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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.