Good Advice Tried and Tested

Turkish Airlines B737-800 business class

20/09/2013

BACKGROUND

Turkish Airlines launched a third daily flight to Istanbul from London Gatwick in May with a new service to Sabiha Gokcen airport, located on the Asian side of the Turkish city (see news May 7).

The service went daily on June 1 and departs from Gatwick North Terminal at 1420, arriving in Istanbul at 2015. The route is served by a B737-800, one of the smallest aircraft in the Turkish fleet (to see a seat plan, click here).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I arrived at Gatwick at 1200 via train and got on the shuttle to the North Terminal. I was flying business and had already checked in online 24 hours before, printing off my boarding pass.

I only had hand luggage so I checked the departure board in the airy terminal and made a move for priority security, which was very peaceful and is completely separate from the rest of security, unlike the set-up in many airports. The staff were having a moan among themselves about being short-staffed though, which I felt was pretty unprofessional in front of passengers.

THE LOUNGE

I was through by 1230 and headed straight for the No.1 Traveller lounge as it partners with Turkish. There was a long queue coming out of the door, the first time I have ever seen this, but a staff member started moving along the line to help speed things along. Many of the passengers were looking for the BA lounge anyway.

The lounge itself is very smart, with a range of seating, a white tiled dining area, runway views and a good buffet and bar. Soft drinks and hot beverages are self-serve and there was some cheese, chutney, salads, bread, soup and biscuits on offer from the buffet.

Each customer can also order a complimentary hot snack per visit or a more substantial a-la carte option, which can be paid for. There is a full bar service with wine, spirits and Peroni on tap but champagne and cocktails are charged.

I was in by 1240 and headed to the bar to grab a beer and order a complimentary fish finger sandwich. The lounge was packed to the point of seating being limited and the bar staff struggling to cope. To top things off, the wifi would not appear on my phone. The staff did prove themselves better than my last visit though, when I found them to be quite casual.

I checked my emails on the computer in the main lobby as the iMacs were out of order. The PC was one of the better lounge computers I have used though.

The fish finger sandwich arrived after half an hour and was awful, two cold fish fingers in a white roll with no sauce, nothing like my last visit where the lounge was noticeably quieter.

There were lots of power points to plug my phone in and I found a free sofa in the quiet side room, perched in front of a TV showing Antiques Road Dhow with the volume down low.

BOARDING

I grabbed a paper and waited for my gate to show, which appeared at 1325 as number 50. I made my way there at half past and gate 50 proved a short walk from the lounge. I was called forward as a business passenger at 1400 and we were held in the air bridge until 1405.

THE SEAT

This 737-800 is laid out 3-3 throughout and the business class was just the first three rows on this occasion. The seat is extremely similar to BA's Club Europe product, a blue leather armchair with a fixed tray table in the middle seat. This is nothing like the new seat design found on some of the B737-800s, with the seats looking a little worse for wear.

I was particularly disappointed by overhead screens but should have expected it for a flight of this length. Each business class passenger received a blue pillow and good quality Turkish branded noise cancelling headphones.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE

There's not a great deal to choose between these 12 available seats, the seats right at the front don't afford as much legroom as you would hope but you can disembark first. The other seats are all the same and it simply comes down to personal preference of aisle or window.

THE FLIGHT

Boarding was completed and doors shut at 1420 and I asked to move into seat 1F as it was free, which wasn’t a problem. I easily found room for my two bags in the overhead lockers. Pull back was at 1425, take-off at 1445 and the seatbelt sign was turned off at 1450 to a suddenly bright channel crossing.

Lunch menus and a cover for my tray table were brought round at 1500 and my order was taken at 1500. To see the menu, click here. I opted for the Turkish spiced beef. This was served with the marinated green beans, a cold starter or grilled chicken with aubergine dip and grilled aubergine, mixed cheeses, warm bread from a basket and a single profiterole with chocolate sauce.

The main dish was really tasty, two large kofta-like pieces of beef with savoury, tomato based bulgur wheat and grilled peppers and aubergine. I had a small bottle of Piper Heidsieck Monopole blue top champagne. Everything was served in small white china dishes, with metal cutlery.

After lunch I settled in to my book and had a nap. When I woke up I looked up at the screen more out of curiosity and saw that it was 42, the biopic of Jackie Robinson starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman, which I had wanted to see for a while. I popped the headphones in and enjoyed the film, although I thought I would probably be the only person onboard to appreciate such a niche movie choice.

I ordered an Efes, which was cold and in a glass and this came with a dish of hazelnuts, Turkish Airlines certainly like you to leave well fed.

ARRIVAL

Just as the film finished we began our descent in to Sabiha Gokcen and the seatbelt sign was turned on at 1740. The staff weren't the most active in clearing things away though and we landed while my empty can stayed on my side table. We touched down at 1800 (2000 local) and I was one of the first off.

I went to grab my visa, paying £10 sterling and there was a very handy priority line for Turkish business class passengers, which helped me avoid a massive immigration queue and I was out of the terminal by 2030.

VERDICT

A fairly basic seat and an old aircraft were brightened up by a great meal, some good service and a surprisingly good movie, but with all the recent investment and marketing I expected a little more.

turkishairlines.com

Scott Carey