Turkish Airlines is, or should be, well known amongst AvGeeks for their hospitality and commitment to passenger experience. The airline has positioned itself as a “European carrier” which might raise eyebrows to those in the West. Most would reasonably assume Turkey to be a resident of an ambiguous neighborhood we Westerners label as the “Middle East.” For what it’s worth, about half of Istanbul, including the airport, the airline’s headquarters, and various operations are indeed on the European continent. Turkey, as it turns out, is a country divided between two continents, giving real meaning to the phrase “East meets West.” The European side is separated from the majority of the country (the Asian side) by a naturally occurring strait referred to as the Bosporus.
Why does all of this matter? Because it gives Turkish Airlines a competitive advantage. It’s easier to go after the European carriers than try to compete in terms of obscenely lavish passenger experience offered by the big three Middle East airlines (ME3). And, let’s be honest. When we think of European carriers, is an overwhelming commitment to passenger experience something that comes to mind? Likely not. It is no wonder then that Turkish Airlines maintains the title of Best Airline in Europe, according to Skytrax.
So how does Turkish differentiate itself from the pack? By offering reasonably priced fares bundled with excellent service and gourmet food. Gourmet food on a plane? Some might think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I beg to differ…
My trip aboard the world’s fourth-best airline to Istanbul began with a quick flight on Star Alliance partner United Airlines from Kansas City International (MCI) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). After arriving, taking a train to a different terminal, and clearing security for the second time that a day, I managed to find my gate. One nice thing about the international departure gates at O’Hare is the over-sized windows. I was afforded an excellent view of TC-JJG, a five-year-young 777-300ER named Yıldız. Even at just five years old, this plane had quite a bit of tenure in the TK fleet. I would later learn the average age of the TK fleet serving North America is just over two years, with the entire fleet across the TK network coming in at just over seven.
I was lucky to secure a “battlefield upgrade” to business class and was one of the first to board. Upon walking on the plane, I was greeted by a smiling and cheerful flight attendant with one of the flying chefs in back, dressed in full chef attire. This was a real surprise and delight. It was a great first impression and set the tone for what would be an excellent experience. The crew of TK flight 6 was particularly warm, and very accommodating of my desire to snap multiple photos of the cabin. I most certainly got in their way going up and down the aisles, but they were good sports. Side note: Turkish aviation regulations prohibit photos of the flight deck.
About the flying chefs: While food is prepared by Turkish Airlines partner Turkish DO & CO, the flying chefs are indeed real chefs. In fact, part of the training they receive includes time at DO & CO preparing the very dishes they will be serving on board. The chefs have detailed knowledge about each offering, and are in charge of (among other things) masterful plating and elevating the passenger experience. Additionally, how cool is it to have a bonafide chef on-board your flight?
My seat for the next roughly ten hours would be 4G, an aisle on the right side of the middle cluster. TK’s business seating is arranged in a 2-3-2 layout. This arrangement lags behind some of the competition, but it was sufficient and comfortable with almost full lie-flat capabilities, maxing out at 177°. Keep in mind that Turkish seeks primarily to distinguish itself from other European airlines while still remaining price competitive.
Turkish Airlines Business Class: Three hours of gluttony
While waiting for boarding of our 349-seat aircraft to complete, I managed to sample two of the made-on-board pre-departure drinks. Pictured above is the mint lemonade; I also sampled a raspberry mint drink that was so colorful it nearly glowed. It was my favorite, by far. For those who prefer adult beverages, those too were available, but that’s not really my thing.
As soon as we reached 10,000 feet the cabin service began. First came warm mixed nuts, then a three-piece appetizer, followed by Turkish coffee. The three-piece plate consisted of fresh mozzarella with roasted tomato and an olive, a scallop, and a meat thing which went uneaten. For the record, I’m vegetarian but occasionally eat fish/seafood when other options aren’t readily available. Items came out piecemeal which seemed to be a lot of work for the crew, but also added the extra touch of personal service.
Just as the snack and what I have decided to refer to as “appetizer one” completed, the flying chef dedicated to the business cabin presented large, diverse menus. I placed my order and shortly after, a second appetizer service began.
But first, basic dining setup occurred, including an LED candle in a small bag, for ambiance. Looking across the business cabin each passenger had one and as simple as these were, it made an impression with my fellow passengers. I understand this is corny, but it is these small touches that drive the passenger experience home. As an added bonus, the candle made for extra classy food photos.
The second, more comprehensive appetizer service was served from a cart containing no less than eight options. Following the lead from other passengers, I chose a number of options to form the perfect meal, let alone appetizer. I went for the fresh salad with olive oil vinaigrette, crab cakes with a sweet and sour chili sauce, and smoked trout with horseradish cream. Everything else was great, but I feel compelled to take a moment to recognize the crab cakes. I have a love/hate relationship with crab cakes. When they are good, they are good, but more often than not, they disappoint. I am pleased to say these were the best I have had, and the chili sauce really knocked them out of the park.
Periodically throughout the various rounds of food there were warm bread services. Above is the only photo I manged to snap, sans the small loaf of warm wheat bread which had once adorned the plate. Take the absence of the loaf as an indication of how great it smelled, thus my need to eat it before thinking to take a photo. It was great, as were its siblings who would be picked up periodically over the remainder of the flight.
Two appetizers down, and would you believe me if I told you there was a third? At this point I was bewildered, amazed, and wondering how I would manage to eat my actual dinner. Like my AirlineReporter cohort John Nguyen, I’m a sucker for good soup. Let me be clear. This creamy tomato soup was amazing. I was half-tempted to cancel the main course and order a second round of soup. It was that good.
No more than twenty minutes after the third appetizer had completed, my new best friend, the flying chef delivered the main course. At this point I was full and about ready for bed, but this was a flight I wanted to review, and I had work to do… Delicious, gourmet work to do. The main course was just as good as prior rounds, and I was really surprised at how well the salmon had held up. Had I not known better I could have easily assumed our flying chef was actually cooking on board, which, of course, was not the case. Not only was the food delicious, but it was plated beautifully.
Not long after dinner service concluded our flying chef and a flight attendant again employed the use of a trolley in allowing for passengers to choose their own desserts. The menu referred to this round of service as a “Potpourri of Traditional Turkish Desserts.” At this point I was full, and completely satisfied. But again, there was work to be done so I took one for the team and sampled just a few treats.
Unlike with the appetizer service, absent from the menu were descriptions of what the dessert trolley offered. Here’s my best guess as to what I chose: grapes, ice cream, a pastry eerily similar to baklava, a spiral cut and roasted apple with a cream sauce, and a green pastry either made from, or featuring pistachio. Everything was good, but that apple thing was amazing.
At roughly three hours into our flight the earliest hints of dawn started peeking in from the few open window shades in the cabin. In what could not have been more than fifteen minutes total, all service items were collected, bedding was distributed, all shades lowered, lights dimmed, and the cabin went from busy to eerily dark and silent. Even though twilight had begun over the Atlantic, it was midnight back home and time to sleep. My fellow passengers had gotten the memo, but I was in the middle of a food high; no sleep for this guy. Or so I thought…
Turkish Airlines Business Class: Morning service
I managed to squeeze in one movie on the over-sized in-flight entertainment screen before falling asleep. The next thing I knew, the cabin had slowly begun a transition to light, thanks to the 777’s Boeing Sky Interior. This is a far departure from the days of “off or on” cabin lighting and a welcomed transition as I tried to get my bearings. “Where am I?” Oh, right, on a flying gourmet food flight, somewhere over Europe.
In true Turkish Airlines form, breakfast would be served in not one, but two rounds. While the cabin smelled of incredible Turkish unfiltered coffee, I passed. That stuff was genuinely good, but too intense for this early in the morning, particularly on less than a full night of sleep. I opted instead for the fresh orange juice, a fruit platter, and a warm pastry, or two.
Round two of breakfast consisted of what I had ordered the night before, prior to being treated to multiple rounds of incredible food. Had I known I would have eaten so well the night before, I would have chosen something more balanced. But what the heck, these flights don’t happen often. This was the first food item that wasn’t immediately appealing. The omelette had lost its color and looked more like a chicken tender. The flavor was still there, though. The bed of potatoes the omelette was served on was a bit disappointing. Fried potatoes are hard to keep in good condition for more than even a few minutes, but these had been prepared many hours ago. The result was what I can only describe as old french fries. I avoided them and instead focused on the omelette, tomatoes, and spinach, all of which had maintained their flavor and texture.
After breakfast was collected there was a “last call” for service wherein the flying chef told me it would be good to have a coffee to get me through the day, and that I would thank him later. Who am I to argue with an expert? For what it’s worth, he was right. The coffee helped to carry me through what was left of the day. Thanks, flying chef!
The timing of breakfast was perfect. Just as I had downed my Turkish coffee we had begun our final descent into Istanbul. I tuned my in-flight entertainment screen to one of the two external cameras to watch the scenery as we made our way in. Istanbul, as I would later learn, is a beautiful city.
Turkish Airlines Business Class Conclusion
I find myself in various premium cabins at least a few times each year. I have to say that my experience with Turkish Airlines business class was impressive. Are there better seats? Absolutely. Can Turkish compete with the big Middle Eastern three? Probably not, but truly, that’s not the point.
Turkish offers service to more destinations than any other airline in the world. They do so aboard a world-wide fleet with an average age of just seven years. Perhaps more importantly, they offer an incredible business product at a very competitive price point when compared to others in their various markets. But really, if you plan to fly Turkish airlines business class, come hungry.
For those who are interested in economy reviews, my upgrade on the way home did not clear. Stay tuned for that story. Better yet, why not subscribe to our free email alerts for when new content is posted?
Note: Travel and accommodations provided by Turkish Airlines. All opinions are my own.