled in, and maybe have a drink before the rest of the passengers get on the plane. But obviously at this point I was a bit grumpy and wanted my first drink!

Nice amenities given in Turkish AIrlines' Comfort Economy

Nice amenities given in Turkish Airlines’ Comfort Class (Premium Economy)

Once boarded, there are some aspects that makes one feel appreciated as a Comfort Class passenger. The cabin is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration (just like Business). Each passenger is given a pillow, blanket, slippers, and amenity kit.

After we took off, we were given a hot towel (which smelled amazing, by the way) and a welcome drink. Now we are talking.

Always good when you can work, eat, drink and watch movies at the same time.

Always good when you can work, eat, drink, and watch movies at the same time.

The Flight

I was pretty impressed with the in-flight entertainment. First off, my flight offered Wi-Fi, which is a huge benefit on its own. If I have a internet connection during a long flight, all the other entertainment is just extra. At times during the flight I did have some difficulty staying connected and when I was connected, the speeds were very low, but low speeds are way better than no speed at all.

In each seat there was a touch screen that pulled out of arm-rest and provided quite a few options. The entertainment screens were touch and there is also a remote control to access your options. I ended up not even needing to use the remote to access the IFE (which must be used for many games, etc) since the touch screen did everything that I needed, which was nice.

There are on-board chefs who can help you with your meal choices and they wear these great outfits

There are on-board chefs who can help you with your meal choices, and they wear these great outfits

I actually did use the remote once to call the flight attendant about two hours into the flight. The cabin has just gone dark to signify the sleep cycle, but I was hoping for a bit more wine (what can I say, I love my 30,000 foot wine). Pressed it once — 5 minutes — nothing. Turned it off and pressed again — and nothing.

I could hear the “ding,” and I could see the light illuminated above my head, but no response. About three minutes after my second ding I saw a flight attendant start walking down the aisle, but passed me up and I wasn’t able to get their attention. After 15 minutes, pressed it a third time. Four minutes later (yes, I was counting), I finally had a response. I am sorry, but there is no excuse to an almost 20 minute response time to a call button, even in economy, but especially in a premium product.

Although I have to admit that the wine was quite good and it was worth the wait.

One of my meals on my Turkish Airlines

One of my meals on my Turkish Airlines’ flight

I don’t want to make it sound like everything was horrid with my experience. There were some great and wonderful Turkish Airlines employees who did a great job (I loved the chef on both of my flights). However, it only takes a few rotten apples and a few odd policies to make someone think twice about flying an airline again.

Even after my experiences, I would be happy to fly Turkish again; however, I might be a little fearful going into the lounge.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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22 Comments
William

Thanks for the review.

If there’s one thing I’m honest about whij dings me is a review for a product and then the lounge saga – given that this washt part of them comfort product why are you trying to get in? I mean obviously they wwrent going to let you in like that? They could – and should have handled it better (called the check in staff of head office directly) but I get back to the original point: surely it defeats object of the review if you upgrade elements of the service. In an ideal world not having them know anything abor your media status would be better for risk of getting an altered service.

Or have I misunderstood?

I did have media access, but even if I didn’t have access, a passenger should never be treated that way and embarrassed. I am sure people make the mistake all the time or check in with the lounge to see if they can get access.

The main problem with the lounge staff is they wouldn’t stop and listen to what I was saying. They were so intent on denying me access because I didn’t have the right ticket, they wouldn’t listen that I had access via other means.

David

gary johnson

William, try reading and digesting an article before you reply with such a poorly written response.

Internetter

William,

You didn’t read the entire piece.

It was stated quite clearly that lounge access was PRE APPROVED for the author as a member of the media, to be able to review it.

That’s why he was granted access in the end.

Work on your reading comprehension.

Those lounge agents should be fired.

glbetrkkr

David – Sorry to hear you had a less-than-stellar experience with a renowned airline. I flew TK DXB-IST-JFK and I had to RUN from my DXB gate to JFK gate because IST is a bit of a mammoth. Once settled into the plane, about 20 minutes later, everybody had to disembark due to a security breach. It irks me that we have to re-do security for US-bound flights (at least when I went). I have empathy as to why, but still annoying.

Hope things are better on future flights.

I don’t mean to steal David’s thunder, but I am going to go out on a limb here from my snarky perspective of being trained in the art of revenue management at University and say that not only is his review very well written, but it actually gave me a bit of a “Eureka!” moment.

I’ve always thought defining premium economy as “not business, but not economy” was a really weak description. It’s perfect, though. I hate that it is.

The issues here, for both consumer and producer are one of expectations management. Because the description is so nebulous, this is going to be a hard one.

i just came back from Turkey flying to Toronto and had a similar experience.

at IST i successfully used the computer terminal to print boarding passes (I really wanted to book our seat first). then we went to the tax free counter only to be turned away because we didn’t have luggage tags. then we went to line up at baggage drop off only to be turned away because were going to Toronto. at the Toronto gate, the staff were friendly but they asked a lot of questions i’m guessing to make sure we were legitimate (while we were in line) before reaching the counter. the passport screening for international flights was very long but moved fairly briskly. after getting to the toronto gate we again had to pass through additional scrutiny again by similar staff.

i can also echo your sentiment about the hard product which is pretty sweet. in flight camera, wifi, lots of movies even working games is a step up from what i’m used to with Air Canada. turkish airlines food is very delicious. but the flight service seemed a bit cold.

Charles Ramsey

I have dealt with employees such as this in different areas of business. It seems these employees were trained well to do their job yet not trained to think outside the box. I have employees that do quite well sticking to the Standard operation procedures, but they did not know to call for a supervisor for the exceptions to the rule. Once they are trained to understand all the possibilities and know who in their organization to ask, then things (for the customer) is so much better. It is so frustrating to know what you are allowed by the higher ups, but they did not notify the people between you and that person.

Wet Coaster

Thank you for yet again a thorough review.

I like the return of earth-tones in the cabin décor, looks very soothing.
One can only hope that TK heeds your perspective of their customer service. Not being able to check-in via kiosk with check-in bags only would set me off as well. I’m wondering why you didn’t have advance seat selection for your (as well as my) window preference? Perhaps, travelling as a guest didn’t permit same. That could account for why you were directed to the ticket counter.

Also, there’s absolutely no excuse for your treatment by the Lounge Front Desk Staff. It’s too bad that you weren’t given some type of paper day pass as clearly, the message wasn’t getting through electronically. One thought on the repeated use of the word “only” as in you’re “only” a Comfort Class passenger, this could be the result of English as a second language and no disrespect intended.

I must admit, what seems to be a general penchant for premium passengers preferring to board first, mystifies me. It seems to me that the idea of flying forward cabin is to board last and deplane first. After all, you’re about to be confined to the same place for 13:45. Enjoying a drink in the Lounge (especially after all that effort!) would have been my preference. Also, when I check the seat-map for your B777-300ER (V2), Business Class passengers turn left upon entering the aircraft into their own dedicated cabin. However, as well as the 246 Economy Class passengers seated in the cabin aft of you, Comfort Class passengers turn right. I think it makes perfect sense to board the hoard behind you first. Makes for a much faster boarding process and less likelihood of a Comfort Class passenger having their complimentary beverage knocked into their lap by an Economy Class passenger’s oversized carry-on!

Just one thought. You said you were paying for a premium product and expected a dedicated line to check in.

Allow me to point out that Premium Economy is basically a premium version of Economy. So what you were getting was this set of little extra here and there – you paid extra to the Economy fare to set yourself slightly better compared to the back of the plane.

It is called “class”, but is mostly just a few more perks. With a lot of carriers “premium economy” is only a few more inches of legroom and maybe free snacks on domestic routes. I wouldn’t expect a dedicated line on top of it. For such a line you should buy a seat in the next true class – Business.

What I agree here is the seat thing. I would kill for a non-window seat. But then I always try to secure my seat in advance to avoid the “No window seats” issue.

Oh, and I read in a book written by an American stewardess that they hate it when passengers ring the call button just to ask for more water (or wine in your case), as this button is actually for emergencies (unless you fly Business/First where it is for sucking up to you). 🙂

I think that is where “what is premium economy?” comes into play. For airlines that just give you a few inches of leg room and maybe some free food, I wouldn’t have higher expectations.

With the long haul Turkish “premium economy,” it seems more like less business than a better economy. It is set up in a 2-3-2 configuration (economy is 3-3-3 and business is the same at 2-3-2). You don’t get a lie flat seat, but still get a much better seat and service than in economy. Because of that, I would expect some of the perks in check-in as well.

But again, that is where these products fit into this in-between land. Are they just a glorified economy product and passengers shouldn’t expect much. Or are they a true premium product where passengers are treated quite a bit better than economy?

David

I’d personally stick to the good old Economy-Business-First scheme, plus maybe add a Budget class in the very back that would operate as a low-cost a-la-carte thing within a full-service airline. But then this is what’s happening. Economy is splitting into “Budget” and “Premium Economy”, Business became “First”, and First is disappearing (well, reapperaing on Etihad with their hotel suite product).

Arcanum

Sorry Samara, but I have to disagree. You clearly have a US-centric view.

Yes, Premium Economy on American carriers is really just Economy with extra legroom, which is why they tend to use names like Economy Plus or Economy Comfort instead. On most non-US airlines, PE really is a separate class with different seats, better food, more amenities, and often priority check-in and lounge access. It’s more like domestic business class than coach. Try looking up Premium Economy on Air New Zealand or Cathay Pacific if you want to see what a true PE product is like. Of course, those carriers also charge much more for PE than you would pay for Economy Plus on United!

The same goes for your comment on the call button. American flight attendants seem to believe that they are primarily there “for your safety” rather than for customer service. I think it’s reflective of the general laziness and lack of service in modern American culture. If you were to fly Asian, Middle Eastern, or even most European carriers, you’d find a very different attitude to service. I told a flight attendant on Cathay once that the call button was only for emergencies and she looked at me with quite genuine shock and horror.

Remember, just because things are done a certain way in the US doesn’t mean the rest of the world follows suit. Try Googling a little thing called the “metric system” if you want another example! 😉

I am actually from Russia, not the USA. 🙂 But Russia is mid-way between practical America (you call it lazy) and menial Asia (you call it different attitude to service). I think that things should meet halfway – neither too lazy nor too servile.

The problem here is that airlines first created all these things like extra fees and less legroom, and then their marketing departments tried to escape the loophole with the new “premium economy” product. If this is more like “business”, why not call it business, charge accordingly and give all the perks, while renaming Business into First and upgrading price/perks level there too?

And yes, flight attendants are there primarily for the emergencies, then for serving food and drinks. If their duties were customer service first, then there’d be no or much less attendants in budget airlines.

@samara citizen
You’re missing the point. Airlines are differentiating their offer to scoop iup those passengers who are price sensitive when it comes to business class, but who aren’t averse to paying a premium for a priority economy product.
Which should include: priority, check-in, priority boarding and priority baggage handling, none of which add significantly to the cost structure.

Call button? If there’s no impending or current emergency, flight attendants are there to provide a service to their paying customers. That’s the understanding of the majority of airlines I fly with, anyway….

Arcanum

David, I had a very similar experience when I flew Turkish last year (although I was in J). The lounge, seats, and food were all excellent, but the customer service lacked polish. It reminded me a bit of flying Air China, although Turkish is still miles ahead of the mainland Chinese carriers.

I think it’s easier for airlines to invest in new planes and good food than it is to develop good customer service, particularly if the home country doesn’t have a strong customer service culture to start with (e.g. China). It’s hard to know how to improve when you don’t understand the expectations. Rising carriers like Turkish should send some senior cabin crew incognito on a few long-haul flights with Singapore or Cathay to see what high-end business/first class service is like. Alternatively, steal some experienced cabin crew from more established carriers and have them teach your recruits!

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that Turkish is planning to eliminate Comfort Class. That’s a shame, because it looks like one of the best Premium Economy products out there. The danger with a good PE, of course, is that it may encourage people to book down from Business rather than book up from Coach. I suspect Turkish PE is a little too close to Turkish J (which is OK but not great, e.g. lacking direct aisle access) so they were cannibalizing their own Business customers.

You see, you are talking about adopting Asian’s high-end business/first class service in a premium economy product, which is actually not business/first. That’s like asking for a welcome champagne in economy. Yes, customer service should be good (you may call it exceptional or excellent, but that is reading corporate mantras to your employees) in all classes, but let’s not mix customer service and perks passengers get in different classes.

Turkish have a great hard product, the best food in the sky, the best lounge, great seats, etc.

But the service is hit or miss, and the check-in even for J pax at IST can be terrible and staffed by surly people.

Just Jeff

Looks like Turkish needs to do some vetting out of the class itself. Hopefully management realizes that you have to stand out in the pack, otherwise your just another airline.

yeah… good products but i flew on their business class from jakarta to istanbul, beside the on board chef thing, ..it didn’t feel all that special, waste of money, i shold have flown economy instead

I flew TK SIN-IST last year in J, then change to DUS. At SIN all J pax has a separate lounge (not a separte line) to check in, security and immigration. I agree TK’s hard product is good, but the soft product (may be something to do with culture) needs to catch up with SQ/CX/JL and alike. The flight took off after midnight from SIN. Well I slept all the way to IST after dinner. Not much to report. I used the shower facility at IST lounge. It seems all the international flights arrived in the same bank 5-7am. Food in the lounge is good but a little crowded when I was there during the morning rush hour. What impressed me most at IST is their duty free store with many lanes super market type check outs.

TK J IST-DUS is 2-2 wide seat and great food. It is better than LH J I took DUS-LHR later. LH J is basically Y 3-3 with the middle seat empty.

Hi David

Excellent review (not so excellent for Turkish).

I’m ex crew and I’d like to comment on your ‘call bell saga’. Whilst I agree it is not acceptable to leave a customer waiting, I feel you miss a far more serious issue. As cabin crew, I was trained to NEVER ignore a call bell. Whilst the average person sees the call bell as a ‘more drinks please’ button, actually, it is the first thing a passenger presses when they/someone are in distress.

Example: I was sat on a long flight in the rear galley flicking through a magazine and a call bell sounded. Sigh…here we go. Then, 5 more sounded in quick succession. I looked down the aisle and a passenger was face down on the floor. I sprinted the full length of the cabin and literally lept over him (his head was forward and i was aft). He was fine, just fainted. But your crew did not know you wanted a drink. You could have been choking, having a stroke, a heart attack. You could be watching flames coming from the engine, you could be sitting next to the shoe bomber.

In my opinion, you should report that crew to Turkish.

A disgrace.

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