Hot towels and mezze a go-go was the promise on Turkish Airlines’ website. I’m rather partial to both hammams and hummus, so the carrier’s Business Class sounded like my kind of aviation experience. And as London to Dar es Salaam is over 11 hours of flight time (with a couple of hours’ break in Istanbul), I figured I would have more than enough time to discover why the brand was named Best Airline in Europe 2012. Turkish Airlines is set to connect to 40 African destinations by the end of 2013, and with the IMF forecasting rapid growth for the continent’s emerging economies, it looks like the carrier’s Business Class might be a ticket as hot as those hammam towels.
Checking in at London Gatwick was a messy, disorganised process, though, and I spent a good 15 minutes waiting around as staff gazed at computer screens with expressions of amusement and disbelief (my emotions entirely). Having checked in, passengers have access to the No.1 Traveller lounge which delivered more on style than substance, with a broken coffee machine and the most overcooked poached egg I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. I won’t dwell on the four animal-onesie-clad Essex teens who were also enjoying the lounge’s facilities, since I may have imagined them thanks to lack-of-caffeine-induced hallucinations.
And so it was with relief that I finally boarded the plane. The London–Istanbul flight uses a conventional 737-800 sans any particularly swish design features, although what the vessel lacks in sexy mood lighting and Wallpaper*-worthy interiors is made up for by the airline’s unfailingly smart, friendly staff. Hot towels (yes!) are proffered pre-flight, along with a selection of freshly-pressed juices and chilled lemonade, before the in-flight chef makes his appearance in full chef’s attire. Each passenger is presented with a menu, with an à la carte choice of mains in addition to those aforementioned mezze. In fact, I saw no evidence of these celebrated snackerels until I reached the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul where there’s a full mezze bar on offer. More on that later.
So, excellent service aside, why should you book Business Class? The real draw here is the airline’s expansive CIP Lounge at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport
On-board dining is provided by Do & Co which claims to be “The Gourmet Entertainment Company”. The overcooked grilled lamb chops, and overchilled salads (all with that unwelcome synthetic tang of airline grub) left me anything but entertained. And on the Istanbul-Dar leg I was similarly underwhelmed by the non-branded toiletries, complicated touchscreen TV system and nylon blanket, though impressed with the hostesses’ attentive manner – that type of relaxed, warm hospitality that the Mediterraneans do so well.
So, excellent service aside, why should you book Business Class? The real draw here is the airline’s expansive CIP Lounge at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which was so lovely that I almost missed my connection, although that may have been down to the freely-flowing champagne. Created by Istanbul-based design studio Autoban (whose projects have amassed awards from Condé Nast Traveller, Tatler and the Sunday Times), the 3,000m² lounge’s combination of olive trees and Ottoman-inspired trellis detailing with a contemporary mélange of neutral tones, white and glass reflects the city’s East-meets-West feel. A seemingly endless series of monochromatic spaces interlink via curved, domed archways, creating distinct areas for dining, work and play, with facilities that include a cinema, library, pool table and tea garden. Aside from the ample mezze selection, there are Pide and kebabs made to order, a serve-yourself bar and a chap dashing about with a cheese trolley. With high ceilings and full-length windows, the vast lounge is spacious and buzzy during the day, while soft lighting transforms the space into an altogether sexier, more James Bond-esque experience come sundown.
Back on board the overnight flight to Dar in a semi-reclining seat with an unsatisfactory selection of in-flight movies (does anyone really want to rewatch First Wives Club?) and more of that “Gourmet Entertainment”, I could have happily skipped the trip to visit emerging economies in favour of luxury lounging and a cheese trolley. Now if Turkish Airlines can begin to provide the same slick, all-singing all-dancing experience in the air as on terra firma…
Alice Revel is the founder and editor-in-chief of Running in Heels